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If you’re feeling kind of confused on where to stay in Puerto Vallarta, you’ve come to the right place. I just spent six weeks here, and before I arrived I poured over articles and online guides to understand the best place to stay in Puerto Vallarta.
In a city of more than half a million people, there are a lot of options. So, this guide is here to help.
I got to know Puerto Vallarta pretty well during my six-week stay and enjoyed seeing the different personalities of each neighborhood emerge as I explored them.
Honestly, there is no right or wrong answer on where to stay in Puerto Vallarta because the best place for you depends on your travel style. Still, I’ll share which kind of traveler will get the most from each neighborhood and which ones I ultimately preferred.
This article ranks all of the most popular places to stay in Puerto Vallarta, including:
- Nuevo Vallarta
- The Hotel Zone
- Marina Vallarta
- Boca de Tomatlan
- Colonia 5 de Diciembre
- Centro Puerto Vallarta
- And the Emiliano Zapato / Zone Romantica
Keep reading to discover which one comes out on top!
A quiet sunrise on the Malecon boardwalk in Centro Puerto Vallarta. The pedestrian boardwalk connects the 5 de Diciembre, Centro Puerto Vallarta, and the Zona Romantica neighborhoods.
8. Nuevo Vallarta
The first thing you need to know about Puerto Vallarta is that it straddles two states. The bulk of the city is in the state of Jalisco, but some of it spills over into the state of Nayarit in the north.
Nuevo Vallarta is one of those neighborhoods.
Nuevo Vallarta means ‘New Vallarta’ in Spanish and the name is pretty self explanatory. The city has been growing rapidly for decades and this is one of the newest and most modern developments. Nuevo Vallarta has golf courses, large resorts, and not a whole lot of real personality.
It comes in last on my ranking because it’s the most boring place to stay in Puerto Vallarta and far from the center of the city (about 40 minutes by taxi / Uber).
Stay in Nuevo Vallarta if: you want an all inclusive resort and love to golf.
Skip Nuevo Vallarta if: you want to experience the real Mexico and prefer to have more convenient access to the shops, restaurants, bars, and beaches that make downtown Puerto Vallarta so special.
The Rio Cuale River in Puerto Vallarta that separates Centro Puerto Vallarta from the Zona Romantica. There are still a few big hotels and condominiums here, but you’ll find much more in the Hotel Zone.
7. Hotel Zone
I’ll just say it: I’m not a fan of the Hotel Zone.
It’s not nice to walk here because everything is spread out and squished between a highway and the coast. If you just want to use your hotel as a place to sleep at night, this is definitely not the best place to stay in Puerto Vallarta ’cause you’ll spend every day shuttling back and forth to the fun spots in taxis.
It’s all just kind of boring and blah and I honestly don’t have too much to say about it besides that. It’s closer to downtown than Nuevo Vallarta and Marina Vallarta and that’s pretty much the only redeeming factor.
Stay in the Hotel Zone if: you plan to stay in your resort for the majority of your trip.
Skip the Hotel Zone if: you want to explore downtown Puerto Vallarta and the beaches and jungle around it without having to take a taxi every time you leave your hotel.
From the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz in central Puerto Vallarta, you can see down the coast all the way to the Marina, Hotel Zone, Nuevo Vallarta, and beyond.
6. Marina Vallarta
Marina Vallarta is located between Nuevo Vallarta and the Hotel Zone north of the city center. Like these two areas, it’s a modern, upscale cluster of hotels and resorts with fancy malls and chain restaurants.
You’ll see names here like Marriott and the Westin and it’s basically indistinguishable from any beachfront in Florida.
I personally don’t recommend staying in Nuevo Vallarta, the Hotel Zone, or Marina Vallarta because they’re all kind of soulless resort destinations BUT if you’re choosing between the three, Marina Vallarta is the best in my opinion. It’s nicer than the Hotel Zone and closer to downtown than Nuevo Vallarta, so it comes out on top.
But, there are still many more places in Puerto Vallarta that I recommend ahead of them.
Stay in Marina Vallarta if: you want an all-inclusive resort with its own small eco-system around it that you’ll never have to leave.
Skip Nuevo Vallarta: if you want to spend pesos, hear Spanish, eat Mexican food, or have any sort of cultural experience while you’re here.
Boca de Tomatlan is a peaceful escape that blends seamlessly into the jungle around it.
5. Boca de Tomatlan
Boca de Tomatlan is the polar opposite of Nuevo Vallarta, the Hotel Zone, and the Marina in every way. While those places are just about 100% vacationers, Boca de Tomatlan is local to its core.
This small neighborhood is built on the water about 45 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta and is easy to reach on the buses that run constantly from the Zona Romantica.
The best part of Boca – besides how secluded and peaceful it is – is its location. This small town is strategically located between Puerto Vallarta and all of the beautiful beaches down the coast, like Yelapa, Quimixto, Animas, and the hidden Colomitos Cove.
Boca is the taking off point for all the water taxis to these tiny paradises (they’re inaccessible by car) so you can wake up every morning and hop on one right outside your front door. This neighborhood is quiet and uncrowded, although it does have a small expat population that also calls it home.
Stay in Boca de Tomatlan if: you want to be immersed in nature and plan to spend the majority of your time on quiet beaches and jungle hikes instead of barhopping in town.
Skip Boca de Tomatlan if: you prefer more of a city experience and like to have amenities like large markets or restaurants accessible at all times.
Colorful street in Sayulita, a surfing town that’s not afraid to show off its unique personality
Sayulita is to Puerto Vallarta what Tulum is to Cancun.
It’s in the state of Nayarit about 1.5 hours to the north of Puerto Vallarta, but buses run often from the Hotel Zone.
This hippie / arts town is all about surfing and emanates the vibe and lifestyle that goes along with it. Colorful decor floats over local boutiques overflowing into the streets and the smell of fresh bread wafting from the bakeries is truly heavenly.
The beaches at Sayulita are not as beautiful or as calm as those in Puerto Vallarta because the town is outside of the protected Bay of Banderas, but it makes up for that with a youthful energy and laid back vibe that ultra-touristy Puerto Vallarta lost long ago.
Sayulita slightly edges out Boca on my ranking of where to stay in Puerto Vallarta because it’s more beautiful, clean, and built up than Boca. Whichever you choose, their opposite locations on the coast will shape vastly different experiences in Puerto Vallarta.
Stay in Sayulita if: you want a self-contained town where you can surf and relax without vendors and tour guides hassling you every five seconds.
Skip Sayulita if: you don’t want to take an (at minimum) 1.5 hour bus ride every time you want to explore downtown Puerto Vallarta and the beautiful beaches to the south of it.
The view of Colonia 5 de Diciembre from my Airbnb in the neighborhood. We stayed in this apartment and I recommend it if it’s available.
3. Colonia 5 de Diciembre
Now we are getting into the neighborhoods at the heart of it all. I stayed in Colonia 5 de Diciembre (5th of December) and loved it.
Our apartment was located a few streets inland from the coast and was about five minutes walking from the northern end of the Puerto Vallarta boardwalk (called the Malecon). From our place it was a pleasant 30-minute walk down the pedestrian street to Muertos Beach and the the Zona Romantica and we did it almost every day.
Colonia 5 de Diciembre has shops, markets, gyms, restaurants, churches, schools, etc. It’s a normal local neighborhood and stays here will mostly be in locally owned Airbnbs.
Of the three central neighborhoods (5 de Diciembre, Centro Puerto Vallarta, and the Zona Romantica) this one is the cheapest because it’s the farthest from the beach and because it’s built on an insanely steep hill.
Stay in 5 de Diciembre if: you’re on a budget but still want to be in walking distance of the bars, restaurants, and beaches in central Puerto Vallarta.
Skip 5 de Diciembre if: you have enough money to stay closer to Muertos beach.
Galleries line cobblestone streets in Centro Puerto Vallarta, where there’s an Art Walk every Wednesday night during the high season.
2. Centro Puerto Vallarta
When you go to Puerto Vallarta, stop by La Palapa restaurant on Muertos Beach. In the hallway leading into their bathrooms, they have two huge panoramic photos of Puerto Vallarta – one from 1960 and one from 2018.
The growth between the two is insane.
In 1960 there was almost nothing here. Just a few small shops and houses, many with thatched roofs. Around it was jungle, beaches, and bare land as far as the eye can see.
That land is now all built up into the Marina and Nuevo Vallarta and the surrounding suburbs, but the core of Puerto Vallarta remains the area where it all began: Centro Puerto Vallarta and the Zona Romantica.
The Centro and Zona Romantica have the charm and history of an old growth forest while Nuevo Vallarta, the Marina, and the Hotel Zone are more like an orchard. Freshly planted, orderly, and clean, but… all kind of the same. I’ll take the old growth forest every time.
Centro Puerto Vallarta is between 5 de Diciembre and the Zona Romantica, and is separated from the Zona Romantica to the south by the pretty Rio Cuale River. The streets along this river in the Centro are such a popular place for expats to live that they’ve been nicknamed the Gringo Gulch, but any place you book in the Centro will have easy access to the Malecon boardwalk and Muertos Beach.
A vacation in Centro Puerto Vallarta will be characterized by boutique hotels, condos, and Airbnbs because there’s not enough room for the giant resorts.
It comes in second in this ranking of where to stay in Puerto Vallarta because the Zona Romantica is just a little more lively and beautiful. But they’re almost tied and you won’t have a very different experience in Puerto Vallarta no matter which one you choose.
Stay in Centro Puerto Vallarta if: you want to be in the center of the action and prefer boutique hotels to large resorts.
Skip Centro Puerto Vallarta if: weaving between crowds and pushy vendors every day isn’t really your thing.
View of the Zona Romantica spreading up into the hills from Los Muertos Beach
1. Emiliano Zapata / Zona Romantica / Old Town
Last up on our definitive list of where to stay in Puerto Vallarta is the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood, more commonly called the Zona Romantica or the Old Town.
This is the center of LGBTQ tourism in Puerto Vallarta and just the most fun spot in the city. It has theaters, clubs, breweries, beachfront restaurants, and the most lively atmosphere of every neighborhood.
It’s also the most expensive place to stay in the central area because apartments are upscale and in high demand (which is why I recommend expanding your search out to 5 de Diciembre if you’re on a budget).
If I returned to Puerto Vallarta and budget wasn’t an issue, I would choose to book an apartment in the Zona Romantica every time.
It’s my top pick on where to stay in Puerto Vallarta because it’s as close as you can get to the nightlife and Muertos Beach. It’s also the starting point for all of the buses that go to both the Botanical Garden and Boca de Tomatlan (where you connect to the beaches down the coast).
For the most fun and memorable vacation, the Zona Romantica is the best place to stay in Puerto Vallarta.
Stay in the Zona Romantica if: you’re a super active vacationer that wants to see and experience everything that Puerto Vallarta has to offer.
Skip the Zona Romantica if: the above sounds like a nightmare and you just want to sit and do absolutely nothing at a nice pool for a few days.
A peaceful moment by the quiet Rio Cuale River in Centro Puerto Vallarta.
Ready to go?
Then, check out the top food, nature, and cultural experiences in Puerto Vallarta to round out your itinerary (or, book a best of Mexico tour with Intrepid to finish your travel planning in one click!).
This article is part of the Puerto Vallarta Planner Series. Read the rest below:
Or, check out the complete Mexico Series for 50+ more articles on what to see, do, eat, drink, and discover in the country.
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