Puerto Vallarta is a town which you will enjoy much more by walking around. On the other hand, Vallarta's streets are not the most comfortable to drive on and parking is a problem in some areas.
However, if you want to go to nearby towns/beaches it can be really convenient to rent a car, as Vallarta is quite spread along the coastline and the distances can be somewhat long. This is the first time I did it, and National car rental was the best option I found (money wise). Make sure you make a reservation at least 3-4 days before in order to secure your car - it looks like there's a lot of demand for their cars and they might not have one available for you if you don't make a reservation in advance.
They have several desks available: right at the airport, a big/main office across the street from the airport, at the Sheraton Buganvilias, Marriott, Flamingo and other hotels. You can pick & drop the car at any of these different locations (not necessarily the same for both) at no extra charge, and they will even drive you on a van from the main office in front of the airport to the departures terminal for free. I paid around USD $50 for a 24-hour rental + gas for a medium size, automatic A/C car, with a 1 extra hour tolerance. The service was good and the car we got was cool (last year's model, perfect conditions). More details on their website.
Please note: As I said previously, parking can be a problem in some places in Vallarta, and I realized that even some of the biggest hotels do not have parking of their own available. You might want to check on this in order not to have problems to park the car overnight, although Vallarta seems to be a safe place and your car will most probably be safe even if you park it on the street. Try not to drive or park right in downtown (especially the Malecon area), it usually gets messy!!
We rented a car and drove from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta - this is actually cheaper than renting in Puerto Vallarta and more fun...at least for us :)
If you do rent, definitely spring for the full insurance and $0 deductible...you'd be surprised what can happen to your car when your driving on those roads, or even when you're not driving at all. The insurance is only like $50 US and paid for itself at least 20 fold after our car was scratched, and then a rock gutted the bottom of our engine.
They called this our Mexican limo. We rented a car because we wanted to get around on our own and discover Puerto Vallarta ourselves. It was totally worth it because we did our own thing without any problems.
We were here for a week and had the car for the whole time that we were here. It wasnt very expensive to rent but all the cars (at a descent cost) are stick shift. This was a problem for me because I only know how to drive automatic. Likely everyone else in our group knows how to drive stick.
We had alot of fun. I actually even learned how to drive stick in this car:)
We found that renting a car for a few days was well worth the extra spending. There is so many things to do and isolated places to see that a person wouldn't experience if they had to rely on cabs and buses. Our all-inclusive package included the cab fair to and from the airport. So between that and the rental, transportation was certainly made simple. Larry driving....
If you need to rent a car while in the Puerto Vallarta area, I reccommend Gecko car rental in Bucerias. We have rented from several other agencies, but we will go with Gecko from now on. They will pick you up at the airport and take you back when it is time to leave. A canadian gentleman, Denis Beauvais, operates the agency and is very friendly and helpful and is not trying to rip you off or otherwise take advantage of you. We generally put a lot of mileage on rental cars, going up to San Pancho & Sayulita, Punta Mita, La Cruz, Down to PV & Mismaloya and beyond to Costa Careyes and points between. We have never had any problems of any kind. Perhaps we have just been lucky, but you need to use your head at all times! I hope that future trips may be as carefree as previous trips, because we love the country & people and would be dismayed if we had to make plans to travel elsewhere due to current situation in Mexico. I digress from my original intent of this comment, which is to extoll the virtue of Gecko Rent A Car. Seriously, if you need a car rental, Gecko! 'Nuff said.
Hello, to whom it May Concern,
We recently rented a car from Thrifty in Puerto Vallarta, which was by far the worst car rental experience I've ever had. We said we would only buy additional liability insurance, as our credit card covered collision insurance. This was after a very hard sell, but we held our ground.
Upon inspecting the car before leaving, I walked around with the inspector and pointed out every dent, scratch, etc. and watched to see he made some sort of mark on the drawing. I especially pointed out a long scratch on the passenger door. I remember this because I had to point to it twice. We then drove to Sayulita, where we parked the car in a gated spot where we were the only car for the entire week.
When we returned the car, they informed us that we were liable for damage to the car, which included a long scratch on the passenger door. I said, no, that was there when we left, and that I saw the guy mark the drawing showing this. Well, there were some sort of mark made on the drawing, but they claimed it wasn't the right mark to indicate a long scratch, therefore this had to be new. We repeatedly said it wasn't, and refused to pay for damages we did not inflict. The rep said, fine, then you cannot leave to go home, smirking the whole time. At this point, we asked to speak to a manager which was denied, saying they had no way to call him. Then the rep also said they had photos that showed the scratch was not previously there, but when we insisted on seeing these photos, well, they were "buried in the computer system somewhere" and couldn't be found at this time. Again, I was there during the entire inspection, and never saw any photos taken, at any time. These supposed photos are so obviously completely fictional.
I will be honest and admit that at this point, I was beyond angry at this completely criminal behaviour. I told them I have rented cars all over the world and never had an experience like this before. They didn't care and basically said if you keep arguing you'll only miss you flight. I walked inside and began warning every single person there to take there own photos and guard themselves against this company. It was then that the rep said we could leave without the charges being put on our credit card, and they would instead email us a bill, which we could then take up with Thrifty upon our return home. It was suspicious, because he obviously just wanted us out of there, so we repeatedly asked if this was going to be put on our card. He insisted, no, you will just get an email bill for now.
Of course when we got home, they had put all charges plus damages on the card. When we called to say this shouldn't have happened, they claimed again that the supposed photos showed no previous scratches. However, we still did not get to see these.
Now we are left with trying to figure out how to locate Thrifty corporate car rental offices, and get these charges off our card. The worst part is, it has left a sour taste in our mouth not only about Thrifty, but about traveling through Mexico.