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Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta – where should you go for your next trip in Mexico?

Cancun and Puerto Vallarta are two idyllic beach destinations offering incredible accommodations, fun activities, and beautiful sights.

At the same time, they both offer different experiences that make them unique from one another.

In this article, we’ll compare Cancun and Puerto Vallarta across safety, costs, and things to do so you can evaluate which one is the best choice for your dream Mexico vacation.

Cancun Vs Puerto Vallarta

cancun vs puerto vallarta

Both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta have an international airport, making it easy to plan a vacation from Canada or the United States with direct flights to both cities from popular North American cities.

Americans and Canadians are given a six-month tourist visa on arrival, making Mexico an attractive and easy country to visit for an extended period of time.

In addition, during Covid-19, Mexico has had some of the world’s most relaxed entry requirements with no test, insurance, or quarantine required.


cancun water

Cancun is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. Even during the pandemic, the airport registered 6.4 million visitors since reopening of which 2.7 million were Americans.

December to April is the busiest period, which coincides with the most pleasant temperatures.

The beautiful white sand beaches, comfortable and aesthetic accommodations, party scene, touristic spots, and historic ruins are some of the main reasons that give this area such an irresistible appeal.

Cost of Visiting Cancun

Cancun tends to be a little pricier compared to other Mexican destinations due to its high demand and popularity.

The city’s accommodation options are broad. You can choose from hotels, hostels, all-inclusive resorts, Airbnb’s, monthly rentals, and hotel boutiques that range anywhere from 10 USD to thousands per night.

The daily average expense for solo travelers and couples goes from 50 to 100 USD, and for families from 90 to 2OO USD – it all depends on how fancy or discreet you want your trip to be. The longer the stay is, the cheaper it can be.

Cancun Activities

cancun beach

There are always enjoyable things to do in Cancun and the surrounding areas, either for free or for a reasonable price.

Playa Linda, Playa Bonita, and Playa Tortugas are the perfect spot to relax under the sun on gorgeous white sand beaches. The water temperatures are typically warmer in Cancun compared to Puerto Vallarta.

Cancun is nearby some incredible cenotes (natural deep-water wells), which is one of the best reasons to visit the Riviera Maya. Mexico is home to over 6,000 cenotes, but the majority are found in this region.

Another reason you might want to visit Cancun is for the incredible ruins that you can see nearby.

Once home to the Mayan civilization, Cancun is now is a perfect gateway to learn more about the fascinating Mayan history with plenty of tours and excursions available.

You can take a day trip to Tulum and visit the archaeological zone, or even see one of the 7 Wonders – Chichen Itza.

chichen itza

Cancun also has an extremely active nightlife, especially during the spring break season. So if you’re looking for a place to party, then you can’t go wrong here.

Is Cancun Safe?

Even though Mexico is often portrayed as an unsafe country by the media, the south is usually a safe place for local and international tourists. After all, millions of tourists come here every year with no problems!

Despite being a quite secure area, it’s always best to follow basic safety tips and avoid walking late at night, especially alone. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times, carry just the money you need, and never leave your drinks out of sight.

Puerto Vallarta

puerto vallarta

Like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. Over 5 million tourists came in 2019!

The best time to visit Puerto Vallarta is between December and May, or before March if you want to go whale watching.

Puerto Vallarta’s beaches are the main attraction that draws people in, but the city’s colorful downtown, art-filled boardwalk, vibrant neighborhoods, and fun atmosphere are what make people stay.

Unlike the many all-inclusive resorts you’ll find in Cancun, Puerto Vallarta has a wide choice of small boutique hotels. Of course, you can find plenty of brand-name hotels on the beach too.

Cost of Visiting Puerto Vallarta

Compared to Cancun, the prices in Puerto Vallarta are lower. Mexico is a cheap place to travel in general, but here the deals are even better.

Daily costs can range anywhere from 10 to 350 USD, depending on the kind of stay you choose. If you choose to stay at one of the many wonderful luxury hotels, your expenses will be higher!

The approximate daily average expense for solo travelers is from 33 dollars, 70 for couples, and 160 for families, which are considerably lower than Cancun’s.

If you live in Puerto Vallarta as a digital nomad, the cost of living can be extremely affordable.

beach in mexico

Puerto Vallarta Activities

Compared to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta is mostly a beach-focused location. There are no ancient touristic attractions or cenotes to explore, but there are incredible opportunities for water activities.

And with the Sierra Madre mountains as the backdrop, there are also plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure like zip-lining, hiking, and ATV Tours.

If you are a surfer, then Puerto Vallarta is definitely a better option. While you can’t surf right in the city, there are plenty of surf spots near Puerto Vallarta, like Sayulita and San Pancho.

Even if you’re not a surfer, these two towns make perfect day trips from the city. Alternatively, you can head up to the charming mountain town of San Sebastian.

One thing to note is that Cancun is currently facing a massive problem with seaweed washing up on the beaches, which Puerto Vallarta does not have.

The city is home to some stunning beaches in the center like Playa de Los Muertos, or you can hike to more secluded ones such as Colomitos.

los arcos puerto vallarta
Puerto Vallarta Vs Cancun: Los Arcos

Another reason to visit Puerto Vallarta is the incredible whale watching opportunities.

Every winter from December to March, thousands of humpback whales make Banderas Bay their home, and it’s common to be able to spot them from rooftop restaurants.

You can take a day trip to Marietas Islands to see one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches, rent a jet ski and ride along the coast, go on a luxury yacht snorkeling tour, or look for marine life while diving at Los Arcos. Life in Puerto Vallarta is all about the water, and there’s no shortage of amazing ways to enjoy it here.

Puerto Vallarta is also a great destination for nightlife, although you’ll find more clubs in Cancun. The busiest weekend for partying here is during easter, so avoid coming at this time if you don’t like crowds!

Is Puerto Vallarta Safe?

Many tourists wonder before coming to Puerto Vallarta is it safe? And the answer is yes. However, like any city, you should follow basic safety tips like avoiding walking alone at night and not taking too much cash out with you.

Puerto Vallarta is also known for being the LGBTQ capital of Mexico, with an extremely active community in the city. Zona Romantica (the gay neighborhood) is always a party, or you can come during pride month in May for nonstop festivities.

Conclusion: Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta

Personally, I prefer Puerto Vallarta over Cancun. But if you want to experience Mexico’s cenotes and historical sites, then Cancun might be a better option.

If you just want to kick back on the beach and relax while enjoying Mexico’s cuisine, or are on a tighter budget, then Puerto Vallarta is the best choice.

Or better yet, get the best of both worlds and visit both cities on your Mexico itinerary. With low-cost airlines serving frequent flights between the two, you can easily travel between them.

No matter which city you choose, you’ll be immersed in the magic of Mexico and sure to have the adventure of a lifetime.

Planning a trip to Mexico? Check out these posts!

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 Lora Pope is a travel content creator who’s been wandering solo for over a decade. She lives a nomadic lifestyle and is on a quest to visit every country in the world - always on the lookout for new adventures, hidden gems, and dogs to pet. You can follow her adventures on Explore with Lora and Instagram

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