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!
Below we pit Cabo vs Puerto Vallarta, letting you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, and expenses.
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.
Cabo vs Puerto Vallarta: Which is Better?
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. (Recommended: Do You Need a Passport to go to Cabo?).
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, 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.
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)
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.
Cabo vs Puerto Vallarta: Natural Sights and Things To Do
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.
Another favorite is El Medano Beach, which is one of the best beaches in Cabo for swimming. With several beach bars and eateries, it’s a great place to enjoy a cocktail or two in the sun.
The landscape of Cabo has lots to offer too, despite being less lush than Puerto Vallarta.
Visit the nearby Santa Rita Hot Springs to bathe in the natural hot springs that have sprung up there. It’s a tropical oasis.
Or make your way to Cabo Pulmo National Park for whale watching opportunities and snorkeling amongst reef fish and sea turtles at the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
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.
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, and 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 and you’re not going to get bored here.
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.
There’s plenty of nightclubs and party spots in Cabo too. And when it comes to a lively nightlife, you’ll definitely have more chances to have a wild time in Cabo than in Puerto Vallarta.
Recommended Stay in Cabo:
Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos: This the singular adults-only, all-inclusive luxury resort in the area. Like it’s sister hotel in Cancun, this is as high-end as you can get. It’s a resort for the romantics out there. Find out more on their website by clicking here!
Puerto Vallarta has that old Mexican feel thanks to its pretty old architecture and picturesque cobblestone streets.
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 more local and authentic.
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 Caribbean Sea.
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.
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 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 with Vallarta Adventures!
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.
After a day hiking the jungles or snorkeling, a few drinks in the evening is a must. Whilst Puerto Vallarta isn’t nightlife centric, 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, we’ve found that locals and tourists tend to mix more in Puerto Vallarta than Cabo. So if you’re looking to make new Mexican friends while on vacation, you may find that easier to do at a bar in Puerto Vallarta than Cabo.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo: 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.