Are you trying to decide between Puerto Vallarta vs. Cancun for your next trip? It’s a tough decision to make!
These two beachfront locales are perfect for a sunny getaway. But other than sand and surf, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun couldn’t be more different.
Puerto Vallarta is an old fishing village in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. It’s full of old-world charm and provides a window into Mexican culture. Everything from the architecture to the cuisine is tied to the historical roots of the town.
Meanwhile, Cancun boasts ever-cool white sand beaches and warm water perfect for swimming. It has all the familiar chain-based restaurants and a thriving after-dark scene. Yet, it, too, has its fair share of authentic Mexican culture. Less than two hours away, you’ll find yourself immersed in Mayan ruins and freshwater cenotes.
Both Puerto Vallarta and Cancun have much to offer in terms of value and fun, but which one’s the best?
Well, let’s see if we can answer that.
Below we give a full comparison of Puerto Vallarta vs. Cancun. We’ll talk about the beaches, local activities, and how much each place costs. We’ll also cover hotels and flights. Plus, we’ll denote some special time to wedding and honeymoon considerations, just in case that’s what you’re planning.
By the time we’re through, you’ll be able to choose the best beach vacation spot for you, be it Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. Because let’s be honest, no vacation is one-size-fits-all. Which one you pick will center around what you want from your time out of the office!
Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta: Beaches
Both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta have an excellent reputation for their beaches. These coastline cities are brimming with sand, sea, and sunshine, perfect for earning those vacation tan lines.
Cancun sits along the Mexican Caribbean. There you can expect white sands, pristine waters, and photo-worthy vistas.
Puerto Vallarta sits across the country along Mexico’s Pacific coast. The water there is brimming with large sea life, and the best beaches are hidden in remote but spectacular coves.
Is the Sand Better in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
If you like long, flat, white sand beaches that stand in sharp contrast to a bright crystal-clear sea, Cancun is the place to visit. Specifically, you’ll want to check out the Maya Rivera, where most of the luxury hotels are.
The sand here is soft, and it doesn’t get too hot. That’s because the sand in Cancun is made chiefly of white coral, which reflects rather than absorbs the sun’s heat. So you’ll be barefoot on the beach, even on the hottest of days!
In Puerto Vallarta, the sand isn’t as soft or as cool, but it is beautiful. Lush greenery and rocky outcroppings line striking golden shores.
You may not be able to walk around barefoot as readily here as the ground gets burning hot, but if you come between December and March, you can whale watch right from the beach!
Where is the Ocean Warmer?
For some, a beach vacation is all about the surf! Whether you want to catch a few waves, snorkel, or just enjoy the feel of the tide, the water temperature may be a crucial factor in deciding between Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.
Puerto Vallarta has beautiful underwater caves and striking hidden coves, but the water is a little cold, and the waves can be fierce. So, can you swim in the ocean in Puerto Vallarta? Yes, but it won’t be as enjoyable as swimming in Cancun. You may want a wetsuit and fins if you plan to snorkel or scuba dive.
In Cancun, the water stays at bathtub temperatures, and there are plenty of calm, shallow areas to swim in. There’s plenty to see in terms of underwater reefs and wildlife here, too, making it a perfect spot for beginner snorkelers or those with younger travelers.
Activities in Puerto Vallarta vs. Cancun
Whether you decide to visit Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, both cities offer plenty to do. However, their styles are distinctly different. In Puerto Vallarta, you’ll experience unique facets of Mexican culture via a multitude of locally-owned restaurants and boutiques that sit within a charming downtown.
El Malecón Boardwalk is of particular note. The gorgeous stretch of road lines Puerto Vallarta’s coast, along the Bay of Banderas. A stroll down the boardwalk reveals jaw-dropping views of the coast along with a whole host of fun restaurants and merchant-stands to explore.
Puerto Vallarta also offers numerous boat tours that show off remote beaches and other hidden Pacific coast gems. You’ll likely see dolphins, sea turtles, and even whales just offshore. Plus, there’s excellent surfing and deep-sea fishing in the area.
Cancun provides more of a traditional tourist experience. You’ll find restaurant chains you’re familiar with, like Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. There are several nightclubs and lounges that keep the party going well into the next morning, and a young, Vegas-on-the-beach type vibe dominates the scene.
That’s not to say there’s no adventure or history in Cancun if that’s what you’re looking for. Cancun has a wealth of art museums and cultural attractions to explore. They also have wildlife programs that allow tourists to participate in sea turtle hatchling releases. And, you can famously swim with the dolphins.
Very near Cancun, just a short ride through the Yucatan Peninsula, are the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. It’s a day trip worth taking if ancient civilizations interest you at all.
Cancun is also an excellent spot for sailing lessons, zipline adventures, and snorkeling. There’s even a shipwreck snorkel tour perfect for older children and adventurous adults.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Cancun Cheaper to Visit?
If you’re choosing between Cancun and Puerto Vallarta based on price alone, then there’s no doubt Puerto Vallarta wins. The Pacific coast city boasts prices less expensive than nearly any other city in Mexico, including Tijuana.
If you’re willing to look for a deal, you could easily stay in Puerto Vallarta for under $40 per person per night. For a more luxurious, all-inclusive experience, you’re looking at around $200 per person per night.
Cancun is in higher demand, and you’ll pay more to stay there. Though some hotels will charge upwards of $250 or more a night, you can find deals in the $60 range.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Cancun Safer?
Both Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are tourist destinations and are relatively safe. That said, Puerto Vallarta has less crime than Cancun.
Cancun has made headlines in recent years for spiking murder rates and other unfortunate statistics. However, the government there has taken steps to improve safety, especially in tourist areas. You’ll likely see multiple levels of police roaming the beaches around resorts to protect travelers.
Puerto Vallarta has a strong police presence as well but has far less recorded crime. As a tourist anywhere, though, you should stay aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables secure. Tourist-targeting pickpockets and scammers are common in both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.
Cancun vs. Puerto Vallarta For Big Life Moments
Not all vacations bear the same weight; some mean more than others. Below we’ll discuss the pros and cons of picking Puerto Vallarta or Cancun for those big life moments, like a destination wedding or honeymoon.
Which City is Better for Your Wedding?
Weddings vary significantly. Some couples aim for all-out celebratory bashes, and others seek an intimate exchange of vows. If you put yourself in the former category, Cancun might be the perfect option. It features a Miami-like nightlife that younger guests are bound to enjoy.
Plus, Cancun offers white-sand beaches that will make your wedding pictures pop. And depending on where your guests are coming from, it might be easier to get to. If you’re in the eastern U.S., you can board a direct flight to Cancun from Boston or Atlanta. You can’t do that from many eastern cities with Puerto Vallarta.
For a more intimate wedding in a quieter locale, Puerto Vallarta is ideal. You’ll still get gorgeous photos with a stunning coastal backdrop, but you don’t have to deal with the spring break crowd. Plus, Puerto Vallarta tends to cost a little less and may fit better in a tight wedding budget.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Cancun Better for Your Honeymoon?
Every couple is different, but in general, Puerto Vallarta is the better honeymoon destination. It’s smaller and less Spring Break oriented, which means there’s less noise and partying. Its idyllic coves and serene jungle-lined beaches are perfect for romantic afternoons, and the many charming restaurants are ideal for intimate dinner dates.
That said, Cancun isn’t a bad choice for a honeymoon either, if you pick the right spot. Look for an adult-only, all-inclusive resort. Many offer incredible ocean-front views and in-room hot tubs.
And make plans to explore the many secluded beaches that skirt the resort areas. They’re gorgeous and will keep you away from the crowds.
On that note, avoid Cancun in March, April, and May, when spring breakers take over the city. It makes for crowded restaurants and noisy beaches that are far from romance-inducing.
Top 5 Hotels in Puerto Vallarta
If you’ve settled on Puerto Vallarta for your next fun-in-the-sun trip, you’re probably curious about lodging arrangements. Below we briefly discuss the top five hotels in Puerto Vallarta and who they’re best suited for. We’re partial to Hotel Mousai, ourselves, but all five are incredible options.
Hotel Mousai is an all-inclusive adult’s only resort and spa. It’s perfect for honeymooners or couples looking to get away and is the only AAA five-diamond resort in all of Jalisco.
The rooms here are modern and sleek, but what’s truly stunning is the hotel’s location right on Banderas Bay. Enjoy the glittering blue-green sea from 18-stories up at the hotel’s exclusive rooftop pool and club.
Or, enjoy beachfront dining at one of the many restaurants included with your stay. Hotel Mousai sits within the Gaza Blanca Preserve complex and shares its dining amenities. That means more restaurant options come with your all-inclusive privileges.
Secrets Vallarta Bay is steps away from the El Malecón Boardwalk and sits on a pristine Pacific coast beach. It’s a AAA Four Diamond resort that caters to adults, particularly couples.
It features a gorgeous spa, an open-air theater for live entertainment, two 18-hole golf courses, and eleven unique food and beverage venues. Plus, Secrets has upgraded swim-out suites. You can literally step into the hotel’s maze of pools from your private patio.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Secrets also offers sunset horseback rides and big-screen movies on the beach.
If you’re seeking the two R’s (that’d be romance and relaxation), Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel is the best choice. It’s not a giant resort property like Secrets or Hotel Mousai, but that keeps things quiet and intimate.
It’s in a perfect location, on the beach but within walking distance to El Malecón Boardwalk. And the staff here receives a lot of praise. Hotel guests say Villa Premiere is the best in terms of genuine hospitality.
For family vacations Now Amber is the place to stay. This AAA Four-Diamond all-inclusive resort is on Banderas Bay and attached to the Secrets property. So, you have access to the same 11 dining outlets as well as the outdoor theater.
Unlike Secrets, though, Now Amber welcomes children and families. With playgrounds, treasure hunts, sandcastle contests, and kid-focused cooking classes, there’s plenty to keep little ones entertained.
On top of that, Now Amber allows guests to participate in Mexico’s sea turtle release program, perfect for getting kids interested in wildlife and preservation. They also offer a daily, supervised Explorer’s Club to keep young ones entertained while adults enjoy the sun.
Eighty-five acres of jungle and beach make up the Gaza Blanca Preserve, home to the Gaza Blanca Resort as well as Hotel Mousai. Unlike Hotel Mousai, though, Gaza Blanca is family-friendly. They welcome children and guests of all ages.
Within the Gaza Blanca Preserve, you’ll find several hiking trails, an imported white-sand beach, three high-end restaurants, and both indoor and outdoor fitness facilities. Plus, it offers all sorts of activities for young and old alike. They offer bird-watching tours, yoga classes, and tequila tastings!
Related: Buying Property in Mexico
Top 5 Hotels in Cancun
If white-sand beaches and crystal clear seas are calling your name, then you might be wondering about where to stay in Cancun. Below we cover your top five options.
For an adult-only take on Cancun, the Live Aqua Beach Resort is perfect. This modern, luxury hotel provides the ultimate in romantic getaways. From its luxurious zen spa to its selection of high-end restaurants, there’s not much more you could want in a hotel.
The beachfront property features unfettered views of the Caribbean seas and a multitude of waterfront pools, hot tubs, and cabanas to relax in. There’s not much of a party scene at this particular resort; it caters to a slightly older crowd. That makes it perfect for quieter, romantic getaways, even if you happen to be visiting Cancun in the heart of spring break.
For the best in resort food and top-notch service, look no further than Secrets The Vine Cancun. This adults-only, all-inclusive hotel is right on the water and is a AAA Four-Diamond property. It’s the type of resort you’ll never want to leave. And really, there’s no reason to.
Everything you need is right there and included for your convenience. Incredible food from one of the many resort restaurants is available 24/7, and there are tons of on-site activities. The resort features wine tastings, dance lessons, and yoga classes. Plus, they host beach parties, theme nights, and live music regularly.
If you’re traveling with family, the Grand Fiesta Americana is the place to stay. The all-inclusive resort features all the luxury touches you want to see in a high-end hotel, but there’s plenty to do for the kiddos as well.
A giant, bright-colored, and technology-enhanced “Kidz Club” will keep young ones entertained. Plus, there’s a kid’s only water play area complete with slides and splash pads.
For adults, there’s a full spa and amazing, fine dining options. Or just relax on the white sand beaches!
When the family wants to hang out together, check out the Marina, which features paddle boarding and a glass-bottomed boat. Or, spend an afternoon in the nearby jungle with a mangrove river tour!
The Mayan-inspired, all-inclusive Hyatt Zilara provides a truly luxurious experience. With infinity pools, beach butlers, and six restaurants, and five bars, there’s no end to the indulgence here.
With rooms that feature swim-up terraces and balcony hot tubs, this is definitely an adult-oriented property. It has a full spa and offers several water-based group classes. You can try your hand at water aerobics or water volleyball.
And at the end of the day, the hotel offers all sorts of live entertainment, from live music to aerial acrobats. Or, to create an extra memorable trip, take advantage of Hyatt’s offered on-beach dining. Your “Romance Concierge” will set up a private table in the sand, perfect for celebrating special occasions.
For those heading to Cancun with a craving for the classic Spring Break scene, the Hard Rock Hotel is where you should be staying. Hard Rock Hotels almost always cater to a younger crowd, and this one’s no exception.
Staying here is an all-inclusive, high-energy experience. Though kids are allowed here, the resort caters to a twenty-something crowd. The nightly entertainment is typically loud and may go late.
With your stay, you’ll have access to unlimited golf, food, drinks, pool service, and beach activities. Plus, you’ll be in the bright, bold, but familiar atmosphere of a Hard Rock Hotel.
5 Cities with Non-Stop Flights to Cancun
Sometimes picking between two destinations comes down to available flights. Flying direct to Cancun is relatively easy from most U.S. locations because it’s a popular tourist destination. All of the cities listed below provide direct, non-stop flights to Cancun.
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Los Angeles, California
- Dallas, Texas
- Miami, Florida
5 Cities with Non-Stop Flights to Puerto Vallarta
Flying direct to Puerto Vallarta is simple if you’re in the western U.S. It isn’t as easy for east coasters, but it’s not impossible. Other than the cities listed below, New York City and Chicago both offer limited non-stop flights to P.V.
- Denver, Colorado
- Houston, Texas
- Los Angeles, California
- Phoenix, Arizona
- San Francisco, California
Puerto Vallarta and Cancun both offer gorgeous beaches, great food, and an exciting taste of Mexican culture. However, they’re two distinctly different destinations.
Cancun provides everything a traditional tourist has come to expect; a true home-away-from-home experience. You can easily find familiar restaurants and most people speak English fluently.
Yet you still get the breathtaking white sand beaches and crystal-clear surf. The nightlife there is closer to Miami or Vegas, so you’re sure to be entertained. And there are Mayan ruins to explore, just a couple of hours away.
Puerto Vallarta retains its old-world charm and feel. It’s a little more secluded and provides what some would say is a truer taste of Mexican culture. There you can enjoy more traditional restaurants, architecture, and shops. And, if you’re there at the right time, you can even whale watch!
Both cities are worth visiting if you get the chance, but assuming you have to choose just one, we suggest you decide what you want out of your vacation. For non-stop fun in the sun, warm water, and soft sand, Cancun is the obvious option.
For a slightly more affordable experience that gives a taste of authentic culture, rather than the typical tourist sampling, Puerto Vallarta is the best destination.
Comparing Puerto Vallarta vs. Cancun makes for a tough vacation choice! But, no matter what you choose, you’re guaranteed great hospitality, gorgeous sites, and plenty of sunshine.