Towards the end of 2021 I moved to Puerto Vallarta for four months. It was far from my first time in Mexico, but It was my first time in this city as well as the state of Jalisco. When I move someplace new, one of the first things I want to know is an overview of the different neighbourhoods. The various barrios, or Puerto Vallarta neighbourhoods, have distinctly different vibes. So I got together with a few other bloggers who know Puerto Vallarta well to create a guide to the different areas most commonly inhabited by tourists and expats.
Puerto Vallarta is a city in the state of Jalisco. It’s on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, just below the Baja region, not too far south of Mazatlan and straddling the state of Nayarit. It’s picturesque – where the ocean meets lush green jungles & the Sierra Madre mountain range. It’s an excellent place to see whales, enjoy the ocean, and taste some typical Jalisco food.
There are of course, many many more barrios than those mentioned here! These are just the ones you are most likely to encounter when checking out hotels, airbnb, or rentals geared towards foreign expats. If you know Puerto Vallarta well, and would like to contribute a neighbourhood to this guide that’s not already covered, let me know! I’d be happy to include you.
Puerto Vallarta is a bit of everything – tourist mecca meets traditional Jalisco life,
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One of our favorite neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta is the “Centro” neighborhood. It’s nestled between the “5 De Diciembre” neighborhood and the “Zona Romantica” neighborhood. Centro has a very high-energy vibe. It’s perfect for those wanting to experience Puerto Vallarta’s lively and bustling scene.
In Centro, you will find Puerto Vallarta’s malecon, a stone boardwalk that is approximately one-mile long. There are always people walking, jogging, or biking on the malecon. There are usually food and craft vendors too. It’s a great place to people watch! A lot of the free things to do in Puerto Vallarta can be found in Centro as well. The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an iconic landmark and free to enter. You can also visit the ChocoMuseo. This free museum tells all about the history of chocolate. Centro also has a lot of great restaurants and bars. If you love seafood, definitely head to Restaurant El Malecón. It’s on the beach and a great place to watch the sunset.
Zona Romantica (aka Romantic Zone or Old Town)
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The Romantic Zone is aptly named as it is the heartbeat of Puerto Vallarta. Here the narrow cobblestone streets are alive with tourists, ex-pats and locals enjoying the many restaurants, bars and shops in the neighborhood. It’s safe to say that every visitor to Puerto Vallarta will spend time here. This is also the home of Los Muertos beach, the most popular beach in Puerto Vallarta. Of course, this means it’s not the most peaceful beach in PV. But if you enjoy a lively atmosphere created by people of all ages along with watersports, beach activities, vendors and beachside bars you’ll love Playa Los Muertos.
A walk on the iconic pier is another must on this beach. By day, top things to do in Zona Romantica include lunch on Olas Atlas (Café Street), shopping at Olas Atlas Farmer’s Market and Isla Río Cuale Flea Market and of course enjoying the beach. After dark, the neighborhood becomes even livelier with the sound of music and people enjoying the many bars, clubs and entertainment venues.
The Romantic Zone is very gay-friendly with several bars catering to the LGBTQ community who love Puerto Vallarta. For a lower-key evening there’s great live entertainment at Act II Theatre and Incanto. Accommodations in Zona Romantica tend to be small boutique hotels, vacation condos and guest houses. This is not the place to stay if you want large luxury, all-inclusive resorts. There are also quite a few residences here housing ex-pats and locals.
At first glance, the name of this Puerto Vallarta neighbourhood catches people off guard! But despite how it might seem, Gringo Gulch was a name given to the area by the Gringos themselves, and is not considered anything negative. The barrio is made up of a little stretch of houses just up the hill from Centro, running along the Rio Cuale.
Here you will find some more traditional housing dotted amongst some incredibly luxurious villas. This is where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had their house Casa Kimberly; which is now a fancy hotel & restaurant you can visit.
Gringo Gulch is beautiful, a little hilly, but with excellent views and close proximity to lots of restaurants and all the action of Centro Vallarta & Zona Romantica.
There are not many restaurants here, just housing and holiday villas. The main dining attraction here is the Iguana Bar at Casa Kimberly, this former house of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton offers fine dining, stunning views, crystal chandeliers, and a top-notch tequila bar.
Gringo Gulch is a beautiful neighbourhood to stroll around, a haven of cobblestone roads, tiny staircases winding up the hill and blossoming bougainvillea. From here, you can easily get down to the beach in just a few blocks; walk over to Cerro and up to the Mirador el Cerro de la Cruz from here for amazing sunset views; or down the Puente Iguana stairs to the Rio Cuale Island, and across to Zona Romantica for plenty of restaurants, bars, and things to do.
El Cerro means ‘The Hill’ in Spanish, and it’s a fair descriptor for this Puerto Vallarta neighbourhood! Cerro is just up in the hill behind Centro next to Gringo Gulch, and is part of Puerto Vallarta’s original old downtown. Despite being a quick and simple walk down to Centro, it feels like stepping into a small town. The bustle fades away, and is replaced with roosters cawing and the sound of kids playing in the street.
Cerro is where we rented for 3 of the months whilst we were based in Puerto Vallarta and I’d recommend it for the old-town Mexico vibes, incredible views, and the convenient location. Most of the restaurants around here are technically down in Centro, but there are some amazing finds up here if you know where to look. Restaurant & Bar El Panorama, the famously extravagant Café des Artistes, and Restaurante Barcelona are all excellent restaurants in the area.
Cinco de Decembre
Introduced by Bailey from Destinationless Travel
One of the best neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta is 5 de Diciembre (or 5th of December.) This area is the perfect place to base yourself in Puerto Vallarta thanks to its central location and stunning beach. 5 de Deciembre is located just north of Centro and the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta. This location means that you are still within a vibrant and safe area with easy access to some of the best attractions Puerto Vallarta. You can walk to the Malecon in only a few minutes, which is one of the busiest tourist areas in the city. But 5 de Deciembre is also a lot calmer than other neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta like Centro or Zona Romantica.
There are fewer people around and the beach, Playa Camarones, is always much more peaceful with fewer crowds and vendors. In fact, Playa Camarones is a favorite beach in Puerto Vallarta with both tourists and locals. It is clean and beautiful with epic sunsets. Some of the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta are located in this area too. For a fancier seafood meal, you cannot miss El Barracuda. Located right on the beach this place has the best location. But besides that, the food is very tasty with a variety of creative seafood dishes to choose from made with locally sourced ingredients.
El Remence / Las Canoas / Buenos Aires / El Caloso / Las Penas
Tucked away in the hillside behind Emiliano Zapato, you’ll find a cluster of small Puerto Vallarta neighbourhoods which on first sight, feel much less touristed than their nearby counterparts. These small barrios share a similar vibe which is much more laid back. They are still popular with expats and tourists, and most Mexicans I’ve talked to have sadly described them as rapidly gentrifying.
Whilst still a very quick stroll to Zona Romantica or Centro, the feeling here is much more small-town, friendly, and relaxing & through the hotter seasons much of life here is lived sunbathing, picnicking and swimming in the Rio Cuale river.
Las Canoas is where I lived for my first month in Puerto Vallarta, and I will readily recommend it to anyone as an excellent barrio to stay in. There are plenty of smaller restaurants and street food vendors here, and if you’re looking for more it’s a very quick and easy walk over to Emiliano Zapato where much of Puerto Vallarta’s best food can be found.
Sometimes described by locals as the “Hill of Airbnbs”, Amapas sites just south of Zona Romantica but before you reach Conchas Chinas. It’s the hillside on the South of Centro, looking over Zona Romantica and is full of gorgeous AirBnBs.
Much like Conchas Chinas, there is not much else here to do or to eat, but you have close access to all of the wonderful restaurants in Emeliano Zapata, and some stunning coastline to gaze into. Many of the accomodations here are more modern, and less traditional. You’ll find plenty of pools and patios with amazing sunset views.
One highly recommended restaurant in Amapas you’ll be close to, however, is Hot Mamma’s Whiskey Kitchen – which has many well earned good reviews thanks to their excellent fried chicken.
The barrio of Emiliano Zapata is named after the revered Mexican revolutionary, and is the original old town of Puerto Vallarta. Some people call this interchangeably with the ‘Old Town’ or ‘Zona Romantica’ but it’s a little more nuanced than that. This is why I have them as two separate neighbourhoods here.
Whilst the entirety of Zona Romantica lies inside Emiliano Zapata, there are a number of blocks inland which are not really considered Zona Romantica at all. So could could say that the Zona Romantica is a section inside the wider area of Emiliano Zapata.
As you head in towards the Rio Cuale from Zona Romantica, things will start to feel less touristed and more local. The food gets better, more Spanish is spoken, and in my opinion this is one of my favourite parts of Puerto Vallarta.
If you’re on the lookout for an authentic foodie experience, and a spot close to the action without being right in it, this inland part of Emiliano Zapata is an excellent choice. Try Marisma Fish Taco & Balam Balam for great fish tacos, Red Cabbage Café for food themed around what was served at Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera’s wedding dinner, and Carnitas Lalo in the morning for the best carnita tacos (a typical breakfast food, unbeknownst to many visitors!)
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Playa Conchas Chinas is on the far side of Puerto Vallarta’s beaches and is truly a gem because it is more isolated then the main beach lining up the large malecon of the city. Also to get to the beach is an Uber ride or bus ride and you actually have to hike down directly to the beach area from the main highway on top. The beaches here are mostly small coves with giant rocks and gorgeous views of the rests of the coastline north and south of the city.
These beaches are not so busy, so you can easily find your own perfect spot to lounge and enjoy the ocean mostly on your own and without any crowds. Vibe is low key with condos and homes in the area and just a few restaurants by the highway on top, so there is really not much of a neighborhood to stroll and enjoy unless you opt for any of the ocean views from the restaurants above. There are also no hotels but maybe Air Bnb rentals in the area so there are no crowds flocking to this beach.
The few restaurants here cater to a mostly affluent residence and dinner is the prime time to eat. Since I was there just a few hours I didn’t get a chance to eat at Conchas Chinas but took an Uber ride back to the main tourist zones of Zona Romantica to find a lot of choices in food venues. This area is definitely off the beaten path with beautiful sandy coves far away from crowds, so if you are looking for something unique, gorgeous coastline scenery and hardly any visitors, then you should check out this beach area and enjoy a fun day in the sun in south Puerto Vallarta.
The barrio of Fluvial backs onto the hotel zone, and is an upscale residential area bordering the Pitillal River. What it lacks in tourist activities, it more than makes up for with an abundance of shops, schools, and dining options. From here you have great access to Costco, Plaza Caracol, Macroplaza, and the Food Park PV food court.
There are also many more townhome style accomodation options compared to most of the barrios mentioned in this post. So if you’re looking for a house, rather than a condo, with great accessibility to shops and services, Fluvial is a good spot.
For eating here, you have an abundance of choices. The well known brunch spot Fredys Tucan has a branch here, and the Food Park PV has a selection of awesome food vendors.
Zona Hotelera / Hotel Zone
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Puerto Vallarta’s Hotel Zone is where you’ll find some of the top hotels right on the beach. If you’re visiting for the first time and looking for a safe, family-friendly area with lots of amenities, then this may be a good area to stay. Since it’s mainly for tourists, most expats don’t typically live in this area. Within the hotel zone, there are an abundance of beautiful hotels, resorts, and modern apartment buildings stretching along the golden-sand beaches.
While it includes top rated hotels such as the Sheraton Buganvilias, there are also accommodation choices to suit any budget. The location is convenient, just a 15-minute from the airport and 10-minutes from downtown. The beach will be right outside your door, with ample opportunity for water sports. Since Puerto Vallarta isn’t that large of a city, you can actually walk to several of the other neighborhoods from the Hotel Zone. Versailles is nearby, where you’ll find some of the best local restaurants in the city.
If I were to move back tomorrow, and had my pick of all the different Puerto Vallarta neighbourhoods; Versalles would be where I would choose now. It’s a little off the tourist trail, but still very close to the beach. You can walk to the nearby 5. de Dec. neighbourhood easily from here, and it’s a short Uber ride to Centro and Zona Romantica.
The thing I love most about Versalles is the feeling – it feels more like normal Mexico life. It is, however, rapidly gentrifying so things may be incredibly different in 5 or 10 years time. It does mean though that modern condos are popping up all around, and there are some excellent restaurants and brunch spots to check out.
Some crowd favourites to dine are Puerco de Oro for the best pork belly tacos in town, Tortas Ahogadas Tony for the best tortas ahogadas (a Jaslico speciality) around, and Cha’ for a legendary brunch.
Marina Vallarta is the Puerto Vallarta neighbourhood closest to the Airport, and is home to a number of large resorts such as the Westin & the Marriott. If you’re heading out on one of the many, many boat tours available they will most likely leave from here, too.
Accomodations around here can be a little pricier than other parts of town, but they are also quite modern and have close access to the marina, beaches, and golf course. This draws a lot of foreigners in, so you will find many expats and a lot of English spoken around the Marina.
One of the main attractions of Marina Vallarta is the weekly night market, which happens every Thursday evening. And to eat, Mr Cream is a well known brunch spot, with some of the best pancakes in Puerto Vallarta, but be prepared to queue! Victor’s Place Cafe Tacuba is another waterfront spot with excellent enmoladas.
Introduced by Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet
Nuevo Vallarta is a bit like the Cancun of Riviera Nayarit. It’s split into 2 very distinct areas, the hotel zone and gated communities on one side of the highway. And the more local area across the other side of the highway. I’ve been living in Nuevo Vallarta for over a year now and have lived on both sides of the highway. The hotel zone is a super safe area full of large resorts, gated communities, nice restaurants, and lots of green spaces. It’s well connected by collectivos (small local buses) and easy to walk or bike pretty much anywhere. Unless you are staying in one of the resorts, it can be tricky to find one of the few public access points to the beaches, but they do exist. There is a bike lane running the full length of Nuevo which will take you right up to neighboring Bucerias.
Most people who vacation here are staying in one of the all-inclusive resorts. But it is also a popular area for medical and dental tourism, with some of the best Drs in Mexico practicing here at the private hospital. For expats and remote workers, what’s great about Nuevo is that the rent is lower than in Puerto Vallarta and you get a lot more space (both indoors and out). The WiFi is strong and fiber optic is common. It’s close to surfing beaches but still only 15 minutes from the airport. Most ex-pats who live here either live in one of the secure housing estates at the entrance to Nuevo Vallarta hotel zone in the Jaretarreras area, or over the other side of the highway in Valle Dorado.
Some of my favorite places to eat in Nuevo are Doña Raquel’s (just off the roundabout as you enter Nuevo by OxxO opposite El Tigre) it’s a small local restaurant with the best Pozole! Her husband is from the USA and they also have Chicago-style ribs and some other classics. For breakfast I’m obsessed with Paninnos, make sure you try their cinnamon rolls. And if you want a healthy lunch then try Organi-K down by the marina.
Many visitors to Puerto Vallarta never see el Pitillal, a small town in its own right surrounded by Puerto Vallarta. It’s only 20 minutes driving away from the more well known parts of Centro Puerto Vallarta, but has the feeling of small town, traditional Mexico.
Located North east of the Hotel Zone, just near Fluvial, el Pitillal is a great place to experience a more typical style of life in the state of Jalisco. Whilst not much of a tourist stop, it’s a good place to see where many of the people who work in Puerto Vallarta live, shop, eat, and enjoy their free time. And if you speak some Spanish, it’s a great place to enjoy a less tourist driven way of life.
El Pitillal is the perfect spot to enjoy the delicious regional specialities of Jalisco, such as tortas ahogada & birria, and find traditional clothing, handicrafts, art, and performances.