With its eminently walkable downtown, convenient ride-hailing service and an efficient bus network, getting around the ever-expanding Pacific coast resort town of Puerto Vallarta has never been easier. Even when venturing out on day trips to remote jungle-backed beaches you’ll have no problem finding boats to zip you across the sprawling Banderas Bay. Here’s how to navigate Puerto Vallarta and its environs.
To visit a string of sublime beaches that grace Vallarta’s southern shore, board a water taxi departing from the Playa de los Muertos pier in downtown’s Zona Romántica. The motorboats make stops at Playa Las Ánimas (25 minutes), Quimixto (40 minutes) and Yelapa (55 minutes) with the round-trip fare costing M$380. The boats run at least four times daily and often more frequently during high season. For departure times, inquire at the water taxi office in front of the pier. Water taxis in Boca de Tomatlán, a fishing town about 16km (10 miles) south of downtown, also go to the southern beaches and do so on a more frequent basis.
You can also charter private motorboats, sailboats and yachts. Tour operators such as Vallarta Adventures run diving and snorkeling expeditions to emblematic sites such as the wildlife-rich Islas Marietas and Los Arcos National Marine Park.
Buses are an affordable and efficient transportation option to reach neighborhoods beyond the city center. They operate from 5am to 11pm on most routes, and cost M$10. Plaza Lázaro Cárdenas near Playa Olas Altas is a major departure hub. Northbound local buses stop on Insurgentes near the corner of Madero. Marked ‘Aeropuerto,’ ‘Hotelera,’ ‘Mojoneras’ and ‘Juntas,’ they pass through the city heading north to the airport and Marina Vallarta; the ‘Mojoneras’ bus also stops at Puerto Vallarta’s long-distance bus terminal.
White-and-orange 'Boca de Tomatlán' buses (M$10) head south along the coastal highway through Mismaloya (20 minutes) to Boca de Tomatlán (30 minutes). They leave from the corner of Badillo and Constitución every 15 minutes. To visit the lovely Vallarta Botanical Gardens, hop on an ‘El Tuito’ bus (M$35) at the corner of Carranza and Aguacate.
Buses to Sayulita and San Francisco (M$50, 1 hour) depart frequently from a stop in front of Walmart, across from the cruise ship terminal. They also stop under a pedestrian bridge just outside the airport.
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Car and scooter
Rental cars can be somewhat pricey in Puerto Vallarta but you can’t beat the comfort and convenience, especially when traveling with kids. They’re especially useful for day trips to Punta de Mita, Sayulita and San Francisco (aka San Pancho), a series of laid-back surf towns about an hour north of Vallarta in the neighboring state of Nayarit. Auto rentals will also serve you well for a mountain getaway to the nearby mining town of San Sebastián del Oeste, as they allow you to make stops along a country road dotted with family-run bakeries and raicilla (a distilled agave drink) distilleries.
Rental companies have offices in and around the airport, many along Avenida Francisco Medina Ascencio. Rental rates for an economy car with liability coverage range from M$1200 to M$1600 per day, depending on the time of year. Scooters or motorbikes (M$1000 per day) are always fun for getting around town, weather permitting.
Taxi and rideshare
Ever since Uber came to town many visitors have found the ride-hailing service preferable to taxis because there’s no haggling involved over fares. Uber is permitted to do airport drop-offs but prohibited from picking up arriving passengers, however, you can always exit the airport via a pedestrian bridge and order an Uber car from the street.
Taxi fares are set by zones but some cabbies may still try to overcharge. You should always agree on a price before getting in a taxi and while negotiating keep in mind that drivers usually do not expect tips. A typical trip from downtown to the Zona Hotelera and Marina Vallarta runs about M$100 to M$120, while a ride to the airport or long-distance bus terminal costs about M$200. If you’re heading south, expect to pay about M$150 to M$200 to Mismaloya or Boca de Tomatlán and around M$450 to the Vallarta Botanical Garden. Short trips in and around the Centro start at M$50. There are numerous downtown taxi stands, including ones at Insurgentes and Cárdenas, Rodríguez and Matamoros and Parque Lázaro Cárdenas. It’s generally considered safe to hail street cabs in Puerto Vallarta.
Downtown Vallarta’s charming cobbled roads and scenic hillside backstreets are tailor-made for wandering. And with a mile-long boardwalk dotted with public sculptures, a traffic-free river walk and highly addictive street food nearly everywhere you turn, you can get by just fine in the city center without ever setting foot in a bus or cab. Up in the hills, you can roam the old stomping grounds of Hollywood celebrities in Gringo Gulch or take in a glorious sunset from La Cruz del Cerro lookout point.
Even from Vallarta’s somewhat removed hillside hotels, downtown’s beaches are easily within walking distance. If you’re up for exploring the serene southern coast on foot, a jungle trail from Boca de Tomatlán to Playa Quimixto leads to a series of gorgeous coves and palm-fringed beaches.
Accessible transportation in Puerto Vallarta
A growing number of hotels, restaurants, beaches and public spaces provide wheelchair access in Puerto Vallarta. Downtown’s hilly and uneven cobbled streets can prove difficult to navigate for people with disabilities and many intersections in the city center have no streetlights or crosswalks. Some local buses running along main routes from the airport to the city center are equipped with wheelchair lifts.
Though private lift vans are in short supply, Beach Crossers has several vehicles available for tours and transportation, plus it rents amphibious beach wheelchairs and other mobility equipment. Water taxis will gladly improvise to transport disabled passengers to Vallarta’s remote coastal villages, such as Yelapa and Quimixto, but neither the beaches nor the motorboats have accessibility features. You’d be much better off at Playa Palmares, a Blue Flag-designated beach with wheelchair ramps and parking.
For more information, see Lonely Planet’s accessible travel online resources
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