When we tell people that we’ve lived in Bali and are currently based in Puerto Vallarta, we often get the same question over and over again – “How do you afford it?!” Many people assume that because these are touristy places near the ocean that it must be expensive to live in them. I’ll let you in on our little secret. We’re not independently wealthy. We don’t have trust funds. In fact, we’re just a couple of part-time English teachers and bloggers. By hunkering down in these places for a while and trying to live more like a local than a tourist, we’ve been able to live in paradise on a budget.
To give you a better idea of how you could do the same, we’re going to share some tips and stats on the cost of living in Puerto Vallarta. Prices have been converted to US dollars based on the current exchange rate. Since the dollar was stronger during our first few months, we actually paid a bit less than the prices listed here.
Let’s start out with the biggest and most important expense. You might find it hard to believe, but our 2-bedroom apartment here has only cost us about $250/month. That includes fast internet (10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload), Netflix, and all other utilities. The only extra things we pay for are the gas to cook and heat the water (a huge tank costs under $30 and lasts over a month) and drinking water (a 10-gallon jug is a buck and lasts about a week). We originally booked one month through Air BNB for $320 after fees and were able to negotiate a discount by extending our stay and paying for a few months up front.
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It must be said that we definitely have a unique situation here and we haven’t met anyone else paying nearly as little as us in rent. That being said, our place is in a local neighborhood a 20-minute bus or cab ride away from downtown and the beach. Most gringos who set up here want to live on the coast or downtown, and they pay more for that.
A friend of ours has a 1-bedroom apartment in the Romantic Zone (old town) that she pays $400 for, but it was only partially furnished and she had to sign a 6-month contract. Another friend got a sweet 3-bedroom house in Centro (downtown) by the beach for $1,100 per month but had to sign up for a year and bargain pretty hard for that. Typically, it seems that 2-bedroom, furnished apartments in a more desirable location go for $700-800/month and require at least a 6-month deal.
With how cheap our place is, it was a no-brainer to stick around for a few months and save money. We really didn’t expect the cost of living in Puerto Vallarta to be so low, so finding this place was a pleasant surprise!
Since we’ve been based here, we’ve also taken a few trips to the other towns up and down the coast. We shared a house with my brothers and their friend in Sayulita for just $40 each for two nights. The hostel in Bucerias set us back about $20 for our overnight trip there and included breakfast. Best of all, we stayed at a stunning oceanfront guesthouse in Yelapa for just $65 a night! It’s called MiraMar if you want to look them up. Tell ’em the Grateful Gypsies sent you!
For the first time ever, we are totally without wheels. When we lived in China and Bali, we always had either e-bikes or motorbikes. Those are expensive to rent here and there’s really no good place to park one at our apartment, so we decided to forget it and just stick to public transport. Our local bus pulls up to the park right in front of our place and will take us downtown or to the beach for about 40 cents.
In April, our total cost for getting around was only $28!
For another 50 cents, we can hop a second bus and get down to the towns south of PV such as Boca de Tomatlan or Mismaloya. For just $2-3, we can head to the towns of Bucerias or Sayulita. Uber isn’t here yet, but local cabs usually only cost us $4-5 and we rarely have to bargain with them. Water taxis are also an option when going to the remote beaches down south and they’re also quite affordable.
We’re fortunate to not have to pay utility bills as they’re included in our rent. Since the bills actually come to the apartment, though, we know that it costs about $20/month for our internet and phone service, and only $5-6/month so far for both electricity and water. The electric bill will go up now that summer is in full swing and we’re using the A/C more often, so we’ve offered to chip in and help pay for that next time it comes due.
We both got local SIM cards through Telcel when we arrived in Mexico, and we usually pay $27 each for 40 days of service plus a few gigs of data. Quite often we burn through the data and add another $5 worth. There’s no cable here and we don’t pay for any subscription services. Our landlady has a Netflix account set up on the TV which we use and other than that we usually just watch YouTube.
Much to Rachel’s dismay, we don’t have a washing machine at our apartment here. We get it done once a week and usually pay about $2.50-3.00. I hate doing laundry so that’s fine with me!
One awesome thing about our local neighborhood is that everything we need is in walking distance. There’s a little market nearby where we can get things like fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, tortillas, and juice. We usually spend $10-15 there per week to stock up on the basics. For bigger grocery shops, there’s a Walmart or a Soriana a few blocks away. Generally, we spend $65-85 each time we go to one of those and that will last a bit more than a week. There are also a handful of weekly local markets that operate outside of the rainy season. Sadly we didn’t really take advantage of these since they’re a bit far away from our place, but they have lots of good stuff for sale.
Other than groceries, we don’t do a whole lot of shopping. We’re hitting the road again soon so we don’t feel the need to buy a bunch of stuff. Aside from a few silly souvenirs – a Lions Lucha mask, a Spartans skull, and a silly fish bottle opener – we haven’t bought much. We did buy some furniture for the apartment, but we were able to put it towards the rent since we’re leaving it here when we depart in August.
We eat at home for the most part. Since we get up at 5:30 am to teach, breakfast has to be small and easy. Most days we’ll just have all meals at home as we don’t do anything but teach, blog, and workout. When we do go out to eat, it’s usually very affordable. Here are a few examples:
Street tacos for $0.50-$1 each
Huge quesadillas for $2
Meal of the day at local vegetarian place for $3.50
Fresh ceviche or aguachile for $6-7
Tuna salad and coffee at a nice cafe for $10
Fancy 3-course dinner with a cocktail for under $30
In April, we spent about $525 total on food, and that included our grocery shopping.
It’s no secret that we enjoy an adult beverage or two from time to time. We can buy a 6-pack of Pacifico or Corona from the corner store for $5-6. For a while they were selling 12-packs of Tecate for the same price on the weekends, and we definitely got our fair share. Even at bars downtown and on the beach, you can get a cold one for $1.
Los Muertos Brewery has pints during Happy Hour for around $1.75 and we usually take advantage of that. Coco Tropical, another place we like on the beach, has 2-for-1 everything for their Happy Hour. We’ve enjoyed several margaritas and mango daiquiris for $2 or less. Thanks to our early wake-up calls, we don’t party too hard here. By mostly buying cheap beers and being Happy Hour heroes, we don’t spend a ton on going out.
Since we love to eat tacos and drink beer, we have to exercise often. We got a gym membership for $25 each that included the sign-up fee and was good for two months. Their power has since gone out – don’t ask – but we signed up for two more months for only $14 each as a result. It’s a sweaty workout, but it keeps us in shape.
We’ve also recently discovered a good path for walking or jogging and like to go there once a week or so. There’s a big staircase that gives a pretty decent view of our part of town, so it’s nice to just go hang out up there and talk sometimes.
Mexicans love group fitness like Zumba, and there are classes in the park across the street from our place twice a day. We haven’t joined in one yet, but it’s an option if we ever decide to do it! There are also a few places to do yoga in town, but we got plenty of that in while we were in Bali and haven’t felt the urge to do it here.
One of the big reasons we chose PV as a temporary base is because I desperately needed a root canal and crown. Dentists back in the US quoted me at around $2,500 to have that done. I got it taken care of – plus a deep cleaning and x-rays – for only $570 here. And it was the nicest dental office I’ve ever been to, no joke. Rachel also needed a crown and got it for just $350, so she went ahead and took care of some fillings as well. Look them up at DentoAmerica if you need some work done.
When Rachel got sick and needed to see a doctor and get meds, she was only out $20. The money we saved on medical and dental bills alone more than covered nearly two months of living here. Not a bad tradeoff if you ask us.
Since we’re not tourists, we have to skip out on a lot of the popular activities here. We haven’t done any fishing or snorkeling tours yet. Nor have we taken a ride on the pirate ship or seen the Rhythms of the Night show. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things; we just don’t feel the need to spend that kind of money on them. We usually keep ourselves entertained by walking down the Malecon or hanging out on the beach.
There’s a ton of awesome street art around Puerto Vallarta, so we always enjoy going out with our cameras and looking for it. We’ve even made friends with some pretty amazing graffiti artists, and we can point out their work to you if you come to town.
When we first got here, we took a 3-week Spanish course at Spanish School Vallarta. It was a group class that met three times a week for three hours each time, and with the materials, it cost us about $250 each. Our Spanish still sucks, but it sucks way less than it did when we got here! I’m going back for some private lessons in July so hopefully I’ll get to a decent conversational level after those.
Another great free thing to do here is the hike up to the cross downtown. It’s a pretty easy hike that only takes 10-15 minutes, and you get incredible views as a reward.
Speaking of hikes, you can hike from Boca de Tomatlan to some secluded beaches for a great day-trip. You can end at Las Animas where there are a dozen or so restaurants to choose from for lunch.
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens are also just a bus ride away and cost about $8.50 to visit. They make for a great afternoon out of town and we highly recommend them if you visit.
On a couple of Friday nights, we checked out the Southside Shuffle downtown. A bunch of art galleries stay open late and pour free drinks to encourage people to come in and browse. We’re not exactly art collectors, but it’s sure nice to look at it with a free glass of sangria!
To be honest, we’re pretty boring here for the most part. We work five days a week like most people, but we love that we can always change our schedule to take an afternoon off or go visit another town here for a few nights.
One Month of Expenses
We use the fantastic app Trail Wallet to track our expenses and highly recommend it. It allows us to set a budget and input our expenses by category so they’re very easy to track. Since we spent the entire month of April in PV aside from an overnight stay in Bucerias, that’s the best month to show how much we spent. Here’s the breakdown:
Accommodation: $253 (one month’s rent in PV plus one night in Bucerias)
Food & Drink: $765
Misc.: $223 (includes gym, phone, laundry, pharmacy, etc.)
Dental Work: $560
That’s right, folks. One month in Puerto Vallarta for the two of us came in at under $2,000. I don’t know about you, but we know plenty of people in the US who pay substantially more than that just for rent. And that’s including over $500 worth of dental work and plenty of days at the beach, evenings out for dinner and drinks, and an overnight stay in another town. Thanks to our awesome jobs teaching with VIPKID and blogging, we managed to pay for all that and still save $2,000 that month. By searching hard for an apartment, sticking to public transport, and eating plenty of street food while drinking street beers, we’ve been able to live in paradise on a budget.