All destinations have “Things you wished you knew before you left” insider info ... Here’s a round-up of things you should know before you go to Vallarta.
Pack lightly. That includes light clothes as it is typically tropical although in the winter months, December thru March, you may want to pack a light jacket or cardigan for the cooler nights, trips out on the water and air conditioned restaurants.
There are laundries that wash, dry and fold your clothes very inexpensively, so you can plan to re-wear clothes… or spice up your wardrobe and buy some new stuff while you are here.
Pack an extra swimsuit, as they usually do not dry out due to the humidity and putting on a wet swimsuit is kinda yucky. Most accommodations supply pool towels, but if in a pinch an inexpensive beach sarong/pareo work great as a beach towel.
Sometimes planes will disembark on the tarmac, others directly at a gate. If you deplane on the tarmac, you will take a bus to the entrance of immigration. At immigration, have your passport ready and the FMT (visitors visa) and customs form ready. Be sure to fill these out completely on the plane before you land. Puerto Vallarta is located in the Mexican State of Jalisco and Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias and all points north are located in the State of Nayarit. As of 2010, both States now follow Central Standard time.
Once you go through Immigration, put your FMT in a SAFE place and do not lose it. You need to turn this in when you leave, otherwise you will have to go to immigration and pay a fine. Not fun when you are trying to head home.
After Immigration, you will head to the luggage carousels. No longer are porters allowed inside of the secure area of the airport, so you will need to schlep your luggage to the Customs area. There are some luggage carts available but not always. Another good reason to pack light.
Once you receive your luggage, you will walk over to the customs area where you will turn in the customs form you filled out on the airplane. Next, your luggage and carry-on will be X-ray’d. You will also push a button that activates the red light/green light. If you get red, they will hand search your luggage. No big deal, it only takes a minute.
The next part is very important! After customs, you proceed through a room that will have many people trying to get your attention. ALL of them are OPC’s for timeshares.
We call them “The only sharks in the bay!” NONE of them are your taxi driver, your tour rep or hotel pick-up. None of them. Some may even call out your name, so be aware. They look outside the sliding glass doors into the airport and look for names on signs that the REAL reps are holding. Best tips: Ignore them. Look straight ahead, do not stop, just keep walking out through the sliding glass doors. You are now in the airport and can walk straight ahead to the taxi booths to get a taxi, or look for your tour/hotel rep.
We recommend you go to the taxi booth if you need a taxi. Know where you are going and check the zone prices. Taxi prices are per taxi, NOT per person. The taxis at the airport are more expensive than city taxis due to the Federal Zone tax they have to pay.
That fee is used to improve the airport, which in the last few years has gone through an amazing transformation. The taxi ride back to the airport will be about half the price.
Here is a link to the latest airport taxi information on Trip Advisor. You can also check out my airport map on there.
Most anything you need is available here in Vallarta. Stores such as WalMart, Soriana, Mega/Comercial Mexicana, Rizo’s, Farmacia Guadalajara, CMQ and small shops (tiendas) sell a variety of items from toiletries, medicines to clothes and shoes. Keep in mind if you choose not to pack sunscreen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, travel sized items are very hard to find. Buy regular sized if needed and leave it for the maid.
All grocery stores sell beer, alcohol and wine, as well as OXXO and many other small mini-marts all over the Bay.
If you need to know if something is available here or not, feel free to email me.
Taxis are all over, 24/7/365. In Vallarta, they are yellow, usually a Nissan Tsuru and have a maximum of four passengers although some sitios (taxi stands) may have a larger vehicle. Taxi fares are set by zone and are not metered. Be sure to ask how much to your destination before departing. Check your hotel for various prices so you have an idea if you are being quoted fairly for your fare. All taxi fares are per taxi, NOT per person.
Be sure to check the taxi number and sitio in case you forgot something in the taxi, it makes it much easier to track down lost items. Always enter and exit the taxi on the side of the sidewalk or away from traffic! Have your money ready to pay when you get to your destination so you do not tie up traffic trying to pay. It is best to use Pesos when you pay for taxi rides as this will ensure you the best rate of exchange. Taxi driver usually only give a 10 Peso to one dollar exchange rate, so paying in Pesos can save you 25% or more. You do NOT need to tip taxi drivers - the only time to tip is if they help you with luggage, packages or strollers, or if you have a child seat and need to take time to install it and remove it.
Local city buses and longer range buses are a great inexpensive form of transportation.
City bus fares are 6.5 Pesos, per person. No transfers. City buses will take one of two main routes to Dowtown (Centro), either via the main road (Fco. Medina Ascencio or through the Tunnel (Tunel) road which brings you to the south side of Vallarta (Zona Romantica). Major destinations are marked on the windshield of the bus. For example: Marina, Sam’s/WalMart and Hotels/Hoteles. “Tunel” buses will take various routes but at some point will take you (eventually) to the south side of Vallarta.
Buses to Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, Punta de Mita and Sayulita can be caught in front of WalMart at the bus shelter. Prices vary but typically 12 to 25 Pesos.
All buses run in a loop and depending on their route, will eventually bring you back to where you got on. (You may have to pay twice)
A few bus tips:
Pay in pesos. Some do not take U.S. Dollars. Pay in exact change or as small of bill as possible. As soon as you pay, take the ticket and sit down as the buses take off quickly.
DO NOT sit in the seats directly behind the bus driver, these are for elderly, pregnant women and physically challenged. To get off, there is usually a red button or a cord to pull to alert the driver. If you do not see one, there is usually one on the handrail at the back door. Depart the bus from the back door. Do NOT ride the bus with a beer in your hand, it is disrespectful.
The National currency of Mexico is the Peso. While many places accept U.S. Dollars, you are at the mercy of the exchange rate that they give you. Credit Cards are not always accepted in all restaurants or small shops and usually include a 1% to 3% International usage charge. Best way to get Pesos is via an ATM machine. You can also exchange money at Casa de Cambios (money exchange booths) around town although not as good of rate of exchange as an ATM. Traveler’s checks are hard to cash unless at a Casa de Cambio (and some hotels/shops/restaurants) and must have your passport to do so at the Casa de Cambios. Use them only as a back up plan or for emergencies.
Other Helpful Tips:
Know your PIN# to your credit card(s) in case you need them for emergency money. You cannot get money from them without the PIN# and your credit card company will NOT give you that info over the phone.
Make photocopies of your passport, credit cards (ATM/Debit also and both sides), photo I.D. and anything else of importance in case you should lose any of them. Do not keep them with the originals.
Take a photo of your name, hotel (or accommodation) email address and contact phone number(s) written boldly on a piece of paper with your digital camera. If you lose it, chances are whoever finds it will have your info to contact you.
Internet Cafes are all over, as well, many businesses offer inexpensive or free phone calls to the U.S. or Canada with a purchase. If you want to bring your cell phone, call your provider first to find out rates and if they offer an International calling plan.
Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas is very safe but keep temptation to a minimum and do not flash large amounts of cash, wear extravagant jewelry (plus the ocean loves to eat jewelry and eyeglasses!) and keep your head and wits about you- watch your alcohol intake.
Yes, you can drink the water at most hotels and have ice. If you are not sure about the water at where you are staying, bottled water is either free or very inexpensive. All bars and restaurants have purified ice.
Best way to stay healthy; wash your hands. Often. Bacteria love warm weather and hands, so before you eat those chips, go wash your hands.
If for some reason you do get sick or have health issues, we have excellent medical and dental care here. If you would like more information, recommendations or want to know more about medical tourism, please visit Health Care Resources website.
By nature, Mexicans are warm and friendly people. Be kind to them as they are kind and welcoming to you. A friendly Hola (hello), Gracias (thank you), De nada (you’re welcome) will always win you a smile. Remember, Mexican’s are not deaf, so you do not have to yell to be understood. Most people speak at least a little English and if not, they will try to find someone who does.
Mexico is not a quiet place. Sure there are places that are quiet but keep in mind, music is part of the culture here and if often enjoyed loudly. Dogs are not always leashed and we do have beach dogs and street dogs. In al the years I have lived here, I have not found any to be aggressive; they pretty much live a “live and let live” kind of life.
The elderly are highly respected in Mexico. Open doors for them or give up your bus seat and you will get a loving smile.
Baggers (children and elderly) at grocery stores and Farmacia Guadalajara are not paid wages. The baggers all work for tips only to help pay for their schooling or supplement their income. Please tip them! A couple of Pesos per bag is the norm.