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Travel Tips for Puerto Vallarta from Artisan Luxury Travel


THE SCENE

Mexico's second-most-visited destination after the Cancún/Playa del Carmen area, Puerto Vallarta is touristy. That said, this isn't a spring-break destination. Yes, twentysomethings party all night. But a sense of decorum and civic pride keeps things reasonably restrained. Most tour companies, restaurants, and hotels are run by locals who are happy to have you—tourism is PV's only real industry.

 

WHEN TO GO

High season (aka dry season) is December through April; the resorts are most crowded and expensive during this time. If you don't mind afternoon showers, temperatures in the 80s and 90s F (high 20s and 30s C), and high humidity, rainy season (late June through October) is a great time to visit. Hotel rates drop by as much as 40%, and there aren't any crowds.


Summer sees the best diving, snorkeling, and surfing conditions. By August the coast and inland forests are green and bursting with blooms. Afternoon rains clean the streets; waterfalls and rivers outside of town spring into action. On the downside, heat and humidity are high, some businesses close shop in the hottest months (August and September), and nightlife slacks off.

 

LODGING PLANNER

Lodging Strategy

Where should I stay? With hundreds of hotels in Puerto Vallarta, it may seem like a daunting question. But fret not—most of the legwork has been done for you. The selections here represent the best this city has to offer—from the best budget digs to the sleekest designer resorts. Scan "Best Bets" on the following pages for top recommendations by price and experience. Or find a review quickly in the listings—search by neighborhood, then alphabetically. Happy hunting!


Need a Reservation?

Hotel reservations are an absolute necessity when planning your trip to Puerto Vallarta—although rooms are easier to come by these days. Competition for clients also means properties undergo frequent improvements, especially late September through mid-November, so when booking ask about any renovations, lest you get a room within earshot of construction, or find your hotel is temporarily without commonplace amenities such as swimming pool or spa.


Overbooking is a common practice, so get confirmation in writing via fax or email.


Services

Most resort hotels have air-conditioning, cable TV, one or more restaurants, room service, and in-room irons and ironing boards. Many have voice mail, coffeemakers, and hair dryers. Ethernet or Wi-Fi Internet service is common in guest rooms; if not, there’s likely a guest computer or three in a common area. Most hotels above the budget or moderate price level have fitness facilities; alternatively, visit a nearby sports club or gym (there are many). Some hotels are entirely smoke-free, meaning even smoking outdoors is frowned upon or prohibited.


Can I Drink the Water?

Most of the fancier hotels have reverse osmosis or other water filtration systems. It's fine for brushing your teeth, but play it safe by drinking bottled water (there might be leaks that let groundwater in). Note that the bottled water might cost extra, although there's usually a notice if it's not free. Buy a few bottles at the corner grocery instead.


Staying with Kids

Puerto Vallarta is a popular destination for both foreign families and nationals, and in general its hotels have adopted a family-friendly attitude. Some properties provide in-room video games, playgrounds, game rooms, children’s swimming pools, and other diversions; others have suites with kitchenettes and fold-out sofa beds to accommodate the family’s needs. Most full-service Puerto Vallarta hotels provide roll-away beds and babysitting, but make arrangements when booking the room, not when you arrive. Beach resorts often have kids’ clubs to allow their parents quality adult time.


Chain Hotels

Tried-and-true chains may have excellent rates and can be good last-minute options. There are hotels from the Holiday Inn/InterContinental Group, Marriott, Sheraton, and various Starwood chains, including Westin and St. Regis.


Boutique Hotels

Small boutique hotels are another option in Puerto Vallarta, especially in the Zona Romántica and El Centro. Some of these are simple, some luxurious, but they all offer hospitality and comfort on a more intimate scale.


 

BUS TRAVEL


Long-Distance Service

PV's Central Camionera, or Central Bus Station, is 1 km (½ mile) north of the airport, halfway between Nuevo Vallarta and downtown.

First-class Mexican buses (known as primera clase) are generally timely and comfortable, air-conditioned coaches with bathrooms, movies, and reclining seats—sometimes with seat belts. Deluxe (de lujo or ejecutivo) buses offer the same—sometimes with fewer, roomier seats—and usually have refreshments. Second-class (segunda clase) buses are used mainly for travel to smaller, secondary destinations.

A lower-class bus ride can be interesting if you're not in a hurry and want to experience local culture; these buses make frequent stops and keep less strictly to their timetables. Often they will wait until they fill up to leave, regardless of the scheduled time of departure. Fares are up to 15%–30% cheaper than those for first-class buses. The days of pigs and chickens among your bus mates are largely in the past. Unless you're writing a novel or your memoir, there's no reason to ride a second-class bus if a first-class or better is available. Daytime trips are safer.


Bring snacks, socks, and a sweater—the air-conditioning on first-class buses is often set on high—and toilet paper, as restrooms might not have any. Smoking is prohibited on all buses.

Estrella Blanca goes from Mexico City to Manzanillo, Mazatlán, Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, and other central, Pacific coast, and northern-border points. ETN has the most luxurious service—with exclusively first-class buses that have roomy, totally reclining seats—to Guadalajara, Mexico City, Barra de Navidad, Chamela, and Manzanillo. Primera Plus connects Mexico City with Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta along with other central and western cities.


TAP serves Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Tepic, and Mazatlán. Basic service, including some buses with marginal or no air-conditioning, is the norm on Transportes Cihuatlán, which connects the Bahía de Banderas and PV with southern Jalisco towns such as Barra de Navidad.


You can buy tickets for first-class or better in advance; this is advisable during peak periods, although the most popular routes have buses on the hour. You can make reservations for many, though not all, of the first-class bus lines, through the Ticketbus central reservations agency. Rates average 35–76 pesos ($2.70–$5.70) per hour of travel, depending on the level of luxury. Plan to pay in pesos, although most of the deluxe bus services accept Visa and MasterCard.


Bus Contacts

Central Camionera (Bahia Sin Nombre 363, Las Mojoneras, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48290. 322/290–1009.)

Estrella Blanca (01800/507–5500 toll-free in Mexico; 322/290–1014 in Puerto Vallarta. www.estrellablanca.com.mx. Carr a Tepic Km 9, Mezcales, Puerto Vallarta, 63735. 329/296–5936. www.estrellablanca.com.mx.).

ETN (Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 01800/800–0386 toll-free in Mexico; 322/290–0997 in PV. www.etn.com.mx. Plaza Parabien, Av. Tepic sur 1508, Local 5, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit. 322/297–7552. etn.com.mx.).

Primera Plus (322/290–0716 in PV; 322/187–0492 in NV. primeraplus.com.mx.)

Transporte del Pacifico (TAP) (322/290–0119 in PV. tap.com.mx.)

Vallarta Plus (Palma Real 140, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48339. 322/221–3636 or 322/306–3071. www.vallartaplus.com.)


City Buses

City buses (6.5 pesos) serve downtown, the Zona Hotelera Norte, and Marina Vallarta. Bus stops—marked by blue-and-white signs—are every two or three long blocks along the highway (Carretera al Aeropuerto) and in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Green buses to Playa Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlán (7 pesos) run about every 15 minutes from the corner of Avenida Insurgentes and Basilio Badillo downtown.


Gray ATM buses serving Nuevo Vallarta and Bucerías (20 pesos), Punta Mita (30 pesos), and Sayulita (50 pesos) depart from Plaza las Glorias, in front of the HSBC bank and Wal-Mart, both of which are along Carretera Aeropuerto between downtown and the Zona Hotelera.

It's rare for inspectors to check tickets, but just when you've let yours flutter to the floor, a figure of authority is bound to appear. So hang on to your ticket and hat: PV bus drivers race from one stoplight to the next in jerky bursts of speed.

There's no problem with theft on city buses aside from perhaps an occasional pickpocket, which could be said of anywhere in the world.


 

TAXI TRAVEL

PV taxis aren't metered and instead charge by zones. Most of the larger hotels have rate sheets, and taxi drivers should produce them upon request. Tipping isn't necessary unless the driver helps you with your bags, in which case a few pesos are appropriate.


The minimum fare is 40 pesos (about $3), but if you don't ask, you'll probably be overcharged. Negotiate a price in advance for out-of-town and hourly services as well; many drivers will start by asking how much you want to pay or how much others have charged you to get a sense of your street-smarts. The usual hourly rate at this writing was 300 pesos per hour. In all cases, if you are unsure of what a fare should be, ask your hotel's front-desk personnel.


The ride from downtown to the airport or to Marina Vallarta costs about $10; it’s $20 to Nuevo Vallarta and $25 to Bucerías. From downtown south to Mismaloya it's about $5 to Conchas Chinas, $10–$12 to the hotels of the Zona Hotelera, $12 to Mismaloya, and $15 to Boca de Tomatlán. You can easily hail a cab on the street. Taxi Tel Flamingos and others provide 24-hour service.


Taxi Company

Taxi Tel Flamingos (322/225–0716.)

Sitio Bucerías (329/298–0714.)

Sitio Valle Dorado (322/297–5407.)


 

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

Upon entering Mexico, you'll be given a baggage declaration form and asked to itemize what you're bringing into the country. You are allowed to bring in 3 liters of spirits or wine for personal use; 400 cigarettes, 25 cigars, or 200 grams of tobacco; a reasonable amount of perfume for personal use; one video camera and one regular camera and 12 rolls of film for each; and gift items not to exceed a total of $300. If driving across the U.S. border, gift items shouldn’t exceed $75, although foreigners aren’t usually hassled about this. Although the much-publicized border violence doesn’t affect travelers, it is real. To be safe don’t linger long at the border.


You aren't allowed to bring firearms, ammunition, meat, vegetables, plants, fruit, or flowers into the country. You can bring in one of each of the following items without paying taxes: a cell phone, a camera, a DVD player, a CD player, a musical instrument, a laptop computer, and a portable copier or printer. Compact discs and/or audio cassettes are limited to 20 total and DVDs to 5.


Mexico also allows you to bring a cat or dog, if you have two things: (1) a pet health certificate signed by a registered veterinarian in the United States and issued not more than 72 hours before the animal enters Mexico; and (2) a pet vaccination certificate showing that the animal has been treated (as applicable) for rabies, hepatitis, distemper, and leptospirosis.

For more information or information on bringing other animals, contact the Mexican consulate, which has branches in many major American cities as well as border towns. To find the consulate nearest you, check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (go to the "Servicios Consulares" option).


Information in Mexico

Mexican Embassy (202/728–1600. embamex.sre.gob.mx/eua.)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.sre.gob.mx/en.)


U.S. Information

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (877/227–5511. www.cbp.gov.)


 

EMERGENCIES

If you get into a scrape with the law, you can call your nearest consulate; U.S. citizens can also call the Overseas Citizens Services Center in the United States.


Consulate and Embassy

United States Consul (Centro Comercial Paradise Plaza, Paseo de Cocoteros 85 Sur, 2nd fl., Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63732. 322/222–0069; 33/3268–2145 24-hour emergency number. Mon.–Thurs. 8:30 am–12:30 pm.)

U.S. Embassy (Paseo de la Reforma 305, Col. Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 06500. 55/5080–2000. mexico.usembassy.gov.)


General Emergency Contacts

General Emergency (Police, Transit, Fire) (066.)

U.S. Overseas Citizens Services Center (888/407–4747 or 202/501–4444. www.travel.state.gov.)

 

HOURS OF OPERATION

Banks are generally open weekdays 9 to 3. In Puerto Vallarta most are open until 4, and some of the larger banks keep a few branches open Saturday from 9 or 10 to 1 or 2:30; however, the extended hours are often for deposits or check cashing only. HSBC is the one chain that stays open for longer hours; on weekdays it is open 8 to 7 and on Saturday from 8 to 3. Government offices are usually open to the public weekdays 9 to 3; along with banks and most private offices, they're closed on national holidays.


Some gas stations, like those near major thoroughfares, are open 24 hours a day. Those that are not are normally open 6 am–10 pm daily.

Stores are generally open weekdays and Saturday from 9 or 10 to 5 or 7; in resort areas, those stores geared to tourists may stay open until 9 or 10 at night and all day on Saturday; some are open on Sunday as well, but it's good to call ahead before making a special trip. Some more traditional shops close for a two-hour lunch break, roughly 2–4. Airport shops are open seven days a week.


Holidays

Banks and government offices close on January 1, February 5 (Constitution Day), March 21 (Benito Juárez's birthday), May 1 (Labor Day), September 16 (Independence Day), November 20 (Revolution Day), and December 25 (Christmas). They may also close on unofficial holidays, such as Day of the Dead (November 1–2), Virgin of Guadalupe Day (December 12), and during Holy Week (the days leading to Easter Sunday). Government offices usually have reduced hours and staff from Christmas through New Year's Day.

 

MONEY

Prices in this book are quoted most often in U.S. dollars. Some services in Mexico quote prices in dollars, others in pesos. Because of the current fluctuation in the dollar/peso market, prices may be different from those listed here, but we’ve done our best to give accurate rates.


A stay in one of Puerto Vallarta's top hotels can cost more than $350, but if you aren't wedded to standard creature comforts, you can spend as little as $40 a day on room, board, and local transportation. Lodgings are less expensive in the charming but unsophisticated mountain towns like San Sebastián del Oeste.


You can get away with a tab of $50 for two at a wonderful restaurant (although it's also easy to pay more). The good news is that there are hotels and eateries for every budget, and inexpensive doesn't necessarily mean bargain basement. This guide recommends some excellent places to stay, eat, and play for extremely reasonable prices.

Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.


ATMs and Banks

ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are widely available, with Star, Cirrus, and Plus the most frequently found networks. Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. You'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM, however, than you will at a currency-exchange office or at a teller window. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.


Many Mexican ATMs cannot accept PINs with more than four digits. If yours is longer, change your PIN to four digits before you leave home. If your PIN is fine yet your transaction still can't be completed, chances are that the computer lines are busy or that the machine has run out of money or is being serviced. Don't give up.


For cash advances, plan to use Visa or MasterCard, as many Mexican ATMs don't accept American Express. Cash advances are allowed at most local ATMs, however it’s the most expensive way to get your money. It may be better to leave cash advances just for emergencies. Large banks with reliable ATMs include Banamex, HSBC, BBVA Bancomer, Santander, Banorte, and Scotiabank Inverlat. Some banks no longer exchange traveler’s checks; if you carry these, make sure they are in smaller denominations ($20s or $50s) to make it more likely that hotels or shops will accept them if need be. Travelers must have their passport or other official identification in order to change traveler's checks.


Banks

Banamex (Calle Juárez, at Calle Zaragoza, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/226–6110. www.banamex.com. Plaza Peninsula, Av. Francisco Medina Ascensio 2485, Zona Hotelera, 48300. 322/226–6103. Plaza Caracol L-31, Av. Francisco Medina Ascencio s/n, Zona Hotelera, 48310. 322/224–8710.)

Banorte (Paseo Díaz Ordáz 690 at Calle Josefa Ortiz. de Domínguez, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/222–3210. www.banorte.com. Plaza Lago Real, Calle Tepic 430 Ote, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63738. 322/223–7796. Bd. Francisco M. Ascencio 500, Zona Hotelera, 48330. 01800/226–6783.)


Credit Cards

Credit cards are accepted in Puerto Vallarta and at major hotels and restaurants in outlying areas. Smaller, less expensive restaurants and shops tend to take only cash. In general, credit cards aren't accepted in small towns and villages, except in some hotels. The most widely accepted cards are MasterCard and Visa.


When shopping, you can often get better prices if you pay with cash, particularly in small shops. But you'll receive wholesale exchange rates when you make purchases with credit cards. These exchange rates are usually better than those that banks give you for changing money. U.S. banks charge their customers a foreign transaction fee for using their credit card abroad. The decision to pay cash or to use a credit card might depend on whether the establishment in which you are making a purchase finds bargaining for prices acceptable, and whether you want the safety net of your card's purchase protection. To avoid fraud or errors, it's wise to make sure that "pesos" is clearly marked on all credit-card receipts.


Before you leave for Mexico, contact your credit-card company to alert them to your travel plans and to get lost-card phone numbers that work in Mexico; the standard toll-free numbers often don't work abroad. Carry these numbers separately from your wallet so you'll have them if you need to call to report lost or stolen cards. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa note the international number for card-replacement calls on the back of their cards.


Currency and Exchange

Mexican currency comes in denominations of 20-, 50-, 100-, 200-, and 500-peso bills. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 pesos and 20 and 50 centavos. (Twenty-centavo coins are only rarely seen.) Many of the coins are very similar, so check carefully; bills, however, are different colors and easily distinguished.


U.S. dollar bills (but not coins) are widely accepted in tourist-oriented shops and restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. Pay in pesos where possible, however, for better prices. Although in larger hotels U.S. dollars are welcome as tips, it's generally better to tip in pesos so that service personnel don’t have to go to the bank to exchange currency.


At this writing, the exchange rate was 13.43 pesos to the U.S. dollar. ATM transaction fees may be higher abroad than at home, but ATM exchange rates are the best because they're based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks. Most ATMs allow a maximum withdrawal of $300 to $400 per transaction. Banks and casas de cambio (money-exchange bureaus) have the second-best exchange rates. The difference from one place to another is usually only a few pesos.


Some banks change money on weekdays only until 1 or 3 pm (though they stay open until 4 or 5, or later). Casas de cambio generally stay open until 6 or later and often operate on weekends; they usually have competitive rates and much shorter lines. By law, no more than $300 can be exchanged per person per day, so plan in advance. Some hotels exchange money, but they give a poor exchange rate.


You can do well at most airport exchange booths, though not as well as at the ATMs. You'll do even worse at bus stations, in hotels, in restaurants, or in stores.


When changing money, count your bills before leaving the window of the bank or casa de cambio, and don't accept any partially torn or taped-together notes: You won't be able to use them anywhere. Also, many shop and restaurant owners are unable to make change for large bills. Enough of these encounters may compel you to request billetes chicos (small bills) when you exchange money. It's wise to have a cache of smaller bills and coins to use at these more humble establishments to avoid having to wait around while the merchant runs off to seek change.

 

PASSPORTS AND VISAS

U.S. citizens reentering the United States by land or sea are required to have documents that comply with WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative), most commonly a U.S. passport, a passport card, a trusted traveler card (such as NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST), or an enhanced driver's license. The U.S. passport card is smaller than a traditional passport (think wallet size), cheaper, and valid for just as long, but you can’t use it for travel by air.


Upon entering Mexico, all visitors must get a tourist card. If you're arriving by plane from the United States or Canada, the standard tourist card will be given to you on the plane. They're also available through travel agents and Mexican consulates and at the border if you're entering by land.


You're given a portion of the tourist card form upon entering Mexico. Keep track of this documentation throughout your trip; you will need it when you depart. You'll be asked to hand it, your ticket, and your passport to airline representatives at the gate when boarding for departure.


If you lose your tourist card, plan to spend some time (and about $30) sorting it out with Mexican officials at the airport on departure.


A tourist card costs about $20. The fee is generally tacked on to the price of your airline ticket; if you enter by land or boat you'll have to pay the fee separately. You're exempt from the fee if you enter by sea and stay less than 72 hours, or by land and do not stray past the 26- to 30-km (16- to 18-mile) checkpoint into the country's interior.


Tourist cards and visas are valid from 15 to 180 days, at the discretion of the immigration officer at your point of entry (90 days for Australians). Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, and the British may request up to 180 days for a tourist card or visa extension. The extension fee is about $20, and the process can be time-consuming. There's no guarantee that you'll get the extension you're requesting. If you're planning an extended stay, plead with the immigration official for the maximum allowed days at the time of entry. It will save you time and money later.


Mexico has some of the strictest policies about children entering the country. Minors traveling with one parent need notarized permission from the absent parent. And all children, including infants, must have proof of citizenship (the same as adults; above) for travel to Mexico.


If you're a single parent traveling with children up to age 18, you must have a notarized letter from the other parent stating that the child has his or her permission to leave the country. The child must be carrying the original letter—not a facsimile or scanned copy—as well as proof of the parent/child relationship (usually a birth certificate or court document), and an original custody decree, if applicable. If the other parent is deceased or the child has only one legal parent, a notarized statement saying so must be obtained as proof. In addition, you must fill out a tourist card for each child over the age of 10 traveling with you.


Info

Mexican Embassy (202/728–1600. embamex.sre.gob.mx/eua/.)


U.S. Passport Information

U.S. Department of State (877/487–2778. travel.state.gov.)

 

SAFETY

Horror stories about drug-cartel killings and border violence are making big news these days, but Puerto Vallarta is many hundreds of miles away. Imagine not going to visit the Florida Keys because of reports of violence in a bad section of New York City. Still, Puerto Vallarta is no longer the innocent of years gone by; pickpocketing and the occasional mugging can be a concern, and precaution is in order here as elsewhere. Store only enough money in your wallet or bag to cover the day's spending. And don't flash big wads of money or leave valuables like cameras unattended. Leave your passport and other valuables you don't need in your hotel's safe.


Bear in mind that reporting a crime to the police is often a frustrating experience unless you speak good Spanish and have a great deal of patience. If you're victimized, contact your local consulate or your embassy in Mexico City.


One of the most serious threats to your safety is local drivers. Although pedestrians have the right-of-way, drivers disregard this law. And more often than not, drivers who hit pedestrians drive away as fast as they can without stopping, to avoid jail. Many Mexican drivers don't carry auto insurance, so you'll have to shoulder your own medical expenses. Pedestrians should be extremely cautious of all traffic, especially city bus drivers, who often drive with truly reckless abandon.


If you're on your own, consider using only your first initial and last name when registering at your hotel. Solo travelers, or women traveling with other women rather than men, may be subjected to piropos (flirtatious compliments). Piropos are one thing, but more aggressive harassment is another. In the rare event that the situation seems to be getting out of hand, don't hesitate to ask someone for help. If you express outrage, you should find no shortage of willing defenders.


General Information and Warnings

Transportation Security Administration (866/289–9673. www.tsa.gov.)

U.S. Department of State (888/407–4747 from US & Canada; 202/501–4444 from Overseas. www.travel.state.gov.)

 

TIME

Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, and the rest of Jalisco State fall into Central Standard Time (the same as Mexico City). Nayarit and other parts of the northwest coast are on Mountain Standard Time.

However, Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Punta de Mita, and most of the Riviera Nayarit have been adjusted to stay in the same time zone as Puerto Vallarta, avoiding the confusions of past years. Bear in mind that Mexico does observe daylight saving time, but not on the same schedule as the United States.

 

VISITOR INFORMATION


Contacts Abroad

Mexican Ministry of Tourism (SECTUR) (55/3002–6300; 01800/006–8839 toll-free in Mexico. www.sectur.gob.mx.)

Mexican Tourism Board (U.S. and Canada) (800/446–3942 in U.S. and Canada. www.visitmexico.com.)


PV and Jalisco Contacts

Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board & Convention and Visitors Bureau (Hotel Canto del Sol, Las Glorias, Local 18, Ground fl., Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48310. 322/224–1175; 888/384–6822 in U.S.; 01800/719–3276 in Mexico. www.visitpuertovallarta.com.)


Riviera Nayarit Contacts

Bay of Banderas/Nuevo Vallarta Tourism Office (Paseo de los Cocoteros at Bd. Nuevo Vallarta, between Gran Velas and Marival hotels, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/297–1006.)

Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau (Paradise Plaza, Local Int. 6–A, Paseo de los Cocoteros 85 Sur, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/297–2516. www.rivieranayarit.com.)


Online Resources

The best of the private-enterprise websites are PV Mirror and Virtual Vallarta, which have tons of good information and short articles about life in PV. Bucerías, Sayulita, and Punta Mita have their own websites, as does the Costalegre region as a whole.

Excellent English-language sites for general history, travel information, facts, and news stories about Mexico are Mexico Online and Mexico Connect. Mexico Guru has news about PV and nearby destinations, interactive maps, and a dictionary of Mexico-specific slang and vocabulary.

The nonprofit site Ancient Mexico has information about western Mexico as well as more comprehensive information about the Maya and Aztecs.


Contacts

Ancient Mexico (www.ancientmexico.com.)

Costalegre (www.costalegre.ca.)

Mexico Connect (www.mexconnect.com.)

Mexico Guru (www.mexicoguru.com.)

Mexico Online (www.mexonline.com.)

Punta Mita (www.puntamita.com.)

PV Mirror (www.pvmirror.com.)

Sayulita Life (www.sayulitalife.com.)

Virtual Vallarta (www.virtualvallarta.com.)

 

GETTING ORIENTED

The original town, Old Vallarta, sits at the center of 42-km (26-mile) Bahía de Banderas, Mexico's largest bay, in Jalisco State. From here, the Sierra Madre foothills dive into the sea. Mountain-fed rivers nourish tropical deciduous forests as far north as San Blas, in Nayarit State. South of PV the hills recede from the coast, and the drier tropical thorn forest predominates south to Barra de Navidad.


 

FAST FACTS

Nickname: Foreigners call it PV or Vallarta. A vallartense (person from Puerto Vallarta), however, is known as a pata salada (literally, salty foot).

State: PV is in the state of Jalisco, whose capital is Guadalajara.

Population: 255,861

Latitude: 20°N (same as Cancún, Mexico; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Hanoi, Vietnam)

Longitude: 105°W (same as Regina, Saskatchewan; Denver, Colorado; El Paso, Texas)


 

CLIMATE

The proximity of mountains to the coast increases humidity. From Puerto Vallarta north to San Blas there's jungly terrain (officially, tropical deciduous forest). South of PV the mountains recede from the coast, making that area's thorn-forest ecosystem drier but still hot and humid.


 

DINING PLANNER

Eating Out Strategy

Where should we eat? With hundreds of PV-area eateries competing for your attention, it may seem like a daunting question. But fret not—we’ve eaten our way around town on your behalf. The selections here represent the best this destination has to offer—from tacos at street-side stands to five-star haute cuisine. Search "Best Bets" for top recommendations by price, cuisine, and experience. Or find a review quickly in the alphabetical listings.


Mealtimes

Upon rising, locals start with coffee and pan dulce (sweet breads) or chilaquiles (broken fried tortillas in chili sauce) for desayuno (breakfast) at the area’s coffee shops and small restaurants. Schedule permitting, Mexicans love to eat a hearty almuerzo, or full breakfast, at about 10. The day’s main meal, comida, is typically between 2 and 5 pm and consists of soup and/or salad, bread or tortillas, a main dish, side dishes, and dessert. Cena (dinner) is lighter; many people just have milk or hot chocolate and a sweet roll or tamales between 8 and 9 pm.


That said, PV is tourist-friendly, and most eateries accommodate travelers by serving breakfast until noon and main meals from noon until late in the evening. Restaurants have long hours in PV, though seafood shacks on the beach may close by late afternoon or sunset. Outside the resort areas, restaurants may close at 7 or 8 pm. Nayarit State is on Mountain Standard Time (an hour earlier than PV), but since 2011 restaurants from Punta de Mita south officially follow Central Time (as in PV). Unless otherwise noted, restaurants in this guide are open daily for lunch and dinner.


Prices

Avoid paying for water; instead ask for un vaso con agua or agua de garrafón—either should net you a glass of purified water from the jugs used for cooking and rinsing vegetables. Most restaurants offer lunch deals with special menus at great pricesthough at more traditional restaurants, the lunch menu may not be available before 1 or 1:30 pm. Some small or casual restaurants accept only cash.


Children

Though it's unusual to see children in the dining rooms of Puerto Vallarta’s upscale restaurants, dining with youngsters here does not have to mean culinary exile. Many of the restaurants reviewed in this chapter are excellent choices for families.


Reservations

It’s possible to get a same-day reservation if your timing's flexible. With a bit of luck it's possible to just show up for dinner, even at the nicest places; go early (6 pm) or late (after 9 pm) and politely inquire about any last-minute vacancies or cancellations. Occasionally, an eatery may ask you to call the day before your scheduled meal to reconfirm; don't forget, or you could lose out. You'll find that with the exception of small mom-and-pop establishments, many places provide valet parking at dinner for reasonable rates (often around $2–$3, plus tip).


Tipping and Taxes

In most restaurants, tip the waiter 10–15%. (To figure out a 10% tip, move the decimal point one place to the left on your total; add half that for 15%.) Some restaurants include a service charge, so only tip more if service has been exceptional. Tip at least $1 per drink at the bar. Never tip the maître d' unless you're out to impress your guests or expect to pay another visit soon. Even in the tonier restaurants, tax is typically already factored in to the cost of individual menu items.


What to Wear

Dining out in Puerto Vallarta tends to be a casual affair—even at some of the more expensive restaurants you're likely to see customers in dressy shorts or jeans. It's extremely rare for PV restaurants to actually require a jacket and tie, but all of the city's more formal establishments appreciate a gentleman who dons a jacket. Let your good judgment be your guide.


Beer and Spirits

Jalisco is far and away Mexico's most important tequila-producing state, and its green-agave cousin, raicilla, is gaining in popularity (though still hard to find). Mexican beers range from light like Corona and Sol to medium-bodied and golden like Pacífico and Bohemia; great darks include Negra Modelo and Indio.


Gourmet Festival

Gourmet Festival. Puerto Vallarta's annual gourmet festival has brought international attention since 1994. During the 10-day food fling each November, chefs from around the world bring new twists on timeless classics. Events include classes and seminars, and restaurants and guest chefs create special menus with wine pairings. Attendees can sample food from otherwise inaccessible restaurants of all-inclusive hotels, all of them at better-than-usual rates. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. www.festivalgourmet.com.


Smoking

The law forbids smoking in enclosed areas, including bars. However, smoking might still be allowed, especially if there is an outdoor patio. Call ahead to find out a restaurant's policy.

 

AIR TRAVEL

Flights with stopovers in Mexico City tend to take the entire day. There are nonstop flights from a few U.S. cities, including Atlanta (Delta), Los Angeles (Alaska Air, American Airlines via Mexicana de Aviación), San Francisco (Alaska Air, United, Mexicana), Seattle (Alaska Air), Phoenix (US Airways), Houston (Continental), Dallas (American), Denver (Frontier Air, United), Chicago ORD (American Airlines), and Kansas City, Missouri (Frontier Air).


Air Canada has nonstop flights from Toronto and connecting flights (via Toronto) from all major cities. Web-based Volaris is a Tijuana-based airline with reasonable fares. It flies direct to Puerto Vallarta from Tijuana and between Guadalajara and San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cancun. You can fly to Manzanillo, just south of the Costalegre, via many airlines with a stop in Mexico City.


If you plan to include Guadalajara in your itinerary, consider an open-jaw flight to Puerto Vallarta with a return from Guadalajara (or vice versa). There's almost no difference in price when you fly a Mexican airline like Aeroméxico, even when factoring in bus fare; sometimes the open jaw is even cheaper.

Flying times are about 2¾ hours from Houston, 3 hours from Los Angeles, 3½ hours from Denver, 4 hours from Chicago, and 8 hours from New York.

Airline and Airport Links.com (www.airlineandairportlinks.com.)


Airlines

Aeroméxico (800/237–6639 in U.S. and Canada; 01800/021–4000; 01800/021–4010 in Mexico; 322/221–1204 in PV. www.aeromexico.com.)

Air Canada (888/247–2262 in U.S. and Canada; 322/221–1823 in PV. www.aircanada.com.)

Alaska Airlines (800/252–7522 in Mexico; 322/221–2610 in PV. www.alaskaair.com.)

American Airlines (800/433–7300 in U.S.; 01800/904–6000 in Mexico; 322/221–1799 in PV. www.aa.com.)

Delta Airlines (800/221–1212 in U.S.; 01800/266–0046 in Mexico. www.delta.com.)

Frontier. Frontier. 800/432–1359 in U.S. www.flyfrontier.com.

Interjet (01800/011–2345 in Mexico. www.interjet.com.mx.)

United Airlines (800/864–8331 for U.S. and Mexico reservations; 01800/900–5000 in Mexico. www.united.com.)

US Airways (800/428–4322 in U.S.; 322/221–1333 in PV. www.usairways.com.)

Volaris (55/1102–8000 in Mexico City; 01800/122–8000 in Mexico. www.volaris.com.mx.)


Airline Security Issues

Transportation Security Administration (866/289–9673. www.tsa.gov.)


Airports

The main gateway, and where many PV-bound travelers change planes, is Mexico City's large, modern Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México (Benito Juárez; airport code: MEX). It’s infamous for pickpocketing and taxi scams, so watch your stuff.

Puerto Vallarta's small international Aeropuerto Internacional Gustavo Díaz Ordáz (PVR) is 7.5 km (4½ miles) north of downtown.


Airport Information

Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México (Benito Juárez) (Mexico City, Quintana Roo. 55/2482–2424 or 55/2482–2400. www.aicm.com.mx.)

Aeropuerto Internacional Gustavo Díaz Ordáz (Tepic Hwy. Km 7.5, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48311. 322/221–1298. www.aeropuertosgap.com.mx/es/puerto-vallarta-3.)


Ground Transportation

Vans provide transportation from the airport to PV hotels; there's a zone system with different prices for the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone), downtown PV, and so on. Outside the luggage collection area, vendors shout for your attention. It's a confusing scene. Purchase the taxi vouchers sold at the stands inside the terminal, and be sure to avoid the time-share vendors who trap you in their vans for a high-pressure sales pitch en route to your hotel. Avoid drivers who approach you, and head for an official taxi kiosk, which will have zone information clearly posted. As in any busy airport, don't leave your luggage unattended for any reason.


Before you purchase your ticket, look for a taxi-zone map (it should be posted on or by the ticket stand), and make sure your taxi ticket is properly zoned; if you need a ticket only to Zone 3, don't pay for a ticket to Zone 4 or 5. Taxis or vans to the Costalegre resorts between PV and Manzanillo are generally arranged through the resort. If not, taxis charge about 200 to 250 pesos ($15–$19) an hour—more if you're traveling beyond Jalisco State lines.

 

CAR TRAVEL

From December through April—peak season—traffic clogs the narrow downtown streets, and negotiating the steep hills in Old Vallarta (sometimes you have to drive in reverse to let another car pass) can be unnerving. Avoid rush hour (7–9 am and 6–8 pm) and when schools let out (2–3 pm). Travel with a companion and a good road map or atlas. Always lock your car, and never leave valuable items visible in the body of the car. The trunk is generally safe, although any thief can crack one open if he chooses.

It's absolutely essential that you carry Mexican auto insurance for liability, even if you have full coverage for collision, damages, and theft. If you injure anyone in an accident, you could well be jailed until culpability is established—whether it was your fault or not—unless you have insurance.


Gasoline

Pemex (the government petroleum monopoly) franchises all of Mexico's gas stations, which you can find at most intersections and in cities and towns. Gas is measured in liters. Stations in and around the larger towns may accept U.S. or Canadian credit cards (or dollars).

Premium unleaded gas (called premium, the red pump) and regular unleaded gas (magna, the green pump) are available nationwide, but it's still best to fill up whenever you can and not let your tank get below half full. Fuel quality is generally lower than that in the United States, but it has improved enough so that your car will run acceptably. At this writing gas was about 12.8 pesos per liter (about $3.78 per gallon) for the cheap stuff and 13.4 pesos per liter ($4.12 per gallon) for super.

Attendants pump the gas for you and may also wash your windshield and check your oil and tire air pressure. A small tip is customary (from just a few pesos for pumping the gas only to 5 or 10 for the whole enchilada of services). Keep an eye on the gas meter to make sure the attendant is starting it at "0" and that you're charged the correct price.


Parking

A circle with a diagonal line superimposed on the letter E (for estacionamiento) means "no parking." Illegally parked cars may have the license plate removed, requiring a trip to the traffic-police headquarters for payment of a fine. When in doubt, park in a lot rather than on the street; your car will probably be safer there anyway. There are parking lots in PV at Parque Hidalgo (Av. México at Venezuela, Col. 5 de Diciembre), just north of the Cuale River at the malecón between Calle A. Rodríguez and Calle Encino, and in the Zona Romántica at Parque Lázaro Cárdenas. Fees vary depending on time of day, ranging from 12 pesos (just under $1) per hour to 20 pesos (about $1.50) per hour.


Road Conditions

Several well-kept toll roads head into and out of major cities like Guadalajara—most of them four lanes wide. However, these carreteras (major highways) don't go too far into the countryside, and even the toll-roads have topes (speed bumps) and toll booths to slow you down. Cuota means toll road; libre means no toll, and such roads are often two lanes and not as well-maintained. A new 33½-km (21-mile) highway between Tepic and San Blas will shorten driving time to about 20 minutes.


Roads leading to, or in, Nayarit and Jalisco include highways connecting Nogales and Mazatlán; Guadalajara and Tepic; and Mexico City, Morelia, and Guadalajara. Tolls between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta (334 km [207 miles]) total about $25.

In rural areas roads are sometimes poor; other times the two-lane, blacktop roads are perfectly fine. Be extra cautious during the rainy season, when rock slides and potholes are a problem.


Watch out for animals, especially untethered horses, cattle, and dogs, and for dangerous, unrailed curves. Topes (speed bumps) are ubiquitous; slow down when approaching any town or village and look for signs saying "Topes" or "Vibradores." Police officers often issue tickets to those speeding through populated areas.

Generally, driving times are longer than for comparable distances in the United States and Canada. Allow extra time for unforeseen occurrences as well as for traffic, particularly truck traffic.


Roadside Emergencies

To help motorists on major highways, the Mexican Tourism Ministry operates a fleet of more than 250 pickup trucks, known as the Angeles Verdes, or Green Angels, reachable by phone throughout Mexico by dialing 078 or, in some areas near Puerto Vallarta, 066. In either case, ask the person who answers to transfer the call to the Green Angels hotline. The bilingual drivers provide mechanical help, first aid, radio-telephone communication, basic supplies and small parts, towing, tourist information, and protection.


Services are free, and spare parts, fuel, and lubricants are provided at cost. Tips are always appreciated (around 65–130 pesos [$5–$10] for big jobs and 40–65 pesos [$3–$5] for minor stuff; a souvenir from your country can sometimes be a well-received alternative). The Green Angels patrol the major highways twice daily 8–8 (usually later on holiday weekends). If you break down, pull off the road as far as possible, and lift the hood of your car. If you don’t have a cell phone, hail a passing vehicle and ask the driver to notify the patrol. Most drivers will be quite helpful.


Emergency Services

Angeles Verdes (078.)


Rules of the Road

When you sign up for Mexican car insurance, you may receive a booklet on Mexican rules of the road. It really is a good idea to read it to familiarize yourself not only with laws but also customs that differ from those of your home country. For instance: if an oncoming vehicle flicks its lights at you in daytime, slow down: it could mean trouble ahead; when approaching a narrow bridge, the first vehicle to flash its lights has right of way; right on red is not allowed; one-way traffic is indicated by an arrow; two-way, by a double-pointed arrow. (Other road signs follow the widespread system of international symbols.)


On the highway, using your left turn signal to turn left is dangerous. Mexican drivers—especially truck drivers—use their left turn signal on the highway to signal the vehicle behind that it's safe to pass. Conversely they rarely use their signal to actually make a turn. Foreigners signaling a left turn off the highway into a driveway or onto a side road have been killed by cars or trucks behind that mistook their turn signal for a signal to pass. To turn left from a highway when cars are behind you, it's best to pull over to the right and make the left turn when no cars are approaching, to avoid disaster.


Mileage and speed limits are given in kilometers: 110 kph and 80 kph (66 mph and 50 mph, respectively) are the most common maximums on the highway. However, speed limits can change from curve to curve, so watch the signs carefully. In cities and small towns, observe the posted speed limits, which can be as low as 20 kph (12 mph).

Seat belts are required by law throughout Mexico. Drunk driving laws are fairly harsh in Mexico, and if you're caught you may go to jail immediately. It's difficult to say what the blood-alcohol limit is since everyone you ask gives a different answer, which means each case is probably handled in a discretionary manner. The best way to avoid any problems is simply to not drink and drive.


If you're stopped for speeding, the officer is supposed to take your license and hold it until you pay the fine at the local police station. But the officer will usually prefer a mordida (small bribe). Just take out a couple hundred pesos, hold it out discreetly while asking politely if the officer can "pay the fine for you." Conversely, a few cops might resent the offer of a bribe, but it's still common practice.

If you decide to dispute a charge that seems preposterous, do so courteously and with a smile, and tell the officer that you would like to talk to the police captain when you get to the station. The officer usually will let you go rather than go to the station.


Safety on the Road

Never drive at night in remote and rural areas. Bandidos are one concern, but so are potholes, free-roaming animals, cars with no working lights, road-hogging trucks, drunk drivers, and difficulty in getting assistance. It's best to use toll roads whenever possible; although costly, they're safer, too.

Off the highway, driving in Mexico can be nerve-wracking for novices, with people sometimes paying little attention to marked lanes. Most drivers pay attention to safety rules, but be vigilant. Drunk driving skyrockets on holiday weekends.

A police officer may pull you over for something you didn't do; unfortunately a common scam. If you're pulled over for any reason, be polite—displays of anger will only make matters worse. Although efforts are being made to fight corruption, it's still a fact of life in Mexico, and for many people, it's worth the $10 to $100 it costs to get their license back to be on their way quickly. (The amount requested varies depending on what the officer assumes you can pay—the year, make, and model of the car you drive being one determining factor.) Others persevere long enough to be let off with a warning only. The key to success, in this case, is a combination of calm and patience.


Rental Cars

Mexico manufactures Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and Volkswagen vehicles. With the exception of Volkswagen, you can get the same kind of midsize and luxury cars in Mexico that you can rent in the United States and Canada. Economy usually refers to a Dodge i10 or similar, which may or may not come with air-conditioning or automatic transmission.

It can really pay to shop around: in Puerto Vallarta, rates for a compact car (Chevrolet Aveo or similar) with air-conditioning, manual transmission, and unlimited mileage range from $19 a day and $120 a week to $50 a day and $300–$400 a week, excluding insurance. Full-coverage insurance varies greatly depending on the deductible, but averages $25–$40 a day. As a rule, stick with the major companies because they tend to be more reliable.

You can also hire a taxi with a driver (who generally doubles as a tour guide) through your hotel. The going rate is about $22 an hour without crossing state lines. Limousine service runs about $65 an hour and up, with a three- to five-hour minimum.

In Mexico the minimum driving age is 18, but most rental-car agencies have a surcharge for drivers under 25. Your own country's driver's license is perfectly acceptable.

Surcharges for additional drivers are around $5 per day plus tax. Children's car seats run about the same, but not all companies have them.

Car-Rental Insurance

You must carry Mexican auto insurance, at the very least liability as well as coverage against physical damage to the vehicle and theft at your discretion, depending on what, if anything, your own auto insurance (or credit card, if you use it to rent a car) includes. For rental cars, all insurance will all be dealt with through the rental company.

Major Rental Agencies

Alamo (800/522–9696 in U.S.; 322/221–3040 in PV. www.alamo.com.)

Avis (800/331–1084 in U.S.; 322/221–1112 in PV. www.avis.com.)

Budget (800/472–3325 in U.S.; 322/221–1210 in PV. www.budget.com.)

Hertz (800/654–3001 in U.S.; 999/911–8040 in PV. www.hertz.com.)

National Car Rental (800/227–7368 in U.S.; 322/226–0069 in PV. www.nationalcar.com.)

 

COMMUNICATIONS

Internet

Internet cafés have sprung up all over Puerto Vallarta and even small surrounding towns and villages, making email by far the easiest way to get in touch with people back home. However, the best Internet in town, as in so many other cities of the world, is at Starbucks; nobody will charge you for the Internet service and all you need to do is get yourself a cappuccino. There are several branches within the tourist areas; just look on their website to locate the nearest one.


If you're bringing a laptop with you, check with the manufacturer's technical support line to see what service and/or repair affiliates it has in the areas you plan to visit. Carry a spare battery to save yourself the expense and headache of having to hunt down a replacement on the spot. Memory sticks and other accessories are usually more expensive in Mexico than in the United States or Europe, but are available in megastores such as Sam's Club and Office Depot as well as mom-and-pop computer shops.

The younger generation of Mexicans is computer savvy and there are some excellent repair wizards and technicians to help you with problems; many are bilingual.

Contacts

Cybercafes. This website lists more than 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide. www.cybercafes.com.


Phones

The area code for PV (and the northern Costalegre) and Nuevo Vallarta is 322; San Francisco's is 311; between Bucerías and Sayulita, 329; Lo De Marcos and Rincón de Guayabitos, 327; San Blas, 323. The Costalegre from around Rancho Cuixmala to San Patricio–Melaque and Barra de Navidad has a 315 area code.

The country code for Mexico is 52. When calling a Mexico number from abroad, dial any necessary international access code, then the country code, and then all of the numbers listed for the entry. When calling a cell phone in Mexico from outside the country, dial 01152 (access and country codes) and then 1 and then the number.

Toll-free numbers in Mexico start with an 800 prefix. These numbers, however, are billed as local calls if you call one from a private phone. To reach them, you need to dial 01 before the number. In this guide, Mexico-only toll-free numbers appear as follows: 01800/123–4567. The toll-free numbers listed as 800/123–4567 are U.S. or Canadian numbers and generally work north of the border only (though some calling cards will allow you to dial them from Mexico, charging you minutes as for a toll call). Numbers listed as 001800/123–4567 are toll-free U.S. numbers; if you're calling from Mexico, you'll be charged for an international call.


International Calls

To make an international call, dial 00 before the country code, area code, and number. The country code for the United States and Canada is 1. Avoid phones near tourist areas that advertise in English (e.g., "Call the U.S. or Canada here!"). They charge an outrageous fee per minute. If in doubt, dial the operator and ask for rates.


Calls Within Mexico

Directory assistance is 040 nationwide. For assistance in English, dial 090 for an international operator; tell the operator in what city, state, and country you require directory assistance, and he or she will connect you. There’s no charge for the former; the latter can be dialed only from a home phone, as the charge appears on the monthly phone bill.


Much less often seen today, a caseta de larga distancia is a long-distance/overseas telephone service usually operated out of a store such as a papelería (stationery store), pharmacy, restaurant, or other small business; look for the phone symbol on the door. Casetas may cost slightly more to use than pay phones, but you tend to be shielded from street noise, as you get your own little booth. They also have the benefit of not forcing you to buy a prepaid phone card with a specific denomination—you pay in cash according to the calls you make. Tell the person on duty the number you'd like to call, and she or he will give you a rate and dial for you. Rates seem to vary widely, so shop around.


Cell Phones

If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies from those used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is standard. And you normally pay the toll charges for incoming and outgoing calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message (or at least to receive one, which is sometimes substantially cheaper than to send).


If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as they go for around $30 and sometimes come with a couple hundred prepaid minutes to start you off. The two cell phone carriers in Mexico are Movistar and TELCEL; minutes can be purchased at their offices or more conveniently at OXXO convenience stores, Guadalajara pharmacies, or other locations.


If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old cell phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

 

ELECTRICITY

For U.S. and Canadian travelers, electrical converters aren't necessary because Mexico operates on the 60-cycle, 120-volt system; however, many Mexican outlets have not been updated to accommodate three-prong and polarized plugs (those with one larger prong), so to be safe bring an adapter.

Blackouts and brownouts—often lasting an hour or so—are not unheard of, particularly during the rainy season, so bring a surge protector.

Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit.

 

HEALTH

Food and Drink

In Mexico the biggest health risk is turista (traveler's diarrhea), caused by consuming contaminated fruit, vegetables, or water. To minimize risks, avoid questionable-looking street stands and bad-smelling food even in the toniest establishments; and if you're not sure of a restaurant's standards, pass up ceviche (raw fish cured in lemon juice) and raw vegetables that haven't been peeled (or that can't be peeled, like lettuce and tomatoes).

Drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes, even when you're brushing your teeth. Agua mineral or agua con gas means mineral or carbonated water, and agua purificada means purified water. Hotels with water-purification systems will post signs to that effect in the rooms.


Despite these warnings, keep in mind that Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, and the Costalegre have virtually no industry beyond tourism and are unlikely to kill (or seriously distress) the geese that lay their golden eggs. Some people choose to bend the rules about eating at street stands and consuming fresh fruits and chopped lettuce or cabbage, as there's no guarantee that you won't get sick at a five-star resort and have a delicious, healthful meal at a shack by the sea. If fish or seafood smells or tastes bad, send it back and ask for something different.


Don't fret about ice: Tourist-oriented hotels and restaurants, and even most of those geared toward the locals, use purified water for ice, drinks, and washing vegetables. Many alleged cases of food poisoning are due instead to hangovers or excessive drinking in the strong sun. But whenever you're in doubt, ask questions about the origins of food and water and, if you feel unsure, err on the side of safety.


Mild cases of turista may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide), Lomotil, or Pepto-Bismol (not as strong), all of which you can buy over the counter; keep in mind, though, that these drugs can complicate more serious illnesses. You'll need to replace fluids, so drink plenty of purified water or tea; chamomile tea (te de manzanilla) is a good folk remedy, and it's readily available in restaurants throughout Mexico.


In severe cases, rehydrate yourself with Gatorade or a salt-sugar solution (½ teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons sugar per quart of water). If your fever and diarrhea last longer than a day or two, see a doctor—you may have picked up a parasite or disease that requires prescription medication.


Pests

Mosquitoes are most prevalent during the rainy season, when it's best to use mosquito repellent daily, even in the city; if you're in the jungle or wet places and lack strong repellent, consider covering up well or going indoors at dusk (called the "mosquito hour" by locals).

An excellent brand of repelente de insectos (insect repellent) called OFF is readily available; do not use it on children under age 2. Repellents that are not at least 10% DEET or picaridin are not effective here. If you're hiking in the jungle or boggy areas, wear repellent and long pants and sleeves; if you're camping in the jungle, use a mosquito net and invest in a package of espirales contra mosquitos, mosquito coils, which are sold in farmacias and tlalpalerías (hardware stores).


Other Issues

According to the CDC, there's a limited risk of malaria and other insect-carried or parasite-caused illnesses in certain areas of Mexico (largely but not exclusively rural and tropical coastal areas). In most urban or easily accessible areas you need not worry about malaria, but dengue fever is found with increasing frequency. If you're traveling to remote areas or simply prefer to err on the side of caution, check with the CDC's International Travelers' Hotline. Malaria and dengue are both carried by mosquitoes; in areas where these illnesses are prevalent, use insect-repellant coiling, clothing, and sprays/lotion. Also consider taking antimalarial pills if you're doing serious adventure activities in tropical and subtropical areas.

Make sure your polio and diphtheria–tetanus shots are up-to-date well before your trip. Hepatitis A and typhoid are transmitted through unclean food or water. Gamma-globulin shots prevent hepatitis; an inoculation is available for typhoid, although it's not 100% effective.


Caution is advised when venturing out in the Mexican sun. Sunbathers lulled by a slightly overcast sky or the sea breezes can be burned badly in just 20 minutes. To avoid overexposure, use strong sunscreens, sit under a shade umbrella, and avoid the peak sun hours of noon to 3. Sunscreen, including many American brands, can be found in pharmacies, supermarkets, and resort gift shops.


Health Information

National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (800/232–4636; 877/394–8747 international travelers' health line. www.cdc.gov/travel.)

World Health Organization (www.who.int.)


Medical Care

Cornerstone Hospital accepts various types of foreign health insurance and traveler's insurance and is American owned. The other recommended, privately owned hospitals are Hospital San Javier Marina and Hospital Amerimed. Although most small towns have at least a clinic, travelers are usually more comfortable traveling to the major hospitals than using these clinics.


Farmacias (pharmacies) are the most convenient place for such common medicines as aspirina (aspirin) or jarabe para la tos (cough syrup). You'll be able to find many U.S. brands (e.g., Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol), but don't plan on buying your favorite prescription or nonprescription sleep aid, for example. The same brands and even drugs aren't always available. Prescriptions must be issued by a Mexican doctor to be legal; you can often get prescriptions inexpensively from local doctors located near the pharmacy. You can bring your own medications into the country (as long as you are not into heavy doses of morphine or something like that), but if you need to get more during your stay, you will have to explain to a local doctor your situation and the specific drugs you need, so he can provide you with a new Mexican prescription, which will be valid in any pharmacy in the country.

Pharmacies are usually open daily 9 am to 10 pm; on Sunday and in some small towns they may close several hours earlier. In neighborhoods or smaller towns where there are no 24-hour drug stores, local pharmacies take turns staying open 24 hours so that there's usually at least one open on any given night—it's called the farmacia de turno. The Farmacias Guadalajara chain is found throughout the Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta, and most are open 24 hours; the website provides a full list of all branches.


Hospitals and Clinics

Cornerstone Hospital (Av. Los Tules 136, next to Plaza Caracol, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48333. 322/226–3700.)

Hospital Amerimed (Bd. Francisco Medina Ascencio 3970, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48335. 322/226–2080. www.amerimed.com.mx.)

Hospital San Javier Marina (Bd. Francisco M. Ascencio 2760, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48333. 322/226–1010.)

Pharmacy

Farmacias del Ahorro (Blvd. Francisco Medina Ascencio 2740, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48333. 01800/711–2222. www.fahorro.com.)

Farmacias Guadalajara (Insurgentes 261, Zona Romántica, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48380. 322/222–0101. www.farmaciasguadalajara.com.mx.)


Medical Insurance and Assistance

Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside of the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad, and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.


Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. Membership gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS Assistance Emergency and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.


Medical Assistance Companies

AirMed International (www.airmed.com.)

MedjetAssist (800/527–7478 or 205/595–6626. www.medjetassist.com.)

Medical-Only Insurers

International Medical Group (866/368–3724. www.imglobal.com.)

International SOS (215/942–8226. www.internationalsos.com.)

Wallach & Company (800/237–6615 or 540/687–3166. www.wallach.com.)

 

MAIL

The Mexican postal system is notoriously slow and unreliable; letters usually arrive in one piece (albeit late), but never send packages through the postal service or expect to receive them, as they may be stolen. Instead, use a courier service or MexPost, the more reliable branch of the Mexican Postal Service.

Post offices (oficinas de correos) are found in even the smallest villages. International postal service is all airmail, but even so, your letter will take anywhere from 10 days to six weeks to arrive. Service within Mexico can be equally slow. It costs 10.5 pesos (about 80¢) to send a postcard or letter weighing under 20 grams to the United States or Canada; it's 13 pesos (97¢) to Europe and 14.5 pesos ($1.08) to Australia and New Zealand.


Contacts

Correos (Calle Colombia 1014, El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48300. 322/222–6308. www.sepomex.gob.mx.)


Shipping Packages

FedEx, DHL, Estafeta, and United Parcel Service (UPS) are available in major cities and many resort areas. It's best to send all packages using one of these services. These companies offer office or hotel pickup with 24-hour advance notice (sometimes less, depending on when you call) and are very reliable. From Puerto Vallarta to large U.S. cities, for example, the minimum charge is around $30 for an envelope weighing 227 grams (½ pound) or less.

Express Services

DHL (Bd. Francisco M. Ascencio 1046, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48330. 322/222–4720 or 01800/765–6345. www.dhl.com.)

Estafeta (Libramiento Luis Donaldo Colosio 122-B, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48330. 322/223–2700 or 322/223–2898. www.estafeta.com.)

Mail Boxes Etc. (Calle Ignacio L. Vallarta 130, Local 3, Zona Hotelera, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48333. 322/222–2252. www.facebook.com/MailBoxes.Etc.PV.)

 

PACKING

High-style sportswear, cotton slacks and walking shorts, and plenty of colorful sundresses are the palette of clothing you'll see in PV. Bring lightweight sportswear, bathing suits, and cover-ups for the beach. In addition to shorts, pack at least a pair or two of lightweight long pants.

Men may want to bring a lightweight suit or slacks and blazers for fancier restaurants (although very few have dress codes). For women, dresses of cotton, linen, or other lightweight, breathable fabrics are recommended. Puerto Vallarta restaurants are extremely tolerant of casual dress, but it never hurts to exceed expectations.

The sun can be fierce; bring a sun hat and sunscreen for the beach and for sightseeing. You'll need a sweater or jacket to cope with hotel and restaurant air-conditioning, which can be glacial, and for occasional cool spells. A lightweight jacket is a necessity in winter, and pack an umbrella, even in summer, for unexpected rainstorms.

Bring along tissue packs in case you hit a place where the toilet paper has run out. You'll find familiar toiletries and hygiene products, as well as condoms, in shops in PV and in most rural areas.

 

RESTROOMS

Expect to find reasonably clean flushing toilets and cold running water at public restrooms in the major tourist destinations and attractions; toilet paper, soap, hot water, and paper towels aren't always available, though. Keep a packet of tissues with you at all times. At some tourist attractions, markets, bus stations, and the like, you usually have to pay 5 pesos to use the facilities. Since the H1N1 flu scare a few years ago, many restaurants, shops, and government offices have had hand sanitizer available for customers to use.

Remember that unless otherwise indicated you should put your used toilet paper in the wastebasket next to the toilet; many plumbing systems in Mexico still can't handle toilet paper.

Gas stations have public bathrooms—some tidy and others not so tidy. Alternatively, try popping into a restaurant, buying a little something (or not), and using the restroom, which will probably be simple but clean and adequately equipped.

 

TAXES

Mexico charges an airport departure tax of $18 or the peso equivalent for international and domestic flights. This tax is usually included in the price of your ticket, but check to be certain. Traveler's checks and credit cards aren't accepted at the airport as payment for this, but U.S. dollars are.

Puerto Vallarta and environs have a value-added tax of 15%, called IVA (impuesto al valor agregado). It's often waived for cash purchases, or it's incorporated into the price. When comparing hotel prices, be sure to find out whether yours includes or excludes IVA and any service charges. Additionally, Jalisco and Nayarit charge a 2% tax on accommodations, the funds from which are used for tourism promotion. Other taxes and charges apply for phone calls made from your hotel room.

 

TIPPING

When tipping in Mexico, remember that the minimum wage is just under $5 a day. Waiters and bellmen may not be at the bottom of that heap, but they're not very far up, either. Those who work in international chain hotels think in dollars and know, for example, that in the United States porters are tipped about $2 a bag; they tend to expect the equivalent.








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