Everything you need to know about renting a car in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta: Everything you need to know [2023]

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article. 

Thinking about renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?

You’ve come to the right place! I’ve visited the area many times, and can give you first-hand information on how you can do the same. Puerto Vallarta is a resort town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico framed by the lush Sierra Madre mountains. Famous for its golden sand beaches, water sports and wildlife, Puerto Vallarta is a great place for your vacation.

In this guide, I will show you how to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta 🚙 while avoiding some of the most common mistakes that many tourists make. Let’s get to it!

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta will allow you to take many cool day trips and get off the beaten track.

Should I rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Having a car rental will allow you to enjoy some of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta and get outside the tourist zone. Not only you will have the opportunity to explore some of the best Puerto Vallarta beaches, but you will be able to take trips inland that require public transportation or guided tours.

Where to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?

The best place to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta is at the Puerto Vallarta Airport (PVR).You can do it as soon as you land and avoid spending money on Uber and taxis.

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta Airport is the best option if you are looking for convenience. While renting a car at the airport in Puerto Vallarta could be more expensive than off site, you will save a lot of time, which is well worth the price. 😃

Many major rental car companies have offices at the Puerto Vallarta Airport, but I recommend renting your car with Discover Cars, a car rental company that has offices in many popular destinations in Mexico including Puerto Vallarta. 

Find Your Rental Car

Why rent with Discover Cars? 

DiscoverCars is my favorite platform for renting cars. They work with major car rental companies in Mexico and offer some of the best prices on many types of vehicles. You can also add full Mexican insurance for your car rental for less than $10 per day when booking your car with DiscoverCars.

👉 DiscoverCars allows you to add Mexican car insurance (which is mandatory) for just under $10, which is super cheap compared to many other car rental companies.

How much does it cost to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?

While prices on rental cars in Puerto Vallarta can range widely depending on the season and the type of vehicle you choose, expect to pay a minimum of $30-40 per day for a compact vehicle with a full insurance coverage.

👉 Sometimes, you might find very low prices on car rentals in Mexico online, but you shouldn’t fall for it, as they are often just a facade for a very high price that includes various fees and high insurance price.

👉 Click here to check prices on car rentals in Puerto Vallarta

What’s the best car rental in Puerto Vallarta Airport?

According to online reviews, the best car rental companies at Puerto Vallarta Airport are Gecko Rent a Car, City Car Rental and ICar Rental. These companies have some of the best reviews of all car rental companies in Puerto Vallarta.

Tips for renting a car at Puerto Vallarta Airport

  • Check reviews – When renting a car in Cabo San Lucas, you can find what other customers have to say about a given company. DiscoverCars automatically finds the best rates and you can also check reviews before booking your car rental. 
  • Take photos of your car – When you sign all the paperwork and go outside to pick up your car, take photos and videos of the interior and exterior. This is especially true if a car has scratches, dings, or any other visible damage, so you don’t get charged for them when you return the car.
  • Book your car rental at the airport – if you book your car in Puerto Vallarta ahead of time, you will not have to pay higher prices
  • U.S. car insurance is NOT valid in Mexico and car rental companies in Puerto Vallarta will not accept it. Some credit cards in the United States cover rental car damage, but even if you have a credit card offers provides car rental coverage, you will still have to pay for car rental insurance in Mexico.

How to save money on car rental in Puerto Vallarta: 

  • Learn to drive a stick shift – since many people don’t know how to drive a stick shift, cars with a manual transmission tend to be cheaper and more available than those with the automatic transmission
  • Travel during the off-season – visiting Puerto Vallarta during the off-season will allow you to skip high rental car rates, among many other things
  • Book your car months ahead – You will typically pay more for your car rental in Puerto Vallarta if book it close to your travel date. Book your car ahead of time to save money.

Where to find cheap car rentals in Puerto Vallarta?

If you are looking for cheap car rentals in Puerto Vallarta, check DiscoverCars. They offer reasonable prices, good inventory, and narrow down your search to a specific type of a vehicle that you are looking for. They also source cars from Mexican and international car rental companies that have officers in Puerto Vallarta, allowing you to find the best options.

👉 Click here to save money on renting a car in Puerto Vallarta

Do I need insurance for renting a car in Puerto Vallarta Mexico?

Insurance is mandatory for all rental cars in Mexico. Car rental companies in Puerto Vallarta will not allow you to rent a car unless you have at least a personal liability insurance that covers the bare minimum in case of an accident or damages.

A full insurance coverage protects you in the event of a totaled, damaged, or stolen car, so you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket. 

Can I use insurance from my credit card company?

Some US travel credit cards offer rental car insurance, but not many car rental companies in Puerto Vallarta will accept it. Your best bet is to get Mexican car insurance from your car rental company.

How old do you have to be to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?

You have to be at least 21 to rent a car in Mexico. Drivers between 21 and 25 have to pay additional daily charges that are typically between $10-15 a day on top of their daily rate. If you are between 18-24 years of age, check your car rental policy before making a reservation.

Is there Uber in Puerto Vallarta?

Yes! There’s Uber in Puerto Vallarta in addition to regular taxis, and you can catch it to get around town and to the airport. Uber in Puerto Vallarta costs significantly cheaper than in the United States, and you can expect to pay about $5-7 USD for a ride from the city to the airport. 

👉 Unfortunately, Uber can’t pick you up at the Puerto Vallarta airport. Although some drivers might be willing to break the rules, you shouldn’t count on it. In case you are not renting a car, you should book a Puerto Vallarta round-trip shuttle that costs under $30 USD.

🚗 Click here to check rental car options in Puerto Vallarta

What documents do I need for renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Renting a car in Mexico is simple, but requires some knowledge, and it is no different in Puerto Vallarta. You will have to provide a standard set of documents and also fill out some paperwork when you arrive at the office.

Here’s what you will need:

A passport 

You will need your passport when renting a car in Mexico. A representative of the car rental company will make copies of your passport before giving it back to you.

A driver’s license 

You will also need to provide a valid driver’s license. If you are traveling to Mexico from countries that don’t use a Roman language alphabet, you will need an international driver’s license.

Credit or debit card 

You can use a debit or credit card to pay for a rental car.

A car rental company will charge you for a car rental and put a hold on your credit card which ranges between a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars. When you return your car rental with no damages, the hold on your credit card will go away. 

A Mexican car insurance

To be able to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta, you will need a Mexican car insurance. You can buy it from your car rental company to save time and avoid the hassle of buying it separately.

A word about Mexico car insurance 

Car rental insurance is mandatory in Mexico, and you can choose from basic, medium, and full coverage when filling out your paperwork. Read my article about renting a car in Mexico to find out more about Mexico car insurance, since it’s a pretty big topic.

When renting a car in Puerto Vallarta, you can choose from three types of car insurance: basic, medium, and full coverage, with basic insurance offering only minimal protection and full coverage protecting you if your car is totaled or stolen.

Road signs in Puerto Vallarta

After you are done signing papers, will be excited to get on the road! Don’t forget that most road signs in Mexico are in Spanish, and you should follow them when driving on highways and city streets.

Learning basic Spanish words and expressions are my top tips for all Mexico travelers. However, if you don’t speak Spanish, here are the most common road signs in Mexico. 

  • Alto – Stop
  •  No Hay Paso – Road closed
  •  Despacio – Drive slowly
  •  No Rebase – No passing
  •  No estacionarse – No parking
  •  Curva peligrosa – Dangerous curve
  •  Ceda el paso – Yield
  •  Conserve su derecha– Keep right
  •  Topes – Speed bumps
  •  Desviación – Detour

Tips for driving in Puerto Vallarta

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is not much different from other places in Mexico, and if you travel the country, you will see that the process is pretty similar whether you go to Cancun, or Cabo San Lucas. 

Driving in Mexico, however, might take some getting used to. Here are some of the general tips that will help you stay safe on the road and save money: 

Don’t pump your gas

Mexican gas stations have attendants who put gas in your car when you get to the pump. Same applies to gas stations in Puerto Vallarta. Specify the amount of gas that you need and clarify the price before they begin doing it. Many people who work at gas stations make only minimum wage, so leave a little tip before driving off.

PRO TIP: Pay close attention to how much money you are giving to a gas pump attendant. A gas pump scam is one of the most common petty scams in Mexico, and if you are not paying attention, you could easily get ripped off.

Be prepared to stop at checkpoints

Checkpoints are not uncommon in Mexico, even around the country’s tourist corridors. Be ready to stop and open your vehicle, if you are asked to do so. As a tourist, you will most likely get a few simple questions, unless you manage to draw some suspicion.

Always carry cash

From tipping gas station attendants to giving a few coins to people who might come up to your car to wash windows while you are sitting in traffic, carrying cash is a good idea while you are driving around Mexico. Street vendors who sell drinks and snacks on the side of the road accept only cash.

Mexico uses kilometers, not miles

If you travel to Mexico from the US, know that Mexico uses kilometers, not miles. A mile equals about 1.6 kilometers, but when it comes to driving, your best bet is to follow the posted speed limit to avoid trouble.

Use toll roads

Toll roads are not the cheapest option (you will need to have cash in your car to pay for them), but they are the best option if you travel between major cities and want to get around quickly. They are also considered safer for traveling than smaller secondary roads and better, as they have fewer potholes.

When it comes to traveling around Puerto Vallarta, you have only one major highway, so you will not have a lot of options for secondary roads.

I say don’t cave in, if they say that you will get a fine unless you give them money. You can just take a ticket and pay for it later. But this depends on the situation (and what they stopped you for), so my advice is to follow your instincts and do what looks to be the best way to skip the trouble.

Follow the rules

Your best bet to avoid trouble is to follow the rules. Wear a seat belt, respect the signs, follow a posted speed limit and put down your phone. This will help to avoid any unwanted attention and not get pulled over by police in the first place.

Drive during the day

Depending on what region of Mexico you plan to visit, you might want to limit your driving to the daytime. Parts of Mexico are considered less safe than others, and you should check the most up-to-date information before planning your trip.

Check my complete guide to renting a car in Mexico! It will help you save money and have a better experience while traveling the country. 

If you are traveling to Mexico from the United States, check information on the U.S. State Department ahead of your visit.

Distances to popular places near Puerto Vallarta: 

  • Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita – 54 minutes – 40.3 km (24 miles)
  • Puerto Vallarta to Tequila – 3 hours 22 minutes – 277 km (172 miles)
  • Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara – 4 hr 57 min – 332.3 km (206 miles)
  • Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastian Del Oeste – 1 hr 30 min – 67.9 km – 42 miles 
  • Puerto Vallarta to Tepic – 3 hr 1 min – 170.4 km – 105 miles 

Check rates on car rentals in Puerto Vallarta

What places can I visit after renting a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Visiting local beaches is a perfect options after renting a car in Puerto Vallarta Airport

1. Best beaches near Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta boasts some of the best beaches in Mexico, many of which are located within a driving distance, but require a car. Playa Conchas Chinas, Playa Las Animas, Playa Boca De Tomates, and Playa Colomitos are perfect for spending a lazy afternoon and escaping the crowds of Puerto Vallarta.

2. Sayulita

Located in the neighboring state Rivera Nayarit, Sayulita is a colorful surf town that has become a magnet for travelers. Sayulita is also one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta. If you have a rental car, it takes 50 minutes to reach Sayulita from Puerto Vallarta. 

Check my complete guide to the best things to do in Sayulita 💛

San Pancho is one of the best places to visit from Puerto Vallarta by car rental.

3. San Pancho (San Francisco)

San Pancho (or San Francisco) is a hippie town about 20 minutes north of Sayulita. It has a notably different vibe from Sayulita, and you won’t find tons of tourists here compared to Sayulita. San Pancho sits slightly off the beaten path and is a great alternative to more popular places in Rivera Nayarit. 

After visiting San Pancho, you can continue your trip to other places in Nayarit like the pueblo of Lo De Marcos, Chacala, and San Blas. 

Tequila is one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta

4. Tequila

Known as one of the top-producing regions of Mexico’s famous drink, Tequila is a designated pueblo Mágico and one of the most popular days trips from Puerto Vallarta. Many travelers come here to take tours of local distilleries where they can try the signature drink of Jalisco and learn about how it’s made. 

Renting a car will allow you to enjoy this popular destination, as you can take your time exploring the area, visit museums and spend the night in one of the Tequila hotels. Visiting Tequila with a guided tour is also an option, with many combos available.

Guadalajara is one of the best places to visit from Puerto Vallarta by car rental

5. Guadalajara 

A day trip to Guadalajara from Puerto Vallarta is a great option if you want to learn about the culture of Jalisco State. Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with 1,5 million people.

It’s home to mariachi bands and tequila and is considered one of the most important cultural cities in the country. As the largest city in the country’s heartland, it doesn’t get more authentic than Guadalajara! 

🙂 Read my complete guide to the best things to do in Guadalajara

Taking a drive from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara is a lot of fun, as you will enjoy the beautiful mountainous landscapes of the Jalisco State. 

San Sebastian is one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta which can be visited by guided tour, public transport or car rental.

6. San Sebastian Del Oeste 

If you are spending a couple of days in Puerto Vallarta and need a break from the heat and humidity of the coast, take a day trip to San Sebastian Del Oeste, a picturesque town high in the mountains (about 4,900 feet in altitude) in the state of Jalisco. 

👉Check my complete guide to the best things to do in San Sebastian Del Oeste

San Sebastian is a small town where you can hike the mountains, ride an ATV and explore the pueblo’s main square surrounded by cobblestone streets and small restaurants and shops.

Although you can see the highlights of San Sebastian in just a day, I recommend spending a night here, as the sunrises and sunsets here are simply magical! 

Mascota is a small town in the state of Jalisco which makes one of the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta if you have a car rental.

7. Mascota 

A sleepy pueblo set in the Sierra Madre mountains, Mascota doesn’t receive the attention of other popular destinations in the region, and yet, it has so much to offer!

Nestled at 4,160 feet, Mascota remains largely off the tourist radar. But don’t overlook it – the town has beautiful architecture, impressive natural landscapes, and friendly locals. A trip to Mascota can be combined with a stop in San Sebastian Del Oeste which makes renting a car in Puerto Vallarta well worth it! 

It takes about 2 hours to reach Mascota from Puerto Vallarta, and the drive goes through several spectacular mountain passes. 

Talpa De Allende is a pueblo mágico which can be visited by renting a car in Puerto Vallarta.

8. Talpa de Allende 

Another hidden gem of the region, Talpa De Allende is one of the places that make renting a car well worth it! A former silver mining town founded by the Spanish in 1599, Talpa de Allende is a site of the annual pilgrimage and a wonderful lesson of Mexico’s history.

Spend some time wandering quiet Talpa’s streets, trying Mexican candies, and enjoying the atmosphere of this place.

Need more inspiration? Check my guide to the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta to plan your adventures!

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta: FAQ’s

Where is Puerto Vallarta? 

Puerto Vallarta is in the state of Jalisco on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is a resort town that neighbors the state of Nayarit, another popular vacation destination along Mexico’s West Coast. 

Is it safe to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta?

Yes, renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is completely safe. You can rent a car at Puerto Vallarta airport or at one of the car rental companies in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Be cautious while on the road and follow basic safety rules like driving during the day and following the posted signs, especially if you are taking one of the day trips from Puerto Vallarta.

Is it safe to drive in Puerto Vallarta?

Driving in Puerto Vallarta is mostly safe, but that doesn’t mean that you should forget about common sense. For one, driving in Mexico is different from the United States and other countries, and even though Puerto Vallarta is not a dangerous place, you should always follow basic rules while on the road.

Pay attention to road signs, follow the posted speed limit and slow down for topes (speed bumps in Spanish), as they can be high, and can damage your vehicle if you hit them at full speed. 

What’s the most popular rental car in Puerto Vallarta?

The most popular rental car in Puerto Vallarta according to reviews on Kayak is Hyundai Accent or similar models.

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta: final word

Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta is a perfect option if you want to explore the state of Jalisco beyond the famous resort town. From the lush mountains to waterfalls and pueblos Magicos, this part of Mexico is a real adventurer’s paradise, and the best way to access many of its gems is with a rental vehicle. 

Most importantly, relax, take your time, and stop and explore enchanting towns while making new friends. There is always a friendly Oxxo convenience store or family-run store to grab staple items like coffee, snacks, and some fresh fruit on your way.

More resources for planning your trip to Puerto Vallarta

  • Agoda.com – a great website for budget hotels in Puerto Vallarta and other parts of Mexico.
  • WorldNomads – Great service for insurance coverage that will keep you safe on the road.
  • Safety Wing – Excellent insurance plan for long-term travelers that offers competitive rates is you are planning to stay on the road several weeks in a row. 
  • iVisa – the best website for getting help with your Mexico visa.
  • DiscoverCars.com – There’s nothing like exploring Puerto Vallarta and surrounding areas at your own pace. Consider renting a car at Discover Cars if you want more freedom exploring the Pacific Coast of Mexico. 
  • GetYourGuide.com – This is one of the best platforms for finding best tours in Puerto Vallarta. Get Your Guide is my favorite platform that offers awesome tours and top-notch guides in many destinations in Mexico.
  • CheapoAir.com – One of the best platforms for saving money on flights within Mexico and beyond. 
  • Booking.com – a popular website with tons and tons of options for accommodations of all sorts.