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’re 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 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, and the lush jungle and mountains surrounding it are spectacular and great for exploring. It’s a completely different landscape to the more barren Cabo, and there’s lots of opportunities for independent exploring and excursions.
The beaches in both are quite similar, although we’ve found that the water is generally clearer in Cabo, but warmer in Puerto Vallarta! However, the beaches are quite exposed to strong waves in Cabo, so there aren’t many beaches where it is safe to swim. But you certainly can swim in Cabo.
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, is protected by a large bay, so the waves tend to be much calmer.
That said, if you’re looking for calm turquoise water and soft white sand beaches then neither destination really provides that, and a holiday in Cancun or Tulum 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 accomodation 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, and be careful of leaving drinks unattended.
In essence, if you’re looking for an all-inclusive vacation in a destination well set-up for tourists, then Cabo may be the better choice. 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.
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. Visit the Santa Rita Hot Springs to bathe in the natural hot springs that have sprung up in nature. 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.
There’s lots of adventurous excursions here 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.
After a long day exploring Cabo or enjoying the beach, then head to Baja Brewery for great beer and good food. We recommend coming here 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.
Puerto Vallarta has that old Mexican feel thanks to the architecture and the cobblestone streets. With the mountains and jungle rolling down into the beaches and bays here, the landscape looks a lot more lush compared to other parts of the Yucatan.
There are some 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 compared to the Caribbean Sea. 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.
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.
Recommended for your trip to Puerto Vallarta or Cabo
*This article may contain affiliate links which allows Wandering our World to make a small commission on any sales made – and keep the coffee flowing! It involves no extra cost to yourself. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases, but only recommend products we believe in.