Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta Transportation Options 2023
WONDERING HOW TO GET FROM GUADALAJARA?
You are in the right place because I have lived in Guadalajara since 2009 and make this trip at least once a year. Whether you need info on the Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta route or the Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara route – you basically have four different transportation options.
There is a Latin American saying that is particularly popular in Mexico around vacation time, “En el mar la vida es más sabrosa” or life tastes better in the sea (or at the beach). When people in Guadalajara use the saying they are probably talking about Puerto Vallarta.
Ever since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton shacked up here in the 1960s Puerto Vallarta has been the epitome of cool. From the isolated beaches of Mismaloya to the restaurants and nightclubs on the boardwalk, there is something for everyone. Downtown Puerto Vallarta still preserves that retro, mid-century Mexican magic that lets you step back in time.
How to get from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
Getting from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta can be a little time-consuming. Manzanillo and San Blas are actually closer to Guadalajara but there is no comparison. Puerto Vallarta is worth the extra hour you are going to spend on the road to get there.
Essentially it breaks down to three options for getting from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta: fly, take the bus, or drive. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
We prefer to drive because we like to have the car in Puerto Vallarta to move about as we please.
If the surf is firing I may want to drive up to Punta Mita or Sayulita for a day trip. There are spectacular restaurants hidden throughout the Bahía de Banderas region. I like to stay all over Puerto Vallarta from Playas Gemelas to the Marina or Nuevo Nayarit, and having a car makes transportation a little easier.
The drive from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta is long and the tolls are expensive but I value the freedom of the road trip. It is nice to stop and explore along the way.
Taking the bus is very comfortable with big plush seats and air conditioning the entire way. There are bus stations at different points in both Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta so public transport is an option when looking for the cheapest options.
Flying to Puerto Vallarta from Guadalajara is the fasted way to travel when you compare total travel time. The flight distance is 125 miles (200 km) and the flight time is 45 minutes rather than five hours. Even when you add up the check-in, security, and boarding lines, the total travel time is still shorter as long as you choose nonstop flights.
Driving from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
The most popular routes when driving from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta are the toll road through Compostela or the free road through Mascota.
The freeway is not complete yet but the half that is complete makes the drive much faster than taking the old mountain highway.
Renting a car in Guadalajara or Puerto Vallarta
If you are planning to do some Guadalajara day trops to nearby Tequila, Hacienda El Carmen, or Guachimontones, renting is the way to go. The Guadalajara airport has the best selection of vehicles in the region.
When booking a car online, I recommend using Discover Cars. They search both local Mexican and large international rental companies so you can find the right vehicle for your trip. ▶︎ BOOK NOW with Discover Cars!
The best part of using Discover Cars is buying the insurance directly from them. Mexican rental car insurance is tricky and Discover Cars is the best deal around.
Toll Road vs. Free Road to Puerto Vallarta
There is a major difference between the free roads and the toll roads in Mexico. First off, the toll roads in Mexico are in much better condition than the free roads. The number of potholes and speed bumps along the free roads is staggering. The rest stops are usually better on the back roads. I like eating at restaurants in the country.
The toll freeway is usually four lanes (two lanes in each direction) with an emergency shoulder and a center divider. The free road does not have those luxuries. You need to drive very carefully on the free roads because there are a lot of hidden dangers. You never know when you are going to come around a corner and see a flock of goats taking up most of your lane.
Expect to drive much slower on the free road than on the toll roads. The highway usually goes through the downtown of each pueblo and hits traffic, while the toll-freeways include libremientos and macrolibremientos to go around the pueblos, thus skipping rush hour traffic. However, the scenery on free highways is usually more enjoyable.
The Toll Road From Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
In early 2023 another section of the toll road was opened along the route to Puerto Vallarta. It now takes less than 4 hours to drive from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.
How far is Guadalajara from Puerto Vallarta? Taking the toll road route it is 200 miles (330 km).
There are still two more sections of toll road that are under construction which will cut the time even further.
How much are the tolls from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta?
With the new sections of toll road opening, the cost of the tolls is increasing. It is getting to be pretty expensive to drive to Puerto Vallarta.
|2||Plan de Barrancas||$288|
|Cost of Tolls From Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta||$1063|
The drive from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta can be broken down into four distinct sections. The type of road and the difficulty of driving change substantially from one section to the next.
- Guadalajara to Compostela
- Compostela to Las Varas
- Las Varas to Bucerias
- Bucerias to Puerto Vallarta
Guadalajara to Compostela
Guadalajara to Compostela is all freeway driving with two lanes in either direction, a center divider, and an emergency shoulder. It is very easy to drive.
The toll road to Puerto Vallarta leaves Guadalajara on the north side of town along Avenida Vallarta. Avenida Vallarta merges with the Interstate 15D which goes all the way up to the Nogales border crossing in Arizona.
Leaving Guadalajara the landscapes are all agave fields and lush, high-altitude forest with some large cacti, oaks, and parotas. You will pass two extinct volcanos and beautiful scenery as you descend from the highlands.
The freeway passes Tequila and Magdalena in Jalisco before hitting some curves after the barrancas toll booth.
Just before you get to Jala, Nayarit, there is an off-ramp for Compostela and the beach. Jala, Nayarit is a little out of the way but the town has Pueblo Magico status and they have a great corn festival every year in August. If you need to get gas or use the bathroom, it is worth cruising downtown to take a photo. The mountain above the town is especially striking after the rains when everything is electric green.
The toll freeway runs from Jala to Compostela. As you get close to Compostela the toll freeway ends and you have to get back on the free road. There is another section of toll road that is under construction (Compostela to Las Varas) but nobody knows when it will actually be completed. It is already many years behind schedule.
Compostela to Las Varas
As of May 2023, the toll freeway ends in the town of Compostela where you get back on the free road and wind your way to Puerto Vallarta from the north.
The highway from Compostela to Las Varas is two lanes (one in each direction) with no center divider and very little shoulder. There are a lot of curves through this section of the drive.
In my opinion, this is the most dangerous section of the drive from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara because of the mountainous curves. Doing 10 mph behind a big-rig truck is excruciating, but passing big trucks on a two-lane highway is nerve-wracking.
There is another section of freeway that is scheduled to be completed in 2024 but there is still a lot of sinuous two-lane-highway driving from Compostela all the way into Puerto Vallarta. The new section of the freeway is going to save a lot of time getting to the beach and make the drive much safer.
There is a very large altar dedicated to the people who have died in automobile accidents along the curvy mountain road between Compostela and Las Varas. Drive with care and don’t pass on blind turns.
Las Varas to Puerto Vallarta
Las Varas is the crossroads between Tepic and Puerto Vallarta. It is also where we meet the coast. The beach town of Chacala is just a few minutes from the coastal highway and Las Varas.
As of 2023, there is a new toll road that runs from just outside of Las Varas (El Capomo) to Las Parotas (In between La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Bucerías).
This new section of toll road skips the stoplights along the Jaltemba Bay and is much faster than the free road. There is only one lane in either direction and no center divider but there is an ample emergency shoulder.
The Free Road to Puerto Vallarta by way of Mascota, Talpa de Allende, and San Sebastian del Oeste
The slowest yet most beautiful way to get from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta is to take the old highway through Mascota, Talpa, and San Sebastian del Oeste. The highway is slow, mountainous, and curvy but has spectacular scenery. There are three Pueblos Magicos along the way and you are going to want to stop and visit at least one of them.
This is a link to an article I wrote about taking the old highway to the beach and visiting Mascota and San Sebastian del Oeste.
Bus Stations: Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
The bus from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta is safe and comfortable. This is a major bus route with departures leaving from multiple terminals all day long, every day.
Guadalajara has several bus stations but the best places to catch a bus to Puerto Vallarta are the terminal in Zapopon on Avenida Vallarta. The Zapopan terminal is on the road out of town towards Puerto Vallarta.
The Central Nueva on the other side of time also has a massive number of daily departures for Puerto Vallarta.
Click here to read about the bus stations in Guadalajara
Terminal Vallarta Plus, Tequila, and Tepic
The Vallarta Plus terminal serves Puerto Vallarta, Tequila and Tepic with busses leaving just about every hour. The bus from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta costs $585 pesos (9/13/2019) and usually takes five hours.
Here is a link to the Vallarta Plus website to check the timetables. They are constantly changing to accommodate demand.
The buses are very clean and have men’s and women’s restrooms.
Most of the year you do not need a reservation. During the holidays you will need to make a reservation well in advance. Honestly, you don’t want anything to do with Puerto Vallarta during Semana Santa. It is a zoo.
Vallarta Plus runs a free shuttle from the Glorieta Minerva to the Zapopan Bus Station. It is extremely cost-effective to take this shuttle because the Uber ride is probably going to cost you $100 pesos or more.
Terminal ETN and Primera Plus
The Terminal de Autobuses Nuevo Milenio de Zapopan is literally 100 meters/yards from the Vallarta Plus Terminal, crossing Avenida Aviación. This bus station is a little bit bigger with different operators and destinations.
Primera Plus and ETN are considered to be the ‘luxury’ bus lines and cost a hair more than Vallarta Plus. The seats are so well padded they feel like Lazy Boy recliners.
The buses leave for Puerto Vallarta just about every hour. If you buy your ticket from Primera Plus at the bus station it will cost you $650 pesos. If you buy your ticket online it will cost you $585 pesos (9/13/2019).
The bus has more departures than the airlines do.
Flights From Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
Some close friends came down last year and they had three kids with them. When I mentioned the bus they said there was no way in hell that they were going to manage three little kids on the bus for five hours and insisted on flying.
The Guadalajara Airport is officially known as the Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport or just simply GDL.
The Puerto Vallarta Airport is officially known as the Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport or just simply PVR.
There are plenty of cheap flights from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta but not all of them are direct. The major airlines add a layover in Mexico City which makes the flight time similar to taking the bus. Look for direct flights so you can enjoy the beach rather than a Starbucks in the Mexico City Airport.
The most popular airlines with direct flights from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta are Tar Aerolíneas and Viva Aerobus. Google Flights shows AeroMar and Viva Aerobus. Tar Aerolineas flight tickets can be searched directly on their website. They only operate a few non-stop flights a week. The earliest flight leave between 8 am and 9 am daily. The last flight departure times are between 7 pm and 8 pm daily.
Unfortunately, AeroMar went out of business in 2022 and no longer offers flights from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara.
Plane tickets cost somewhere between $1000 and $2000 pesos to fly from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta for most of the year. Flight prices are going to skyrocket during Semana Santa and Christmas holidays.
Check the price of flights from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta on Expedia
The cheapest flight will have a travel date of at least a week out. It is a good option to buy Puerto Vallarta flights with some anticipation in order to save some money and get better seats.
Private Transfer from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta
The last option is to book a private transfer to Puerto Vallarta. Viator offers an option that includes some sightseeing along the way. You can choose to stop and visit Tequila and Sayulita along the way.
The drive takes between 4 and 8 hours depending on the stops that you wish to make.
Make sure to schedule the vehicle and stops in advance. If you are traveling with a lot of luggage the driver needs to plan ahead and bring the correct vehicle to accommodate four adults and four pieces of luggage.
Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta Transportation FAQ
How Far is Guadalajara from Puerto Vallarta?
Guadalajara is 125 miles (200 km) due east of Puerto Vallarta on the other side of the Sierra Madre coastal mountain range. The average non-stop flight time is approximately 55 minutes.
It is 200 miles (330 km) to take the toll road freeway around the mountains into the state of Nayarit and back down the coastal highway into Puerto Vallarta. There is only a freeway part of the way and there is significant slowing going through the curves of Compostela. It takes about 4 hours to drive this route in light traffic.
The old highway through Mascota, Jalisco is 185 miles (300 km) but there is no high-speed freeway and a lot of curves the entire way. It takes me 6+ hours to drive this route. People tell me they make it much faster but I don’t drive fast through the curves.
Is it safe to drive from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta?
As long as you are comfortable driving on the freeway, the drive from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta is perfectly safe during the day. I don’t recommend driving at night.
Is it safe to take the bus to Puerto Vallarta?
Yes, the bus to Puerto Vallarta is very safe. That route is one of the most high-traffic bus routes in Mexico with a stellar safety record. Your luggage will be safe and you will be safe.
Is Puerto Vallarta Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! Puerto Vallarta is one of the treasures of Mexico’s pacific coast. It is a great place to relax at the beach, eat street food, and take a walking tour of the historic town.
Is Guadalajara Worth Visiting?
Yes, Guadalajara is one of the best places to visit in all of Mexico. It is the cultural capital of Mexico and home to much of what we know internationally as Mexican culture.
I recommend taking a look at the 10,000-word article I have about the best things to do and places to visit in Guadalajara. It is a cool town.
Guadalajara is the capital of the State of Jalisco and Puerto Vallarta is Jalisco’s principal beach destination. No matter what your travel plans entail, Puerto Vallarta is always a good idea.
I am a member of a number of expat groups in Mexico and the Puerto Vallarta group is particularly rewarding. The amount of love that people have for this place reminds me of Hawaii. I like hearing stories of parents taking their kids, those kids growing up, and then taking their kids to Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta is a very special place. My kids love it as much as I do.