Visiting Puerto Vallarta on a cruise ship can be great fun, but as you know your time is limited, so time management is of the essence to make sure you hit the highlights or points of interest for you.
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First, let’s cover transportation, time is limited so of course you will want to make it to Centro and the world famous Malecón in the most efficient way. You will have two options for transportation between your cruise ship and the center of the city.
GETTING FROM YOUR CRUISE SHIP TO DOWNTOWN
First, take a bus. The bus system is not complicated in Puerto Vallarta, almost any bus passing by the Marina, where your boat will dock, will say “Centro” on the front window. It will cost you $7.5 pesos (about 60 cents USD) and will take you about 15 minutes. Most bus drivers do not speak English, be warned. If you do not speak Spanish, it’s OK. Ask for help at the cruise ship with getting on a bus, take the bus until the nice paved road turns into cobblestones that will shake the brains out of your head on the bus, and get off where the pavement ends and the cobblestones begin. Once off the bus walk until you see the ocean and then head down the sidewalk until it turns into the Malecón. Once in centro, finding an English speaker isn’t difficult. Stick your head in a store and ask for assistance if you are unsure that you are heading in the right direction.
Taking a Taxi is another option and most drivers are bilingual in Puerto Vallarta. The bus is a cultural experience and always the same price. Taxi’s seem to set their prices depending on how well you are dressed, are you a local, or are you a tourist, so you cannot depend on that. You will pay somewhere between $80 pesos and $150 pesos ($7 – $12 USD) depending on your driver. You won’t have a problem finding taxi drivers hovering around the cruise ships, but you will get a better price if you walk across the street and get a taxi from the Wal-Mart.
If anyone offers you a free taxi to the center, keep walking. Timeshare people will suck all of your time away. Keep your heads down and get out of the cruise ship terminal without agreeing to a bad deal.
SHOPPING, MONEY, AND ATM’S
There is a 16% sales tax, IVA, included on items that you purchase in Mexico, but the good news is, if you ask for a receipt for your purchases you can receive a tax refund at the Marina when you return to the boat, you just need to declare your purchased items.
Use credit cards when possible. Not all places in Mexico accept credit cards, so always ask first. If you need to visit a bank machine we advise using a bank machine at the Marina before coming into centro. If you find the need to use an ATM in centro, please do not use any ATM machine along Olas Altas or in the Romantic Zone, it’s common enough that machines in that area clone cards that we rather you have a safe and memorable experience in Puerto Vallarta. Just don’t take the risk.
WHAT TO DO ONCE DOWNTOWN
Many cruises will offer you tour packages for your on-shore activities, and they are always an option, however typically much more expensive than going about it on your own.
Free City Walking Tours
If your ship arrives on a Tuesday or Wednesday you might be able to take advantage of the free Centro/Romantic Zone tours that start at 9 AM or 12-noon. There is also one on Saturdays that starts at 9 AM. If your ship docks before 11 AM on either of those two days, you can make it to Centro in time for the second tour. These tours will last for two hours but you will hit the highlights of Puerto Vallarta during your time and still have some left over time to return to a couple of places that looked interesting on the tour.
This beach-hugging bustling boardwalk starts at the Hotel Rosita in Downtown, crosses the Rio Cuale, and finishes at at a beautiful open-air theater known as Los Arcos in Old Town. Along the way you’ll find a series of magnificent bronze sculptures many of which happily double as park benches. (Downtown Puerto Vallarta is about a mile south of the cruise port, and can be reached easily by bus or taxi).
Isla Rio Cuale
A stroll along the Isla Rio Cuale is a pleasant way to pass some time away from the hustle and bustle of the beach front. The island sits in the middle of the Rio Cuale. Start from the western end of the island at the Museum, which showcases local ceramics (the museum is an easy walk from the Malecon). Head eastwards past a colorful craft market, to finally arrive at the Centro Cultural Cuale. From here you can enjoy some lovely upriver views.
Old Town, nicknamed Zona Romantica, is the area south of the Rio Cuale. Charming and relatively isolated by the river from busy downtown, the Zona Romantica features characterful bars, restaurants offering mouth-watering dishes, fine art galleries and whitewashed stucco houses, all lining cobbled streets.
Playa de Los Muertos – The Playa de los Mueros is the beach fronting Old Town, beneath the Malecon. The wide sandy beach makes a lovely place to relax in the sun, but don’t just sit there, there is plenty of time for sunbathing on the boat. Take a Paddle Board lesson, parasail over the bay, or go flyboarding, all of these things can be done on the beach without reservations
Eat. Eat. Eat
We know, they feed you endlessly on the cruise, but Puerto Vallarta is world famous for its eclectic cuisine. We are the second most popular culinary destination in Mexico besides the capital city. First, stop is a taco stand, cheap tacos but a local favorite. If you are concerned about street food, don’t be, and that is certainly the case in the tourist area of Puerto Vallarta. The operators are very aware of the hesitation and take extra precautions to make foreigners exploring street food more comfortable.
Beyond taco stands, there are many nice restaurants along the beach where you can eat with your toes in the sand, or step up to some of the area’s finest restaurants along the Malecón and Olas Altas street in the Romantic Zone. We won’t recommend any particular restaurant because there are just too many.
You can also take a food tour from a local tour company, http://www.vallartaeats.com/ contact them and see if they can fit a tour during your cruise ship times. Food tours are a great way to discover the local foods, safely.