Once you arrive in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll want to exchange some of your own currency for Mexican pesos. There are dozens of exchange booths and banks that can do this for you, but the easiest way to get a good rate is to simply use an ATM.
Skip the ATMs and exchange booths at the airport as well as the front desk at your hotel, unless you urgently need cash. US dollars are widely accepted but you will almost always pay less in pesos, as many businesses and people use a 10:1 exchange rate (ten pesos for one US dollar). The market fluctuations have ranged from 10:1 all the way to 20:1 or more recently, so obviously, you’ll get more bang for your buck by using the local currency.
Banks display the exchange rate on the windows, so you can use this to determine the current rates and when to get cash. If you’ll be in the area for a while, keep an eye on these rates and you can take advantage of spikes to take out larger amounts of cash. No need to go into the bank; you will get the same rates from the ATMs outside the bank with less waiting. You’ll find ATMs from the larger banks located all over the city, including inside supermarkets and in small booths near popular areas like the Malecon and cruise ship terminal.
Remember that you will enter the amount of cash you want in Mexican pesos. If you wanted to take out approximately $100 US dollars, then you’d select the button corresponding with $1000 pesos. Mexican ATMs don’t just dispense $200 pesos bills (like US machines which dispense only $20’s). They also spit out small bills too, so you can take out different amounts than you can stateside.
Carrying cash is the only way to go in Mexico, especially Puerto Vallarta. In boutiques and stores where haggling is off limits, you will almost always get a better price with cash. Often the discount will be up to 10-15% of the purchase price, or you could find that instead of a discount with cash, the owner will increase the price by 10% if you use a credit card. Many smaller merchants, shops and stalls may only take cash. Change is hard to come by too, so save your small bills and coins for making purchases from street vendors, small shops, taco stands and the like.
It’s best to roughly estimate your expenses for your trip and make as few trips to the ATM as possible, as you will be charged an International ATM fee from your bank. Usually the fees are only a few dollars, but they do add up! Just remember to use common sense when using ATMs and exchanging money.
Don’t go to ATMs at night, unless they are well-lit and in a very busy area (like a supermarket).
Don’t accept help from anyone when using an ATM.
Do be aware if anyone is following you when you leave the ATM.
Don’t flash large amounts of cash. Instead, divide the money up so that you can take only what you need from your pocket or wallet when paying instead of a large bankroll.
Do keep some money tucked away. While crime isn’t as common as the media would have you believe, if you have the misfortune of being robbed, having $200 pesos in your shoe will usually pay for a cab ride to the police station or back to your hotel.