Best Areas to Live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

an image showing a timber sign on the beach which says Mexico

Puerto Vallarta is a city in Mexico that is quite similar to metropolitan areas in the United States. The similarities are what draw many Americans to this area.

While the majority of people coming to Puerto Vallarta from the U.S. are traveling for leisure, there are many who decide to call this Mexican city home. A permanent move here means finding the area in the city that best suits you.

Luckily, there are several areas that people deem the best areas to live in Puerto Vallarta. It all depends on your personal preferences.

About 300,000 people call this city home, with a huge influx of more every tourist season. It is incredibly diverse, so there is something for everyone.

Whether you want to retire here or you have made the decision to move your family here, Puerto Vallarta has a lot to offer throughout its various neighborhoods. No matter what stage of life you are in, there should be a place here that will speak to you.

Where Do Most Expats Live in Puerto Vallarta?

Expats are people who move to another country and settle down there. Expats are numerous in Puerto Vallarta. They are especially vocal about which are the best areas to live in Puerto Vallarta and not shy about telling people where they should move.

Everyone has their own preference, which may not match yours. It can help to learn a little about the main areas in the city and what makes them each unique.

El Centro

El Centro literally means “the center” in English. It is the perfect name for the downtown area of Puerto Vallarta. This area also has the nickname “Gringo Gulch.”  

In the 1960s and 1970s, the downtown area was popular with Hollywood stars. They flocked here to settle in summer homes or to hang out for the tourist season. It has not lost its popularity, but now, the main influx is your typical American looking to move somewhere with amazing weather and a cheap cost of living.

El Centro is the cultural and financial center of the city where something is always happening. There isn’t a chance you will ever face a dull day here because something is going on to keep you entertained. Plus, there is an abundance of dining, entertainment, and shopping.

There are many events held in the town square, and the city center is rich in history. Some key attractions here include Our Lady of Guadalupe church and the Plaza Las Armas. The city is also framed by Los Muertos Beach.

El Centro has that large city feeling to it. It is very walkable and gives you all the comforts of life within easy access.

Related: Can U.S. Citizens Buy Property in Mexico?

5 De Diciembre

The odd name of this area, which means December 5th in English, has an unknown history, but you’ll find 5 De Diciembre located near downtown. It is close to everything but far enough away that you can have some quiet time.

One of the things you will notice right away is this area is very authentically Mexican. It has some of the best taco carts in the city selling fantastic, authentic Mexican tacos. As you walk the cobblestone streets, you’ll notice the population here is a nice blend of locals and transplants.

The area has a lot of hills, and it offers some of the best views out over the downtown area. There is a genuinely Mexican vibe to the whole area that helps keep it relaxed and calm.

This area has many local establishments. You’ll find small bars and lounges alongside family-owned eateries.

Related: Most Affordable Places to Live in Mexico

Zona Romantica

In English, this area is “The Romantic Zone.” It has an authentic Mexican vibe with a rich culture. You’ll find the traditional small cafes and vintage shops dotting the cobblestone streets. It gives off a rustic feeling with decorative homes featuring plenty of colorful flowers.

It is an old school area with a modern update. Many say this is the artistic heart of the city with a range of galleries and a vibrant theatre scene focusing on jazz and drag shows. It also has a luxury edge to it with a focus on beauty and small boutiques over the big chain stores you’ll find elsewhere.

You’ll be right on the beach here and have access to all the necessities you need. One of the biggest attractions is the Old Town Farmer’s Market, which is the largest open-air market in the area.

Zona Romantica is an excellent representation of modernized Mexican culture. It balances things like a hopping nightlife with the traditional images you’ll see all over.

Marina Vallarta

Marina Vallarta gets its name from the cruise ship port located here. As you might expect, this is the higher-end area of Puerto Vallarta.

Most people would describe this area as posh and stylish. It features a world-class golf course and plenty of boating culture. In a word, Marina Vallarta is fancy.

While you can find many chain stores here, you will also have the chance to shop in luxury boutiques and shops at the Galerias Vallarta shopping mall. There is a little bit of everything for everyone here, and walkability is high.

The area has a range of newly built condominium communities and a hot real estate market. The overall vibe here is that this is a place for boat lovers and those who enjoy the finer things in life.

Fluvial Vallarta

Fluvial Vallarta is an up and coming area with very rapid growth. It was once a hidden gem in the city where the overall culture was very much American. It is continuing to modernize and take on many aspects of American culture, including movie theaters and chain stores.

Rentals here are affordable, and the people are friendly. It isn’t a big spot for tourists, so it makes the ideal spot for someone who wants to move to Puerto Vallarta and make it their new home.

The thriving neighborhood is incredibly welcoming. It lies on Banderas Bay, which also offers a nice taste of the beauty of Mexico.

Related: Cost of Living in La Paz, Mexico

Is it Expensive to Live in Puerto Vallarta?

In general, the cost of living here is lower than in metropolitan areas in the United States. If you are coming from the Midwest or the U.S.’s central areas, you will find the area pricey, especially when it comes to real estate.

The cost of living index seeks to average expenses in an area and provides a look at how it matches the average expenses in other areas. The COL index, assigns Puerto Vallarta a score of 35.06. The COL index gives the average a 100, so the amount a city is above or below 100 indicates how high or low, respectively, the cost of living is there.

A COL of 35.06 lands this city at number 461 out of 587 when compared to other major cities around the world. Another perspective here is that it is almost 65% cheaper to live in Puerto Vallarta than in New York City.

The real standout about the cost of living is everyday expenses. You will find that once you find a place to live, everything else is much cheaper than in the U.S., regardless of where you came from.

A couple moving here will often be able to live comfortably on less than $2,000 a month. Here’s a look at a breakdown of typical monthly expenses, according to International Living:

  • Housing (2bdrm): $900
  • Property tax: $44
  • Insurance: $100
  • Utilities: $180
  • Cell phone bill: $40
  • Internet: $60
  • Food and other household needs: $300
  • Dining out: $300
  • Transportation: $80

If you want to buy a home, expect to pay prices that are somewhere between middle America and California real estate prices. Condos are a more affordable option and usually offer you the protection of a gated community. Downtown is the most expensive place to live, with areas closer to the beach also being more costly.

To give you some perspective, here is a list of the prices for a two-bedroom, two-bath home in each area of the city:

  • El Centro: $470,000
  • 5 De Diciembre: $202,000
  • Zona Romantica: $354,000
  • Marina Vallarta: $400,000
  • Fluvial Vallarta: $ 236,000

Is Puerto Vallarta a Good Place to Retire?

If you want to retire to this city, you may wonder about senior living communities for expats in Puerto Vallarta. While there are no specific community areas made just for retirees, you will find a community of people who welcome you.

U.S. News and World Report explains there is a very active community of expat retirees here. If you want to get into activities, it won’t be tough to make new friends and become a part of this community quickly. The community also is big on volunteering and doing a lot to give back.

There are many reasons why you may find this city a perfect choice for retirement. The weather here is ideal. It never gets cold, and while it is humid in the summer, there really isn’t a bad season for weather.

There are a lot of living options here, as well. You can easily find newly built condos, downtown rentals, and homes to buy. Prices are pretty good when looking at a retirement home in an area like this.

No matter where you decide to settle, everything you need is close by, and stores sell plenty of brands and goods that you get back home. Plus, it is very easy to get in and out of Mexico from any area of the city, which is nice if you need to travel home to visit family.

Medical care is high-quality and affordable. You’ll find prices are much more agreeable than anything in the U.S. The country has multiple private hospitals offering care equal to that in the U.S. The public healthcare system costs a small premium for access and provides fantastic coverage at a fraction of U.S. insurance costs.

Furthermore, there is always something happening here. The city has a lot of entertainment, fantastic dining, beautiful beaches, and wonderful people who will welcome you with open arms. Best of all, entertainment, such as live music and theater performances, will cost you much less than they do in the U.S.

One last point about Puerto Vallarta that you need to know if you are considering moving here as a retiree is that this is a safe place to live. Mexico often gets a bad reputation for crime and violence, but that isn’t the case in this city.

It is one of the safest places to live in Mexico. The thought is that since it is a huge tourism area, the government keeps it protected to protect the money it generates. Even in the offseason, you will notice a heavy police and military presence that keeps violent crime very low.

The biggest concern is petty crime, such as small thefts. This is typical in any tourism spot and represents mostly crimes of opportunity. As long as you do not make it easy to steal something from you, things should be fine.  

Related: Puerto Vallarta Compared to Cancun

Making the Move

As you can see, there are many options when it comes to the best areas to live in Puerto Vallarta. There really is a unique mix of cultures and vibes that allow you to find something that matches your needs and your personality. 

From the posh lifestyles of Marina Vallarta to the home away from home feeling of Fluvial Vallarta, each area has some appeal of both Mexican and American cultures that make it easy to settle in and make this your new home. The whole city is full of life, and there is always something to keep you busy, whether it is joining a community volunteer group or taking in a jazz show.

The cost of living is relatively low after you get past the real estate prices that will seem high to those not used to metropolitan living. Everyday costs for things from groceries to transportation are much cheaper here than in the U.S., regardless of where you lived. So, the long-term budget will be much lower, allowing you to get more for your money.

If you are sure that Puerto Vallarta is the perfect place for you, take some time to explore the different areas and neighborhoods to find your ideal fit.

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