Mexico is a country full of breathtaking landscapes, a vibrant culture, warm people, and unique destinations, so it’s no wonder why it’s one of the most visited nations. A trip to Mexico, whether solo, with friends, family, or with your significant other, is a must. This well-known country promises unforgettable moments to all those who choose to visit.
Two popular destinations in Mexico for wanderers looking for a relaxing and quality vacation while also enjoying the charm and beauty of what Mexico has to offer are Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo, and Puerto Vallarta, in Jalisco.
Both beach towns have their own special characteristics and qualities, so how do you decide which one is the best when comparing Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun? Tough choice right?! But hey, don’t worry because we spent over 30 hours researching the tourist destinations and paired with firsthand experience, we are ready to help you figure out which one’s the best for you. Read on to find out!
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Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun – the quick answer
Families with children under 10 years old will find a more suitable atmosphere in Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
Traveling as a couple
Couples can enjoy both beach vacation destinations since they have many different things to offer for young and older adults.
As a solo traveler
Solo travelers can also have a good time in both cities depending on what they’re looking for. For a laid-back vibe and 100% Mexican vibe Puerto Vallarta is the best choice, and for historic tours, crazy nights out, and lots of tanning then Cancun is the spot.
Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta – let’s dig deeper
Both Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are well-known destinations that make you think of paradisiacal white sand beaches as seen in postcards, paintings, and movies, and that’s totally accurate, but they are located on opposite sides of Mexico.
Where is Cancun?
This gem is found in southwestern Mexico, on the northeast coast, along the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cancun is in the state of Quintana Roo, which is considered the entrance to the Mayan Riviera area, a 100-mile stretch of spectacular coastline that encompasses Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Cancun’s location is probably the reason why it has some of the most amazing beaches in the state and country. Other touristic sites such as Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, and Holbox are also nearby.
Where is Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta is in the state of Jalisco on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, 350 km west of Guadalajara, and south of the state of Nayarit. Also known as Vallarta among locals, this town lies on the pacific coastal plain.
Although Puerto Vallarta is not in the Caribbean, it remains as beautiful as Cancun. Its bright sandy beaches and first-class resorts, along with its accessible and walkable areas, such as the Zona Rosa and the popular Malecon, are hallmarks that make it a charming destination. Scenic beach towns like Sayulita and San Pancho are also within easy reach.
Cancun has an airport, the Cancun International Airport (CUN), which is only 10 km away from the downtown and beach areas.
If you’re from the U.S, buying a ticket to Cancun won’t be an issue as you can find many non-stop flights departing from major and minor cities all over the country. If you are from Canada, there are direct flights from Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal to Cancun.
Once in Cancun there are several ways to get downtown from the airport such as buses, cabs, Uber, and if your hotel includes it a private shuttle.
Puerto Vallarta also has an international airport, the Licenciado Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR), and it’s located just 8 km from downtown.
As in the case of Cancun, there are tons of direct flights from different major and minor cities throughout the U.S and Canada. We’d like to point out that if you live on the west coast Puerto Vallarta is a closer option compared to Cancun.
To get from the airport to the city you can take a bus, Uber, taxi, or your resort’s transportation.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun weather
As you can probably imagine, both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta offer the ideal weather conditions for a memorable getaway, but let’s dive into the details of each.
Cancun welcomes visitors with warm, humid, semi-tropical, and pleasant weather with steamy nights. The average daily temperature hovers around 78°F (26°C), can rise to 95°F (35°C) during the summer, and rarely drops below 58°F (14°C).
Summers are hot, very humid, and at times a bit sweltering, and winters are mostly clear, enjoyable, and less sticky.
Hurricane season runs from early June to late November; the greatest risk of hurricanes is between September and October, due to peak sea temperatures and unexpected weather events, so it’s important to take this into account.
Puerto Vallarta has a tropical climate with humidity and an average temperature of 81°F (27°C). The coldest month is January, with 72°F (22°C), and the most humid one is September.
The hot season lasts for about 4.5 months, from June to the end of October. The hottest month of the year is July. During the winter temperatures drop and this is considered by many to be the most pleasant time of the year, with warm days and cool evenings.
You will probably be surprised that it does not have a hurricane season as such, this is because the shape of the bay protects the area from hurricanes. However, there are tropical storms.
Best time to visit
What is the best time to visit Cancun?
Luckily, Cancun has great weather all year round, it very really rains. It’s especially trendy during the spring break season, but there’s no need to worry if you don’t want to visit during this hectic time.
The perfect Caribbean weather in this state has what you’re looking for no matter the season, but if you want the best of the best, the ideal time to visit is from December to April.
A downside of visiting Cancun during this period is that prices tend to be higher than usual and you’ll probably face crowds, but the nice weather, stunning scenery, and everything else about the city will make up for it.
What is the best time to visit Puerto Vallarta?
As amusing as it sounds, the same applies to Puerto Vallarta. However, one important difference is that from December to March -the high season- you will be able to see whales during your stay here.
If you’re looking to save some money, find fewer crowds, and good weather, and don’t mind missing the whales, you’ll find the best deals between April and June.
How about the beaches?
You are sure to love Cancun for its dreamy white sand beaches, with soft sand, next to crystal clear waters.
All of Cancun’s beaches are postcard-worthy, or as people would say these days, Instagrammable. The warm water, generally calm waves, and soft sand are great companions for relaxing in the sun and sipping a margarita.
The truth is, you won’t find beaches like Cancun, the Caribbean coast is truly unparalleled. The abundance of luxury resorts and hotels by the ocean is part of what makes Cancun such a popular destination in Mexico.
Whether traveling alone, as a couple, or with the family, the picturesque beach scenery of this city makes it a wonderful vacation spot for any ocean lover.
The only drawback to Cancun’s beaches is that, between May and October, the shores are often covered with large amounts of sargassum (seaweed), but outside of this period they are usually clear and pleasant to enjoy.
Puerto Vallarta’s beaches
As you just read, while Cancun is popular for its white sand and blue waters, the Puerto Vallarta beaches are stretches of golden sand are part of the appeal that draws thousands of visitors each year.
The perfect waves attract many surfers from around the world and tourists who enjoy taking a dip on this side of the Pacific Ocean. P.V. is one of the best places for snorkeling, whale watching from December to March, and sea turtle nesting from May to October.
One of the best beach areas is Bahía de Banderas (Banderas Bay) which connects with the state of Nayarit. This bay has a mesmerizing panorama for everyone who enjoys photography or simply admiring captivating landscapes.
A bold contrast to Cancun is that here you’ll never encounter any seaweed problems. Puerto Vallarta may not have the astounding pristine waters of the Caribbean but its beaches are equally beautiful.
Activities and excursions
The climate and water conditions make Cancun the perfect spot to enjoy tons of activities.
For those who enjoy action, the abundance of water activities will certainly be a strong point. Snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, swimming, fishing, and even surfing are some of the many aquatic sports that can be practiced in Cancun.
Besides enjoying Cancun’s magnificent beaches, you can take a short ferry ride to Isla Mujeres, discover this magnificent island and swim with whale sharks. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
The icing on the cake is the beautiful and distinctive cenotes, natural deep water wells or sinkholes, scattered throughout the state. The cenotes are natural attractions that draw many visitors from all over the world thanks to their peculiarity and beauty.
Finally, Cancun’s various world-class golf courses are a great getaway for golf lovers.
Puerto Vallarta is not far behind, here you’ll also find plenty of things to do accompanied by the bright sunshine and cozy weather.
Just like Cancun, P.V. is a great place to enjoy water activities, but it’s its mountains that make it completely different. Thanks to them you will find things like hiking, zip lining, parasailing, and kite surfing, among others.
Puerto Vallarta has an old-town atmosphere, so it is a bit more relaxed and quiet. Here you can stroll around and see the cozy markets, art galleries, boardwalks, and small businesses. And in case you didn’t know, Vallarta is the Mexican capital of the LGBTQ community, so hotels, clubs, and activities focused on the community are easy to find here.
You can also take some great trips out into the ocean. A top pick is a trip to the uninhabited Marietas Islands. A great place to swim and see sea turtles and rays.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, during the winter visitors can witness the passage of the magnificent humpback whales across Banderas Bay. There are easily accessible excursions that can take you to see this spectacle up close.
Puerto Vallarta also has nine excellent golf courses to spend the day.
Culture & history
Regarding culture and history Puerto Vallarta and Cancun have very different backgrounds and things to offer, let’s see the details about each one.
The modern streets, fancy hotels, wide avenues, and classy restaurants are relatively new, and the city itself doesn’t have that much in the way of culture or history to offer, but its surroundings do. Cancun was developed in the 1970s, which is not that long ago. The first hotels were built along the sandbar which is now known as the hotel zone.
Although the city is not a cultural hotspot, areas of the region such as those mentioned above: Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Valladolid, are home to some of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites, and that’s what many tourists are looking for when they visit Cancun.
The city of Cancun may not have much culture and history, but the state of Quintana Roo has a wealth of culture and history when it comes to Mayan history, so you’ll have no problem finding nearby places to travel back in time and learn about this fascinating civilization.
Since its founding, Puerto Vallarta has been a destination where traditions, culture, art, and history abound. As the city grew, so did its cultural side, with galleries dedicated to hosting art by local artists and spaces to showcase other types of art such as performances, musical shows, etc. Today, Puerto Vallarta is an important location for national and international music, art, and film events.
When visiting you’ll surely notice and enjoy the thriving scene of this picturesque town.
Cancun’s night scene
Throughout the year, but especially during the spring break season, Cancun’s wild party scene comes alive in the hotel zone, where popular clubs like Coco Bongo, Abolengo, and Mandala are the hubs for a fun and wild night out. Whether you’re looking for a memorable night out with friends, with your partner, or alone, this is where you need to be.
Puerto Vallarta once the sun has set
The nightlife scene in Puerto Vallarta is the complete opposite of Cancun. It’s spread through the Zona Romantica and Zona Centro (downtown area), making it totally walkable day and night and within easy walking distance. Puerto Vallarta is known for its lively clubs and bars, many of which welcome patrons of all sexual orientations, so it can be considered a safe place to party.
Cancun is a shopper’s paradise, malls like La Isla Cancun Shopping Village, Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center, and the exclusive Luxury Avenue have a wide variety of stores where you will find everything you are looking for. For local souvenirs, the local markets are the place to go.
In Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find traditional markets and trendy shopping malls. P.V is the perfect place to get artwork for your home, souvenirs, silver, jewelry, and even some fresh local produce at the Farmers’ Markets.
For shopping malls head to Galerias Vallarta, and La Isla, and for souvenirs and other handmade items visit the Malecon, the Municipal Market, the Olas Altas Farmer’s Market, and the Art & Market Marina Vallarta.
In terms of prices, there’s no doubt that the undisputed winner is Puerto Vallarta since accommodation, meals, activities, and other expenses have lower rates.
The average weekly budget for two people in Cancun ranges from $3,000 to $3,200. Of course, this can vary depending on how adept you are at finding cheap flights, accommodations, and the season in which you visit, in this case, you can totally underspend the approximate average.
The average budget for a one-week trip to Puerto Vallarta ranges from $2,000 to $2,500, but again, this can vary depending on the choices you make.
Is the water warmer in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
The water temperature is usually warmer in Cancun than in Puerto Vallarta.
Are the beaches better in Puerto Vallarta or Cancun?
Both destinations have beautiful beaches in different ways. For calm waves, beautiful shores, and soft sand Cancun’s the winner but for seaweed-free coasts, all year round Puerto Vallarta is the champ.
Which is More expensive, Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
Cancun has higher prices than Puerto Vallarta.
Which is safer, Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
Puerto Vallarta and Cancun can be considered safe cities. Both have occasional crime occurrences, but the tourist areas are generally always calm and safe.
After reading this ultimate Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun breakdown you probably have a favorite of these famous beach destinations. In conclusion, both places are great Mexican destinations and the main difference is the different experiences they offer.
If you want to enjoy all-inclusive resorts, visit stunning Mayan ruins and learn the history, cool beach bars and have some of the most fun nights then you should visit Cancun, on the other hand, if you want an authentic Mexican experience full of culture, flavors, art, and a bit of action then Puerto Vallarta is a better match for your Mexico vacation.
We are sure you’ll love either one, happy travels!