It sounds like the City of Puerto Vallarta designed their public transportation stopping stations so as to unclog traffic and it's design is working. However, this system is costing the public a lot of money! Instead of just paying one fare, they pay two fares even if the same bus is going to the same direction!
For example, the blue bus and white bus from Wal-Mart going to Centro passing by "Hoteles": You have to board the blue bus only because it is the only bus that stops at "Hoteles". So, if a passenger who is going to Centro from Wal-Mart and wants to stop at Hoteles (where the hotels are), she has to board another bus because that same bus that is passing by "hoteles" does not stop there. This bus is restricted to stop at Hoteles! Even cabs are restricted to stop or pick up at certain points in Puerto Vallarta.
It is ridiculous! There should be a way where the passenger can just get a transfer ticket so that passenger will not pay another 6.50 Mexican peso again...
The bus is a reliable mode of transportation in PV. I visited there in March 2011 and took the bus into town several times. The cost was 7 pesos (about 70 cents us). The locals are friendly and you will usually find the busses filled with 50% locals and 50% tourists. I do recommend
keeping an eye on your purse/wallet as we know 1 man that had his billfold stolen and 1 woman who had her purse cut and wallet stolen while on the bus. That could happen anywhere so don't let that keep you off the bus!
Taxi or bus? Well, depends on your budget, # of people traveling, etc.
I was told by a friend who traveled to Vallarta 2-3 weeks before myself (2006) that the "authorized" taxis at the airport charged around $250 pesos (USD $20+) for a 10-15 minute ride -- from the airport to the Marina, north Hotel Zone, etc. Well, if it's only 1 person traveling this is quite some money and you might prefer to save it, but if it's 4 of you then it might be worth it. There are also vans for groups of 5 people or more. I checked the prices myself and I saw some taxis that took you to the closest areas of town for USD $10-12, so this is a more acceptable price and worth paying if you prefer to travel more comfortably.
However, if you're on a budget you might want to try the public transportation, which is OK and a lot cheaper. Right on the avenue, a few steps from the airport's exit (under a pedestrian bridge) you may ride a bus that takes you to any of the hotels located along the Francisco Medina Ascencio Boulevard (the street that runs along the coastline) and even to downtown. If you're not carrying bulky/heavy luggage this is a pretty good option: the buses are big and the traffic isn't too packed. The ride to the Malecon area should take you around 30 minutes and you just have to pay $6.5 MX pesos (USD $0.60 !!!) per person (2011 rate). They only stop at the established bus stops (I know this is normal in the rest of the world but in Mexico this is UNUSUAL!) so you can ask the driver to drop you at the closest stop from the place you're going to.
IMPORTANT: if you're going to a hotel/resort located by the coastline, make sure to take a bus that reads "Centro" only, because there are some which say "Centro-Pitillal-Tunel" -- these will take you uphill and you will eventually arrive to downtown........ 1.5 hour later. They go by every 5-10 minutes depending on what time of the day it is, but make sure to ride the right bus if you don't want to be taken to a panoramic tour of the city along with your baggage! ;) This also applies when going from your hotel to downtown. When coming back to your hotel, make sure the bus says "Hotels-Walmart-Sams" because these are the ones that go along the coastline. A local told us that any blue bus would take us, but they're hard to spot at night (there are some green buses too) and we saw some blue buses that did NOT take you to the hotel zone. So make sure to read on the windshield where they are going.
On this last trip we were very surprised to see MANY tourists using these buses. The drivers are awful (I guess they're the same everywhere in Mexico) so one would think that foreigners wouldn't want to use this means of transportation, but maybe its convenience and low price have made them get used to it in spite or their flaws LOL!!!
Getting the bus from the PV airport is simple, however keep in mind that you MUST BE TRAVELING LIGHT. You cannot have 2 - 3 suitcases per person and expect to take the bus. If you only have 1 duffle bag or backpack style suitcase, then the bus is perfect for you if you are the adventurous type who wants to experience the real Mexico. Please note, the buses ARE NOT AIR CONDITIONED and the weather / humidity is very similar to Houston Texas during the summer (think 98* and 90% humidity). However, this is Mexico, you are on vacation; go with it!
The current cost is $6.50 Mx pesos, exact change is appreciated. You will receive a small paper receipt, wait just a moment for it as it is required of all passengers.
As you leave Customs, you will enter a long hallway with car rental agency booths to your left. Keep walking past all of these to the doorway directly ahead of you. If you need, there is a Casa de Cambio (Money exchange booth) to your left also, located amongst the Car Rental Agencies.
After you exit the airport building itself, you will notice a pedestrian bridge to your left that crosses the main road in front of you. IF your hotel is South of the airport, then DO NOT CROSS the pedestrian bridge, as you are already on the correct side for the local blue buses (actually a white bus with a large wide blue stripe vs. a green striped bus) heading to the Hotel zone SOUTH of the airport. Make sure that your bus DOES NOT have the word TUNEL written on the windshield, as this route (TUNEL)does not go directly past the Hotel zone. Step onto the large cement platform, and wait for your bus. When you see the one you want, simply take your right arm and point to the roadway about 5 feet in front of you; the driver will stop and you are soon on your bumpy way to your hotel area. Please note it will take about 20 minutes or so, depending on the local traffic and all.
If your hotel is in Nuevo Vallarta, NORTH of the airport, then you must cross the pedestrian bridge and catch the bus on the other side. The cost is the same, still $6.50 Mx pesos. And you will see the covered bus stop / platform there for you. Again, point to the roadway, and the bus will come to a screeching halt to let you board.
While on the bus, try talking and practicing your Spanish with the locals. Ask questions if you have any. Please note that the 1st row of seats immediately behind the driver is reserved for the elderly and pregnant women, so keep this in mind accordingly. You can also mention your hotel name to the driver, and most will tell you when they get as close as the bus route will ever get to that particular hotel.
I was staying in the Romantic Zone, so I had to walk the last six (6) blocks to my hotel as the blue bus route turned around before entering the exact area. However I am a trooper, and this was not a problem for me at all. I knew the general direction I was headed, started walking, and after just a few minutes lo and behold I was on the corner of the street for my hotel!
The cheapest way to get around is by bus. I have to admit I wouldn't have taken the bus if we didn't have a guide that told us when to jump on and when to jump off.
But if you have time to research it, know spanish, have the patients, this is by far the cheapest, you are just talking a few pesos and you get to meet lots of locals!!
I remember the bus driver being crazy and the the roads although paved, you can expect to be bumped around a lot on these old buses.
Consider it an amusement park ride maybe?
If you are arriving in Puerto Vallarta by cruise ship and wish to go downtown to the famous Mealecon area, take the local bus. It's easy as pie, only costs about 5 pesos each way and immediately separates you from the cruise ship tourist crowd and those hounding taxi touts. Just walk out to the main road, Av Medina Ascencio, turn right and start walking til you come to the first bus stop. Busses come along about every ten-15 minutes. Take the one labeled 'Centro', not sure of the number. It takes about fiteen - twenty minutes to get downtown. When you step off the bus, go to your right a block or so and then turn right at any intersection. Walk straight to the Malecon. If nervous about doing this, remember you only need to know one word in Spanish: Centro. Any local at the bus stop will be happy to help you, especially if you prefix it with Por favor and thank him or her with a big Gracias.
PS, this also works in reverse if you are downtown and want to get to the cruise terminal. Just ask for the Walmart bus as the cruise terminal is one stop before it and across the street from it. You cant miss it.
I had read good things about the intercity buses in Mexico and largely they lived up to expectations. Certainly for reasonably priced effective travel between cities, bus travel is a transport method that works well in Mexico. Don't expect buses to depart exactly on time and always bring along some food and drink.
The Puerto Vallarta bus station has several bus companies so you have to make a quick pass down the line of companies to see who is going to your destination, when they depart and how much they're charging. For my purposes, there seemed to be two companies traveling to Manzanillo, but only one (Primera Plus) leaving early in the morning (7:15am). I arrived early, but we departed 15 minutes late. We hadn’t left sight of the bus station when we stopped to let on a pedestrian. The drivers are not supposed to stop between cities on first class buses, but our driver didn’t mind pocketing a bit of extra money from short term riders.
The trip to Manzanillo took five and a half hours and cost 231 pesos (in 2008). Baggage was tagged and placed under the bus and retrieved by a handler at the destination in exchange for the baggage receipt. Boarding the bus, the bus company handed out bagged meals containing a sandwich and a drink. This was one of the nicer designed buses with a door separating the driver from the remainder of the bus. On this particular trip, the driver put on two movies during the trip. The road just south of Puerto Vallarta winds back and forth for about half an hour and I actually started feeling a bit nauseous, which doesn't usually happen to me. I thought this was a poor beginning to two weeks of bus travel, but the road straightened out and I felt better and didn't have any problems after that.
From the airport to the Bus Station
Puerto Vallarta was where I decided to begin and end my circular trip around Mexico. My strategy was to use intercity buses to travel between cities and local buses within the cities. Since the intercity bus station in Puerto Vallarta is very near the airport, I decided to catch a local bus from the airport to the bus station to arrange my bus ticket even before I checked-in to the hotel. Arriving in country, I had only 100 pesos notes (US$10) in hand and needed to get some change at the airport. I stopped at a convenience store to buy some gum (10p) and the girl nearly broke into tears when she realized that she just barely had enough coins to give me change (sorry about that). Through the gauntlet of time-share salesmen on the departure level, out the doors and over the pedestrian bridge brings you to a bus stop (and some taxis if required). The buses are very frequent. I was looking for buses with Ixtapa, Juntas, or Aeropuerto on their signage and within minutes one skidded to a stop in front of us. I hopped on with my luggage, handed the driver a still slightly damp 10p coin and received 5p in change. I asked for the bus station and hung around near the front by the driver. A couple of stops later he pointed to a building off to the side.
From Bus Station to Downtown
From the bus station to downtown, you're looking for a bus with "Centro" on the windscreen. This is often printed in the smallest lettering at the bottom of the list of destination. One lady advised that I should be looking for a blue bus. Good advice but all the local buses have some blue on them. In practice, the bus is mostly white with a blue pointed stripe. Again, 5p gets you a 20-30 minute trip to the center of town. This time there was a small paper receipt and later there was even a conductor that checked for receipts. To get off, there is a button, usually near the back door that emits an ear splitting whistle. If you can make the whistle sound yourself, you don’t need to use the button. The bus some times just comes to a rolling stop, so don't dawdle getting on or off. Welcome to Mexico.
Reliable buses & mini-VW vans travel between the Marina & Mismaloya Beach. The fare is about $5 pesos or less that $1.00 USD & each bus has a destination written on it's windshield (i.e., El Centro means the bus goes downtown, anything else and you might end up in Acapulco...lol). Sometimes you'll be able to just flag these buses down as you are walking. Most of these buses stop running at midnight so a taxi will be necessary after that time. This is the most inexpensive way to get around town. There is also a free trolley bus which travels along the malecón (beachwalk).
The bus isn't the cleanes, but most definately is the cheapest way around town. You just better know the area before you jump on one. & be on your feet going toward the door when your stop is coming.
I don't recommend the bus from and to the airport, unless you have only a carry on.
Whatever you do.. don't rent a car. Puerto Vallarta is all mountains. Plus, driving in Mexico can be crazy. Renting a car here is a waste of time. Taxis are DIRT cheap (about 5 bucks into town from the resort areas) and buses are about 50 cents.
There are many ways to get from point to point in Puerto Vallarta, but one of the least expensive ways to get around town is to take the bus. Granted, the taxi is quicker, but you get to ride with the locals and really get to see the city.