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.
Thankfully we’re here to help! Below we pit Puerto Vallarta vs Mazatlan, letting you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, and nightlife.
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!
Mazatlan 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 a slightly better beach than Mazatlan, with the sand more soft and ‘powdery’ while the water is warmer. However Mazatlan’s beach is huge and perfect for walking and surfing, while 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 that, there’s as many if not more beachside restaurants and bars in Puerto Vallarta than Mazatlan. That’s probably because Puerto Vallarta feels like more of an international tourist destination with its many boutique hotels, independent shopping outlets, and beachside eateries. Many of which seem 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 though. 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 is also more lively and energetic in Mazatlan.
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! (Recommended: Do You Need a Passport to go to Puerto Vallarta).
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.
Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta: Natural sights and 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.
Grab 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.
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 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, 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.
Mazatlan 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 Mazatlan may be the better choice than Puerto Vallarta. It’s also a 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.