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20 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Puerto Vallarta

20 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Puerto Vallarta

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Puerto Vallarta is a resort town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and it’s known the world over for its glorious golden sand beaches, great restaurants, and thrilling water sports. So, in short, Puerto Vallarta is a great spot to vacation in. But we’d like to let you in on a little secret – some of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta are a drive away. Think laidback beach towns like Sayulita and Playa Mismaloya and the city of Tequila – the birthplace of tequila!

We know you’re here because you’re wondering whether or not you should rent a car in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We get it – renting a car in a foreign country is a daunting task, and when we mentioned to some family members and friends that we were planning to rent a car in Mexico, they looked concerned and advised us not to. Thankfully, we’ve rented cars numerous times from places like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, so we weren’t deterred. But we can see why many people would be – that’s why we’ve written this blog post to set the record straight and tell you why renting a car in Puerto Vallarta will enhance your vacation experience! 

Honestly, having a rental car in Puerto Vallarta was a godsend as it allowed us to go off the beaten path and see a more authentic side of the region, which we love to do! 

As we said, we’ve rented a car numerous times in Puerto Vallarta, so we are well-equipped to tell you all the ins and outs of renting a car here. We’ll also make sure you know all about the different types of car rental insurance available and what hazards you need to watch out for and talk you through exactly how to rent a car here in Puerto Vallarta. All super-important information you need to know so that you can feel comfortable renting a car in Puerto Vallarta.

Don’t have time to read the full article? Traveling around a new country is magical, and while we enjoy pre-booked tours, there’s something freeing about being able to choose your own adventure. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, we highly recommend renting a car through Discover Cars for their excellent customer service, amazing insurance coverage, and general peace of mind.

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. Why rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?
  2. 2. Requirements to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta
  3. 3. Puerto Vallarta car rental insurance breakdown
  4. 4. What is the best company to rent a car from in Puerto Vallarta?
  5. 5. Is it safe to drive in Puerto Vallarta?
  6. 6. How much does renting a car in Puerto Vallarta cost?
  7. 7. Can I use my credit card insurance when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?
  8. 8. Where to go in your rental car from Puerto Vallarta
  9. 9. What side of the road do you drive on in Mexico?
  10. 10. Tips to save money on a rental car in Mexico
  11. 12. Can you trust online car rental websites when booking?
  12. 13. What extras are available when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?
  13. 14. Driving tips for renting a car in Puerto Vallarta
  14. 15. Tips to follow when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta
  15. 15. What are the road conditions like in Puerto Vallarta?
  16. 16. Can you leave Mexico with your rental car?
  17. 17. What should you do if you get in an accident in Puerto Vallarta?
  18. 18. Should you leave baggage and valuables in your car?
  19. 19. Is it easy to fill your car with gas in Puerto Vallarta?
  20. 20. Is renting a car in Puerto Vallarta worth it?
  21. Other Activities to do While You’re in Puerto Vallarta
  22. Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
  23. Thanks for reading!

1. Why rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Daniel poses for a photo with our rental car at a cenote in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Having a rental car makes exploring the coast easy!
Daniel drives through traffic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Exploring the best beaches in Mexico without a tour!

There are indeed lots of fun things to do in Puerto Vallarta, but if you want to experience a different side of this touristy hot spot, you should consider renting a car for your time here! There are so many other great towns nearby and stunning beaches and tourist attractions that you can take advantage of when you have a rental car.

The public buses from Puerto Vallarta to other smaller towns are notoriously unreliable, and taking a cab there can be pricey. So a rental car in Puerto Vallarta saves you money by being able to drive yourself to big-hitter tourist attractions like Tequila instead of having to fork out for a costly guided tour

Some of the day trips from Puerto Vallarta we’ve taken have been our favorites in all of Mexico! Like the sleepy beach town of Sayulita and Playa Mismaloya, one of our favorite beaches in this part of the country – it’s so stunning with its combination of mountain jungle and emerald-green water! 

If anything, having a car rental will allow you to get outside the tourist zone and experience a more authentic side of Puerto Vallarta! When we first visited, I was surprised that Puerto Vallarta had accessibility to so many other beautiful places – and I was so happy that we had a rental car to be able to explore some hidden gems like Bucerias

Think about it – when you have a rental car, you can leave whenever you want and stop wherever you want along the way. Creating our own itinerary and schedule is what we love so much about having a rental car when we travel.

Provided you rent from a reputable company (we highly recommend Discover Cars because they offer FREE cancellations up to 48 hours before your reservation), understand what you need to rent a car here (e.g., driver’s license, credit card, etc.), and research the roads you’ll be driving on, renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is the perfect way to explore the area at your own pace!

Related Read: One of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is a whale watching tour, so if you’re keen to do this bucket-list-worthy activity, make sure to read our detailed guide first!

2. Requirements to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta

Driving our Mexico rental car at sunset in Mexico
Heading back to PV after a day exploring!

Valid driver’s license

It goes without saying that you NEED to have a valid driver’s license to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta – it must be in-date (not expired!), have a driver’s license number, plus a photo of you. 

The good news is that it’s unlikely you’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in Puerto Vallarta. If your license is written in the Roman Alphabet (the one we use in English, Spanish, French, etc.), then it will be enough to allow you to rent a car In Mexico. But, if your license displays a character alphabet such as the alphabet used in China, Japan, and Korea, you must organize an International Driving Permit. 

Be over 18 but ideally 25

Yes, it’s true that the legal age to rent a car in Mexico is 18, but you’ll struggle to find a car rental company willing to rent to drivers aged between 18 and 24 years! Yep, most rental companies will only rent to those over 25. In saying that, a few companies in Puerto Vallarta will rent to under 25s, but it will cost you more! On average, expect to pay an extra $10-20 USD daily if you’re under 25.

Credit or debit card in the driver’s name

To rent a car in Puerto Vallarta, you must have a credit card or a debit card in your (the driver’s) name – so as to pay for the deposit. The deposit amount varies by company, but it will typically set you back between $1,000 and $1,500 USD. The car rental company will keep your card number on file and charge the deposit amount to it if you damage your rental car.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card for this, if possible. As with a credit card, the amount is kept on hold, whereas, with a debit card, they must take the money from your account and refund it once you return the car.

Passport

A valid passport is also needed to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta. The car rental company must see it to ensure you’re legally in the country. They also may need to see your FMM card, which is the tearaway part of your immigration form (you would have filled it out when you landed in Mexico), so don’t lose it!

Insurance

Car insurance is another essential for renting a car in Puerto Vallarta, and keep in mind this isn’t usually included in the price you’re initially quoted. The good news is it’s not that expensive, and there are several different types of insurance to choose from. To help you decide if you need additional insurance (like collision or full coverage), we’ve included a detailed section on rental car insurance below!

3. Puerto Vallarta car rental insurance breakdown

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie while driving around Mexico
A rental car means freedom!

We know nobody likes talking about insurance as it can be a pretty boring topic. But it’s such an important thing to know about before renting a car in Puerto Vallarta, as you can’t rent a car here without it. It’s essential to be clued in on the different types of car insurance available here so that you can choose the one that best fits your requirements.

Local third-party liability insurance

Local third-party liability insurance is the minimum requirement for your Puerto Vallarta rental car. It covers you for damages to third-party property but not for any damage to your rental car. Therefore, if another vehicle crashes into you, make sure you write down their details so that their third-party coverage will pay for the damage to your vehicle.

There’s typically a $2,000 USD deductible if you only get third-party insurance. So if you cause $3,000 USD worth of damage to another vehicle, then you’ll have to pay $2,000 USD yourself, and then the extra $1,000 USD will be covered by your insurance policy.

This basic coverage costs between $10-$12 USD daily, and it’s compulsory, even if you have Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance through your credit card company.

Collision Insurance (CDW/LDW)

Collision Damage Waiver covers damage to and theft of your rental car. As we mentioned above, plenty of credit card companies offer this kind of insurance but bear in mind that this might not be valid in Puerto Vallarta, so ensure you read through the fine print.

And anyway, even if it is valid, you can’t rent a car here with just CDW coverage – you still must take out the personal liability insurance summarized above.

Other insurance

If you want to ensure that you’re covered for pretty much everything, paying for full coverage insurance is the best option. And it will give you peace of mind throughout your time in Puerto Vallarta. The price for this varies between $7-$10 USD daily and is extra to the mandatory third-party insurance. Plus, there are often no deductibles. 

When you book through Discover Cars and you opt for their full coverage insurance, you will be covered for up to $3,200 USD worth of damage. This means that if you damage your rental car, the insurance company will likely hold onto your deposit, but Discover Cars will refund it to you.

4. What is the best company to rent a car from in Puerto Vallarta?

Rental car inclusions
Look out for these inclusions – especially TPL and the CDW.

The best company to rent a car from in Puerto Vallarta is Discover Cars. In fact, they are our top choice for renting a car anywhere in the world – we’ve rented from them countless times in the past and are always impressed by their customer service and easy-to-use website. We have a full review on why Discover Cars is legit and our experience with them if you want more info.

On Discover Cars, you can easily compare prices and reviews and even narrow down if you want an automatic or a manual vehicle. You can even tick the box for only 4WD vehicles to show up. Their user-friendly website will save you lots of time, as it means you won’t have to scroll through each car rental company’s website in search of the type of car you want.  

Discover Cars compares local and international rental agencies by price and user rating, so you can get the cheapest rate while feeling confident that you’re renting from a reliable company. Additionally, they offer full coverage insurance for a great price, so you can rest assured that you’re covered for any accident, vehicle damage, and even if you lose your car keys!

Warning against Mex Rent A Car

We strongly urge you not to book with Mex Rent A Car. We recently booked a rental car through them, and it was an awful experience. Even though we booked through Discover Cars, they tried to scam us by making us purchase their insurance – which cost a huge 5,000 MXN (about $300 USD), by the way! When we declined, they said our cards would not work.

In the end, they made us cancel our booking with Discover Cars and book directly through them, and then miraculously; our cards began working again! It’s a scam they use to get a direct booking. I will say this is a rare occurrence, and luckily, Discover Cars was really understanding and gave us a full refund. 

Instead, it’s best to go with large suppliers such as Thrifty, Hertz, and Budget Car Rentals. Remember, you’ll still get a cheaper deal booking with Discover Cars.

5. Is it safe to drive in Puerto Vallarta?

Driving a rental car along a cute colonial street Mexico
We think so!

Although driving through Jalisco (the state that Puerto Vallarta is in) is an overall easy and enjoyable experience, if we’re being honest, driving in downtown Puerto Vallarta can be a little challenging as the streets are narrow, there tends to be heavy traffic at most times of the day, and the drivers in this city are notorious for being tailgaters! So, although we recommend renting a car here, you must be prepared before driving in Puerto Vallarta! 

Overall, driving in Puerto Vallarta is safe, as it’s such a popular tourist resort; you will come across lots of other “tourist drivers,” and the locals tend to be pretty accommodating to foreign drivers. But you need to be mindful of how they drive here as it’s very different to back home. We mentioned tailgating is common here, but so is making a right-hand turn from a left lane (we never experienced this but have heard of plenty of others who have). So, be extremely cautious of this when driving in downtown Puerto Vallarta especially, and always drive within the speed limit and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front in case you need to stop suddenly. 

Theft is, sadly, a common occurrence in Mexico as a whole, and Puerto Vallarta is no different, so keep any luggage hidden when you leave your vehicle and take your valuables with you every time you leave your car!

Also, the potholes here are a nightmare, so you need to keep an eye out for those so as not to damage your rental car. 

In short, although driving in Puerto Vallarta is no more dangerous than in your home country, you’ll need to remember that you’re driving in a foreign country where road conditions and driving habits will differ from what you’re used to.

Related Read: Be sure to check out our other safety tips on traveling to Mexico!

6. How much does renting a car in Puerto Vallarta cost?

A photo out the windscreen while driving a rental car in Mexico
It’s pretty cheap when you think about the money you save!

Expect to pay between $40 and $60 USD per day to rent a car with full coverage insurance in Puerto Vallarta. This may sound a tad expensive to you, but, prices have risen massively here in recent years (as it has in the rest of the world too!).

That’s why we recommend shopping around on Discover Cars before deciding, as you’ll often find a great deal there. Recently, we found a small car from a reputable car rental company in Puerto Vallarta for $35 USD per day, and that price included full coverage insurance.

7. Can I use my credit card insurance when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Discover Cars full coverage inclusions
Discover Cars full coverage inclusions

Yes, it’s possible to use your credit card’s insurance (aka Collision Damage Waiver, or CDW for short) when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta. However, it’s still a legal requirement to purchase third-party liability insurance on top of that. 

Some car rental places here may allow you to rent a car with just your credit card insurance (CDW), but this is illegal, so you should avoid these companies.

But as we explained earlier, we advise all “tourist drivers” to buy the full coverage option through Discover Cars as it covers everything, even the loss of car keys. And it costs just $5 to $10 USD per day, which is a great price for the peace of mind it offers. And the best thing about this type of car insurance is there are no deductibles.

8. Where to go in your rental car from Puerto Vallarta

Relaxing at a beach in Sayulita Mexico with a coconut in hand
Just me and my coconut in Sayulita!

Playa Mismaloya

Just a 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta will have you at Playa Mismaloya, one of our favorite beaches in Mexico and one of the prettiest we’ve seen anywhere in the world. With its emerald green waters and backdrop of lush jungle, it’s no wonder so many tourists make this day trip from Puerto Vallarta

Some of the best things to do in this picturesque beach town include stand-up paddleboarding and snorkeling, or if you love tequila, why not join a tour of the Mamá Lucía tequila factory? If you’re traveling with kids, the Vallarta Zoo is a great place to take them. This small zoo houses white tigers and giraffes, and you can even feed the giraffes here during the zoo’s feeding hour! 

Sayulita

You probably recognize the name Sayulita as it’s another one of the best destinations in Mexico. Seeing as it’s just a 1.5-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, driving here in your rental car is a no-brainer! 

Even though Sayulita is popular, it holds on to its small beach town vibe, which we love! And there are heaps of fun things to do in Sayulita, from surfing and ATVing to the more relaxing activity of yoga! If you’re a newbie surfer, you should take a surf lesson at Sayulita Beach, as the waves here are perfect for beginners. Or you could just spend your day here relaxing on the main beach in Sayulita or the more chilled-out Playa Los Muertos and afterward hit up one of Sayulita’s excellent restaurants!

When we stayed in Sayulita, we joined this ATV tour, which was exhilarating. On the 3-hour tour, we cruised through the jungles, over muddy streams, and down stunning beaches. It’s only $120 USD if you book online in advance and includes a tequila tasting too!

Another activity we loved during our time here was hiking to Monkey Mountain – which is undoubtedly the most famous hike in the area. It will take around two hours each way to hike to the viewpoint from Sayulita, but honestly, it’s so worth it as you’ll get to take in the breathtaking view of the mountains and the many beaches below. If you’d rather hike with a guide, this guided hiking tour of Monkey Mountain is our pick. It’s a small group and the local guides are great at sharing knowledge about the area and making sure you don’t get lost!

If you end up staying in Sayulita for a while, many of the best catamaran tours from Puerto Vallarta also include a location for pick up in Sayulita. So it’s easy to squeeze in a day on the water!

San Pancho Beach swing
San Pancho!

San Pancho

If you have time, you could combine your day trip to Sayulita with a visit to the sleepy beach town of San Pancho – just a 5-minute drive away. It’s a super-popular surf spot and is also home to many expats. 

While you’re here, be sure to relax at the beach, which is much quieter than Sayulita Beach. Keeping up with the relaxing theme, why not take a yoga class at El Estar or Unani Yam, both highly-rated yoga studios in the town. Or if you’re a surf fan, you must try out surfing the large swells at San Pancho Beach – however, we should add that the breaks here are more suited to intermediate or pro surfers! 

Bucerias

A closer option to Sayulita is Bucerias which is only 45 minutes from Puerto Vallarta – this small city is known for its clean, beautiful beach and the La Cruz Market, which happens in nearby Punta Mita from November to April. This massive local market brings together vendors from across the state who sell everything from traditional clothing to souvenirs to fresh produce. 

Some of the other best things to do in Bucerias include exploring the El Edén Jardín Botánicojoining a bike and food tour, wandering the many art galleries, or simply relaxing at one of the delicious beachside restaurants. 

woman planting blue agave in Tequila, Jalisco
Bailey planting a Blue Agave in Tequila!

Tequila

A 4-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta is Tequila, aka, the birthplace of the popular drink of the same name. So, as you can guess, one of the best things to do here is to join a tequila distillery tour. On one of these super-popular tours, you can see how they make tequila and, of course, try some too. Two of the must-visit distilleries here include Casa Sauza or La Rojena (the home of Jose Cuervo!).

Because it’s such a long drive from Puerto Vallarta, we recommend spending a night or two here. It’s a gorgeous town with a very authentic Mexican feel to it and is home to some great bars and restaurants.

Related Read: Another incredible thing to do in Puerto Vallarta is an ATV Tour. We loved our tour so much that we wrote a detailed guide about the super-memorable experience!

9. What side of the road do you drive on in Mexico?

Photo on the highway out the front windscreen of a rental car in Mexico
Stick to the right!

In Mexico, they drive on the right side of the road. So, you’ll feel at home if you’re visiting from countries that also drive on the right, such as the USA, Canada, France, Spain, etc.

But, if you’re traveling here from countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand – where they drive on the left side of the road, it may take you a while to get used to the change. Remember, the steering wheel and the stick shift (if you’ve rented a manual car) will be on the opposite side of what you’re used to. We advise starting out your driving adventure in Puerto Vallarta with shorter, easier journeys to begin with until you get used to driving on the opposite side of the road!

10. Tips to save money on a rental car in Mexico

Bailey poses for a photos with Playa Camarones, Puerto Vallarta
Nothing beats low season in Puerto Vallarta!

Visit in the low season

If saving money is a priority for you, you might want to consider visiting Puerto Vallarta during its low season, which runs from July to September. Because there are fewer visitors at this time of year, activity providers, hotels, and car rental companies will typically slash their prices to entice customers.

So, you’ll likely get a great deal on your car rental! But remember that even though the roads will be quieter thanks to lower tourist numbers, the area experiences more rain at this time of year. In fact, July, August, and September make up the “rainy season” in Puerto Vallarta, so you’ll need to be prepared for driving in wet weather!

Pick up and drop off in the same location

Another way to save money on the cost of your Puerto Vallarta car rental is to pick up and drop off your rental car at the same location. So, if possible, avoid renting your car from Puerto Vallarta Airport (PVR) and dropping it off in Sayulita, for example, as you will get charged a “relocation fee.” And remember, the further away your drop-off location is from the pickup location, the more expensive the relocation fee will be.

Avoid renting a 4WD

Considering their size and the fact they’re harder to find in Mexico, 4WDs will cost much more to rent than a standard car. And unless you’re planning to go off-the-beaten-path, i.e., drive on dirt roads or go off-roading, renting a 4WD in Puerto Vallarta is not a necessity.

12. Can you trust online car rental websites when booking?

The short answer is yes! You can trust the majority of online car rental sites in Puerto Vallarta. But because we always book with and trust Discover Cars, we recommend using them above all others. 

They have pretty much all of the car rental agencies in Puerto Vallarta on their website, and because it’s so easy to filter exactly what type of car you want, finding the perfect rental car for your time here is super simple! We also love that you can sort by supplier ratings, so you can rest assured that you’re booking with a reputable company. 

Also, please keep in mind that the initial price you see won’t include car insurance, so select an insurance option to get the total price you will be paying. But thankfully, Discover Cars offers the most competitive full coverage insurance rates in Mexico, so you’re sure to get a great deal by booking your insurance through them.

13. What extras are available when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Bailey takes a photo of Daniel while he sits in our Mexico Rental car
Bailey likes it when I drive, so we don’t get the additional driver!

Additional driver

Considering Puerto Vallarta is close to so many awesome places like Sayulita and Tequila, it’s highly likely that you’ll be doing a lot of driving here. So, to take the pressure off you, why not add an additional driver to your reservation so that they can take over the driving when you’re tired or simply want to sit back and take in the views from the passenger seat? 

The cost of adding an additional driver to your booking depends on the type of car that you’re renting and the rental agency you choose. But, it will typically set you back between $8 to $12 USD per day. It’s very easy to compare prices for this on Discover Cars. Note that if you want to add two additional drivers, you’ll need to double the above price.

Full coverage

Full coverage insurance covers you for damage, loss, theft, and even scratches and scrapes. By purchasing full coverage insurance, you will be making sure that you’re not liable for any of these expenses (you’re covered for up to $3,200 USD). It’s definitely worth the extra $7 USD per day – especially with all the potholes and topes on the roads surrounding Puerto Vallarta!

Car seat

If you’re planning to vacation with a child that needs a car seat, it’s definitely a good idea to add one to your car rental booking so as to avoid having to travel with. As we all know, they can be heavy and awkward to carry.

Renting a car seat costs around $12 USD per day, and you can easily add it to your Discover Cars reservation. They provide baby seats for infants weighing up to 13 kilograms (28 lbs) and child seats for children weighing between 9 and 18 kilograms (20-40 lbs). And the cost is the same no matter what type of car seat you need. 

14. Driving tips for renting a car in Puerto Vallarta

A dog crosses the road while driving a rental car in Mexico
Watch out for dogs!

Speed limits are in kilometers not miles

It’s important to remember that the speed signs in Mexico display kilometers, not miles per hour! The speedometer in your rental car should also be in kilometers per hour, so when driving, ensure the number on your speedometer matches the speed signs.

Watch for wildlife

Another thing to remember when driving in the more remote parts of Jalisco is that wildlife like wildcats, badgers, foxes, and smaller animals like raccoons and squirrels may suddenly run out in front of your car!

You will often come across a road sign alerting you to the fact that wildlife is present in this area, so keep your eyes peeled for those and drive cautiously in such areas.

Drive slowly over speed bumps (topes)

In Mexico, speedbumps are known as topes, and actually, they’re worse than the speedbumps most of us are used to because they’re unpainted, meaning they’re hard to see.

Plus, they can be pretty large, as there are no rules about how big they should be. So, you’ll have to slow down when approaching topes. Otherwise, you could damage your car.

Some roads in Puerto Vallarta have yellow road signs to alert you when you’re approaching a tope, but this isn’t always true. Locals tend to know which roads have topes, so if you see someone driving slowly with their hazard lights on, it’s a strong indicator that you’re approaching a tope!

Don’t drive at night

It’s best not to drive at night in Puerto Vallarta. This is because assaults are more common at night but also because it’s much harder to spot topes and wildlife when it’s dark. If you need to drive here at night, stay on main roads and toll roads because these tend to be well-lit and better maintained.

It’s better to use the Cuota Roads (toll roads)

Use toll roads (also called Cuota Roads) whenever possible in Puerto Vallarta! You will need to pay a toll fee of around $25-$150 MXN ($1.50-$9 USD) to drive on them, but these roads are much better maintained with fewer potholes and no topes! There’s also less traffic on these roads – making for a more pleasant driving experience!

You’ll need to have the exact money for the tolls here because they won’t give you change!

Entering a toll booth in our rental car in Mexico
Entering a toll booth in our rental car in Mexico

Buses have the right of way (even if they don’t)

In Mexico, buses always have the right of way, even if they don’t really have the right of way. I know it’s hard to understand, but buses here will not move out of your way and will often pull out in front of you even if you have the right of way!

So when driving here, keep your eyes peeled for larger vehicles like buses and trucks, keep your distance, let go of all the road rules you’re used to at home, and give way to them.

Police checks are frequent

Police pullovers are a regular occurrence in Puerto Vallarta. But, police here will need some excuse to pull you over, so if you’re driving to the speed limit and following all the rules of the road, you should have no reason to worry!

Always carry rental documents and registration in the vehicle

Ensure you have your driver’s license, car rental documents, third-party insurance policy, and registration when driving in Puerto Vallarta. Unfortunately, police corruption is common in Mexico, and they’ll use any excuse to try and get tourists to pay bribes! It’s also helpful to have all of the above documents on you in case of an accident so that you can prove that you’re legally on the road.

If you get pulled over for an indiscretion, the policeman (or woman) will typically inform you that they’ll waive your ticket in exchange for a cash payment (or a bribe). These “bribes” tend to be in the region of $100 USD.

Remember that if you pay the bribe, you’re just encouraging this behavior, so try to just pay the official fine instead.

Child seats are not required but should always be used

Unusually, child seats are not legally required in Mexico, but you should always use them as you would in your home country. You can rent a child seat from the majority of car rental companies here for an additional fee, and we say it’s not worth risking a child’s safety by not using one. The car seats in Mexico are the same as those in the USA, so they should be up to standard.

Download maps offline

Cell reception can be spotty when driving in remote areas of the Pacific Coast of Mexico. So, we strongly suggest you download maps for offline use before hitting the road, as this can save you from getting lost.

Don’t use your phone while driving

Obviously, this rule applies worldwide, but it’s essential when driving in and around Puerto Vallarta. You need to be extra vigilant and always have your eyes on the road here. Looking away for just a few seconds could equal a collision. which you definitely don’t want happening. Plus, if the police see you using your phone, they WILL pull you over, so don’t give them any excuse.

Related Read: If you plan to visit Playa del Carmen during your time in Mexico, check out our detailed guide to renting a car in Playa del Carmen!

15. Tips to follow when renting a car in Puerto Vallarta

Wandering the Malecon on a Puerto Vallarta city tour
Exploring the Malecon!

Sort by supplier rating, not price, on Discover Cars

Everybody loves a bargain, but one of the only times we opt for the best-rated option over the cheapest option is when we’re renting a car. And for your safety and ease of mind, it’s best to opt for a highly-rated rental company over a cheap one. 

On Discover Cars, you can choose to sort by rating, and we always go one step further and tick the “Excellent 8+” box under the “supplier rating” heading so that only the top-rated companies appear. That way, we can rest assured that our rental car will be reliable and well-maintained!

Get full coverage

Yes, we’ve mentioned it a lot already here, but we can’t stress enough how important it is to have full coverage insurance in Mexico. This covers you up to $3,200 USD if anything happens to the car, provided you’ve complied with the terms of your rental agreement. It costs just $7 USD per day on Discover Cars, and there are no deductibles.

It doesn’t cover third-party damage but don’t stress, as you’ll already be covered for that under the mandatory personal liability insurance, which is already included in your rental price on Discover Cars.

Take your own photos when doing the inspection

Take photos of your rental car from every angle in the company’s parking lot before driving off. If there are any scratches, dents, bumps, etc., email clear photos to the car rental company immediately. This way, you’re covered if the rental company tries to claim that you caused damage that was already present!

You can’t cross the border with your rental car

No, you CANNOT cross the border into the USA or any of the other countries that border Mexico in your rental car! The car rental company strictly forbids it, and even if you try, you will be stopped at the border by border control!

You should also note that when crossing the state border between Jalisco and Nayarit, you might be delayed by the police if you’re driving a rental car, as they may ask to check your rental documents and IDs.

Read the terms and conditions

Always read through all of the terms and conditions of your rental agreement. It’s essential you understand what is and isn’t covered by your insurance, what you’re responsible for, and any other important information. If you break the rules in your rental agreement and damage your rental car, your insurance won’t cover it, so you must know what’s expected of you before driving in Puerto Vallarta. You can look at Discover Cars’ terms and conditions here.

15. What are the road conditions like in Puerto Vallarta?

In a popular tourist resort like Puerto Vallarta, you can expect the roads here to be pretty well-maintained, but when you venture to more remote regions of the state, keep in mind that you’ll likely come across potholes, topes, and uneven road surfaces!

So, if you come across a road you’re unsure of, think about if it’s worth the potential damage to your rental car before driving on it. There will likely always be another way to get to your final destination. Even if it takes longer, it’s worth it to get there safely!

Remember that although the roads in downtown Puerto Vallarta are well-maintained, they are narrow in comparison to the wide roads in the USA and Canada.

16. Can you leave Mexico with your rental car?

driving in Mexico
Stay in Mexico!

No, you cannot leave Mexico in your rental car!

Crossing the border into adjoining countries is illegal. Plus, the border agents at the border won’t let you through as they’ll see that you’re driving a rental car. And even if you managed to pass through border control successfully, you would violate your rental agreement, so your insurance wouldn’t cover any damage, and you would have to pay for any damage yourself!

17. What should you do if you get in an accident in Puerto Vallarta?

Bailey dropping our rental car off in Puerto Vallarta airport
Call your rental company!
Bailey signs the final paperwork after dropping a rental car off in Mexico
And check the paperwork!

Below are some important tips to follow if you get into an accident in Puerto Vallarta. The first important advice we can offer you is not to panic, remain calm and remember that the police and your insurance company will assist you.

Your first step in the case of a collision is to call 911 and ask for an accident investigator (Perito) to be sent to the collision scene. They will investigate and put together an accident report, which you will need to file your insurance claim.

Next, you should call your insurance company and report the accident. Make sure you have your rental and insurance policies and driver’s license on you, so you can prove that you’re covered and on the road legally.

If another driver is involved, swap contact details and insurance information, and take down their license plate number. You should also take photos of the scene and any damage to your car so that you have visual evidence.

911 is also the number you need to call an ambulance, so if you’re injured, ensure you get the medical attention you need. Make sure you have travel insurance covering you for medical expenses abroad, and, if possible, contact the insurance company before receiving medical treatment. However, this requirement is often waived in case of an emergency. The best thing to do is read your policy thoroughly before your vacation so that you know exactly what’s covered and what’s not!

18. Should you leave baggage and valuables in your car?

We recommend never leaving luggage or valuables in an unattended vehicle in Puerto Vallarta, even if you’re only leaving it for a short time. As we mentioned earlier, theft is a common occurrence here and you don’t want to make it easy for them! Therefore always take your valuables with you, and if you can’t take your luggage with you, then hide it in the trunk or under the seats.

Remember that your car insurance doesn’t cover the cost of your possessions, so it’s definitely worth taking out travel insurance for your Puerto Vallarta vacation.

19. Is it easy to fill your car with gas in Puerto Vallarta?

Fueling up our rental car in Mexico
It’s super easy!
Gas pump in Mexico
Gas pump in Mexico

Yes, filling your rental car with gas in Puerto Vallarta is very easy.

There are attendants at the majority of the gas stations in Puerto Vallarta who will fill your car up for you. You will need to tell them how many liters you want. And if you want a full tank, say “llenado.” (Pronunciation tip: remember that two Ls in Spanish make a hard “Y” sound!).

If you can, pay for your gas with cash instead of a credit or debit card as gas stations in Mexico are notorious for card skimming. This is when a device is added to the machine that copies your details for criminals to use.

If you don’t have cash, use your credit card (not a debit card), as it’s much easier to get a refund from a credit card company. Plus, the good news is that if you think you’ve been scammed, you can now easily freeze most cards on your online banking app!

Another important piece of advice is not to allow the petrol attendant to walk away with your card. Instead, ask them to bring the card machine to you or walk inside the store to pay!

Try to have some cash on you before going to fill up your car, as you will be expected to tip the gas station attendant around 10 – 20 pesos ($0.50 – $1 USD) in cash. If you request extra services like cleaning your windshield, checking your tires, or changing the oil, you should add 20 – 60 pesos ($1 – $3.30 USD) to the tip.

20. Is renting a car in Puerto Vallarta worth it?

Daniel smiles at the camera while he drives in Mexico
Yes!

Yes, it’s so worth renting a car in Puerto Vallarta as it allows you to explore at your own pace and visit all those hidden gem places like San Pancho and Bucerias that we love so much! Without one, you’d have to book a group tour from Puerto Vallarta to such places, and although they’re great, they only give you a certain amount of time in each place, plus they don’t stop along the way. When you drive yourself, you can stop off easily if you see a nice viewpoint or a cute coffee shop. 

And if money is an issue, remember that you can just rent a car for a day or two if you’re on a tight budget!

We’ve rented cars many times in Puerto Vallarta and rented a car in Cancun, too, and we always use Discover Cars – even if it is a big chunk of our overall travel budget, we never regret it! 

Other Activities to do While You’re in Puerto Vallarta

Daniel and Bailey on an ATV on the El Eden ATV Adventure in Puerto Vallarta
ATV tours are so much fun!
Seeing whales this close is surreal!!

There’s a good reason why Dan and I keep coming back to Puerto Vallarta! Whether we are exploring in our rental car, cruising around on an ATV tour, or strolling down the Malecon (boardwalk), there’s plenty to see and do. Here are a few of our personal favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta:

  • Enjoy a swashbuckling show on a pirate ship – Ahoy landlubbers! Ever wanted to live out your dream of being a pirate, sailing across the seven seas? Or maybe you’ve got a little one who is swinging around their imaginary cutlass like a pro? This pirate ship cruise includes a dinner fit for a pirate king with cannons, fireworks, and all kinds of jolly entertainment to boot!
  • Explore the jungle on an ATV tour – One of my all-time favorite activities in Puerto Vallarta was going on an ATV tour. Dan and I went on this half-day Jorullo Bridge ATV experience that takes you to some of the most scenic natural spots in the area, as well as over the longest suspension bridge in Latin America!
  • Go whale watching – Going whale watching in Puerto Vallarta is a pretty popular activity (and a favorite of mine!). Not only is it one of the best places to see humpback whales, but you might even see grey or blue whales too. This 4-hour whale-watching tour is ideal for those on a budget but is also capped at just 12 passengers per tour!

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

woman relaxing at a rooftop pool in Puerto Vallarta
I loved staying in Puerto Vallarta!

Now that you know how to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta and some of the places you can go, it’s time to find a place to stay!

There are TONS of great hotels in Puerto Vallarta – no matter your budget or preferences. From luxurious budget resorts to cozy boutique hotels, deciding where to stay in Puerto Vallarta is super exciting, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite spots with you!

Oasis Hostel – $

Who said you couldn’t live the dream on a budget? The Oasis Hostel offers both dorms and private rooms, which all have air conditioning with traditional Mexican decor. It’s around 5 km (3 mi) to get downtown, but that’s really easy with a taxi, or you can also rent a bike straight from the hostel.

Rooms here are super affordable, starting at just $19 USD including breakfast! Whether you’re backpacking through Puerto Vallarta or prefer to spend your money on experiences over accommodation, this is a great choice. You can book your space on either Hostelworld or Booking.com.

Posada de Roger – $

Another superb budget choice is the Hotel Posada de Roger that’s right in the heart of the Romantic Zone. All rooms here have AC, and they even have an outdoor pool that gets tons of sun. If you fancy making up some packed lunches, they also have a shared kitchen which is free for guests to use. No wonder it’s our go-to place to stay in Puerto Vallarta!

A one-night stay here at Posada de Roger starts at $64 USD per night, but it is pretty popular, so I’d recommend making your reservation in advance on Booking.com. You can always cancel the stay for free if you change your mind, so it’s a win-win!

Amapas Apartments Puerto Vallarta – $$

The Amapas Apartments in Puerto Vallarta are a series of adult-only, self-contained apartments, located in my favorite area of town – the Romantic Zone. It’s really close to the beach, restaurants, as well as tons of shopping and nightlife options. They even have a pool, with all rooms being air-conditioned too!

With one and two-bedroom apartments available, a stay here typically starts around $96 USD per night, which I think is a great deal considering the size of the apartment and its location! This is another really popular spot though, so don’t forget to book your stay online in advance.

Hilton Vallarta Riviera – $$$

The Hilton Vallarta Riviera is one of the best resorts in town – it’s all-inclusive, so you’re free to have plenty of peaceful downtime. They also have 7 restaurants, a private beach, a pool, a spa, and a gym. Rooms have super comfy beds and can include a terrace, balcony, and a private jetted tub overlooking the ocean! There’s evening entertainment and a kid’s club to keep the little ones happy

Note: For more options, you can also browse all the hotels in Puerto Vallarta here!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie driving in their rental car in Mexico
Thanks for reading!

And now we’ve come to the end of our ultimate guide to renting a car in Puerto Vallarta. I hope it has given you the confidence to rent a car in this stunning part of the world. Without one, sadly, it will be very difficult to get to some of the best parts of the Pacific Coast of Mexico. We know that renting a car in Puerto Vallarta will make your vacation here one to remember!

If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta, make sure to check out our other blogs about Mexico. We have lots of tips and ideas to help you plan the best Mexican vacation!

10 Things to Know BEFORE Booking a Fishing Charter in Puerto Vallarta +Our Top Choice

Guide to Planning the MOST ROMANTIC Honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta

20 Absolute BEST Restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

15+ FUN Things to do on Malecon in Puerto Vallarta (Boardwalk)