David Warren has lived in Puerto Vallarta for almost two years and wrote this article after being asked repeatedly for this information.
Starting Over in a Tropical Paradise
I went from a proud, hardworking army veteran and family man to disabled, divorced, and adrift, but that's another story.
When circumstances beyond my control limited my earning capacity, I chose the tropical paradise of Puerto Vallarta to reinvent and restructure my life. I could not have lived under a bridge in Northern Nevada on my Social Security Disability.
This article is specifically a summary of how I live comfortably and safely in Mexico on a limited budget.
My Personal Experiences in Mexico
Please remember that Mexico is a very large and diverse country. The information you read here is based on my personal experiences, mainly here in Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding Banderas Bay beach towns. The only aggressive act I have witnessed in a year and a half in Puerto Vallarta was a road rage altercation initiated by an American tourist, and luckily for the ignorant gringo, it did not result in anything more than a few ill words between the two parties.
I recently traveled through several towns in the states of Sinaloa and Sonora where the US State Department has Do Not Travel Advisories. I did not have any problems at all in these areas, but I did not venture out late at night or go to any bars. In Puerto Vallarta, I walk alone at all hours and feel safer here than anywhere I've lived in the United States.
About the City
Mainly a fishing village until the 1960s, when tourism started getting a firm hold, Puerto Vallarta hasn't stopped growing since.
It is a playground for many foreign tourists as well as Mexican nationals. There are very expensive hotels, time shares, restaurants, and activities. I certainly learned some financial lessons the hard way. I spent several of my first months here during the height of the tourist season, which is December to April.
The Cost of Living in Puerto Vallarta
Rent and Utilities
My rent is 4,500 pesos per month. At today's exchange rate, that is equivalent to $240 US dollars. I live in Zona Romantica, also commonly called Old Town. There are condominiums that rent for $3,000 to $4,000 US dollars per month in my neighborhood. It was not easy to find and secure an apartment two blocks from the beach at my level of income, but there are also many apartments outside of the tourist areas for even less than what I pay.
In my previous apartment, my electric bill averaged 210 pesos each two months (electricity is billed every other month). The equivalent in US dollars was $11.00. When I utilized my AC, from about June to early October, my bill increased to about 2,000 pesos per billing cycle, which is over $100 US.
I was paying 500 pesos per month for Dish Network but canceled it (saving $26.31 US) and gave my television to a Mexican friend and her daughter along with a DVD player. I had purchased the television and DVD player at a bazaar for about fifteen US dollars, and they both worked well.
A new flat screen, however, from Costco or Walmart would set you back significantly more than what you would pay in the states. Computers and phones are also more expensive, even when purchasing older models that would be considered outdated in the states. The upside is that phone services, which include international calling between Mexico, Canada, and the United States, as well as data, are rarely above $15 per month US.
Some Monthly Expenses in Puerto Vallarta
|Item||Cost in Pesos||Equivalent US Dollar Amount|
Electric (CFE), included
3 Cervezas from Oxxo or Kiosko (Local convenient stores)
33.00 (11 pesos each for three on sale)
1.73 (58 cents each)
Latte at a tourist cafe
Four carne asada tacos in my neighborhood
Haircut at a neighborhood salon
Whole cooked chicken with side of white rice, corn tortillas, and hot sauce
20 Liters of spring water
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The Banderas Bay Area
Banderas Bay is actually in two separate Mexican states, Jalisco and Nayarit. There is Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, where I live, and there is Nuevo Vallarta (New Vallarta), which is actually in the neighboring state of Nayarit. I don't go to Nuevo Vallarta often as it reminds me of Scottsdale, Arizona or Boca Raton, Florida. Nothing against it—different strokes for different folks—but it just doesn't seem representative of Mexico.
Puerto Vallarta was the last port of call for The Love Boat. This tropical paradise became well known when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were making headlines while buying property in a neighborhood currently known as Gringo Gulch.
My Favorite Hike: Las Animas
There is truly something here for everyone. Hiking, scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling, surfing, fine dining, or simply relaxing on the beach beneath the palm trees with a margarita.
Tourists commonly ask me what is the one thing not to miss, with so many activities to choose from. My favorite activity here is taking the bus from downtown Vallarta to Boca de Tomatlan and then hiking to Las Animas. It is a moderate hike, with some decent elevation gains and descents, but there are many small, beautiful beaches and places to stop along the way.
Las Animas is only accessible by boat or by hiking. Often I'll hike in, enjoy the day at Las Animas, and then hop on a boat (water taxi) back to either Boca for the bus or all the way back to town. The scenery is spectacular on this hike. Lush green jungle, secluded beaches, waves crashing as they collide with rocks, and tide pools.
The Mystery of Los Muertos
Puerto Vallarta's pier is at the Los Muertos beach, which translates to "beach of the dead." There are stories about miners fighting pirates upon this beach, but there never was any mining done here in the bay that I am aware of. The pirate part of the story does merit some truth, as Banderas Bay certainly had pirates, and likely there are still unfound treasures buried in the Sierra Madre.
About the Author
Two years ago, I never imagined I would be single or that I would be living in a tropical paradise. I am an Army veteran, three years active as a forward observer, five years as a combat medic in a reserve unit, and four years in an Airborne Civil Affairs unit. I've worked as a carpenter, front loader operator, truck driver, bridge repair technician, and video engineer. After multiple serious neck surgeries, I had to accept the harsh reality that physically demanding work was no longer an option for me.
By 2012, I was barely able to walk. I was on daily morphine and many other prescription pain killers. The doctors, both VA and private care, agreed that I had no chance of recovery and wanted to implant a pump beneath my collarbone that would automatically deliver morphine into my spinal canal in my neck. I refused the surgery and stopped taking all pain-related prescriptions against the advice of the VA.
© 2018 David Warren
Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on September 23, 2018:
So cool! Do you need a special visa to live there? I'm an expat myself. I live in Japan now.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 22, 2018:
Articles like this one, David, always carry an air of authenticity when the author has actually lived it and speaks from personal history...well done! Good to have you back among us.
David Warren (author) from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta on July 21, 2018:
I broke my wrist in March and a trip to the hospital ER, radiology, having an orthopedic surgeon called in, getting the bone set and casted came to ninety dollars US. That is with no insurance! Anything major I would fly home for and use VA. Love Puerto Vallarta!
FlourishAnyway from USA on July 21, 2018:
I wish you the best in Mexico. How is healthcare there?