Question from a Reader: Are Spanish Homestays Safe and How do I Meet People in Vallarta?

Puerto Vallarta at night.

photo courtesy of coolcaesar

A reader writes:


I am a 43 year old female from Canada and I am thinking of going to Puerto Vallarta to study Spanish for 6 weeks with Spanish Abroad.

I would be going by myself and living with a family while studying.  Is this safe?

Also, I know there are Canadians and Americans that are retired and living in PVR, is there a network on how to meet some of these people and make some contacts?

Thank you.

Katia :-)

Hi Katia,

Thanks so much for writing! Short answer: yes, it’s safe. Or as safe as anything in this mundo de locura. I have never personally used the Spanish Abroad program, but, as I’m sure you already know, it is very well rated. *For our other readers: The Better Business Bureau gives the company an A+ and they have been in business for awhile (since 1996), which is always a good sign.* Over the years, I have spoken with many people who have done home stays through various programs, and while I have heard many complaints, none of them have about safety! Common complaints include:

  • My host mother thinks that because I am a gringa I will only want to eat “Western” food, and insists on feeding me pan bimbo instead of tortillas.
  • My host parents are religious and lecture me if I come home late.
  • My host family is so friendly that I can not get a moment of peace!

Carl writes:

“The advantages of combining classroom Spanish study with living in a Spanish-speaking household are so obvious that I’ll concentrate instead on some of the possible drawbacks. The most successful homestays often result in genuine, long-term friendships between a student and her “adopted” family. For this reason alone, it is worth your time to make the best possible arrangements. If possible, visit the home and carefully look over your accommodations before making a commitment. As with cheap, one-on-one language instruction, some so-called homestays are nothing more than private homes operating as student boardinghouses. The meals, accommodations and atmosphere might be perfectly acceptable, but if you’re looking for a personal family atmosphere, you’ll be better off in a homestay situation as a family’s ‘only child'” (From The People’s Guide to Mexico)

As for safety in light of Mexico’s current situation, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. Cartel members do not typically target tourists, and I imagine you are not in danger of discovering that your homestay parents are actually high level narcotraficantes! (Though I can imagine that the accommodations would be rather posh…) Just follow normal precautions you would take in any city–don’t lurk around in dark alleys by yourself etc.

As for meeting other gringos in Vallarta…I posed this question to our facebook friends, and got the following suggestions:

Check out Que Pasa Bar (, a hub of the expat community, and visit You were also invited to join “Yelapa Community” ( Speaking of which, you may want to consider making friends with “People’s Guide to Mexico” on facebook–many of our friends are in the Vallarta area, and you will also find links to many Vallarta institutions and businesses. Another reader says, ” If she wants to learn Spanish, Id stay as far from the ex-pats as possible!” Definitely a good point, though I’ve never found that advice easy to follow…

You also might want to consider volunteering. There are a number of gringo-affiliated charities in the Vallarta area. (Check out: I would love to hear from other readers who have recommendations in this area…

Please report back! We’d love to hear your experiences, suggestions, warnings etc.

Drop me a line at managing_editor at peoplesguide dot com.



3 Responses to “Question from a Reader: Are Spanish Homestays Safe and How do I Meet People in Vallarta?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. -El Codo- says:

    I heartily second the motion. But locating near “gringolandia” can have surprising drawbacks as well as advantages. Avoiding one and seeking the other is entirely up to the individual. It amounts to “Take advantage of the best of everything”.

    It is so easy to drift toward English, and familiar customs that an individual wishing to immerse in a different culture instead often finds themselves “heading for the ex-pat hangout at 6:30PM” instead of passing time with the family. Friendships with fellow compatriots can develop and lead to using the home stay as a boardinghouse rather than an authentic home stay experience. It’s OK to know where the life boat station is on a cruise, but if you cross the sea inside the lifeboat, well you get the idea.

    A traditional Mexican family is usually incredibly protective and patronizing (in a nice way) to a guest. A smile to the women and hugs to the niñas (girls) will be warmly received. I would not be surprised if you got invited to a wedding, or birthday party. These events, are worth their weight in gold as far as a memorable experience is concerned. One wedding would be worth 10,000 nights with the gang down at the ex-pat bar, in my opinion.

    Puerto Vallarta is jam packed with stores, markets, restaurants, and services. it is not a small town, rather a sprawling city. If you lust after pretzels, rocky road ice cream, or twinkies (oh god forbid) you can find these kinds of things.

    Safety. listen to your family’s advice. They know the neighborhood, the people in it, and every tiny bit of gossip that can be digested. If they advise you to take a bus rather than walk, I advise you to follow their suggestions to the letter. When the sun goes down, all cities become “unsafer”. Use a taxi. Stay off the beach at night, even when in pairs or trebles.

    Take several sets of earplugs and this isn’t exaggeration or a joke. Mexico is noisy. It seems Mexico is noisier at night although I know this cannot be true. If you are a reader take a tiny Tensor style reading light. Finding a bed located within yards of an electrical outlet is an event. Washcloths are absent so take a few along. “PV” gets great mosquito abatement control but far less so outside town so I take a small vial of 100% pure DEET like Repel®.

    Cobblestone streets that look so cute are murder on spot welds in an automobile and worse yet on human ankles. High top hiking boots may not make the grade in a discotheque but for walking and shopping nothing else comes close.

    Buy a top quality LED flashlight and extra sets of batteries. Getting to the bathroom at night in a strange pitch black home can become an unwelcome adventure.

    You’re going to have an adventure of a lifetime. I too eagerly await your report!

  2. gerald cassie says:

    is there a social network in Mazatlan to meet some people and make some contacts? Thank you. Jerry