PV's Central Camionera, or Central Bus Station, is 1 km (½ mile) north of the airport, halfway between Nuevo Vallarta and downtown.
First-class Mexican buses (known as primera clase) are generally timely and comfortable, air-conditioned coaches with bathrooms, movies, and reclining seats—sometimes with seat belts. Deluxe (de lujo or ejecutivo) buses offer the same—sometimes with fewer, roomier seats—and usually have refreshments. Second-class (segunda clase) buses are used mainly for travel to smaller, secondary destinations.
A lower-class bus ride can be interesting if you're not in a hurry and want to experience local culture; these buses make frequent stops and keep less strictly to their timetables. Often they will wait until they fill up to leave, regardless of the scheduled time of departure. Fares are up to 15%–30% cheaper than those for first-class buses. The days of pigs and chickens among your bus mates are largely in the past. Unless you're writing a novel or your memoir, there's no reason to ride a second-class bus if a first-class or better is available. Daytime trips are safer.
Bring snacks, socks, and a sweater—the air-conditioning on first-class buses is often set on high—and toilet paper, as restrooms might not have any. Smoking is prohibited on all buses.
Estrella Blanca goes from Mexico City to Manzanillo, Mazatlán, Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, and other central, Pacific coast, and northern-border points. ETN has the most luxurious service—with exclusively first-class buses that have roomy, totally reclining seats—to Guadalajara, Mexico City, Barra de Navidad, Chamela, and Manzanillo. Primera Plus connects Mexico City with Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta along with other central and western cities.
TAP serves Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Tepic, and Mazatlán. Basic service, including some buses with marginal or no air-conditioning, is the norm on Transportes Cihuatlán, which connects the Bahía de Banderas and PV with southern Jalisco towns such as Barra de Navidad.
You can buy tickets for first-class or better in advance; this is advisable during peak periods, although the most popular routes have buses on the hour. You can make reservations for many, though not all, of the first-class bus lines, through the Ticketbus central reservations agency. Rates average 35–76 pesos ($2.70–$5.70) per hour of travel, depending on the level of luxury. Plan to pay in pesos, although most of the deluxe bus services accept Visa and MasterCard.
Central Camionera (Bahia Sin Nombre 363, Las Mojoneras, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48290. 322/290–1009.)
Estrella Blanca (01800/507–5500 toll-free in Mexico; 322/290–1014 in Puerto Vallarta. www.estrellablanca.com.mx. Carr a Tepic Km 9, Mezcales, Puerto Vallarta, 63735. 329/296–5936. www.estrellablanca.com.mx.).
ETN (Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. 01800/800–0386 toll-free in Mexico; 322/290–0997 in PV. www.etn.com.mx. Plaza Parabien, Av. Tepic sur 1508, Local 5, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit. 322/297–7552. etn.com.mx.).
Primera Plus (322/290–0716 in PV; 322/187–0492 in NV. primeraplus.com.mx.)
Transporte del Pacifico (TAP) (322/290–0119 in PV. tap.com.mx.)
Vallarta Plus (Palma Real 140, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48339. 322/221–3636 or 322/306–3071. www.vallartaplus.com.)
City buses (6.5 pesos) serve downtown, the Zona Hotelera Norte, and Marina Vallarta. Bus stops—marked by blue-and-white signs—are every two or three long blocks along the highway (Carretera al Aeropuerto) and in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Green buses to Playa Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlán (7 pesos) run about every 15 minutes from the corner of Avenida Insurgentes and Basilio Badillo downtown.
Gray ATM buses serving Nuevo Vallarta and Bucerías (20 pesos), Punta Mita (30 pesos), and Sayulita (50 pesos) depart from Plaza las Glorias, in front of the HSBC bank and Wal-Mart, both of which are along Carretera Aeropuerto between downtown and the Zona Hotelera.
It's rare for inspectors to check tickets, but just when you've let yours flutter to the floor, a figure of authority is bound to appear. So hang on to your ticket and hat: PV bus drivers race from one stoplight to the next in jerky bursts of speed.
There's no problem with theft on city buses aside from perhaps an occasional pickpocket, which could be said of anywhere in the world.