Pros and Cons of Puerto Vallarta: An Honest Review

My impressions of Puerto Vallarta were mixed at best. Initially, I thought maybe I wasn’t giving it a fair shot after our rocky start, which you can read about here. After the full 10 days though, I feel confident in saying, it just wasn’t for me.

As with any destination, Puerto Vallarta had its pros and cons, and in this post, I’ll talk about why I didn’t love the city, but also the activities that made our stay worthwhile.

Pros of Puerto Vallarta

Aside from things to do in Puerto Vallarta, I do want to touch on the fact that it is very LGBT friendly. It has a well known reputation of being the most gay-friendly destination in Mexico, so this wasn’t necessarily a surprise to me, but a refreshing bonus. While I’m in a hetero relationship, I do identify as bisexual, and I love visiting places where people can be themselves without judgement. If you are just people watching anywhere in Puerto Vallarta, it is quickly evident this is one of those places.

Beyond that, let’s get into daily life and activities. There’s no shortage of top 10, top 20-type lists available of what to do in Puerto Vallarta, but since the purpose of our trip was mainly to get a feel for daily life vs. tourist activities, we skipped a lot of high priced excursions, which make up a good chunk of those lists.

These were the top five experiences we found most rewarding and helpful in determining if Puerto Vallarta could be home for us. The best part is, most of them are FREE.

Hike from Boca de Tomatlán to Playa Las Ánimas

It’s a bit tricky, but definitely manageable, to make your way out to the beginning of this hike. The public buses that run this route start in the Zona Romántica, so if you’re not staying in that area, you may need to take an Uber first. For us, it would have been a 40 minute walk to the bus stop, and unless you’re in amazing shape and leaving at the crack of dawn, I wouldn’t advise tacking on extra walking time on top of this full day hike.

Ubers are pretty affordable ($5-$6 USD) and the bus only costs $0.50 USD per person, so it’s way more affordable to go this route vs a water taxi which is $25-$30 USD round trip and leaves from Zona Romántica as well.

From what we could tell, all the buses that leave from the corner of Basilio Badillo and Constitución Street (outside the Oxxo) are heading in the right direction, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the driver when you board, “vas a Boca?”. Not all of the buses said on the front, or on the windows, where they were headed. We had read blogs from other travelers who stated the bus was orange and white, but that was not our experience, so don’t be too fixated on what the bus looks like.

When we boarded between 8 AM and 9 AM, the bus was very full. Don’t bother waiting for the next one – it takes 20 minutes, and by then, the line will be just as long. As you head through the resort and hotel area, the bus will empty out fast, and by the time you get to Boca, the last stop, there will only be a few people left.

Once you get off the bus, walk down the hill until you reach the water. Follow the sidewalk inland through what looks like a parking lot, with all the boats on your right, until you reach a pedestrian bridge and cross over. Then head back towards the coastline and start trekking upwards. If you feel like you’re walking across people’s front porches, you’re going the right way. The first 40 minutes of the hike is the hardest, before you reach the first beach, Colomitos. After that, it’s pretty smooth sailing except for a few rock scrambles before you reach Las Ánimas.

There are quite a few restaurants at the end, but they are obviously a bit higher priced, so if you are on a budget, take some snacks with you and just pick a beach to spend some time on (our favorite was Los Caballos, which is right before Las Ánimas). You can catch a water taxi back from Las Ánimas, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can hike all the way back to Boca to catch the bus. That’s what we did, and it took us a full 6-7 hours, so if that’s your plan, leave early.

We found this guide from Michael + Matt to be very helpful.

Take a walking art tour

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of street art. Even if you could take or leave the art, walking tours are helpful in getting a good overall feel for a place. Read all about this free walking tour and get a map here.

Watch the Voladores de Papantla and eat your fill of tacos al pastor at El Carboncito

So this is obviously two things, but they are close enough together that you can definitely do both in one trip. The popular Malecón (boardwalk) area wasn’t our favorite, which we’ll get into later, but there are two things there that make a visit worthwhile in our opinion. It’s not the large statues which line the 12-block esplanade, although that is definitely a unique feature. In our experience, it was always too crowded to really enjoy them. If you want really good views of them, I’d get there at sunrise.

What you won’t want to miss is the stunning ceremony that was named an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO and is performed multiple times a day between 11 AM-2 PM and 6-11 PM. I don’t want to give away too much of the short visual treat that is the Danza de los Voladores, but I can tell you it’s a pre-Hispanic ritual in which five men perform a ceremonial type of dance atop a very tall pole. The show is free, but someone does go around with a donation box.

It’s hard to miss the tall pole along the Malecón, so just keep an eye out for it. I’d brave the crowds at sunset to see this show and then head to El Carboncito, which opens at 7 PM, for some of the best al pastor tacos you’ve ever had. At only $20 MXN per taco, a couple can eat their fill for about $10 USD.

Visit the Olas Altas Saturday Market at Lázaro Cárdenas Park

I mentioned the unique tile-covered park in my art tour post, and we went back to see it on Saturday during the Olas Altas Market, which runs between 9 AM-2 PM. Bring cash and be prepared for higher prices. If possible, I’d go here during the beginning of your trip to stock up on some fresh produce, pestos, and bread to enjoy throughout the week.

There are a lot of local vendors with some unique goods you won’t see elsewhere, as well as some international foods that aren’t as easy to find in Mexico. We had pad thai, baklava, and paella and wished we had more stomach room and cash to try a lot more.

Hike the Mirador el Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross Viewpoint)

Whew. This is a steep, uphill trek. But the panoramic view of the city of Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas cannot be missed. There are a few ways to get there with the most common being a straight uphill walk from the Malecón, but if you’re coming from a different direction, I found it easier to attack it from a more gradual horizontal approach.

This is another free activity for you, unless you pay the cable car to take you up the last stretch of steep steps. It’s only a 15-20 minute trek, but definitely taxing, so make sure to bring water. I advise going at sunset for the obvious amazing view and also, you won’t sweat quite as much during the cooler time of day.

Cons of Puerto Vallarta

Obviously, preferences change from person to person, and I’m not a big beach person to begin with, so these downsides might not weigh as heavily on your experience of Puerto Vallarta. If you’re coming for vacation only, some of these might not even factor into your trip.

Without further ado, let’s get into my top five not-so-great attributes of Puerto Vallarta…

The Malecón

We didn’t find the boardwalk area to be anything special. The focus on art, with the large statues lining the waterfront, wasn’t as noticeable as we’d hoped. Adjacent to the statues are a lot of tacky shops and restaurants, and in between are a lot of people who seem to intentionally walk in front of you, or people trying to sell you something or get you to eat at one of the restaurants.

On the plus side, it was fairly clean, especially compared to other parts of the city, and had designated bike paths. Overall though, it felt very one and done. It’s not a place I’d go to relax, exercise, or eat and drink. It was just too busy and too touristy.

Overall cleanliness

This was a big downside for me. I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind this, but instead of putting trash out in front of your house in a bin of some kind, there seems to be a communal trash pile in every neighborhood. Because there is no dumpster, you just see large piles of trash all over the place.

Most of the dogs in Puerto Vallarta are just running around free, so in addition to having to dodge dog poop on the streets all the time, they also get into and pee all over the trash, which results in loose, smelly trash everywhere.

The problem is exacerbated by the cobblestone streets, since they can’t be swept or cleaned easily.

As I mentioned in my last post, we are always considering Griffin when determining if a place is right for us, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with just letting him outside to go to the bathroom wherever he wanted. I know he would be uncomfortable with unleashed dogs coming up to him all the time as well.

The beaches aren’t that great

I was really excited to see some of the beaches on the Pacific coast in Mexico, since our past trips to Cancún and Tulum left us unable to really enjoy the ocean due to all the sargassum on the beach and in the water.

While the water was free of sargassum in Puerto Vallarta, the shorelines tend to be very narrow, and it seems like you are constantly either in complete shade or having to continue moving backwards to avoid the incoming tide.

The beaches in the downtown area, specifically Los Muertos Beach, are extremely busy. Getting to the more remote beaches requires either taking an Uber, bus, or water taxi.

Overall though, the water is clean and temperate, and once you get past the initial wave break, pretty calm. They just weren’t enough to change my overall impression of the area.

It’s not pedestrian friendly

Considering the city is pretty spread out, and you frequently have to walk 30-60 min to get anywhere from the outlying neighborhoods, it’s not very walkable or pedestrian friendly. There are no crosswalks for the busy streets, which leaves you having to wait for an opportune time and then run for it. In our case, this often involved us crossing 4 lanes of traffic.

On the side streets, you’re battling uneven sidewalks or cobblestones, which are pretty and quaint in theory, but not very comfortable to walk long distances on. And as mentioned previously, you have to keep your eye out constantly for dog poop.

The weather

This one is definitely dependent on your preferences, as Kelton thought the weather was great. For me, I thought it was pretty hot and humid, especially considering we were there during the cool and dry season.

I really struggle with humidity, and in a place where a lot of houses don’t have AC, I wouldn’t be able to live here year round comfortably.

Also, local neighborhoods can get pretty loud, and having to leave your windows open all the time to stay cool would probably make it hard to work, sleep, etc.

Would you like to visit Puerto Vallarta? Or have you been before and either agree or disagree with my top 5 pros and cons? Leave a comment and let me know, and as always, thank you for reading!

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