Most travelers, moneyed or budget, come into Mexico via Cancun, Mexico City, or Puerto Vallarta. For the first and third options, you probably won’t want to stick around there too long if you’re traveling on the cheap. There are greener pastures—or perhaps I should say brighter beaches—down the road. So if you head to PV on the west coast, eventually you’ll probably end up at the Puerto Vallarta bus station.
There are some grand and impressive bus stations in Mexico, but this isn’t one of them. The Puerto Vallarta bus depot is kind of sad and rinky-dink. Plus the buses to places several hours away don’t leave all that often, so you could end up hanging around here longer than you’d like. It’s close to the airport though, so it makes sense to go straight there as it’ll cost you less than 100 pesos in a taxi or if you’re not loaded down you can catch a local street bus. Or walk if you’re not too loaded down.
But there’s not much to do around there, so here’s a lowdown on what’s in the neighborhood. Also, an idea of how much it’s going to cost you when you go somewhere else and how frequently those buses leave.
Getting to the Puerto Vallarta Bus Station
If you’re staying in downtown Puerto Vallarta already, you can take a long bus ride and get almost there or take a taxi/Uber and go all the way. If you’re coming from somewhere up north like Sayulita or San Pancho, you can get on a bus that will take you straight to the station to head south or east. Vice-versa if you’re coming from Costalegre in the south.
If you’re arriving by plane, the good news is that the bus terminal is not all that far from the airport: just 3.1 kilometers. You want to avoid the airport taxis though as you’ll pay a big premium to get one of those. So first, when you come out of the airport, you can ignore the gauntlet, go left, and head over the pedestrian overpass to the other side of the street. If you’re hungry, have a bite to eat at Tacon de Marlin right at the bottom of the steps. It’s nothing fancy, just great seafood tacos and burritos. I had the big smoked marlin burrito, some veggies, and a soda for $6.
Then get a taxi right out front as they’re pointed in the right direction there—to the bus station. Ask up front how much it will be as there’s no meter, but it should only cost you a few bucks.
If you’re hard core you could walk it with a backpack in 45 minutes or less, but it’s a busy road where you’ll be inhaling exhaust fumes the whole way. Sidewalks are uneven and occasionally have holes or parked vehicles to go around, so you don’t want to walk it with a wheelie suitcase.
When you see a big Corona beer factory, take a right on that street or the one after it. Go two long blocks and follow the sign to the terminal, which is between those two streets.
Killing Time at the Puerto Vallarta Bus Terminal
If you’ve managed to buy your ticket in advance from one of the larger companies like Primera Plus, you’ll know when your bus is leaving and you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket or picking seats. If you can buy in advance and are confident in your plans, that’s good to do because it saves you 10% on the price. The problem is, you’ll probably need to use Paypal because foreign credit cards seldom work on the Mexican bus websites.
For most trips you don’t really need a reservation as long as you get there a bit ahead of time–unless it’s a big holiday period. So if your plans are fluid, just wait until you arrive. For some of the shorter trips you can’t reserve ahead anyway. You just show up, pay, and go.
The downside of this is, you can end up waiting an hour or two before the departure time and this is not a big bus terminal with lots of places to hang out. There is luggage storage though, so you pay a little to stow your bags and then head out into the neighborhood. The Super Voy convenience store inside has a left luggage center. They charge by the hour. As with most Mexican bus stations, you’ll pay to go to the bathroom, currently 6 pesos (30 cents US).
Pickings are slim for things to eat and drink inside and you’ll have a tough time finding working WiFi, so it’s best to head out of the terminal for all of those things. Here’s what’s nearby:
1) Street food! If you like to eat the kind of food working Mexicans eat, you’ll find a few street stalls near the station along Las Palmas. I can’t recommend any of them personally, so just stroll along and see what looks good and/or busy. They’re more hopping in the evenings but some are open most of the day.
2) Restaurants and coffee shops. There are a few sit-down places to eat along Las Palmas and a couple on Palma Real as well. Oddly, two of the restaurants are birria places for goat stew and goat tacos. La Capilla de Lupita offers some other options, including a set meal of the day that’s less than five bucks. There are two places serving hotdogs and burgers, a bakery, a hot wings place, and a few more within a few blocks. Some of them serve beer. There are also two coffee shops, one on each main street.
If you need Wi-Fi, ask before entering if they have it and they’ll understand you better if you say “internet” or “WEE-fee.” Credit/debit card use is hit and miss, so ask about that too if you don’t have enough cash on you. Many places don’t take plastic.
3) Convenience stores, groceries, and medicine. There’s a pharmacy on Las Palmas and three different convenience stores and a mini-supermarket, so you won’t have any problem finding snacks or a soda for the road. (Finding something healthy might be a challenge though…)
4) For parents, there’s a playground three blocks down if you take a right out of the bus station, then right on Las Palmas. It’s in pretty good shape by Mexican standards and the kids will love it because it’s not so antiseptic and safe as the ones at home. Everything is made from metal and the slides go really fast! It’s in a park with a bit of shade on the sides.
Getting a Puerto Vallarta Bus to Guadalajara, Sayulita, Melaque, and Elsewhere
Depending on how far you’re going, the bus options from the Puerto Vallarta depot range from cheap and basic and expensive and plush. In general, the cities and towns that are two hours away or less are going to cost you less than $5 for a ticket but you shouldn’t expect a whole lot of pampering. The routes up and down the coast don’t have to use toll roads, so that keeps the cost down.
There are generally departures every 20-30 minutes for Sayulita and San Pancho (San Francisco) to the north in Nayarit. Then 8-10 departures a day to Melaque, Barra de Navidad, and Manzanillo to the south in Jalisco.
It takes around four hours at best to get to Melaque and Barra de Navidad on a bus because of PV traffic, a single-lane road part of the way, and other stops the bus company will make. I’m not sure how much the ticket is on the six daily Autocaminos del Pacifico buses, but it’ll cost you 20 bucks on Primera Plus.
For buses that are going further into Mexico, some of them overnight trips even, the comfort goes way up but so does the price. That’s because the toll roads in Mexico can be surprisingly expensive and that impacts the cost of your ticket. A middle-of-the-road Primera Plus Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara bus will set you back around $33 and one that goes all the way to Mexico City will cost you twice that much.
There are several executive/luxury bus options for the far-flung cities that can be worth paying more for if it’s a long trip. Some have seat-back entertainment systems and Wi-Fi—though don’t depend on the latter to meet a work deadline. It’s mobile-based and will only work sporadically in my experience, and on ETN it often doesn’t work at all. Sometimes you’ll get something to drink and a snack.
ETN, Futura, and Pacifico are the top options on various routes and the latter two have an air-conditioned lounge in the station that may have working Wi-Fi. ETN usually only has three seats across instead of four, a big advantage. TAP/Pacifico doesn’t go many places foreign visitors are going to want to go though except for Mazatlan ($40).
To give price examples for the nicest buses, an 8-hour overnight trip from Puerto Vallarta to Leon (near Guanajuato where I live) is US$62 if purchased on the spot, 10% less in advance online. The six-hour trip to Guadalajara is around $37. The luxury option is only $4 more than the level below that, so it’s worth the splurge.
Some of these companies list prices to go all the way to Texas or Las Vegas from here, which would be an interesting journey to say the least. With a border crossing in the mix, the logistics seem kind of daunting and that’s a long trip no matter how you measure it. If you have all the time in the world and a few good books to read though, Puerto Vallarta to Austin would certainly be a ride to remember.