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Often called the Northern Hotel Zone to differentiate it from the string of hotels running along the coast just south of Puerto Vallarta, the Hotel Zone stretches from the intersection of Libramiento and Avenida México to just south of the Maritime Terminal where the cruise ships dock. Along this strip are some of the finest resort hotels in Mexico. Shopping, markets, restaurants, and nightlife abound, though the area has the stretched out feel of a suburban strip mall: flat and commercial.
The hotels are often huge, little cities unto themselves. And within their boundaries many tourists spend their entire stay in Vallarta. For those looking for a big beach, lots of activities, and all the conveniences of home, this may be the way to go. For others, however, the area may seem a bit too touristy and perhaps a little crass. In the luxurious confines of the hotel zone, little remains of the real culture of Mexico. Perhaps that’s why it is almost exclusively a short-term rental area. Fly in, get a tan, flirt, parasail, fly home. Nothing wrong with that, just not for everyone. Cozy one bedroom beachfront units are available for full time ownership at $150,000 USD and just across the street from the beach are cute two bedroom units at around $100k.
Los Tules – Los Tules is actually a complex within the northern Hotel Zone: a very large complex, with condos, beachfront, and every convenience and service known to humanity. Condos run from $300,000 to $400,000 or more. Los Tules is a great choice for those who like hotel-style living. It can be a bit touristy, but that could be said for almost all of Puerto Vallarta. Worth looking into.
You can’t get closer to town than El Centro. El Centro is town. From the Rio Cuale at the south, north to the end of the Malecon (Puerto Vallarta’s boardwalk), El Centro encompasses the heart of the city. And it is a vibrant area, indeed, rivalled only by Olas Altas for its nightlife. Everything you could need is within easy walking distance: shops, cafés, restaurants, nightclubs, markets, theaters, and more.
This is the real Puerto Vallarta. The streets are cobblestone, the buildings, authentic. The population is a mix, but probably more Mexican than gringo. For the young urbanite, El Centro is pretty close to heaven. Get anything, walk anywhere, party anytime. For those with a more rural bent, El Centro will be unbearably noisy, crowded, hot, and smelly. And it can be quite expensive to boot. Old Vallarta style villas start in the $500,000 range, and the few condominiums available start at $300,000.
El Cerro / 5 de Diciembre
El Cerro – El Cerro is the area of Puerto Vallarta just to the east of El Centro, where the flat streets of El Centro begin their upward climb into the mountains beyond. El Cerro shares many of the benefits of El Centro: it’s convenient, it’s vibrant, and it’s the real thing. The streets are cobblestone (where they aren’t dirt), the houses fairly old with the classic look of Mexico.
There are plenty of young Americans and Canadians here; the area appeals to an art-loving, almost bohemian crowd. And perhaps that’s for the best. Like many of the older areas of Puerto Vallarta, El Cerro is hit-or-miss. One block will be filled with well-maintained, attractive homes, the next with tin-roofed shacks, mangy dogs, and barefoot children. Though some homes are fairly expensive, good deals are to be found. Several new condominium buildings are in process at the top of the hill featuring spectacular views and prices starting in the low $200,000 USD range.
Gringo Gulch was the original American settlement in Puerto Vallarta. It was here that the legendary romance of Burton and Taylor grew into a passion that spanned several marriages. Other famous Americans, such as Peter O’Toole, once lived here. And Gringo Gulch is still primarily an American (and Canadian) stronghold.
The neighborhood runs along the hilly northern bank of the Rio Cuale, just east of the center of town. It’s an easy walk down to shops, restaurants, and markets, but a bit of a trek back up. Cabs are cheap and easy to come by, however, and the beauty of the setting more than offsets the inconvenience. Perhaps more important, Gringo Gulch is an area steeped in the history and culture of Puerto Vallarta. Like most such areas it has its rough spots and can be a bit rustic, to use a well-worn euphemism. But for many Americans, it is the only place actually in Vallarta that they would consider home, and although prices can be quite high, occasional bargains can be found.
Not a neighborhood exactly, but a beach. Playa Los Muertos is the largest and most popular beach in Puerto Vallarta. And for good reason: it’s right in town, accessible to everything (and everyone), home of many nightclubs and restaurants, and according to many the best place to view the sunset. That said, it’s also expensive, congested, noisy, and very touristy. Still, there’s something to be said for convenience, and if it can be found in Puerto Vallarta, you can find it within a few blocks of Los Muertos beach. Everything you need, and glorious views, too. How can you go wrong?
Los Muertos is exclusively condos and rentals, with a few time-shares thrown in for good measure. Prices range from moderately expensive to more expensive and the residents are mostly Americans and Canadians. 2 bedroom beachfront units start at the $400k range, but if you are looking for a solid investment, and a great rental, this is the first place to look.
Olas Altas (Zona Romantica)
If Puerto Vallarta had a Greenwich Village, Olas Altas would be it. Along this street one block east of Playa Los Muertos one can find half a dozen cafés, many restaurants, and galleries galore. The cafés are usually filled with expatriated Americans enjoying a cappuccino and a pastry, playing chess, or reading a book. Everyone is on at least a nodding acquaintance with everyone else, and its not unusual to end up in a long conversation with the person sitting at the table next to yours.
At night, Olas Altas really comes alive. The sounds of revelry can be heard up and down the street. Lines form outside popular restaurants and the discos begin to heat up. And though it’s one of the most touristy areas of Puerto Vallarta, it’s also the one area where the expatriates may outnumber the tourists.
A place on or near Olas Altas is not for everyone. It offers tremendous convenience, from the expanse of Los Muertos beach, to the variety of restaurants, shops, and markets. And it is a wonderful place to hang out, party, or shop. But it is also congested, noisy, and filled with tourists. City folks will love it. Rural folk and suburbanites, come to visit, but stay elsewhere. Again a supurb investment area, but if you are interested in this area, be prepared to act quickly, properties are often listed and sold in the same day.
East of Insurgentes, south of Lazaro Cardenas, running east almost to the river and south to the foot of the hills and Alta Vista, Emiliano Zapata is home to many Mexicans and scattered Americans and Canadians. It’s best features are moderate prices and easy accessibility. Shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and the Cine Bahia are an easy walk. The people are friendly and taco stands abound.
Of course, lower prices usually come with a few inconveniences. In Emiliano Zapata, it’s noise. This is a real Mexican neighborhood, and when the work day is done, the locals take to the streets to talk, to walk, and to play. Street football until the early morning hours is a possibility. Light sleepers might want to consider earplugs. But for those who long to experience the charm of Mexican living on a budget, Emiliano Zapata has much to offer.
In the southeastern part of Puerto Vallarta, south of the Rio Cuale and just starting up into the hills, is a small neighborhood known as Alta Vista, High View. Alta Vista borders on Emiliano Zapata, but is a cut above it both in altitude and price. The villas here can be quite expensive, but they offer a jungle setting, beautiful views of the city and the bay, and easy walking access to town. It’s a bit quieter than Emiliano Zapata, too. The population is a mix of Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians. Several nice comdominiums are in process with prices starting in the low $300´s, but private homes are hard to find, and prices start at $500k and can go up quickly.
Set in the dramatic hillside between Alta Vista and Conchas Chinas, Amapas is a rapidly growing area where the vast majority of North Americans are choosing to invest. Nestled into the hills just south of town, the setting is jungle and the views are striking. You could walk to town without much difficulty, but it’s a bit of a hike uphill coming back. Then again, cab fare to town is inexpensive and the privacy and views are breath taking. Anchored by such legendary buildings as La Cima, Horizon, Avalon and the newest, Paramount Bay, this area continues to attract knowledgable, upscale investors, and active retirees. There’s a tremendous amount of development going on in Amapas right now. It’s a place to keep an eye on.
The Beverly Hills of Puerto Vallarta, Conchas Chinas is home to a moneyed crowd. Wealthy Americans and Canadians, many retired, and a few very wealthy Mexicans live here. Many famous or powerful people have villas or vacation homes in Conchas Chinas. Some are occupied only a few weeks of the year.
The terrain is hilly and varied. Lower Conchas Chinas is either beachfront or very close to it. Upper Conchas Chinas is in a jungle setting, often with glorious views of the bay. Condos start at around $350,000 (U.S.), with villas running as high as $5 million. The best doesn’t come cheaply.
North Area | Puerto Vallarta
– Anchored by two spectacular beachfront resorts with 18 hole championship golf courses, (Mayan Palace and Paradise Village) Nuevo Vallarta is experiencing a surge in popularity. Thirty minutes north of downtown Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta is home to resort hotels, golf course and waterfront villas, and a beautiful, sandy beach. There is a small shopping mall, but for now, most residents pop down to Marina Vallarta (5 to 10 minutes south) to do their shopping. Currently, two bedroom golf course condominiums are in the $250k range, townhome villas $450k and private golf course homes start at $650k. Access to a spectacular sports club, world class spa and beach club is included. Beachfront condominiums are starting at around $450k.
Nuevo Vallarta is just over the border between the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, which puts it in another time zone. Traveling into Puerto Vallarta means moving your watch ahead an hour, traveling home again means moving it back. We suspect that most of Nuevo Vallarta’s residents keep their watches on Puerto Vallarta time.
– Though technically still in Puerto Vallarta, Marina Vallarta is a good 15 to 20 minute drive north from downtown. The Marina boasts dozens of restaurants, shops, malls, a golf course, and, of course, a large marina with every service imaginable. The land is flat and walking is easy, so everything is convenient. Lots of wealthy Mexicans live in Marina Vallarta, along with a growing contingent of Americans and Canadians.
Two bedroom marina view condominiums are available in the $250k range, and private homes on the golf course start at $350k. Shangrila is a spectacular ocean front tower boasting units of 3,500 sq. ft and prices starting in the $500k´s. Siete Mares is a new building in the Marina with spectacular ocean views.
South Area | Puerto Vallarta
Punta Negra – Just past the Blue Bay resort, halfway to Mismaloya, lies the beach of Punta Negra. Three tall buildings line the beach, with a fourth under construction. The beach is mainly golden sand, but rocks can appear at certain times in certain areas. The views are spectacular and encompass the whole of Banderas Bay, and the surf is almost literally at your door. All the buildings have elevators, and offer many conveniences, but shopping or nightlife requires a trip to town. Prices for a nice two bedroom beachfront unit start in the low $300k’s and can go up to close to $1 million for a spectacular full floor four bedroom with all the amenities a buyer in this price range would expect. Fortunately buses run every fifteen minutes or so, and cabs can be flagged any time of the day or night. The residents are an exceptionally heterogeneous mix of Mexicans, Americans, Canadians, and others. Many of the Mexicans are not native to Puerto Vallarta either.
Garza Blanca – A little more than halfway to Mismaloya (heading south out of Puerto Vallarta), lies the new development of Garza Blanca. Once the site of a large hotel, Garza Blanca is quickly becoming the most exclusive address in the Puerto Vallarta region. The development faces the ocean, but nestles back into the jungle for the best of both worlds. Many consider the beach at Garza Blanca the most beautiful beach on the Bay of Banderas.
As with most places of this type, those on a beer budget need not apply. Beachfront villas in Garza Blanca start at almost $2 million. Dollars, not pesos. Condos go from a quarter million on up, and houses run a minimum of $800,000. But future residents will have everything they might desire right at their doorsteps: shops, nightclubs, even an elegant French beachfront restaurant.
Mismaloya – Fifteen to twenty minutes south of downtown Puerto Vallarta lies the village of Mismaloya. Home to the famous Mismaloya beach, La Jolla de Mismaloya hotel, and the site where The Night of the Iguana was filmed, Mismaloya is well known to most of Puerto Vallarta’s visitors. But there is another side to Mismaloya as well. The residential area in Mismaloya is perhaps one of the prettiest areas on the Bay of Banderas. It’s cool and quiet, often 5 to 10 degrees cooler than downtown Puerto Vallarta.
Set in the midst of the jungle, Mismaloya offers a quiet hideaway to those who would rather avoid the crowds. It’s a bit remote, but it more than makes up for its remoteness with its striking natural beauty. One of the better kept secrets, Mismaloya is, unfortunately, fairly expensive, a fact that has resulted in an almost exclusively American population.