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Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta – trying to decide where you should go for your next trip in Mexico? Let me help! I live in Puerto Vallarta and have visited Cancun several times. In this guide, we’ll compare Cancun and Puerto Vallarta across several factors so you can decide which one is right for you.
Cancun and Puerto Vallarta are two idyllic beach destinations in Mexico, both offering incredible accommodation options, fun activities, and beautiful beaches.
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 is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. Even during the pandemic, the airport registered 6.4 million visitors since the reopening, of which 2.7 million were Americans.
The beautiful white sand beaches, comfortable and aesthetic accommodations, party scene, touristic spots, and ancient Mayan ruins are some of the main reasons this area has such an irresistible appeal.
Like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. Over 5 million tourists came in 2019!
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.
Cancun Vs Puerto Vallarta: Overview
|Location||Pacific Coast||Caribbean Coast|
|Popular For||Beaches, Art, Culture||Beaches, Nightlife, Mayan Ruins|
|Beach Quality||Golden Sand, Emerald-Green Water||White Sand, Turquoise Water|
|Water Activities||Surfing, Whale Watching||Snorkeling, Diving with Sharks|
|Safety||Generally safer, lower crime rate||Moderate safety, higher crime rate|
|LGBTQ+ Friendly||Highly Friendly, Large Pride Events||Moderately Friendly|
|Cost of Living||Generally Cheaper||Slightly More Expensive|
|Nightlife||Zona Romantica, Craft Beer||Hotel Zone, Big Clubs|
|Historical Sites||Limited||Abundant (Chichen Itza, Tulum)|
|Natural Wonders||Sierra Madre Mountains||Cenotes|
|Accessibility||International Airport||International Airport|
Both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta have an international airport, making it easy to plan a vacation from Canada or the United States with many direct flights to both cities.
In both regions, you can quickly go on to explore other parts of Mexico. From Puerto Vallarta, you can visit nearby towns such as Sayulita on day trips, or take a bus four hours to Guadalajara (the capital of Jalisco).
You have the advantage of being close to Belize from Cancun, making traveling overland from Cancun to other parts of Central America feasible.
Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta Beaches
Cancun is on the Caribbean side of Mexico, whereas Puerto Vallarta is on the Pacific Coast. Both offer completely different, but equally impressive, beaches and water sports.
I love the sunsets in Puerto Vallarta, as you can see the sun dip directly over the Pacific Ocean.
In the city center, you can find buzzing beaches like Playa Los Muertos, where there’s always a party, but there are also more secluded, quieter beaches you can hike or take a water taxi to along the Bay of Banderas.
Puerto Vallarta is also the gateway for one of Mexico’s most famous beaches – hidden beach on the Marietas Islands. The beach has become so popular that the government limits permits to 116 a day, so book ahead if you want to visit.
On the other hand, Cancun is famous for its tropical white-sand beaches and turquoise waters.
Playa Linda, Playa Bonita, and Playa Tortugas are perfect for relaxing under the sun on gorgeous white sand beaches. The water temperatures are typically warmer in Cancun compared to Puerto Vallarta.
Another attractive aspect of Cancun is that some of the best places to visit for picture-perfect beaches are nearby, like Isla Mujeres.
One thing to note is that Cancun is facing a massive problem with seaweed washing up on the beaches, which Puerto Vallarta thankfully does not have.
Both cities offer endless paddleboarding, jet skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, swimming, and diving opportunities.
Diving near Cancun offers more exciting opportunities for large marine animals, including whale sharks and bull sharks. However, in PV, you can go swimming with dolphins in the wild and see humpback whales breach from the water from December to March. It’s one of my favorite parts about living here!
Life in Puerto Vallarta is all about the water, and there’s no shortage of unique ways to enjoy it here.
If you are a surfer, then Puerto Vallarta is a better option. While you can’t surf right in the city, there are plenty of surf spots near Puerto Vallarta, such as Sayulita and San Pancho.
Cancun is near some incredible cenotes (natural deep-water wells), 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. Sadly, you won’t find these around Puerto Vallarta!
Costs: Is Puerto Vallarta cheaper than Cancun?
Cancun tends to be pricier than 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 ranging from ten dollars to thousands per night.
Compared to Cancun, the prices in Puerto Vallarta are slightly lower for hotels and food. And if you live in Puerto Vallarta as a digital nomad or expat long-term, the cost of living can be very affordable. However, it has significantly increased in the last two years, partly due to a poor exchange rate.
Historical Sites and Culture
Another reason you might want to visit Cancun is the incredible ruins that you can see nearby.
Once home to the Mayan civilization, Cancun is now 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 to visit the archaeological zone or even see one of the 7 Wonders of the world – Chichen Itza. I visited in 2015, which was one of the trip’s highlights. We showed up at the end of the day and had the pyramid almost all to ourselves as all the big tour buses had left!
Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, does not have as many historical sites to visit.
Compared to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta is mostly a beach-focused location. There are no ancient tourist attractions or cenotes to explore, but the city does have a rich culture with many art galleries to explore.
Safety: Is Puerto Vallarta safer than Cancun?
Even though Mexico is often portrayed as an unsafe country by the media, there are plenty of places to visit in Mexico that are safe to visit – including Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.
Many tourists wonder if it is safe to visit Puerto Vallarta? And the short answer is yes, it is safe. I’ve lived here for almost three years as a solo female traveler and never had any issues!
Millions of tourists visit Puerto Vallarta every year and enjoy a safe vacation. Not only does Puerto Vallarta have a lower crime rate than many other cities in Mexico, but also compared to major cities in the U.S., according to data from Numbeo.
In addition, Puerto Vallarta is one of the safest destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers in the world, with an extremely active community and one of the largest pride events in Mexico every May.
Comparing Cancun to Puerto Vallarta on Numbeo, Cancun has a higher crime index and lower safety scale than Puerto Vallarta by about 20 points, ranking Cancun as moderate and Puerto Vallarta as low.
Cancun has faced some bad press for safety issues and has gone as far as to deploy 300 soldiers to keep tourists safe. Despite the media, it seems most tourists in Cancun are safe unless they are looking for trouble.
Overall, Puerto Vallarta is safer than Cancun when you look at the numbers. While I don’t think Cancun is dangerous, I feel safer in Puerto Vallarta.
Despite both cities being safe, 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 vs Cancun weather
The best time to visit Puerto Vallarta is between December and April during the high season and before March if you want to go whale watching.
During these months, you’ll experience pleasant temperatures in the late 20s, with little to no rain.
December to April is also the busiest period for Cancun, which coincides with the most pleasant temperatures.
The rainy season, from June to September, affects both regions. That said, I’ve been living in PV throughout the rainy season, and it has its own perks, such as lush green jungle, fewer tourists, and incredible waterfalls to swim in.
Both destinations are party cities, and you won’t have trouble finding a good time in either as some of the top party cities in Mexico.
When deciding where to party in Cancun, it comes down to going downtown or staying in the hotel zone. This part of Cancun was explicitly built for tourism, and it’s where you can find a strip of hotels, restaurants, and bars.
Puerto Vallarta’s nightlife scene is concentrated around Zona Romantica, where you can drag shows, buzzing clubs, cocktail bars, and a great craft beer scene. Sometimes, it’s hard to find a reason NOT to go out here!
Puerto Vallarta is a haven for food lovers. From street tacos to high-end gourmet restaurants, the city offers a variety of Mexican and international cuisines.
Seafood is a big deal here, and you can’t leave without trying ceviche or grilled fish on the beach. Don’t feel like you have to splurge fine dining at Puerto Vallarta restaurants for a good meal here – some of the best food I’ve eaten in PV has been from corner taco stands!
Cancun, being a major tourist hub, has a wide array of food options that cater to international tastes. While you can find authentic Mexican food, the city offers everything from Italian to Japanese cuisine.
Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta hotels
Both Puerto Vallarta and Cancun offer some of the best hotel experiences in Mexico. Cancun was designed with tourists in mind, with many 5-star luxury hotels in the Cancun hotel zone.
And while Puerto Vallarta grew from a small fishing village, it’s made its mark with incredible all-inclusive hotels on the beach and a designated hotel zone. Even though I live here, I often take staycations to enjoy the incredible hotels.
Puerto Vallarta also has several charming boutique hotels and LGBTQ+-friendly accommodations, which differ from the big-name hotels in Cancun.
Looking for deals on hotels? I use and love Booking.com to find the best rates!
Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun for family vacation
Puerto Vallarta is extremely family-friendly. The beaches are safe for kids, and there are numerous family-oriented activities like pirate ship tours and snorkeling trips. The city is also known for its friendly locals, adding an extra layer of comfort for families.
Cancun is also an excellent destination for families but tends to be more commercialized. The city offers various family-friendly resorts and activities like visiting the Interactive Aquarium or visiting nearby water parks.
Booking a day trip? I use and love Viator to find amazing day tours across the world!
Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta to live
Puerto Vallarta is becoming increasingly popular among digital nomads, thanks to its affordable cost of living and reliable internet.
The city offers several coworking spaces, and the café culture is also quite accommodating. Meeting other expats and nomads here is easy, especially through the weekly volleyball games. This is how I met many of my friends in Puerto Vallarta!
Cancun is also a viable option for digital nomads, especially those looking for a vibrant social scene along with their work setup. However, many nomads prefer to live further south in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.
FAQ: Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun
Is it better to go to Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
The “better” destination depends on what you’re looking for. Cancun is ideal for nightlife and luxury resorts, while Puerto Vallarta offers a more authentic Mexican vibe and outdoor experiences.
Why Puerto Vallarta is better than Cancun?
Puerto Vallarta is often considered better for its authentic Mexican culture, lower cost of living, and diverse activities ranging from art walks to whale watching.
Are the beaches nicer in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
Cancun beaches are known for their white sand and turquoise waters, making them generally more picturesque than Puerto Vallarta’s golden-sand beaches.
Is it hotter in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
Cancun tends to be hotter and more humid, especially during the summer months, compared to Puerto Vallarta.
Is Cancun cheaper than Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta is generally cheaper than Cancun, especially when it comes to dining and local activities.
Is it worth it to go to Puerto Vallarta?
Absolutely, Puerto Vallarta offers a rich cultural experience, stunning natural beauty, and activities that cater to all interests and budgets.
Is Puerto Vallarta too touristy?
While Puerto Vallarta is a popular tourist destination, it maintains a balance by offering both touristy and authentic local experiences.
What is the most expensive part of Mexico to visit?
Los Cabos is often considered the most expensive part of Mexico, known for its luxury resorts and high-end dining options.
Is there seaweed in Puerto Vallarta?
Seaweed is generally not a problem in Puerto Vallarta, especially when compared to some Caribbean destinations like Cancun, where sargassum seaweed can be an issue.
Is Puerto Vallarta safer than Cancun?
Puerto Vallarta is generally considered safer than Cancun. The city has a lower crime rate and is often cited as one of the safest tourist destinations in Mexico.
Is the water warmer in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
The water in Cancun is generally warmer due to its Caribbean location. Puerto Vallarta, being on the Pacific Coast, tends to have slightly cooler water temperatures.
Final thoughts: Is Cancun or Puerto Vallarta better?
I prefer Puerto Vallarta over Cancun – there’s a reason I chose to move here! That said, Cancun might be a better option if you want to experience Mexico’s cenotes and historical sites.
But if you want to kick back on the beach and relax while enjoying Mexico’s cuisine and friendly culture, then Puerto Vallarta is the best choice.
Or better yet, get the best of both worlds and visit both cities. 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.
Convinced you to visit Puerto Vallarta? Check out these other tips!
- What to Pack for Puerto Vallarta Mexico For All Seasons
- Best Puerto Vallarta Airport Transportation Options in 2023
- How to Plan The Perfect Puerto Vallarta Itinerary
- Renting a Car in Puerto Vallarta – What You Need to Know
- What to Know About Tipping in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
- How to Visit the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens