Where to stay: El Sunset Hostel, $9/night
What to do: Puerto Vallarta on a budget is a cinch. The vibrant, colorful city is jammed with cheap eats and action. When you're not at the beach in Puerto Vallarta proper, you can take the bus to smaller, less touristy beaches nearby. Consider the beach "hike" from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas. This coastal walk is dotted with quiet private beaches that are perfect for secluded swimming and Instagrammable moments. The bus to Boca de Tomatlan from Puerto Vallarta costs 40 cents one way.
A bus will also take you to Sayulita, a bohemian beach town about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta that's equal parts bougie-chic and leathery, unwashed backpacker. It's one of the most visited spots outside Puerto Vallarta these days, which makes it beyond touristy, but it's still worth a trip for more beach bars, art galleries, surfing, and people-watching. The bus to Sayulita costs about $2 one way.