Although few, if any, good campsites are available in Puerto Vallarta itself, camping is customary at many favored sites in the Puerto Vallarta region. Mexican middle-class families crowd certain choice strands—those with soft sand and gentle, child-friendly waves—only during the Christmas–New Year’s week and during Semana Santa, the week before Easter. Most other times, tenters and RV campers find beaches uncrowded.
The best spots typically have a shady palm grove for camping and a palapa restaurant that serves drinks and fresh seafood. Heads up for falling coconuts, especially in the wind. Costs for parking and tenting are minimal—usually only the price of food at the restaurant.
Days are often perfect for swimming, strolling, and fishing, and nights are balmy—too warm for a sleeping bag, but fine for a hammock (which allows the air circulation that a tent does not.) However, good tents keep out mosquitoes and other pesties, which may be further discouraged by a good bug repellent. Tents can get hot, requiring only a sheet or very light blanket for sleeping cover.
As for camping on isolated beaches, opinions vary, from dire warnings of bandidos to bland assurances that all is peaceful along the coast. The truth is somewhere in between. Trouble is most likely to occur in the vicinity of towns, where a few local thugs sometimes harass isolated campers.
When scouting out an isolated place to camp, a good rule is to arrive early enough in the day to get a feel for the place. Buy a soda at the palapa or store and take a stroll along the beach. Say “Buenos días” to the people along the way; ask if the fishing is good (“¿Pesca buena?”). Above all, use your common sense and intuition. If the people seem friendly, ask if it’s seguro (safe). If so, ask permission: “¿Es bueno acampar acá?” (“Is it okay to camp around here?”). You’ll rarely be refused.
Tenting and RV parking are permitted for a fee at many beachfront RV and trailer parks. A number of other informal spots, mostly at pretty beaches with no facilities, await those travelers prepared to venture from the well-worn path. Moving from north to south, likely spots include Novillero, Playa Borrego (San Blas), Matanchén Bay, Playa Platanitos, Playa Chacala, Playa El Naranjo, La Peñita (at Motel Russell), Laguna Santa Maráa de Oro (at Koala Bungalows and Trailer Park, inland, south of Tepic), Playa Punta Raza, Laguna Juanacatlán and Corinches Reservoir (both in the mountains near Mascota), Playa Destiladeras, Playa las Ánimas, Playa Quimixto, and Yelapa (all three boat-accessible only), Tehualmixtle, Ipala, Cajón de Peñas reservoir, Playa Chalacatepec, Chamela Bay, Playa Careyes, Playa las Brisas, Playa Tenacatita, Playa Boca de Iguana, Melaque, and Playa de Cocos.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition