Is Puerto Vallarta safe for tourists in 2023? You might be concerned about safety if you are planning a trip to the popular Jalisco beach town of Puerto Vallarta for the first time but you needn’t be.
This is one of the most popular travel destinations in Mexico and it is visited by millions of international travelers every year, most of whom find that their trips are memorable for all the right reasons. Add to that the fact that the majority of people here speak English, there is a large expat community, and the local tourism board prioritises the security of visitors, and you have one of the easiest places to travel to in Mexico.
Still, it is understandable that you may be a little apprehensive if this is your first trip to Mexico/Latin America. After all, this part of the world often seems to be in the media for all the wrong reasons.
In this guide, we are going to look at everything you need to know before planning your trip to Puerto Vallarta and how to keep safe once you arrive. I have been living in Mexico (Merida) for the last few years and have taken numerous trips to Puerto Vallarta, most recently spending 2 months in the city this summer because I almost moved there.
Rest assured, you are in good hands here. 😉 If after reading this post you still have any worries or concerns, you are welcome to connect with me on social media or by email.
Is Puerto Vallarta Safe to Travel to in 2023?
Puerto Vallarta is a safe destination to travel to but, like anywhere, staying safe means using your common sense and taking some basic precautions for your safety.
Statistically speaking, Puerto Vallarta is one of the safest places in Mexico. In a survey of several hundred Purto Vallarta residents, the vast majority said that they felt very safe in the city.
They had no worries about being mugged, attacked, or robbed and many people felt comfortable walking alone, even at night. Mexico gets a bad rep.
However, it is important to note that the country is incredibly vast. It’s the 13th largest in the world after all! The safety situation differs dramatically from city to city, state to state.
Puerto Vallarta is actually safer than a lot of US cities. While crime levels have been increasing across Mexico as a whole over the last few years, this has not affected Puerto Vallarta very much.
Since tourism is such a major contributor to the Mexican economy, the tourism board and the government do everything that they can to keep tourist areas safe. Generally speaking, parts of Mexico that face massive struggles with crime are not places that tourists would want to venture to anyway.
Do some research when choosing where to stay
When booking your accommodation in Vallarta, it is a good idea to look at where the Airbnb/hotels you are considering are on the map, whether you have restaurants and nightlife options nearby, and what kind of attractions and things to do are in the area. Honestly, there are not really any areas of Vallarta that are “dangerous” per se.
Puerto Vallarta is not like Guadalajara or Mexico City where you have to be mindful of where you stay and where you walk so as not to accidentally wind up in a sketchy area. You can essentially walk freely around the entire downtown area and be perfectly safe.
Even if you book the cheapest accommodation you can find and its location looks a bit far out, you aren’t going to be putting yourself in any danger.
Safest places to stay in Puerto Vallarta
At a glance, some of the best and safest places to stay in Puerto Vallarta are:
- Conchas Chinas
- Zona Romantica
- Las Glorias
- 5 De Diciembre/downtown Vallarta
- Zona Hotalera
- El Pitillal (for a more local experience)
Conchas Chinas is a great place to stay if you are looking to indulge in a little luxury. This upscale area is known as the “Beverly Hills” of Vallarta and is home to a beautiful secluded cove that seldom gets busy or attracts more than a few people.
Most of the hotels here are located up in the steep streets and hills above town, meaning that they have breathtaking views of the Bahia de Banderas, with the Los Arcos rock formation in the distance, but going up and down the hills to get into town can be a bit of an annoying trek.
The Zona Romantica is one of the best places to stay if you are looking for nightlife this is essentially the city’s LGBTQI+ district because there are so many gay-friendly hotels and gay bars, and the 5 de Diciembre area in downtown Vallarta is about as central as you can get.
Versailles is something of a desirable postcode in Vallarta and its leafy streets are lined with chic cocktail bars, trendy brunch spots, and all manner of boutique stores. Nearby, Las Glorias offers some great affordable options a stone’s throw from Versaille, usually with a sea view.
Areas to avoid in Puerto Vallarta
The least desirable areas in Vallarta are perhaps Las Mojoneres and Ixtapa. However, they are definitely not dangerous by any means, they are just a little rough around the edges, and home to many people who unfortunately live below the poverty level.
Since poverty breeds crime and petty things like pickpocketing and bag snatching, etc, these are not areas where you want to wander around at night.
Is Buscerias and Nuevo Vallarta safe?
Puerto Vallarta is a safe city and this safety extends to the wider region. Since a lot of foreigners are relocating to the area, and Vallarta is attracting more and more tourists year after year, accommodation prices are going up and more people are looking for hotels, short, medium and long-term rentals a little further afield.
In essence, the wider region is becoming more gentrified and experiencing some sort of “Airbnb-ification” but the development of more tourist businesses, etc means these places are very safe and filled with other tourists.
Las Juntas, Nuevo Vallarta, and the border areas of Nayarit are safe. There is a large expat community living around “Paradise Village” in Nuevo Vallarta and a lot of upscale eateries, gated communities, stores and coffee places.
I even spent an entire month based in Mezcales (in the Valle Dorado district) as a solo female traveller and felt very safe there too, despite it being a very local, non-touristic area.
Exploring the region around Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is a great jump-off point for exploring wider Jalisco and Nayarit. Heading east along the coast, the Jalisco beaches of Mismaloya, Colomitos and Yelapa are gorgeous, safe, and home to some very upscale resorts and hotels.
Heading west, Bucerias, Punta Mita and Sayulita in Nayarit are safe with common sense and popular with tourists. If you are seeking more culture during your trip, you can also travel along the Carretera 544 to the charming villages of San Sebastian del Oeste, Mascota and Yerbabuena.
There were previously travel warnings in place for Jalisco Highway 70 but they were removed this year, and this is a very scenic route for continuing onwards to Talpa de Allende and eventually, Guadalajara.
These small towns are safe and the people are very hospitable. You don’t see an awful lot of foreign travellers, bar the occasional day trippers from Puerto Vallarta, but that doesn’t mean the area is not safe.
If you are renting a car in Mexico, you can drive along “El Circuito Rural”. This is a 35km route through the towns of Yerbabuena, Santa Rosa, Cimarrón Chico de la Raicilla, Navidad, and Lake Juanacatlan.
Is Puerto Vallarta safe at night?
The nightlife is one of the main draws of Puerto Vallarta for a lot of people. There is something for everyone here – from chic rooftop cocktail bars where exquisite mezcalitas, and margaritas and other drinks are rustled up by expert mixiologists, to cheap and cheerful beer and snack bars like Cerveceria Chaputlapec, to clubs like Mandala and La Santa.
In the romantic zone and the main streets of downtown Vallarta, the streets are always brimming with life, even at night. You will be fine going from bar to bar here, but you should take an Uber if your hotel is a bit further afield, rather than walking down quiet, dimly lit side streets alone.
Are the beaches in Puerto Vallarta safe?
The beaches in Puerto Vallarta are mostly safe and since they are sheltered within the natural bay of Banderas, they are protected from most heavy winds and riptides, etc. Still, when you head to the beach, it pays to check and see if any flags are up to warn you of heavy winds, etc.
Check your government travel advice before you go
It is a good idea to check your government travel advice before visiting anywhere for the first time and the same rings true of planning a first trip to Puerto Vallarta. The US Department of State provides a state-by-state breakdown into the safety situation in each of Mexico’s 32 states.
Although it can appear a little sternly worded, it provides good insight into the current situation in different parts of Mexico, the current entry requirements, visa requirements, etc.
Jalisco is safe for tourists, although it is currently recognised as a state that you should “reconsider travel to”. It is important to take this with a pinch of salt and acknowledge that if you are not travelling to dangerous parts of the state or getting involved with the cartel, you will not need to worry.
The UK government travel advice for Mexico is also periodically updated and can be found here.
Is Puerto Vallarta safe for solo travellers?
Puerto Vallarta is a very safe place for solo travellers. Arguably when you travel alone anywhere, you have to be more alert and aware of your surroundings than you would when travelling in a group, but tons of travelers and Digital Nomads pass through here every week and many of them are solo.
Rest assured, you wont stick out like a sore thumb or draw attention to yourself. Locals have seen people (of all genders and ages) on their own a thousand times before.
Meeting other travellers in Vallarta
After living in Mexico for two years and travelling around the country extensively, I firmly believe that Puerto Vallarta is one of the best (maybe the best) places to meet other travellers and be social.
There are several different bars and cafes that frequently organise events for expats and locals. My favourite spot is a place called Cafe + Leche (Océano Pacífico 455-B, Palmar de Aramara) which locals joke as being the “gringo cafe” but is great because there are different things going on every night of the week that tend to attract an international crowd.
(For example, on Monday nights, theres live jazz and blues music, on wednesday evenings, there are chess competitions, etc.) Even if you just rock up for a coffee on a random afternoon, chances are, you will meet another friendly traveller that will want to start a conversation with you.
If you are here working remotely, there are tons of coworking spaces in the area and some of them also organise social events. Facebook groups are honestly one of the best ways to meet people, so you can consider posting in one of them when you arrive and seeing if anyone wants to hang out.
You can also use the hangouts and events function on Couchsurfing if you use the app. (There is now a monthly subscription fee of $2.39 but its worth it to meet people in my opinion).
Best Facebook groups in Vallarta
- Puerto Vallarta: Everything you need to know
- Puerto Vallarta ❤️ Everything You Need Or Want To know -Information Zone 🇲🇽
- Living in Puerto Vallarta
- Puerto Vallarta Conscious Community & Events
- Puerto Vallarta: Everyone Helping Everyone
- Veggie Vallarta 🌱 Vegan & Vegetarian Group
- Puerto Vallarta Bears 🏳️🌈 🐻: Everything Gay You Need Or Want To Know
Is Puerto Vallarta safe for solo female travellers?
Puerto Vallarta is safe for solo female travellers. (This entire website has been written by a solo female traveller in Mexico who has visited over 13 states solo and explored the country extensively).
You may get the occasional looks or catcalls while you were here, but in my experience, it was not as bad as you may expect for Mexico, and definitely happened less often than in Greece, Italy, and other parts of the world. It is generally better to ignore catcallers.
You never really know someones mental state, etc so it is better not to confront random strangers. Dont give these people the power to ruin your day.
Due to the hot, tropical climate and extreme humidity in Vallarta, you will find that most local and expat women walk around in shorts, skirts and sundresses most of the time. You can feel comfortable doing the same.
Do not get involved with drugs or illegal activity
Generally speaking, if you dont go looking for trouble in Mexico, trouble wont go looking for you. It is better not to do drugs in Puerto Vallarta and get involved with them in any way, but unfortunately there are definitely a lot of people that come here for wild parties and in search of weed and harder drugs that they do at home.
Doing or possessing even small amounts of drugs is illegal in Mexico but there often seems to be one rule for Mexicans and one rule for “gringos” and gringos often dont get into trouble or police look the other way because they bring the tourist money. Just dont do it.
Half of the problem with the cartels making their way into tourist areas in Mexico is because tourists drive up the demand by seeking out drugs, and criminal organisations are fighting over the territory because they want to be the ones to supply it. That is exactly what has happened in Cancun and the Riviera Maya in recent years.
Hurricanes in Puerto Vallarta
Hurricane season in Puerto Vallarta and Mexicos Pacific Coast runs from June to November, with the biggest risk for hurricanes being around August/September. Most of the time, this just means occasional storms and heavy rains and fatal hurricanes are not common.
Still, it pays to check whats going on with the weather before your trip and if you are concerned, you might want to wait until November to travel. In early October 2023, the category 4 hurricane Lidia rocked Puerto Vallarta and caused some flooding and damage to the downtown and the malecon areas, blowing over trees, destroying buildings and leaving people without water and power for days.
Earthquakes in Puerto Vallarta
Mexico on the whole experiences a lot of seismic activity, although the worst of it is usually concentrated around Mexico City. Puerto Vallarta is situated on a fault line known as the “Vallarta Gap”.
Two earthquakes rocked the city in October 2023, at magnitudes of 5.8 and 5.9 but there was no damage or fatalities. Although there have been a few shakes and tremors over the years, there has not been a major fatal earthquake here since 1985 when a magnitude 8.0 quake shook the region.
Is the cartel in Puerto Vallarta?
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) exists across the state of Jalisco, including Puerto Vallarta. Still, they dont have as much of a presence here as they do in Guadalajara, and tourists are never the targets of violence or cartel activity.
The chances of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time and caught up in some kind of violent clash between criminal groups are very, very slim. Puerto Vallarta, like other popular tourist destinations in Mexico, is protected by the presence of security personnel and police.
Taking Ubers and taxis in Puerto Vallarta
Taking Ubers are one of the best ways to get around in Puerto Vallarta and it might come as a shock to hear that in Mexico, Ubers are generally considered safer than street cabs. In some ways, this makes sense.
Afterall, there is more accountability when you use a ridesharing app since you can see the drivers name, vehicle info and references and you simply dont know whose car you are getting into when you get into a random street cab.
Ubers are generally pretty affordable too and you can get from one side of the city to another for just a few dollars. Only licensed cabs are permitted to operate at the airport but you can get around this by walking a few blocks away from the airport and then ordering an Uber.
(Nobody has ever hassled me or asked what I was doing but if they did, you could simply say you were waiting for a friend). Didi and Indrive are alternative, Mexican versions of Uber that are often cheaper, but you will likely have to change your phone location to Mexico to be able to download them.
People will often warn you not to take street cabs in Mexico because of the risk of being scammed as a tourist or being a victim of express kidnapping. I have always tried to avoid them and take Ubers but I did take taxis from official ranks in PV a few times and felt safe.
(Outside ranks in Mezcales, Las Glorias and Gallerias Mall).
Safety Tips for Visiting Puerto Vallarta
While the short answer to “Is Puerto Vallarta safe?” is yes, it is important to note that nowhere in the world is safe 100% of the time. Petty crimes, though rare, do happen from time to time.
Most petty crime in Puerto Vallarta is opportunistic. For instance, someone grabbing your bag in a crowded marketplace, or someone taking your laptop if you leave it unattended on a coffee shop table.
Some useful safety tips to keep in mind while in Puerto Vallarta are summarised below. A lot of these are good practices wherever in the world you choose to travel but are worth reiterating here.
Puerto Vallarta safety tips
- Consider purchasing a theft-proof backpack or moneybelt like those offered by Pacsafe to keep your belongings safe. They are slash-proof, waterproof and come with a TSA-approved locking system
- Watch your personal belongings in crowded markets and areas and in busy places, walk with your backpack in front of you rather than slung over one shoulder
- Take an Uber home at night rather than trying to walk
- Watch your alcohol intake at bars and never leave drinks unattended. Even if you are at an event for expats, remember that you don’t truly know these people
- Purchase comprehensive travel insurance with medical cover of at least $250,000 USD. You never know what is around the corner and today’s health isnt promised tomorrow.
- Purchase an alarmed doorstop for your peace of mind if travelling alone – especially if you are staying at an Airbnb or a cheap hotel
- If you do not have a US or Canadian sim card that includes Mexico in your plan, consider purchasing a Mexican sim card to stay connected during your trip
- Travel with multiple bank cards and keep a spare, along with some emergency cash in your suitcase or hotel room safe in case you lose one
- Be careful when withdrawing money from ATMs. Use ATMs in banks and malls as these are less likely to have been tampered with, and try to make withdrawals during the day in well-lit areas where possible.
Scams in Puerto Vallarta
There are good and bad people everywhere in the world you may travel and Puerto Vallarta is no different. Fortunately scams here are pretty rare but there are a few recurring tricks that fraudsters like to try out where they can.
- Timeshare scams – people trying to sell timeshares can be very pushy, persuasive and convincing. Some are legit but many are fraudulent and are even backed by the cartel. Reports indicate that US travellers lost more than $40 billion USD due to timeshare scams in 2022. It is best to just say no.
- Shortchanging and changing the price of things at the last minute – always check that the price on the bill is the price that you saw on the menu
- Rental scams – With more and more expats moving to Puerto Vallarta, rental scams are becoming an increasing concern. There have been numerous instances of people paying over rent or a rental deposit to someone only to find that the individual didn’t even own the property they were showing and they have run off into the sunset with their money.
- Car rental scams – An issue when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta and elsewhere in Mexico is that car rental companies will sometimes insist that you purchase insurance through them and refuse to let you have the car if you say no, even if you have valid insurance elsewhere. Then, you wind up having to pay twice. So, always stick to reputable rental companies like Avis or Sixt.
Take organized tours around Puerto Vallarta
If you are anxious about your first trip to Puerto Vallarta, opting to take a guided tour or an excursion to the villages and beaches nearby can be a great way to get your bearings. Better yet, exploring with a Mexican local means that you have a Puerto Vallarta “expert” on hand to ask any burning questions that you might have.
Many reputable companies operate in the region. Even though public transport in the area is pretty good, tours are great because it means that you dont have to worry about the logistics of your trip, how to get from A to B, etc.
Many companies that take you to places like Saylita, Tequila, Yelapa, etc include pickup and drop-off at your hotel as well as lunch and admission to historical sites and attractions. A lot of them stop at places that are tricky to get to without your own vehicle and are a good way to meet other travellers if you are travelling alone.
Best Puerto Vallarta tours for 2023 and beyond
A selection of reputable tours in and around Puerto Vallarta is detailed below. Book your spot in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Yelapa waterfall and Majahuitas adventure
- Sayulita/Punta Mita zip lines with ocean view
- Puerto Vallarta: city tour, tequila and coffee factory tour
- Las Caletas beach hideaway experience
- Sayulita/Punta Mita horseback riding tour
- Puerto Vallarta: night cruise and dinner show
- Puerto Vallarta: luxury yacht and snorkelling tour
Use the same common sense you would at home
You will find it easy to stay safe in Puerto Vallarta if you use the same common sense that you would at home or anywhere else. For instance, don’t walk home alone at night and don’t walk down quiet, isolated, sketchy-looking side streets.
While there is nowhere particularly dangerous here, it is best not to venture off into random residential areas as it will be quieter and there will be fewer people around. Be wary of over-friendly strangers and if someone is bothering you, don’t hesitate to go into a shop and tell someone.
Food safety in Puerto Vallarta
If you travel to Puerto Vallarta without experimenting with Mexican food, sampling different street food dishes, and eating your body weight in tacos, frankly you haven’t been to Mexico. A lot of people worry about getting sick here but Mexico isnt synonymous with getting ill, and the local food culture is one of the highlights of exploring the country.
There are some great restaurants in Puerto Vallarta that serve everything from regional Jaliscan specialties, to international fare and health foods. Experimenting with street food is always fun, and although there are often tianguis and pop-up taco stalls on virtually every street corner, a great place to check out is Vallarta Food Park (Food park, Blv, Blvd. Francisco Medina Ascencio No. 2450).
If you are apprehensive about what is safe to eat, look for stalls that have long lines outside of them. That is usually a pretty good indicator that somewhere serves quality food.
Is it safe to drink the water in Puerto Vallarta?
It is not safe to drink the water in Puerto Vallarta or anywhere in Mexico for that matter. Although it is purified at the source, there is a good probability of it getting contaminated with bacteria, dirt, etc on route to your tap.
Most hotels will provide you with a couple of complimentary bottles of water for each night of your stay, and then you can purchase cheap, multi-litre bottles from Oxxo and other convenience stores.
You dont have to worry about having ice in your drinks, or drinking beverages prepared with water because Mexican restaurants and businesses will always use mineral water by default and have ice delivered.
Crocodiles in Puerto Vallarta
Honestly the chances of going on vacation to Puerto Vallarta and encountering a crocodile are slim (thank God!) but it is important to note that there are crocodiles in some rivers and bodies of water here.
Marina Vallarta is where a lot of the older, retired expats have apartments and there are some great restaurants and breakfast spots along the waterfront but you will also notice signs everywhere for crocodiles. This is absolutely not somewhere where you want to take a dip – especially not at night.
Boca de Tomate is an area renowned for being home to tons of crocodiles and where you need to be careful of going into the water, and you can also assume that there are crocodiles living in most rivers in the city and its surroundings. (E.g. people often see them in Rio Ameca).
Mosquitos in Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco
Mosquitos are a nightmare in Puerto Vallarta, especially during the warm, summer months. Repellent spray and bite-relief cream are both essential.
It is not just a case of not wanting to walk around sporting golf-ball-sized welts. Mosquitos in Mexico also carry diseases like dengue and the Zika virus. Always use plenty of spray, especially at night.
Plug-in repellents can be a lifesaver during the rainy season too, and you can buy them off of Amazon (or at stores like Walmart once you arrive in Vallarta) for just a couple of dollars.
Is Puerto Vallarta safe? Final thoughts
Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular travel destinations in Mexico, as well as one of the safest. Dont let fear or stereotypes deter you from discovering a really beautiful part of the world.
If you head to Mexico filled with anxiety and you are constantly worrying about safety in Puerto Vallarta, it will ruin your trip. Once you arrive, you will note that the situation on the ground is far better than anything you could have worried about.
Have any further questions? Please do not hesitate to reach out to me and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can.
Safe travels! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo