Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta can be one of your best options to see as many places as possible during your time in Jalisco. Doing so can work out a lot more convenient since you can drive yourself and organize your travel schedules without depending on a public bus or a local tour.
Local buses can be an economical way to get to popular places in the city and beaches surrounding the port, but the disadvantage is that they are usually ultra-crowded since most local people use them to go to their jobs or daily activities. Not to mention, there is no air con.
The bus network isnt too extensive either which may come as a surprise when you consider how popular Puerto Vallarta is among tourists. To get to where you are going, can mean that you need to take between 1 and 3 different buses depending on your final destination.
Even getting to popular beaches like Sayulita, San Pancho, Mismaloya or Colomitos is awkward. So too is traveling to magical towns like San Sebastián del Oeste, Mascota or Talpa de Allende.
Fortunately, renting a car in Puerto Vallarta and driving through the state of Jalisco is not difficult to do. Car hires in Puerto Vallarta are often affordable, and driving a car in Mexico is not very different from driving in countries like the United States and Canada or other countries in the world.
I spent over 2.5 years living and working in Puerto Vallarta and recently traveled back to the coastal city while spending a couple of months in Jalisco. You are in good hands here, and I will share everything you need to know about renting a car in this part of Mexico.
Renting a Car in Puerto Vallarta in 2023: Everything You Need to Know
Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is one of your best transport options if you don’t want to be confined to your resort. Many reputable international rental companies operate here, including the likes of Hertz, Alamo Rent-A-Car, Avis, Europcar, Enterprise Rent A Car and Budget.
Unfortunately in Mexico, there can be scams when renting a car. So it is generally much better and safer to rent a car with a recognized company like those outlined above than with an independent company without many references.
Discover Cars is an excellent platform that compares and contrasts the prices and vehicles offered by various Puerto Vallarta rental companies so that you can easily secure the best deal. (Read our firsthand Discover Cars Mexico review here).
It is the platform that I always use, and the one that I would recommend. They also provide the “true” price of rental deals and don’t add on any hidden fees, unlike other rental companies that display an ultra-low (false) price upfront, and then add on various extras later.
Costs of renting a car in Puerto Vallarta
The costs of renting a car in Puerto Vallarta can vary depending on the type of car you choose to rent, and the season that you are travelling. December through to March is the “high season” in this part of Mexico, and costs across the board are at their highest during this time.
Generally speaking, if you are looking at renting a small, economy-sized vehicle with 3 or 4 cylinders, whether it is automatic or manual (e.g. a Matiz, March, Aveo, Mirage or Kia Rio), it is likely to have a price between $570.00 to $1100.00 Mexican pesos per day. ($32.4 and $62.5 USD).
A medium-sized car with 4 to 6 cylinders such as a Jetta, Kia Forte or a Renault Logan, ranges between $780.00 and $1300.00 Mexican pesos per day ($32.5 and $74 USD) and if you travel with your family and need a larger car or an SUV, you can find them from $800.00 Mexican pesos per day including full coverage insurance. ($45.5 USD).
On some rental comparison sites, you might see cars available for as little as $6-$10 a day. Honestly, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Sometimes you can find more affordable price offers in smaller companies, but it is best to go to the most recognized companies to avoid any type of problems due to scams.
Book your rental car in advance
It is always better to reserve your rental car as soon as possible once you know your travel dates. The closer you get to your departure, the higher the prices will be, as demand increases.
If you wait until you arrive at the airport to wander into a rental office and hire a car without advanced booking, the prices will be at the highest of all so this is best avoided where possible. The good thing about using Discover Cars as a platform is that they offer free cancellation up until around 48 hours prior to your departure.
This is great because it means that once you confirm your travel dates, you can reserve your rental car to lock in the price that you find, but if you find a better deal later, or you decide to change your plans, you can always cancel and rebook as needed.
Check past reviews before choosing a rental company.
It is always a good idea to check past reviews before opting to go with a particular rental company. You can check reviews on Google, Tripadvisor, and via rental platforms like Discover Cars.
Of course, you should be mindful that some people just love to complain for any and every reason, and people are more likely to write something negative online than something positive. But you can look out for any recurring complaints or themes.
Another reason we like to use Discover Cars is because they provide their suppliers with a rating from 0 to 10 based on customers’ past reviews and experience. For the best experience, it is advisable to look for a company with a rating of 8 to 10 to ensure that you will not have any problems.
(Or you can broaden the pool of potential rental companies and perhaps find cheaper options by filtering by suppliers with a rating of 7 and above and being prepared to check through past reviews).
Puerto Vallarta pick-up locations
You can pick up your Puerto Vallarta rental car from various different points around town but arguably the most common and easiest is at the airport. You will note that most car rental companies have branches here, located in a small area together directly after baggage claims and customs.
On the other hand, if you travel by bus to the city center, you will find some pick-up points in downtown PV and around the bus station. However, we really need to stress that it is much easier to pick up your rental car from the airport.
We have even made a specific trip from the city center to the airport to collect a rental car, even though we were already in town just because the rates were so much more competitive. There are usually far more options if you are willing to collect your car from the airport, and the price works out substantially cheaper.
A lot of people will tell you that you should choose an airport rental company that has an office within the terminal, rather than one that you have to take a shuttle to. However, the reality is that no companies store their fleet of cars inside the airport anyway, so wherever you choose, you will need to take a shuttle out to a certain pick-up point.
When you use Avis or some of the other rental offices directly inside the airport, the attendant will escort you to a section of the car park where you need to wait for a minivan to collect you and take you to the pick-up point. It is a little badly organised as there are no signs about which companies pick you up from where, but the shuttles are branded and run back and forth every five minutes or so.
What are the requirements for renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?
To be eligible to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta, there are a couple of requirements that the driver needs to meet. Most rental companies require you to be at least 21 years old but no older than around 65 or 70.
Some companies will accept drivers as young as 18 (though these are the exception, not the rule), and some as old as 80.
If you are aged 29 and below, you may have to pay a young driver’s supplement which gets pricier the younger you are. If you are over 65, you may have to pay an extra fee. So with that being said, the best and most competitive prices are usually reserved for experienced drivers between 30 and 65.
In addition to meeting the age requirements, you need:
- A current and valid driver’s license that you have held for at least one year
- A form of identification (e.g. your passport)
- A credit card with sufficient funds available for the rental security deposit, since retains an amount of money to insure the vehicle against any damage that you may cause.
- An IDP ( an international driving permit) if your driver’s license is displayed in a different alphabet other than Latin (i.e. this alphabet) such as Japanese or Korean.
Applying for an IDP
If your driving license is written in the Roman alphabet (e.g. it is issued from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries) you do not need an International Driving Permit (IDP) for your trip to Mexico. However, if it is written in any other language or alphabet, you do.
This must be applied for in your own country of residence in advance of your trip. You cannot pick up your IDP once you arrive in Mexico.
The exact process for obtaining an IDP differs from country to country, but you can check this website for comprehensive details on how to apply for an IDP from various different countries across the globe.
You must have held your driving license for at least a year
You must have held your driving license for at least a year to be eligible to rent a car in Mexico. This is important because if you have recently had your license reissued, you need to also carry the old license too as you may otherwise be denied your rental vehicle, even if you have been driving for years and years.
(This happens to us Mexicans too as Mexican licenses can be issued for periods of 2, 3 and 5 years and need to be renewed periodically).
Adding additional drivers
If a group of you are renting a car together, the passengers do not need to provide their identification or credit card information. It is only if you are adding additional drivers, do you incur an extra fee (to add the second driver to the insurance, etc.), and that person needs to also show their driver’s license, ID, have a valid credit card on file, and, if applicable, an IDP.
Adding a credit or debit card on file
Most rental companies in Mexico require you to have a valid credit card to add on file so that they can place a temporary hold on it as a deposit. This is just to cover them in case you drive off into the sunset with their vehicle, never to be seen again, or you damage it in any way.
Most types of credit cards are accepted. (E.g. Mastercard, Visa and American Express).
Some companies may accept debit cards but not all of them, so if you don’t have a credit card, double-check this in advance before you make your reservation. Deposit amounts may be between $ 1,000 and $3000 USD depending on the type of vehicle that you rent and what insurance you have.
We rented a full-sized Kia from Avis via Discover Cars in Puerto Vallarta and despite purchasing Discover Cars full coverage insurance, Avis were insistent that we needed to pay a $2,500 USD deposit for the vehicle because we didn’t buy their insurance specifically.
Where possible, it is always better to use a credit card rather than a debit card if you can. A credit card not only provides more security but funds debited from your debit card are physically gone until they are refunded.
This can mean that you are out of pocket several thousand dollars before your trip even starts, which is a lot, even if you do get it back eventually.
Most rental companies will advise you that you need to wait 36-48 hours after returning your car for the funds to be returned to your debit/credit card.
Booking for longer can lead to more economical pricing
One thing that we have noticed with rental companies across the board in Mexico is that renting for longer can mean that you are given a more economical daily rate. For example, when we rented a car for four days to be able to drive to San Sebastian del Oeste and Mascota, we paid a rate of $65 USD per day including full coverage insurance for a full-sized KIA.
If we had rented the car for a week or longer, we could have secured a rate of $40 per day. That´s a little redundant as we only needed the car for a couple of days, but if you are on the fence about how long you should rent your car for, and you are thinking of saving a bit of money by cutting down on the number of days you choose, you might not necessarily be saving anything.
Car Insurance Considerations in Mexico
In Puerto Vallarta, as in all of Mexico, by law, it is mandatory to have Mexican car insurance. It is advisable to add full coverage insurance to your rental reservation at the time of making your booking.
That way, you know that everything is covered in the event of an accident, theft or some type of mechanical failure that the car may experience. Mexican auto insurance is broken down into several different categories.
Namely, these are personal liability insurance, third-party liability insurance (TPL), collision damage waiver (CDW), and theft protection insurance. Do note that when you browse aggregator rental platforms like Discover Cars, some vehicles are listed as including these types of insurance whereas others do not so never assume.
Even if you go ahead and purchase full coverage insurance, it does not include or act as a replacement for a collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance so you need to ensure you purchase both.
Why you should purchase full coverage insurance in Mexico
You can add full coverage insurance to the cost of your rental for as little as $7 a day and it is definitely worth it. There are many little things and added extras that are simply not included with the standard insurance, but opting for full coverage means that you are covered for any and every eventuality.
Always make sure that you read the small print as different “full coverage” plans do differ significantly from company to company. Discover Cars’ full coverage includes everything outlined below.
- Deductible/excess charge for damage or theft
- Bodywork and roof damage
- Repair costs, including windows, mirrors, and wheels
- Undercarriage problems
- Towing and taxi expenses
- Lost keys or lockout fees
- Administrative charges and fees for supplier’s loss of use during repair.
Some insurance plans may not include things like wing mirrors, key fobs, etc., so always read the terms and conditions so that you know exactly what you are and are not covered for. (Fortunately, the Discover Cars insurance is very comprehensive and covers you up to $3200 worth of damage).
Insurance scams in Mexico
A widespread issue across Mexico is for car rental companies trying to upsell you their auto insurance, even if you are already covered with insurance elsewhere. Once, when another Travel Writer and I were renting a car in Merida, the rental company refused to let us drive off with the car unless we specifically purchased their insurance which was frustrating as we were legally covered and had everything that we needed.
Since they flat-out refused to give us the car unless we complied, we ended up purchasing two sets of insurance and paying double. Other, more reputable rental companies may not be as bad for this but it does seem that rental company employees are always encouraged to try and upsell insurance.
The best thing to do is to purchase insurance via the auto insurance company. Although Discover Car’s own insurance and insurance offered via reputable major car companies in Mexico like Baja Bound do fulfil all legal requirements within Mexico.
If you have valid insurance but it is not specifically through the rental company, you may wind up having to pay a large deposit like I had to when using Avis at Puerto Vallarta airport.
Check if Mexico is included in your global insurance plan
If you have a global auto insurance plan or you have auto insurance through your credit card, you should read the small print to check that Mexico is included as one of the destinations, and make sure that you understand exactly what is included. It may still pay to purchase full coverage insurance via Discover Cars.
Fuel policies and mileage options
You will usually have the option to choose between different fuel policies and mileage options when selecting your rental car. A fuel-to-full rental policy is quite common – this basically means that you will be handed the vehicle with a full tank of gas and you have to return it with a full tank of gas.
It is important that you do so, otherwise, you may receive additional charges for gas after returning the car at the end of your trip, even if you return it with the gas tank 80% full.
Where possible, it is best to select vehicles that have “unlimited mileage”. That way, there will be no nasty surprises or additional charges if you go on a road trip and drive more than you had initially thought you would.
Collecting your rental car
When you book your rental car, you will be given a check-in timeslot to collect your vehicle. Be prepared to provide the rental office with your booking reference numbers, along with your name and proof of ID.
They will take copies of everything and ask you to sign a copy of the rental contract, along with an inventory checklist that confirms the condition in which you received the vehicle. It is important to thoroughly check both the interior and exterior of the car for any damage, and be sure to flag any problems to the company before you drive off.
Take photos with your cell phone so that you have time-stamped evidence of the condition you received the vehicle in, along with the meta-tagged location. The Kia that we rented from Puerto Vallarta airport had a fair amount of scrapes and damage to the paintwork at the front of the vehicle so we photographed it and the rental office guy made a note.
I think it is also worth noting that you may not always get given the exact same vehicle that you had booked. For instance, we had reserved a Toyota Corolla and were given a Kia.
We were not particularly precious about the particular model of car that we used, but if the exact vehicle that you reserved is booked or in repair, you will be given a vehicle of similar spec.
Automatic vs. manual cars in Puerto Vallarta
Most of the rental cars in Puerto Vallarta are automatic cars since it is more comfortable for people and not everyone knows how to drive a stick shift/manual transmission. Manual cars also exist but this is more common in pickup trucks or larger SUVs.
In some areas (like if you plan on driving up La Bufa near San Sebastian del Oeste or the rocky mountain roads to Navidad), a four-wheel drive or an SUV can make things easier when taking trips in mountainous or difficult terrain such as mountains, dirt roads and very inclined roads.
So rest assured, if you can only drive an automatic car, you won’t have any difficulty finding a suitable vehicle.
Navigating and GPS systems in Mexico
Not all Mexico car rentals have GPS systems installed in the vehicles and the ones that do are usually more expensive. You are honestly just as well to use your phone and make sure that you have Google Maps or another offline map app (like Maps Me) installed.
Most US and Canadian phone plans include coverage in Mexico, but if you are traveling from the UK, Europe, or further afield, it is better to purchase a local Mexican SIM card, rather than to spend a small fortune on data roaming. 3G and 4G connectivity is pretty good in Jalisco, although in some of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain towns, you will find that there is little signal.
Returning your rental car
You are generally expected to return your rental car in a similar condition to that in which you received it. This means that it should be clean and usually, the gas tank should be full.
Clear out any trash and personal belongings from inside the vehicle so that you don’t get slapped with any extra cleaning fees. We didn’t have time to take the car through a car wash before taking it back so we paid some attendants at a gas station in Ixtapa to help us wash it by hand before dropping it off.
We had a positive experience with Avis in Puerto Vallarta because the car definitely wasn’t sparkling clean and they were fine, didnt charge us a fee, and told us that they give all of their cars another quick wash before handing them to the next customers anyway.
For your security, it is a good idea to take photos of the rental car when you drop it off too. This is arguably even more important than doing so when you pick it up, just in case an issue arises with the car later and the rental company tries to blame you.
(It is always better to be safe than sorry).
Things to Know About Driving in Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco
Driving in Jalisco is really not as stressful or intimidating as it may sound as most of the roads here are safe and in very good condition, and road rules tend to be very similar to those in the US and Canada.
People often have an idea that driving in Mexico is akin to being in the Wild West, with people speeding, driving erratically, and paying little attention to the road rules. The reality is that people here are just as cautious, if not more so than drivers in the US and Canada because there is a strong police presence on roads and highways across the country and the fines and penalties for speeding or driving dangerously can be very strict.
Speed limits in Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco
Generally in Puerto Vallarta, the streets have a speed limit of 40 kilometers per hour, and large avenues (boulevards) have a limit of between 50 and 60 kilometers per hour.
When travelling on roads and highways between cities in Jalisco, note that the speed limits are 90km/h on two-lane highways, and 90–100 km/h on major highways inside cities. There are limits of 100 km/h (62 mph) on major highways leaving or approaching towns or cities and 110 km/h (68 mph) on major highways.
unlike other states and cities in Mexico on the avenues. large (boulevard) are generally made up of 4 lanes, an important fact is that to make a U-turn or turn around left side before reaching the return you need to go to the low-speed side street and wait for the green arrow on the traffic light since if you are in the center lanes you will not be able to turn and you will have to drive to the next return to be able to return and continue with your route.
Driving in Puerto Vallarta
In Puerto Vallarta, unlike in other states and cities in Mexico, the avenues and large boulevards are generally made up of 4 lanes. The central lanes are for people driving at a high speed and the side lanes are used for lower speeds and buses.
This is important to note because, in most places, it is usually the outer lanes that are used for overtaking.
Within the city, many of the streets have hydraulic pavement for comfortable handling. However, in older areas of the city, it is very common to find cobblestone streets since many neighborhoods prefer to maintain the antiquity of the architecture in their communities.
Some other useful tips and pointers for driving in Puerto Vallarta and wider Jalisco/Nayarit are detailed below.
Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco driving tips
- Look out for different signals in Mexico. If you turn on your left turn signal in most countries, it means that you are about to turn left, but in Mexico, you are giving an indication to the person behind you that it is okay for them to overtake you. If you are planning to overtake someone and you turn on your left turn signal, cars behind you may mistakenly think that you are telling them to overtake.
- Driving at night in built-up parts of Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta and nearby Mezcales/Nayarit is fine since the roads are well-lit and there are always signs of life. You should avoid driving at night in rural areas and on country roads purely because many roads do not have street lights and this can make it very difficult to see hazards, stray animals, etc.
- Always keep your eyes peeled for speed bumps (topes). You will usually see a yellow road sign warning you of their existence but the signs are often right before the speed bump which doesn’t give you much time to react if you are driving fast. Some are very steep, often peculiarly so.
- At roundabouts, cars already in the roundabout have priority over those about to join the roundabout. So, you need to wait for someone to give you the opportunity to join.
- Francisco Medina Ascencio is the main road in Vallarta, although it is best avoided at rush hour when it is a congested nightmare.
- Many travel guides will advise you to stick to toll roads (autopistas) rather than free roads (carretera libres). The reality is a bit more nuanced than that and many of the free roads between Puerto Vallarta and the Jalisco pueblo magicos are safe, whereas north of Guadalajara, you need to be a lot more careful.
Driving in wider Jalisco and Nayarit
Once you leave Puerto Vallarta and enter rural Jalisco, the roads are very beautiful and pleasant since they have a lot of vegetation and forests and there are areas where natural tunnels are formed by the trees on the banks of the road.
However, you must drive with caution since there are many curves on the road and it often makes it difficult to see any oncoming vehicles that may be turning around the corner ahead. In some areas, like the mountain road to Navidad, the road is only really wide enough to allow one vehicle to pass at any given time.
Like driving anywhere, you need to pay attention to the road signs and respect them to prevent an accident.
You should also be careful not to exceed the speed limits since in different parts of the road you may encounter vehicle control points where traffic officers are present and fines for speeding can be very expensive.
Finding parking spaces in Puerto Vallarta
Finding a parking space in Puerto Vallarta (and in Mexico on the whole) is pretty straightforward and free street parking is widely available. If parking is prohibited in a particular area, you will see a sign with a crossed-out E.
Estacionamiento means “parking lot” in Mexico. So a crossed-out E means no parking.
In tourist areas, you might see a crossed-out P which has the same meaning. Obviously, you should use common sense when looking for a place to park – e.g. don’t park in someone’s driveway, etc.
In super busy tourist areas like the Zona Romantica, Playa Los Muertos, 5 De Diciembre and Centro, it can be a little trickier to find parking.
Fortunately, as the city has become more populated, more dedicated parking garages have opened up in Puerto Vallarta over the last few years and you will now find four different parking lots scattered around the main tourist and commercial hubs.
Additionally, many malls, plazas and large stores like Walmart usually have large underground parking garages beneath them which are free for customers to use.
Using gas stations in Mexico
Gas stations in Mexico are full service, meaning that you do not pump your own gas and an attendant pumps the gas for you. There are plenty of stations around Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding areas as well as in wider Jalisco.
Different gas station companies exist, but in general, the most used are the PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos) gas stations, which are green with a red eagle logo. At these gas stations, you can find Magana gasoline at around $23.24 pesos per liter, premium gasoline at $25.24 pesos per liter and diesel at $24.32 pesos per liter.
Most vehicles in Mexico run on gasoline. (If you are renting a car in Puerto Vallarta and you do not know if it takes standard gasoline or diesel, double-check with the rental company. If the car takes diesel, there will usually be a few letters marked on the exterior of the car near the gas tank to indicate as such.)
Do note that in Mexico, a green gas pump is for unleaded gasoline and a blue is for diesel which is different from in the US where a green fuel pump means diesel. You can pay in cash or use your debit or credit card and the dispatcher asks you if you need to invoice your purchase, In the vast majority of these gas stations you can find small self-service stores where you can buy water, juices, and different foods to consume during your trip.
Corrupt police in Mexico
In the city of Puerto Vallarta, as in the entire state of Jalisco, there are a large number of traffic police officers who are located in high-risk places to set up vehicle control points, surveillance and technical support for the driver. People will often warn you about the risk of encountering corrupt police who fine you for no reason when you are driving here, but this really is unlikely.
In the 2+ years, I have lived in Mexico and driven in more than 6 states, I have only encountered one corrupt traffic cop and that was in Sinaloa. The reality is that crimes against foreigners are frowned upon and it really is not the case that police are stopping and scamming people left right and center.
Do not give the police any reason to stop you by not speeding, or driving dangerously and make sure that you respect the rules of the road. If somebody does stop you, you can ask to speak to their boss (“jefe/jefa”) which is usually enough to deter them from pestering you for a bribe.
FAQs about Renting a Car in Puerto Vallarta
Do you have any further questions or concerns about renting a car in Puerto Vallarta? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Is it safe to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?
It is very safe to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta as long as you use the same common sense when driving as you would at home or anywhere else in the world. Puerto Vallarta, on the whole, is a very safe place.
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico and the Mexican government go above and beyond to protect the travelers that visit. Perhaps your key takeaways to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience that is memorable for all the right reasons should be to avoid driving between cities and in rural Jalisco at night due to low lighting, look out for hazards like stray dogs and wild animals in rural areas, and to be informed about Mexican rental insurance scams.
Do I need to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?
Whether or not you truly need to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta depends largely on your itinerary and your personal preferences.
If you plan on spending your Puerto Vallarta vacation just hanging out at a resort and only leaving your hotel to go to the beach or grab tacos here and there, you don’t necessarily need to rent a car. However, if you plan on taking trips out to more cultural parts of Jalisco or to lesser-known gorgeous Jalisco beaches, a car can make your life a lot easier.
Final thoughts on renting a car in Puerto Vallarta
As is the case with the vast majority of vacation destinations in Mexico, renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is generally the most comfortable and convenient option for getting around.
Of course, there are other transportation options such as public transportation, buses, taxis and platforms such as Didi, Indrive and Uber in Puerto Vallarta, but no doubt, the most comfortable and convenient thing to do is to rent a vehicle yourself and organize your travel agenda without having to depend on third party transport schedules.
As mentioned, we always use Discover Cars because they can easily help you find the best car rental options with the best companies and the best prices in Puerto Vallarta. The fact that their platform also makes it easy to filter by suppliers and see past customer reviews means that you don’t have to worry about any type of fraud or scam.
Do you have any further questions or concerns about renting a car in Puerto Vallarta or the best things to see and do in PV in general? I have been living in Mexico for 2+ years and spent several months based in Puerto Vallarta this year while looking at buying property in the area.
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything at all. Safe travels! Xo