I have avoided visiting Puerto Vallarta for, well, decades. I’m not a fan of places that get heavy tourism or that have a ton of expats. Puerto Vallarta is somewhere that is very well known to have its share of heavy tourism, expat population, as well as cruise visitors. Well, after hearing from some friends on ways I could avoid the tourist hordes, I decided it was time to actually visit and see what I thought.
Is it worth visiting Puerto Vallarta? This is actually a tougher question than I anticipated. Unlike tourism hotspots like Tulum, PV is a tougher call for me.
Is Puerto Vallarta choked with tourists?
I visited in late March, which is still in the high season. I was also there before Semana Santa which can get quite crowded. Puerto Vallarta is not only heavily touristed by people from the US and Canada, but also from domestic tourism. PV is not that far from Guadalajara which is the 7th largest city in Mexico, so it’s also a hotspot for Mexican tourism.
A tour guide told me that PV’s population of expats is about 12% year round. During high season, that number almost triples at least.
When is high season?
Typically, Puerto Vallarta’s high season is from December through mid April. After Semana Santa things calm down quite a bit, although PV’s Pride occurs in late May.
July through September is the time of year where it is much more humid, “hotter than hell,” and hurricane season. Thankfully, though, PV has only had four hurricanes hit in the last 50 years. It can be so miserable during this time period that many locals told me they try to go elsewhere as well.
So can you escape the tourist throngs?
It is definitely a bit tough to escape them completely. I stayed in the neighborhood 5 de diciembre (5D), and there were many more locals in this area. It’s right next to the popular malecón, so it’s easy to still hit some of the more popular spots without being in the noisy throng of the infamous Zona Romántica (ZR).
There were some taco places I visited where I was the only foreigner, or there were only a few of us. In the grocery store Ley I would see maybe 2-3 other foreigners, although that definitely depended on the time of day because other times as I was walking by I spotted many more. However, they seemed to be expats.
When I visited the municipal mercado, I only spotted one other gringo.
While strolling on the beach, I would see a good blend of locals and expats, but it was nothing compared to the areas near ZR.
Frankly, I found the ZR to be nauseating, but it’s a hotspot for other foreigners.
I heard more English from locals in this area than any other place I have visited in Mexico, although I imagine Playa del Carmen is probably much like this now. Generally speaking, staff were happy when they discovered I speak Spanish, but in one restaurant I did actually have a waiter debate me on whether or not we should be speaking Spanish. When I explained “I’m in Mexico so I’m going to speak Spanish,” he finally acquiesced but was quite confused by the gringo who didn’t want to speak English.
Having cruise passengers only affected one of my food tours where the guide wanted to make sure we finished more quickly so they could get back to their ship on time.
If you stay in the areas of 5D, Versalles, and Pitillal you’ll see fewer tourists and expats, although the foreign population is growing steadily in Versalles.
So, is it worth visiting Puerto Vallarta?
While I was unhappy with the number of foreigners, how difficult it was to find real Mexican food other than tacos, and the higher prices overall I’d say Puerto Vallarta was worth the visit. I’d definitely go back in shoulder season.
The sunsets were consistently breathtaking. I rarely missed one during my stay. I enjoyed the blend of Mexican and foreign tourists. The breezes and joie de vivre while walking along the malecón were thoroughly enjoyable. It was fun watching the pelicans.
Even though there were a lot of people in this area, I found myself usually grinning broadly and feeling quite happy.
Near the end of my visit, I was sitting in Restaurante Barcelona Tapas. The restaurant is on a hill, and the dining area is on the fourth floor so you have a fantastic view. While I was sitting there enjoying the sunshine, breeze, and a delightful cocktail I was also enjoying the ocean view. Suddenly, a baby humpback decided to breach. It did this a total of three times. I was nearly in tears from sheer joy.
Just that evening alone would’ve had me coming back to Puerto Vallarta.
Have you visited PV? What did you think?