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What should I expect at Customs and Immigrations when I arrive? Do I tip a taxi driver? How do the busses work?

 

This is your place for all those miscellaneous pieces of information about Puerto Vallarta that don't quite fit in any other section! Be sure to look for the HOT TIPS for 'insider' information.

Airport (Arriving)

 

On the plane before you arrive to Puerto Vallarta International Airport, you'll be given a Tourist Card. Fill out BOTH the top and bottom parts while on the plane. Inside the terminal, your first stop will be Imigrations, where you should present your passport or birth certificate and Tourist Card. Your Tourist Card will be stamped and the bottom part returned to you. DO NOT LOSE THIS! You will need to return it when you check in for your departure. (If you DO lose it, contact your consulate and Mexican Immigrations immediately, and be prepared to pay a hefty fine.)

After Immigrations, pick up your baggage from the carosel, and go through Customs. There is a 'stop light' here...press the button, and most people get the green light...just walk on through and into the terminal. The light is set to randomly give a RED light...if this happens to you, they'll direct you to a table where gloved customs agents will give a cursory look through your baggage. (Even if you get the green light, they CAN if they want, inspect your luggage..this usually only happens if you have a large amount of luggage or if they get bored.)

Pass directly through the sliding glass doors, turn to your left, and through another set of glass doors (best to move quickly here to get past the throngs of taxi-hawkers, friends awaiting other arrivals, etc.). Once in the main terminal, car rental counters are ahead and to the left. There's also a bank and an ATM on your left. If you are being met by a tour or vacation package company or otherwise have transportation to your hotel already arranged, look for a representative in the throng of reps holding signs up.

If you need a taxi, you will see (and hear) plenty of taxi-hawkers, or continue straight towards the glass wall and doors of the terminal, where you can buy a taxi ticket from a booth. HOT TIP: Only two companies have the franchise to take passengers FROM the airport, so of course the rates are much higher. Locals know to walk out of the terminal, turn left, and cross the highway via the pedestrial sky-bridge. At the bottom are nearly always a few of the 'regular' yellow taxis, whose rates are considerably cheaper. Some of them, however, are trying to take advantage of this situation...if you're going South into Puerto Vallarta, you shouldn't have to pay more than 100 pesos, even if you're going to the far-South-end of town.

Taxis
Taxis are an efficient way to get around Puerto Vallarta, and fares are inexpensive. Supposedly the fares are set by zone or distance (there is no meter), and most hotels post the correct taxi fares in their lobby. A little 'haggling' is in order if you feel you're not getting the best fare, but ALWAYS determine how much the fare will be BEFORE you get in the cab. By custom, you should not feel required to tip your taxi driver, but tips are certainly appreciated for good service, helpful advise, or simply friendly conversation. HOT TIP: Every taxi driver knows a LOT about good places to go for whatever you want, but be aware he may also be collecting a kickback from the establishment. You may find an un-discovered gem (or a bum deal), but it's always worth asking if you want advise. In any case, never let a taxi driver convince you to go someplace other than where you've directed him to go if you've already decided. (MORE on Puerto Vallarta Taxis HERE)
Buses (local)
A ride on the local buses can be a bumpy adventure...the drivers have perfected a technique of switching between full-brake and full-accelorator instantly. Nonetheless, the buses run VERY often, and their safety record is good (at least for the passengers...pedestrians, on the other hand, had better beware!). Nearly all the local Puerto Vallarta buses cost a lousy 7 pesos, and nearly all begin and end their journey in Viejo Vallarta, so it's easy to hop on any bus that says 'El Centro'...when the bus is empty, you're in Viejo! HOT TIP: The bus is an excellent way to adventure further out, as far as the beautiful Punta Mita at the North tip of the bay. Fare is only about 40 pesos each way. Catch the bus to 'Mita' at the 2nd bus stop in front of Sam's Club / Walmart, and take any bus that says 'Mita' or 'Punta Mita' on the windshield. During the day the buses run to Mita at least every 10 minutes! (MORE on Puerto Vallarta buses HERE in "Getting Around")
Buses (long distance)
The long-distance busses in Mexico put the USA's bus system to shame. The first class buses are modern Mercedes, Saab, or Volvos, and have seats as big as a recliner. The floor plan is 2 seats on one side and 1 on the other, and there are television monitors on the ceiling for watching movies enroute (often in English with Spanish subtitles). You'll get a little sandwich, cookie, and soda when you get on. The Puerto Vallarta bus station is modern and clean, about a mile North of the airport. HOT TIP: An excellent bus trip from Vallarta is to Guadalajara, about five hours away, and costing about 450 pesos for the First Class ('Clase Primero') each way. Take the last bus of the day at 12:30 or 1:00 am, sleep all the way, and wake up in Guadalajara. Take a taxi to nearby Tonola for the biggest arts and handicrafts market you've ever seen.
Driving Rules
RULE NUMBER ONE: EVERYbody in Puerto Vallarta drives fairly aggressively, and uses their horn regularly. If somebody successfully cuts in front of you, don't get mad, simply congratulate him/her on skillfull driving. RULE NUMBER TWO: Traffic lights and stop signs here are often treated as mere suggestions rather than rules. As a tourist, you will be wise to obey them yourself, and be aware of the locals who don't. RULE NUMBER THREE: Vallarta has a unique way of handling left turns on the big main road through town. When you want to turn left, you first get in the separated lanes on the RIGHT, then wait for the turn arrow. It's wierd at first, but it's effective. You just have to know well in advance where you'll be turning left. HOT TIP: Except for trips out of town, you're probably better off letting the bus and taxi drivers get you around, at least until you've experienced the driving situation here. (MORE on Mexican driving and traffic HERE)
Cash or Credit?
Cash is always accepted, including U.S. and Canadian Dollars. However, since nearly all prices are posted in Pesos and exchange rates can be less than in your favor at most shops and restaurants, you should attempt to carry Pesos with you for you purchases. ATMS will give the absolute-best exchange rate, but check with your bank before traveling to see if (and how much) a service fee is charged for you to use an out-of-country ATM. Credit cards are widely accepted at hotels and larger restaurants and stores. HOT TIP: You will be well advised to not let the credit card out of your site when paying for a meal or purchases. This is to avoid a world-wide credit card 'swiping' fraud makes a duplicate of your card in some other city nearly instantaneously. While your bank will protect you financially from this fraud, it's a hassle to make things right while you're on vacation. (More on Mexican money HERE)
How to use a Mexican Telephone
There are many public phones in Puerto Vallarta, but coin-operated phone are rare. Most phones use a pre-paid phone card, like a credit card with a small microchip in it. You can buy them in nearly any 'convenience'-type store or neighborhood store...just ask for a TELMEX or LADATEL card. The smallest amount available is 30 pesos, and a local phone call is just a couple pesos, depending on the time of the call. Pick up the handset, insert the card chip-side up, and dial your call. The phone has an LED display telling you how much value remains on your card. If the phone 'beeps' at you after you've hung up, it means you've left your card inserted into the phone! If the number you are calling is a local cell phone (and there are a LOT of cell phones here), you must dial 13 digits (beginning with 044). HOT TIP: Calls to the USA and Canada are only 5 pesos per minute using the card-phones. While that may sound expensive compared to back home, phones advertising foreign calls using your credit card will charge OUTRAGEOUS sums...AVOID THESE PHONES unless your life depends on it or you have more money than you know how to spend. Your hotel will likely stiff you for ridiculous rates as well, so stick to the card-phones. To call the USA or Canada, dial 001, followed by the area code and phone number. (More on Mexican Telephones HERE)
Electricity

Electricity in Puerto Vallarta is just like in the USA and Canada: 110 volts...anything you bring with you will plug in and work just fine. If you're arriving from a country that uses 220 volts, bring your own adapters! HOT TIP: 3-prong 'grouned' outlets are not always available...if your laptop, hairdryer, or whatever has three prongs, buy and bring with you a 3-prong adapter. (More on Mexican Electricity HERE)

Consulate Contacts

Just in case you need help from your friendly government, here's who to call:

USA CONSULATE: 222-0069

CANADIAN CONSULATE: 293-0099
HOT TIP: Don't get arrested...it's even less fun here than at home, and your consulate will only be able to offer VERY limited assistance.

Airport (Departure)

 

 

We wish you wouldn't leave, but we know you'll be back! Here's how to leave: Go to the airport. Stand in long line for what seems forever. Let the security people rummage through your checked luggage. Give your Tourist Card (the one you haven't lost, remember?) to the airline rep with your tickets, and also have all your passports ready. The departure lounge is up the escalator, to your right. There are shops, restaurants, bars, and duty-free stores here to kill time in before you flight is called. There are screens everywhere showing the status of all flights. HOT TIP: Find out what time the ticket counter opens for your airline, and plan to be there as early as possible to beat the long line. Then tote your carry-ons out of the terminal (the same way you went out when you arrived), and walk over the highway via the pedestrian bridge. At the bottom of the bridge is TACON DE MARLIN, a friendly little restaurant that has the most DELICIOUS smoked-marlin and shrimp burritos you've ever had. (You'll likely see airline flight crews here grabbing a bag of burritos to eat on the journey home.) TACON DE MARLIN has even been recommended by BON APETIT Magazine! They're about 50-70 pesos each, big enough that two people can share one if you're not famished, and come with a tasty salad of jicama, cucumbers, and carrots in a yummy sauce. Get one or two to go if you want, and you'll make your fellow passengers envious as they smell your food and stare at the paltry food (if any) served by the airline.

 

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