Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta are two of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. They both offer a wide variety of experiences, lodging, shopping, and dining. However, they are quite different cities, and the differences between the two are very obvious.
If you are considering a trip to Mexico and Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are on the top of your list, there are things you should know about each city that will make your choice simple.
For instance, Cabo is more “Americanized”, so you’ll find many of the comforts of home here (yes, there’s a Walmart and a Costco!).
Puerto Vallarta is a more traditional Mexican city so you will have a more cultural experience than you will in many of the other tourist communities.
There are also differences in the beaches, water temperature, food, and size to consider when you are thinking about a trip to Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. In this article, we’ll offer the differences between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, so that you can select the perfect location for your next vacation.
A Quick Overview & Comparison: Cabo vs Puerto Vallarta
For family vacations, I pick Puerto Vallarta as the better choice. With established resorts, lots of local history and sites, and clean beaches with calm waters, Puerto Vallarta is a great family-friendly spot.
For adults looking for a place to let loose, and enjoy plenty of recreational activities, Cabo is my pick. The town is built around tourists, has great nightlife, and offers plenty of options for entertainment and recreation.
- More “Americanized”
- Newer community with lots of resort options
- Beaches offer a variety of recreation options
- Dry desert climate
- An older city with lots of history
- Beaches are smaller and great for kids
- A larger city with lots of activities
- A perfect balance of sea and mountain
Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are both located on the western side of Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is on the Pacific Ocean and Cabo enjoys both the warm waters of the Baja of Mexico and the Pacific.
One of the most notable differences between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta is the age of the community. Both are beautiful cities, however, Puerto Vallarta is much older and has a rich history. Cabo, on the other hand, is a more modern city that has almost grown up with the tourist industry. There are places where you can experience the culture and history of the Baja, but in general, Cabo is all about the tourists.
Beaches are also a striking difference between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. Many of the beaches in Cabo are on the Pacific, so they aren’t always great for family activities or swimming. However, Cabo does offer some great spots for surfing and some beautiful clear waters for snorkeling and scuba diving. Puerto Vallarta has smaller beaches and warm shallow water that is perfect for kids, families, and visitors that want to swim.
Besides these basic differences, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are both amazing places to visit on your next vacation. In this article, I’ll offer some additional differences between the two cities, and share which are best for a variety of travelers, and those travelers looking for particular experiences.
Cabo or Puerto Vallarta: A Quick Guide to Choosing
With a little bit of information under your belt, it’s time for me to dive a bit deeper into the differences between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. In this next section, I’ll offer some basic information about each city so you get a better feel for each.
Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but Cabo is one of my favorite vacation spots. One thing that you need to know is that most people refer to this area as Cabo, but it is in fact, a joining of two different communities, Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos. These two communities each have their own history, but much of their charm comes from the modern tourist industry that has given an influx of revenue and life to both cities.
The desert climate of Cabo is unique to the tourist communities in Mexico. This dry, temperate climate has a fairly consistent temperature year-round, and a rainy season that lasts for just a few months but is not as rainy as you might think.
The lodging options in Cabo range from chain hotels to timeshares, and luxury resorts. The quality in Cabo also seems to be a bit better than other spots in Mexico. Many of the accommodation options have outstanding restaurants, and you’ll find that there are plenty of fine dining options. You’ll also find some fun spots like Cabo Wabo and the Baja Brewing Company.
Cabo offers a ton of outdoor recreation. From snorkeling and diving to surfing, golf, and horseback riding. There are also guided excursions that will take you 4-wheeling in the desert.
Puerto Vallarta Mini Guide
- Location Size- 502 sq mi
- Population- 556,000
- Rainy Season- June through Mid-October
- High Season- December to April
- Top Sights- Cuale Cultural Center, Malecón Boardwalk, Mirador de La Cruz
- Major Airports- Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport
Puerto Vallarta is a bit of a study of differences. This larger city is full of things to do and see, but it has plenty of peaceful spots that are great for a quiet getaway. It is also perfect for families but has a fun and exciting nightlife that draws young adult travelers, and those looking for a bit of fun.
Puerto Vallarta has long been a popular location for college-age and young adult travelers. It has a wealth of night spots and fun bars that cater to this crowd. However, this crowd is in the city for just a short time. When the college kids aren’t in town, Puerto Vallarta is a perfect spot for families and couples who are looking for a fun spot to enjoy a holiday.
Lodging in Puerto Vallarta is well-established, and you won’t find many new resorts. However, it does offer plenty of lodging variety including timeshares, luxury resorts, and hotel chains. If you are looking for something new and a bit more upscale, check out lodging in Nuevo Vallarta. This part of the city is new and full of beautiful hotels and condos.
And there are the beaches. Puerto Vallarta’s beaches are ideal for sunbathing and swimming. With shallow, warm water, there is plenty of beach space for kids, seniors, and sun-worshipers.
The 7 Key Differences Between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta
Now that you know a little about Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, I offer you some key differences between the two cities. This overview is really to help you better decide between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta for your next vacation.
1. Which Is Better for Activities?
When it comes to activities, you really have to consider what kind of activities you enjoy. Both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta offer some great things to do. Puerto Vallarta has lots of day trips that allow you to explore the history of the area and one of the major industries in the area; tequila production.
When it comes to planning your Cabo itinerary there are plenty of things to see and do, with lots of outdoor recreational activities such as surfing, paddleboarding, horseback riding, golf, snorkeling, and diving. There are also fun excursions that will take you to the arch at the end of the Baja. You can have dinner on a pirate ship or head to the desert for a day exploring nature on 4-wheelers.
2. Which Is More Family Friendly?
Puerto Vallarta has had a lot more time to perfect entertaining kids. When it comes to picking a better location for families, my pick is Puerto Vallarta. Some of the things that make Puerto Vallarta great for families include direct flights from most major US cities.
When you get to Puerto Vallarta, the drive from the airport to the resort areas is pretty short. So short flights, quick drive means faster time to the beach and happier kids. Most hotels are family-friendly, offering activities and amenities for kids. The beaches in Puerto Vallarta are better for kids too. With shallow, calm waters kids can enjoy playing in the ocean with less concern for strong currents or big waves.
3. Which Has Better Nightlife?
Hands down, the better nightlife is in Cabo. Cabo has plenty of great clubs, bars, and restaurants that cater to tourists looking for a great time. One thing to note is that Cabo is full of expats, so when you travel there you’ll find that most spots are filled with Americans. So, you’ll find that it is easier to communicate at many bars and nightclubs.
Puerto Vallarta has plenty of fun night spots as well, though many are best during March and April when spring breakers descend on the city. Outside of these two months, you’ll find nice bars that are just a little more upscale than those in Cabo.
4. Which Is Cheaper?
Most people are surprised to find that Puerto Vallarta is more affordable than Cabo. Yes, you may pay more for airfare, but once you get to Puerto Vallarta you’ll find that it is not as touristy, and with much of the economy based on local businesses and not tourism, prices for things like food, beverages, excursions, and even souvenirs tend to be more affordable than in tourist-heavy spots like Cabo.
5. How Does the Food Compare? Or Which Is Better for Restaurants & Eating Out?
Once upon a time, this would have been an easy question to answer. Puerto Vallarta for many years was the best place in Mexico for cuisine. With plenty of upscale and gourmet restaurants, there was a time you couldn’t surpass the food scene in Puerto Vallarta.
However, today, Cabo and Los Cabos are giving Puerto Vallarta a run for its money. With more and more expats moving to Cabo, there is a growing demand for higher-quality restaurants and more upscale options. Cabo’s food scene is growing and offers plenty of options from traditional Mexican to some of the best upscale dining in all of Mexico.
6. Which Is Easier to Get To?
This again depends on a few factors. Mostly, where in the US you live, and the airlines serving your area. For those of us in the western US, Cabo is a pretty easy destination to travel to.
There are numerous flights to Cabo each day, and many are direct from the larger airports. The airport at Los Cabos is smaller but does a good job of managing the growing number of tourists. Cabo is also safely accessible by car, which is an option you don’t have with Puerto Vallarta.
For much of the rest of the US, Puerto Vallarta is a much easier destination. Its larger airport offers plenty of flights from numerous destinations each day. Many flights from the US are direct to Puerto Vallarta, making it perfect for families with small children. However, the best and safest way to get to Puerto Vallarta is by plane. It is not recommended that you travel by car to this destination.
7. Which Is Easier to Get Around Town?
Cabo wins this category. Because it is a smaller community, and most of the places that you’ll want to visit are along the beach and marina, there is little difficulty getting a taxi to take you exactly where you want to be. Puerto Vallarta is a fairly large community, so it can take a bit of time, and specific directions to get where you want to go.
5 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Cabo or Puerto Vallarta
To round out my comparison of Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, I answer five common questions that many visitors ask before picking a location for their next holiday.
Is Cabo or Puerto Vallarta Better for Hotels?
I have stayed in some great spots in both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, but for me, Cabo is really the better spot for hotels. Sure, Puerto Vallarta has some great resorts with amazing amenities. But, many are older, and rooms can seem overused and dated, even in the nicest locations. Many of Cabo’s resorts are fairly new and offer modern amenities. Sure there are some older resorts in town, but most are new within the last 20 years and have beautiful rooms and great features for all sorts of visitors.
When Should You Visit Cabo or Puerto Vallarta?
For both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, the best time to visit is November through June. During this window you’ll experience mild temperatures and minimal rain. Both cities are also prone to hurricanes which are common in the Pacific from late September to early November.
Is Cabo or Puerto Vallarta Better for Outdoor Adventures?
Cabo is the better choice if you are looking for outdoor recreation or adventures. Since the area is so focused on tourists, they have tons of activities close by. The sea is the focus of many of the outdoor activities in Cabo, with options including boat tours, snorkeling, paddle boarding and even surfing.
You can also take guided tours to the desert to enjoy the area’s natural landscapes. Cabo also offers numerous golf courses if you are looking for a more structured outdoor activity.
Is Cabo or Puerto Vallarta Better for Remote Work?
With so many expats living in Cabo, the one thing that you’ll find is consistent is good WiFi. Cabo is a great spot if you are looking to spend some time away from the grind, but still need to get some work done.
Puerto Vallarta is OK for remote work, depending on where you stay. For the best remote work experience in Puerto Vallarta, look for lodging in Nuevo Vallarta, where the infrastructure is newer and geared toward tourists.
Is Cabo or Puerto Vallarta Better for Beaches?
It is tough to pick one over the other when it comes to beaches. Both have beautiful locations, and soft sugary sand. But, if you are looking for a true beach experience, Puerto Vallarta is the better pick.
Many of the beaches are protected by the bay that the city sits on. So, the water is calm and waves are small. And because Puerto Vallarta is not so tourist-heavy, most of the beaches are quiet and particularly clean.