Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The awkward things no one tells you.

The Awkward Things No One Tells You About Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

May 24, 2023 | Awkward Travel Things, Travel Tips

This post is part of “The Awkward Things No One Tells You” series. After all, someone needs to warn others about the awkward side of travel. Why not me, the queen of awkward?

Puerto Vallarta is absolutely stunning. It has mountains and the ocean, so it brings alllll the scenic views–not to mention dolphins, whales, and even sea turtles. But there are some things I wish I would have known before visiting, because there are some awkward things no one tells you about Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Be Careful What You Flush in Puerto Vallarta

I know, you’re reading this article and it starts off with bathroom-related tips. Well, buckle up buttercup, because there are more. (Actually, the entire thing is about awkwardness related to bathroom needs, so if you’re squeamish–now’s your chance to run.)

First of all, I was about three days in before anyone in my travel group mentioned that most toilets in Mexico can’t really handle toilet paper. Ummm, what?? But when I took a second to think about it, that explained so many things. Like why every time I used a restroom at a restaurant the dang toilet never flushed.

Resorts are more likely to have toilets that handle toilet paper, although the poolside bathrooms at our resort didn’t. In general when you’re out and about in Puerto Vallarta, it’s best just to throw any TP in the garbage can that’s (conveniently) positioned very near the toilet.

Public Bathrooms…for a Fee

Continuing with the bathroom theme, you’re not going to spot many public bathrooms in Puerto Vallarta. There are some, but they charge a small fee and typically have someone standing at the door to collect said fee.

All the Puerto Vallarta restaurants I went to had bathrooms customers could use. One restaurant by the pier actually had an attendant–a very sweet older gentleman with a sense of humor. I hadn’t brought my purse with me into the bathroom and was mortified to find out I was supposed to tip him. He laughed at my broken attempt at saying I’m sorry in Spanish but was totally gracious about my cluelessness.

Pro tip: Stash a few pesos in your pocket, just in case you need to pay to use a bathroom or need to tip a really nice attendant.

The Ocean is Your Bathroom

Alright, this is gross. But honestly, when you’re visiting some of the beaches around Puerto Vallarta, the ocean is literally the bathroom. When you need to pee, you just nonchalantly walk out into the ocean and pee. Well, unless you’re me.

As it happens, I never learned to swim. Let’s just say I’m uncoordinated and there was a near-drowning incident during swimming lessons in my toddler years.

I should also mention that I’m short–about five foot one…and a half. So, walking into the Pacific Ocean with its rolling waves was slightly more than challenging for me. So much so that my group was concerned I’d fall and drown (legit worry).

Then two of the nicest guys that I’d either only met twice before or not at all, proceeded to walk me out into the ocean. Not my finest moment. But when you gotta go, you gotta go–feeling like a five year old or not.

As for the beaches that do have bathrooms, such as Yelapa, be aware they may not have soap. Or TP. So, unless you want to pack soap and TP in your beach bag, you’re probably better off walking (carefully) into the ocean.

And don’t dehydrate yourself in an attempt to avoid having to pee. Trust me, it’s not a good idea. You’re going to feel like crap the next day.

You’re Going to Get a Whiff of “El Bano” While Eating

A good friend who let me crash her Mexico vacation calls the pervasive sewage smell around Puerto Vallarta “el bano.” For those who don’t know, el bano mean bathroom in Spanish. And you’re going to smell a lot of it in Puerto Vallarta. Not quite everywhere, but in a lot of places. And it’ll be random.

You’re going to get a heavy whiff of sewage in the back of a cab that’s transporting you from your resort into the downtown area. You’re even going to smell it when you’re seated at a restaurant, waiting for your food to arrive. If you’re sensitive to smells like I am, it’s going to get to you at some point. There’s not much you can do about it, either.

Awkwardness in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Look, I understand this post is kind of disgusting. It’s all about bathroom-related tips. But these are the things I would have liked to have known before venturing to Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico in general, for the first time ever. And if someone doesn’t tell you, how would you ever think to Google these things?