There are so many great destinations in Mexico, and Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta are two of the best. However, both offer very different vacations, so making the choice between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco is as important as it is difficult.
Thankfully we’re here to help! Below we pit Puerto Vallarta vs Acapulco, letting you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, nightlife, safety and more.
We then give you a run down of some of the best natural sights and things to do in each destination to help you decide which one is better for your holiday!
Acapulco vs Puerto Vallarta: Which is better?
Many people think these destinations will be quite similar as they’re both on Mexico’s Pacific coastline. However there are notable differences.
We’ve found that Puerto Vallarta tends to have slightly better beaches than Acapulco, with the sand more soft and ‘powdery’, while the water appears to be a little warmer. Acapulco does have some great beaches too – and the beaches on nearby La Roqueta Island are well worth visiting – plus there’s some great beach resort options in the city as well.
For us, Puerto Vallarta feels like more of an international tourist destination, with its many boutique hotels, independent shopping outlets, and beachside eateries. Many of which are geared mainly towards tourists than locals.
Acapulco, in contrast, feels far more like a local city, where restaurants and bars exist for locals first – and tourists second. Hotels here tend to be far more integrated into city life as well, whereas in Puerto Vallarta they’re a little more separate.
We’ve also found that the nightlife is more lively and energetic in Acapulco than Puerto Vallarta, and there’s definitely more chances to meet locals here than in PV. In our opinion if you’re in your 20s, love nightlife, or are an adventurous traveler then Acapulco may be the better choice than Puerto Vallarta. (Recommended: Do You Need a Passport to go to Puerto Vallarta).
In fact Acapulco initially became famous in the 1950s and ’60s as a party destination for the rich, famous and fashionable, and has been a bit of a nightlife destination since. But these days it’s definitely more of a domestic tourism destination than international.
However, while that’s a plus if you’re looking for fun when the sun goes down, we’ve found that Acapulco – as a less tourist-centric city – is lacking when it comes to tourist excursions.
That’s in stark contrast with Puerto Vallarta where there’s plenty of tours, things to do, and lots of tourist-orientated activities – like zip-lining through the jungle, boat tours, or swimming with dolphins in the open sea! This destination is definitely more orientated towards international tourists, so may be a better choice if you’re looking for a holiday where you have excursions, restaurants, and tourist shopping right on your doorstep.
Puerto Vallarta is a safe destination for tourists too – as is Acapulco – but as always you must be vigilant in regards to petty crime in both destinations, and be careful of leaving drinks unattended. When it comes to petty crime Acapulco may be a little worse than Puerto Vallarta, but the tourist areas of both cities tend to be very safe – despite the claims in recent years that Acapulco is dangerous. The Mexican cartels leave the tourist areas well alone.
Below we look at what things you can see and do in Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta in more detail, so you have an idea of what the beaches are like and what excursions are possible!
Acapulco vs Puerto Vallarta: Natural sights and things to do
When you first arrive you should head to Playas Caleta Y Caletilla – two beaches that sit right beside each other in the city. This is one of the beach areas in the traditional part of Acapulco and a place loved by locals.
You can get cheap street food here or eat in one of the many beachside restaurants and bars, hire jet skis and boats as well as swim and sunbathe. This place is buzzing at the weekend, and is a real experience. If you’re coming to Acapulco then you’re coming to a very local-orientated city – embrace it!
For something a little more relaxing take a trip to the stunning La Roqueta Island. This island with its pristine beaches and crystal clear water is perfect for snorkeling, sunbathing and enjoying a beer under the sun. Look out for the seashell salesmen that come floating by in their boats. You can hire kayaks on the island too – an absolute must activity.
For some seaside entertainment you can watch the professional divers at La Quebrada. Divers from the same family have been doing death-defying jumps from cliffs as high as 100ft here for generations. There’s a restaurant at the top where tourists gather to watch the stuntmen. They do their diving shows at 1,7,8,9, & 10 PM, and will scale the cliffs at the end where tourists then give a small tip (2-4 USD) as a show of appreciation.
If you fancy doing your own stunt then you can zipline down the Sierra Madre del Sur. These lush green mountains sit behind the city and zipling over the canopy is an incredible experience that will get your adrenaline pumping.
After a day of exploring it’s time to experience Acapulco’s famous nightlife. The great thing about this city is the main hotel area is situated very close to the best nightlife spots, so you’re never far away from a bar or nightclub.
Start your evening at Sunset Bar for classy cocktails on a rooftop bar which is known as one of the best places in the city to watch the stunning Pacific sunset.
Once you’re in the mood to dance and party, you have many choices. Mojito is a classy salsa club where patrons dress to impress and dance until the early hours – it’s well worth visiting. Believe Acapulco is one of the most popular nightclubs, and is known for its lighting, sound set-up, and for hosting some of the region’s best DJs.
There are some very nice beaches for relaxing and swimming in Puerto Vallarta, and Los Muertos is one of our favorites. This place is a lot of fun with many eateries, beach bars, and spectacular sunsets.
Puerto Vallarta is also a great place to snorkel, and you’ll find lots of different species here. We recommend taking a boat trip to the Marietas Islands, which is a few kilometers away from the city, as these stunning uninhabited islands are one of the best places to swim with sea turtles and rays, and are a popular whale watching spot. A great underwater camera – like this one – is a must.
If you’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins you can do it in Puerto Vallarta with Wildlife Connection. They will take you to a dolphin pod that lives in the wild, so you’re swimming with them in their natural environment and not contributing to the capture of these beautiful creatures.
Want something a bit more adventurous – how about ziplining through the jungle? That can be done just outside the city with Vallarta Adventures!
After a day enjoying the sights and swimming, a few drinks in the evening is a must. Although Puerto Vallarta isn’t nightlife centric, there are several great evening spots.
Head to Roxy Rock House to see live bands, eat nachos and enjoy the atmosphere of this iconic city venue. For something a little fancier make your way to Bar Morelos Mezcaleria. This lounge-style club has great music, entertainment and friendly staff, although the drinks can sometimes be overpriced. (Recommended: A Local’s Guide to Puerto Vallarta Nightlife).
Acapulco vs Puerto Vallarta: Which is the better holiday choice?
Both of these Mexican holiday vacations will provide unforgettable memories.
If you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand, but combined with a more authentic Mexican experience and great nightlife, then Acapulco may be the better choice than Puerto Vallarta.
However if you want a Mexican beach vacation with lots of excursion options, boutique hotels and beachside bars, then Puerto Vallarta may be the better choice for you. This city is definitely geared more towards tourists than Acapulco, but it still has a lovely Mexican vibe.