All We Did in Puerto Vallarta was Rent a Car

We caught a local, second-class bus from Sayulita to Puerto Vallarta. There is a cheaper option than the longish-distance buses we were taking: these buses. They tend to serve smaller towns and not go as far, but you can certainly make your way around on them for the most part. The hour-long trip cost us 35 pesos each. Tim had picked up a surfboard in Sayulita and the plan was to sort out a rental car in Puerto Vallarta and spend roughly a week exploring the coast south and hitting a number of key surfing spots. Our limited online research for rental cars had left us a bit less than thrilled, as the prices seemed exorbitant and insurance policies fuzzy. We’d heard that the Mexican rental car insurance is a bit of a minefield, and wanted to make sure we were properly covered. We decided to pop into the airport in Puerto Vallarta to get some quotes in person. This helped us navigate the market a little bit, but it was essentially a waste of time. Walk in rates were around $30/day, including the mandatory third-party liability insurance. Online rates are cheaper, but you’ll still get hosed on taxes, airport fees, and the exchange rate. We ended up booking a car through Expedia, and a company called Fox Rentals, for 9 days and roughly 3800 pesos. The search came up with the lovely rental rate of 4 USD/day, but that’s definitely not what it boils down to.

Basic breakdown in USD: 28.10 for the rental, 179.82 for the mandatory 3rd-party insurance, 14.55 for the 7% airport fee, 35.60 for the 16% VAT federal tax = 258.07 USD which translates into 3,509.75 pesos at the rather abysmal exchange rate of 13.60. We also paid for an extra driver in cash, which was 24 USD and was the only part of it that seemed like a reasonable deal, particularly because of the fact that I am not yet 25 years old and should have had to pay a premium. We happily avoided paying for additional insurance (to cover damage to our rental car, theft, etc.) because I booked the rental on a credit card that offers insurance for rental cars, so long as you pay for the booking on that card. This is exceptionally helpful, and I recommend looking into whether your card offers similar coverage, as it saved us around 15 USD a day in extra insurance coverage. I also recommend doing this before you leave home / the day you want to rent the car, as I spent two hours on hold, with a flaky Skype connection, trying to confirm the details of my coverage. Certain American Express cards offer such coverage, and mine was offered through an MBNA MasterCard. Cards often offer lost baggage coverage, health insurance, and other benefits for travellers that you might as well take advantage of.

Most of our time in Puerto Vallarta was spent doing travel admin, but we managed to find a decent and reasonably priced (300 pesos for a private room) place to sleep – Hotel Lina on Calle Madero will offer all you really need. We also stumbled upon an excellent Italian restaurant on the same street. We bought the bare minimum of a main each – lasagne, as we’d both been craving a bit of comfort food – and were offered two lots of bread, a small entrée, and a handful of tiny biscuits and a shot of cinnamon liquor, all on the house.

Puerto Vallarta is a very popular destination for sun getaways for people from home, and I have no doubt you could have a very fun time there, sitting in a beach chair or on a balcony downing 2 for 1 margaritas, but it probably appealed to me the least out of anywhere we’d visited in Mexico thus far. You’d need to spend a little time there in order to uncover some of the local flavour, which is something I think most visitors miss entirely while they while away their hours inside their all-inclusive resorts. The ease and value of these packaged getaways certainly doesn’t motivate the majority of people to try to explore more of the “real” Mexico, as it would end up being more expensive with flights, accommodation, and food – and you wouldn’t be staying in a 5-star resort. It’s a bit of a shame, really, as Mexico looks exceptionally different and, in my opinion, exceptionally better, from the street, rather than from inside a resort.