Last updated on December 19, 2022 by Wandering our World
There are so many great destinations in Mexico, and Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta are two of the best. However, both offer very different vacations, so making the choice between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan is as important as it is difficult.
Mazatlan is the more authentic Mexican experience with great beaches and a fun nightlife where it’s easy to meet locals. However if you want a beach vacation that’s far more geared towards tourists with lots of excursion options, boutique hotels and beachside bars, then beautiful Puerto Vallarta may be the better choice for you.
But in reality that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to how these two fun Mexican beach cities are similar and different.
Thankfully we’re here to help! We know these destinations well. So below we pit Puerto Vallarta vs Mazatlan, letting you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, nightlife and more.
We then give you a run down of some of the best natural sights and things to do in each destination. All to help you decide which one is better for your holiday!
So read on to begin your Mexican vacation adventure!
- A Quick Overview: Beaches, Vibe & More
- Which Has Better Natural Sights & Things To Do
- Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is The Better Holiday Choice
A Quick Overview: Beaches, Vibe & More
Many people think these destinations will be quite similar as they’re both on Mexico’s Pacific coastline. However there are some very notable differences.
We’ve found that Puerto Vallarta tends to have a slightly better beach than Mazatlan, with the sand more soft and ‘powdery’. The water is warmer there too making it perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
However Mazatlan’s beach is huge (21km long!) and perfect for walking and surfing. The seaside boardwalk in the city is actually one of the longest in the world. If you’re looking for long beach walks, this is the place!
Yet despite how big Mazatlan’s coastline is, there’s as many if not more beachside restaurants and bars in Puerto Vallarta than Mazatlan.
That’s probably because Puerto Vallarta is more of an international tourist destination with its many boutique hotels, independent shopping outlets, and beachside eateries. Many of which are geared more towards tourists than locals.
Mazatlan, in contrast, feels far more like a local city, where restaurants and bars exist for locals first – and tourists second. That makes this destination a great place to meet locals.
It also means Mazatlan is cheaper than Puerto Vallarta when it comes to accommodation, eating out and shopping – after all you’re getting local prices here. The nightlife in Mazatlan is also more lively and energetic.
However while that’s all a big plus, we’ve found that Mazatlan – as a less tourist-centric city – is lacking when it comes to 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 or swimming with dolphins in the open sea!
Puerto Vallarta is a safe destination for tourists too – as is Mazatlan – but as always you must be vigilant in regards to petty crime in both destinations, and be careful of leaving drinks unattended. The Mexican cartels leave both tourist regions well alone.
Below we look at what things you can see and do in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta in more detail, so you have an idea of what excursions are possible.
Which Has Better Natural Sights & Things To Do
Mazatlan: Things To Do
This is a city which is begging to be explored and discovered, so if you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort holiday then somewhere like Cancun may suit you better.
The 21km long seaside boardwalk here – the second longest in the world – will bring you to several of the city’s best beaches, as well as beachside bars, restaurants and street food stalls.
Mazatlan’s longest beach – Playa Norte – is a popular swimming spot as the water is clean and calm. The beach has a real local feel and you’ll find families having picnics here and fisherman reeling in their daily catch. Grab some cheap street food and enjoy the sun.
Another must-visit beach is Playa Bruja, which is a popular surfing spot.
This beach is fantastic for long walks, and with several excellent beachside seafood restaurants, it’s probably our favorite place in the region to grab dinner – try Mr. Lionso’s Restaurant.
Take a short five-minute boat ride to Stone Island (which is actually a peninsula) if you’re looking for the warmest water for swimming and some of the best snorkeling spots. Because you need to get a boat here, the beaches on Stone Island are usually quite empty.
If you’re feeling adventurous try some big game fishing – Mazatlan is one of the best locations in Mexico for sportfishing.
Or for a bit of culture, spend some time strolling around the city’s historic center. The Plaza Machado is full of historic buildings and local buskers, and is the life and soul of Mazatlan.
Tired of the beach? Then challenge yourself to climb El Faro de Mazatlan. A half-hour hike which features over 300 steps will take you to the highest point in the city, a hill that has commanding views over Mazatlan and out across the Sea of Cortez. At the top is a pretty old lighthouse, and if you’re daring enough, there’s a glass bridge which will allow you to ‘walk over’ the edge of the hillside!
Related: Scorpions in Mexico: What You Need to Know
After a day of exploring, watch the sunset at the laid-back Joe’s Oyster Bar – a thatched beachside hut which has good food, live music, and buckets of cold beer!
If you fancy something a little more lively, head to La Catrina. This popular local haunt has live music most nights and a very good drinks selection.
You may have realized it by now but there’s so much to do in this city, and much of it will give you a good taste of local life too!
Puerto Vallarta: Things To Do
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 is a lot more lush and pretty compared to Mazatlan.
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.
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. 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.
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.
There’s lots to do in Puerto Vallarta and plenty of excursions set up for tourists. That’s a big bonus, although they do come with ‘tourist’ prices.
Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
Shoestring: Set in the heart of the historical centre but still just 600m from the beach, Villa Serena Centro Historico is a fantastic affordable choice if you’re looking for beach and city activities. The rooms are decorated in a traditional Mazatlan vibe, but you’ll still have access to an outdoor pool and hot tub!
Budget: The Inn at Mazatlan is a beachfront hotel with spa, gym, large outdoor pool with a waterfall and even a hot tub! Each room has ocean views.
Luxury: It’s hard to get more luxurious in the city than Hotel Boutique Casa Lulu. Gorgeously decorated – this place almost feels like an art gallery – alongside wonderful outdoor pool, fire pits, and rooms with knockout sea views. Yet despite the luxury, the price is surprisingly cheap for what you get.
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 that view of the bell tower 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.
Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta: Which Is The Better Holiday Choice?
Both of these Mexican holiday vacations will provide unforgettable memories.
But if you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand, but combined with a more authentic Mexican experience and great nightlife, then Mazatlan may be the better choice than Puerto Vallarta. It’s also a much cheaper destination.
However if you want a Mexican beach vacation with lots of excursion options, boutique hotels and beachside bars, then beautiful Puerto Vallarta may be the better choice for you. This city is definitely geared more towards tourists than Mazatlan, but it still has a lovely Mexican vibe.