Last updated on May 22, 2023 by Wandering our World
There are so many holiday destinations in Mexico, and Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are two great choices. However, both offer different vacations, so making the choice between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta is as important as it is difficult. Thankfully we know these destinations well and are here to help!
For example, Cabo is a bit more tourist-orientated than Puerto Vallarta, so there’s a good shopping scene, lots of tourist excursions, and the nightlife is lively.
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, has a more authentic feel compared to Cabo. It’s also a destination which is perfect for exploring lush landscapes as the jungle is close by.
However that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to how these two destinations differ from each other.
That’s why we pit Cabo vs Puerto Vallarta below. We let you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, nightlife, expenses, look at which is better for honeymoons, a family trip and even more.
We also give you a run down of some of the best things to do in both destinations to help you decide which one could be better for your vacation. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has The Better Beaches?
- Which Has Better Natural Sights & Things To Do
- Which Is Better For Culture & History?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has The Better Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is The Better Holiday Choice?
A Quick Overview: What To Expect
Many people think these destinations will be quite similar as they’re both in Mexico. However there are very notable differences.
We’ve found that Cabo is more tourist-orientated, and has quite an ‘Americanized’ feel to it with chain restaurants and hotels. However, because Cabo is so tourist-orientated there’s also a good shopping scene, lots of tourist excursions, and the nightlife is lively.
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, is a quieter, more relaxed place with many boutique hotels and a great variety of independent restaurants.
The city is bigger than Cabo too, but less tourist orientated, so it’s a better chance to get a taste of Mexican culture.
Puerto Vallarta also has a completely different landscape to the more barren Cabo. Surrounding the city is spectacular lush jungle and mountains. That opens up lots of opportunities for independent exploring, hiking, wildlife spotting excursions and more. That’s not so possible in Cabo.
In terms of expenses, we’ve found Puerto Vallarta to be slightly cheaper than Cabo, but you can find affordable food and accommodation options in both. Especially if you bypass the all-inclusive hotels and resorts.
Puerto Vallarta is a safe destination for tourists too – as is Cabo – but as always you must be vigilant in regards to petty crime in both destinations. If enjoying the nightlife, be careful not to leave drinks unattended.
To quickly sum up, if you’re looking for an all-inclusive vacation in a destination well set-up for tourists, then Cabo may be a better choice than Puerto Vallarta.
However if you’re searching for a more authentic Mexican vibe with independent hotels and restaurants, in a region where you can explore lush landscapes, then Puerto Vallarta might be better.
Below we look at what things you can see and do in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo in more detail, so you have an idea of what excursions are possible and which may suit you better.
Recommended: 20 Fun Reasons To Go To Cabo Now!
Which Has Better Beaches?
As for the beaches in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, they’re both quite similar. Although we’ve found that the water is generally clearer in Cabo, but is warmer in Puerto Vallarta!
Another notable difference at the coast is that the beaches in Cabo tend to be quite exposed to strong waves, so there aren’t many beaches where it is safe to swim. But you certainly can find some lovely spots to swim in Cabo.
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, is protected by a large bay, so the waves tend to be much calmer. Making it idea for swimming and snorkeling.
That said, if you’re looking for calm turquoise water and soft white sand beaches then neither destination really provides that. Rather a holiday in Cancun or Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean side may suit you better. (Related: Cancun vs Tulum)
Below we look quickly at the best beaches in each destination and show you what they have to offer. By seeing what’s available, you can get a better idea of which beach destination suits you more!
Cabo: The Beaches
Cabo has some wonderful beaches, and Lovers Beach is probably our favourite. This beach is remote and secluded as it can only be reached by boat – but it’s well worth the trip.
The water is clear and great for snorkelling, while the sand is soft, pristine, and flanked by stunning dramatic granite cliffs that are 30 million years old.
Playa el Médano is perhaps the most famous beach in Cabo. The uniquely crescent shaped bay offers 2,460 feet of uninterrupted golden shoreline and is conveniently located right in the middle of the bustling tourist epicenter with a dashing view of the iconic Cabo Arch (El Arco) rock formation.
On top of that, Cabo also offers a variety or off the beaten path beaches to explore. So it’s possible to enjoy busy beaches with all the facilities you could ever need, but also get away from the crowds to more secluded and romantic stretches of sand.
Puerto Vallarta: The Beaches
There are some lovely 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 compared to the ones you’ll find on the other side of Mexico.
We recommend taking a boat trip to the Marietas Islands, which is a few kilometers away from the city. These stunning uninhabited islands are one of the best places in Mexico to swim with sea turtles and rays, and are a popular whale watching spot too. A great underwater camera – like this one – is a must.
With the soft golden sand backed by lush jungle on the coastline, the beaches around Puerto Vallarta look exactly like the tropical paradise you’ve probably been dreaming about while sat at work on your desk. This is certainly a picturesque place, arguably more so than Cabo.
Which Has Better Natural Sights & Things To Do?
Cabo: The Activities
The landscape of Cabo has lots to offer too, despite being less lush than Puerto Vallarta.
Due to Cabo’s convenient location on a peninsula, it has several well protected bays that border the calm waters of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). This makes for outstanding marine experiences including snorkeling, scuba diving, and whale watching.
Cabo Pulmo National Park is also a great place for whale watching (November and December are the best times to see migrating Humpbacks) and snorkeling amongst reef fish and sea turtles at the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Back on land, you can visit the Santa Rita Hot Springs to bathe in the natural hot springs that have sprung up there. It’s a tropical oasis set not far from Cabo’s main tourist center.
If you’re looking for something a bit more energetic, then head to Mt. Solmar. A short, but moderately difficult hike will bring you to the summit where there’s breathtaking views of Cabo and the Pacific Ocean. It’s well worth it.
As Cabo is a more tourist-orientated destination than Puerto Vallarta, you’ll have easy access to plenty of activities to enjoy too.
For example, some of those include catamaran trips, jet skiing and many guided tours.
There’s lots of more adventurous excursions in Cabo too, with opportunities to dive with sharks, skydive, go on a sunset party cruise, and even use a flyboard – a crazy looking device that allows you to dive into the water and also fly above it.
In short, Cabo is energetic, lively, there’s lots of tourist activities, and you’re unlikely to get bored there.
Puerto Vallarta: The Activities
Puerto Vallarta has that old Mexican feel thanks to its pretty old architecture and picturesque cobblestone streets. In fact the city itself, with its centuries-old buildings, museums, churches and bell towers is well worth visiting and exploring in itself.
But this is also a place where nature activities are everywhere. And with the mountains and jungle rolling down into the beaches and bays, the landscape looks a lot more lush compared to other parts of the Yucatan. It’s a far more tropical looking place than Cabo, and it certainly feels at times more local and authentic.
There’s plenty of water-based activities in Puerto Vallarta, from snorkeling with sea turtles to catamaran trips out to sea.
And if you’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins you can do it in Puerto Vallarta in a very ethical way. There you can be taken 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 to do something a bit more adventurous? Then how about hiking in the wilderness and then ziplining through the jungle? That can be done just outside the city.
In fact with the jungle close by alongside mountains, there’s lots of jungle trekking opportunities in Puerto Vallarta. There’s also lots of rare and beautiful wildlife to spot too – as we’ve written about before – like spider monkeys and the endangered margay (an incredible little wild cat – see photo below).
As you can see there are plenty of activities to do in Puerto Vallarta, but they tend to be more nature orientated than the ones in Cabo. That’s little surprise considering the wonderful nature on offer though.
Which Is Better For Culture & History?
Cabo: Culture & History
Cabo isn’t exactly known to be a great spot for those looking to experience Mexican culture.
But many travel agencies do offer a day trip to the neighboring town of Todos Santos to get a taste of authentic local culture.
However for history buffs you can visit the Cabo San Lucas Museum of Natural History which showcases all kinds of exhibits, including paleontology, geology, and the remains of marine mammals.
Puerto Vallarta: Culture & History
When it comes to culture and history, Cabo is certainly no contest for Puerto Vallarta. Even though both have become tourist towns with big resorts, Puerto Vallarta has still managed to preserve its authentic Mexican culture. Cabo, on the other hand, feels very ‘Americanized.’
For one, Puerto Vallarta is a part of the state of Jalisco, where you can trace back the origins of tequila and mariachi!
The city’s famed Old Town shows off the city’s origin as a cobblestoned fishing village too. And iconic areas like Zona Romantica and Malecon will give you a real feel of the vibrant local culture. You’ll also be able to find authentic Mexican local markets in PV such as the Olas Altas Farmers Market.
On top of that, the city is great for art enthusiasts, boasting art galleries like Galeria Corsica where visitors are presented with contemporary Mexican paintings. Renowned painter Manuel Lepe was also born in Puerto Vallarta, and you can visit his museum near Zona Romantica.
So if you’re looking for a trip with culture and history as important aspects, Puerto Vallarta will definitely suit you more than Cabo.
Which Has Better Food?
Both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta have similar food, namely fresh seafood and classic Mexican food like tacos. Both are also filled with fine-dining places due to their status as tourist hotspots.
Yet as it has a more inherent local feel, it’s no surprise that Puerto Vallarta is known for its culinary scene. And just like every other aspect of the city, the food scene in Puerto Vallarta offers lots of variety.
From fancy gourmet restaurants to hole-in-the-wall local restaurants, Puerto Vallarta has it all.
In fact, Puerto Vallarta is consistently named as one of the best destinations for foodies in Mexico, as well as one of the best for tequila.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Shoestring: Set in the heart of Cabo within walking distance of the beach, restaurants and nightlife, Sofia Hostel Cabo is a friendly hostel with a lovely garden and activities.
Budget: Sirena del Mar is spectacularly located on top of a cliff, but still just three minutes walk to a beach, and 15 minutes drive to downtown Cabo. There you’ll get incredible seaside views, a private beach area, terraces to soak up the sun and an outdoor swimming pool.
Luxury: Esperanza, Auberge Resorts Collection has to be one of the top five-star hotels in the world. The exceptional service, landscaped grounds, beachfront infinity pool, spa, and even free yoga sessions – all set right beside the sea and beach – make this place an unbelievable Cabo getaway.
Shoestring: For what you get for the price, Hotel Luxury Patio Azul is a steal. Tastefully decorated rooms with ocean views, an outside swimming pool and bar that looks out on the ocean, and just a ten minute walk to the beach. This may just be the cheapest five-star hotel we’ve come across in Mexico.
Budget: Set in downtown close to all the action, BellView Hotel Boutique is a little different – you’ll be staying in a room with one of the best city views imaginable – just look at the view of the belltower from the private terrace! The decor is stylish, and despite being in town this hotel is still only 200m from the beach.
Luxury: The adults-only Hotel Mousai is the first-ever five diamond resort in Puerto Vallarta, so when we say this place is luxurious you know we aren’t lying! Just a couple of minutes walk to the beach, this hotel has everything you’d want and expect for the price. But the real show-stealer is the roof-top infinity pool.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Cabo: The Nightlife
There’s plenty of nightclubs and party spots in Cabo. And when it comes to a lively nightlife, you’ll probably have more chances to have a wild time in Cabo than in Puerto Vallarta.
After a long day exploring Cabo or enjoying the beach, then head to Baja Brewery for great beer and good food. We recommend visiting at sunset as it’s a rooftop bar and the views are exceptional.
Another favorite spot is The Jungle Bar – expect good music, drinks, and friendly service. For something a little different, head to the cozy Two for the Road Cabo JAZZ Spot – this little jazz joint has great musicians and equally great drinks. An absolute must in Cabo.
As a popular tourist destination the nightlife spots in Cabo are well used to tourists and expats, so you’ll find many have convenient English menus, and English-speaking staff too. However expect higher prices in places that are well set-up for tourists.
Puerto Vallarta: The Nightlife
After a day hiking the jungles or snorkeling, a few drinks in the evening is a must. Whilst Puerto Vallarta isn’t as nightlife centric as Cabo, there are several great evening spots.
Head to Roxy Rock House to see live bands, eat nachos, mingle with locals, 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
As a last note on the nightlife in the city, we’ve found that locals and tourists tend to mix more in Puerto Vallarta than Cabo, be that in bars, clubs, and even away from the nightlife scene.
So if you’re looking to make new Mexican friends in the evening while on vacation, you may find that easier to do in Puerto Vallarta than Cabo.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
Cabo: For Families
Known as a haven for young travelers looking to party, Cabo’s target audience isn’t exactly families and children. The city is often very rowdy and bustling with parties, and is more suited for bachelors, friend groups and young couples.
That is not to say that Cabo can’t be suitable for a family trip though. Most of the activities we’ve talked about in the Cabo Activities section can be done by people of all ages.
Whale watching, one of the most popular activities in Cabo, is definitely suitable for kids and adults alike. There’s also the Wild Canyon Adventure Park, a perfect place for families to try out fun activities together such as zip lining, camel riding, ATV riding, and even bungee jumping.
However the reality is that compared to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo has a little less to offer for a families. That, couple with the fact that many areas of the beaches are restricted for swimming, makes it not an ideal place for kids.
Puerto Vallarta: For Families
In comparison, Puerto Vallarta is known to be one of the best holiday destinations for families in Mexico. That’s because Puerto Vallarta is the complete package: from beach fun and outdoor activities to history and culture, this city has it all.
First of all, Puerto Vallarta’s location on Banderas Bay also makes it more ideal for swimming on the beach. The waters are calmer there than Cabo, making it safe to take your kids swimming. Some of the best beaches for children are Playas Las Gemelas, Playas Conchas Chinas, and Playa de Los Muertos.
Away from the beach, one of the most popular attractions for families is Nogalito Ecopark. Similar to Wild Canyon in Cabo, this ecopark offers various kinds of activities, such as walking on a suspension bridge, ziplining, and rock climbing.
Puerto Vallarta is also home to Aquaventuras Park, a giant waterpark where not only can you swim and ride water slides, but also swim with dolphins!
Another fun activity that your kids will never forget is the Pirate Ship Vallarta tour. Have a once-in-a-lifetime experience getting on an authentic Spanish galleon and playing make-believe as pirates.
Aside from those fun activities, Puerto Vallarta is slightly less touristy and still has an authentic Mexican culture. So older kids in particular may love learning about a new culture.
As for resorts, Puerto Vallarta is lined with plenty of family-oriented resorts.
A favorite amongst tourists is the all-inclusive family resort Velas Vallarta. It’s got a great location with premium access to the beach, a “lazy river,” and a supervised kids’ club with countless activities. Another option is the Sunset Plaza Beach which has mini golf and a kids’ restaurant.
Last but not least, Puerto Vallarta is one of the safest cities in the country. Travel + Leisure Magazine has even featured the city as one of the friendliest cities in the world. So not only does PV have a low crime rate, but the locals are also very hospitable.
Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
Cabo: For Honeymoons
When it comes to a honeymoon destination, it all comes down to preference. Both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are great places for a honeymoon and it’s difficult to choose between the two.
Cabo has a more relaxed ambiance with many all-inclusive resorts where you can lounge around with your spouse and never leave the hotel if you don’t want to. And as we’ve stated above, the water is also clearer in Cabo making for fantastic honeymoon pictures.
Several highly recommended adults-only resorts in Cabo for honeymoons include Breathless Cabo San Lucas and Marquis Los Cabos.
Puerto Vallarta: For Honeymoons
On the other hand, Puerto Vallarta is the place for thrill-seeking couples looking to have a more adventurous honeymoon.
However this, coupled with the fact that Puerto Vallarta is also a resort city on the beach, means you can also have a classic laid-back honeymoon vibe here too. So really, with Puerto Vallarta, you get the best of both worlds.
Another point where Puerto Vallarta wins against Cabo for a honeymoon is the landscape. Surrounded by mountains and jungles, Puerto Vallarta’s landscape gives off a lush feel that’s perfect for those stunning honeymoon pictures. On the contrary, Cabo is surrounded by a desert.
In the end, choosing between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta for your honeymoon is a matter of choosing what kind of honeymoon you want.
For those dreaming of a relaxed honeymoon in an all-inclusive resort, Cabo could be your best choice. But on the other hand, if you’re honeymooning in Puerto Vallarta we don’t recommend going for all-inclusive resort vacation. Instead, why not take advantage of the boutique hotels, great food, and adventure that’s part and parcel of a vacation in this city.
Which Is Cheaper?
Often visited by big shots and Hollywood stars, Cabo tends to be more expensive than Puerto Vallarta. Most of the resorts in Cabo are big chain hotels too, whereas Puerto Vallarta offers more affordable hotels.
Other than that, the prices in these two cities aren’t that far off. Especially when it comes to food, albeit Puerto Vallarta may just be slightly cheaper. However, when comparing the variety you can get in either place when it comes to food, we think that Puerto Vallarta definitely is better value for money.
Which Is The Better Holiday Choice?
Both of these Mexican holiday vacations will provide unforgettable memories.
Cabo is a bit more tourist-orientated than Puerto Vallarta, so there’s a good shopping scene, lots of tourist excursions, and the nightlife is lively. However, as Cabo caters heavily towards tourists it does have an ‘Americanized’ feel to it.
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, has some decent beaches, is relaxed and has a more authentic feel compared to Cabo. There are many boutique independent hotels and restaurants, and it’s a destination which is perfect for exploring lush landscapes.