Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: Best Mexican Vacation Destination 2021

If you are planning a vacation and have narrowed down your destination choices to Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun, you have already made a great choice. Both of these cities are premier tourist destinations, with a wealth of attractions and activities, luxury accommodations, and world-class dining and entertainment. That being said, there are some major differences between the two cities. The best choice for you will depend on a number of important factors outlined below.

History and Present Situation

Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: A View from the Hills Over Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: A View from the Hills Over Puerto Vallarta

Perhaps the biggest difference between Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun is the history of the two cities. Puerto Vallarta’s history begins in earnest in the 19th century, when the area was no more than a small fishing village. Throughout the middle and end of the 19th century, Puerto Vallarta saw increased development, as mining and agriculture companies moved into the area, and the fishing and pearl-diving industries started to take off. Throughout the early and mid 20th century, development increased, with the construction of an airport, hotels, restaurants, etc. And by the 1960s, Puerto Vallarta was a significant international tourist destination.

In essence, Puerto Vallarta is an authentic Mexican city with a relatively long history, starting as a small village that grew and developed organically into the city it is today. In contrast, the history of Cancun did not start until the 1970s, when the Mexican federal government invested significant funds into developing a coastal area of the Yucatan Peninsula that was almost completely uninhabited, with only 100 residents living in the area in 1970. The government began by constructing 9 hotels in the area, and then contributed funds to building the rest of the city around what would come to be called the “Hotel Zone.”

The end result of these different origin stories is that Puerto Vallarta has the feel of a historical, authentic Mexican city. The buildings, the streets criss-crossing the city, the city’s layout, its food, and its culture are all representative of the “real” Mexico. On the other hand, Cancun can feel like a tourist bubble, separated from the authentic Mexican experience. 

Therefore, in terms of history and culture, Puerto Vallarta has Cancun beat. However, this is far from the only factor you should consider. Next, we will look at the major attractions in Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun, which is arguably a more important criteria to consider for your vacation. 


Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: The Beach at Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: The Beach at Puerto Vallarta

When it comes to attractions and entertainment, Cancun is hard to beat. One of the biggest, most famous tourist destinations in the world, Cancun has almost everything the average vacationer could want, and attracts millions of families, honeymooners, and spring breakers every year.

The white sand beaches and turquoise Caribbean waters of Cancun are some of the nicest in the world, and a major reason for Cancun’s popularity. The most popular activities on the beaches and in the ocean include swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving at the reefs, motorboating, jet skiing, waterskiing, parasailing, hoverboarding, paddleboarding, relaxing on the beach, and much more.

Off the beach, Cancun is most famous for its nightlife, with a wide variety of nightclubs and bars featuring outdoor locations, rooftops, live DJs and entertainment, theme nights, and low-cost drinks. The nightclubs are perhaps even more popular than the beaches, and are one of the main features that make Cancun one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

Other popular activities in Cancun include day trips to explore the nearby Mayan ruins, visiting museums, swimming with dolphins at the interactive aquariums, ATV tours through the jungle, swimming at underwater caves called cenotes, and more.

In Puerto Vallarta the atmosphere is generally calmer, and more laid back than in Cancun. The beaches in Puerto Vallarta feature yellow sands and cool, blue Pacific waters. Most of the city is located on Banderas Bay, which has calmer, stiller waters than most other Mexican cities on the Pacific, making it a great place to swim, snorkel, scuba dive, paddleboard, and kayak. 

Puerto Vallarta generally does not get as hot as Cancun, which means the waters are cooler. It also rains more frequently, especially during the summer months, which makes Puerto Vallarta a more attractive destination in the winter or spring.

Aside from the beach, popular attractions in Puerto Vallarta include hiking or taking an ATV tour through the jungle to beautiful waterfalls and sinkholes, swimming with dolphins, horseback riding tours through the mountains, exploring the city, and enjoying the restaurants and bars.

Although the nightlife in Puerto Vallarta is certainly not on par with Cancun’s, it does have plenty of nightclubs and bars that make great destinations for those interested in partying.

Overall, the general consensus is that the beaches and ocean in Cancun is nicer. It is hard to beat Caribbean beaches in that aspect, although the Puerto Vallarta beaches certainly give them a run for their money. In terms of the other attractions and activities, there is a lot of overlap between the two cities.


Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: Beachfront Access from a Resort in Cancun
Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: Beachfront Access from a Resort in Cancun

An important point to consider when deciding between Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun is the accommodations. As mentioned above, Cancun is a city that was built from the ground up to attract and accommodate tourists. The first major buildings constructed in the area were hotels, and since then, a 15 mile strip along the prime Cancun beachfront has developed into the “Hotel Zone,” full of all-inclusive resorts that have everything from extensive pools with ocean views, to five star dining, spas, gyms, beachfront access, and more.

In terms of luxury, Cancun’s all-inclusive resorts are some of the best in the world. However, Puerto Vallarta is by no means lacking in that department either. As a major tourist destination since the 1960s, Puerto Vallarta has a long history of catering to tourists, and the hotels and resorts in the city are beautiful, with beaches located just steps away from the suites, all-inclusive packages that include authentic Mexican dining, bars, spas, pools, and more.


Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: A Flight Coming into Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun: A Flight Coming into Puerto Vallarta

One major factor to take into account when considering Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun is accessibility. Located on Mexico’s west coast, with frequent direct flights from most major cities in the western United States and Canada, Puerto Vallarta is a much easier flight from most cities on the US and Canadian west coasts. 

On the other hand, if you are located in the midwest or on the east coast, Cancun is generally more accessible, and a much shorter flight. Nothing can ruin a great vacation faster than being stuck in airports and on planes all day going to and from your destination. If you are considering Mexico for your next vacation, there is a good chance that one of the reasons for that is because it is a close destination, with easy, fast flights. Therefore, looking at the flight times to Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun from your area is a must-do before deciding on your destination.


The bottom line: Puerto Vallarta is less expensive than Cancun. As one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth, Cancun has no shortage of people to fill the resort suites, restaurant tables, nightclubs, and more, meaning they can charge higher prices for just about everything. If you are planning on travelling on a budget, Puerto Vallarta will generally be the better choice. You will have to do some research yourself first, and prices will fluctuate depending on the season and current events happening in each city, but in general, everything from hotel prices to food to tours and day trips will be less expensive in Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun.

The Bottom Line

When considering Puerto Vallarta or Cancun for your next trip, there are many factors to take into account. The bottom line is this:

Beaches – Most visitors agree that Cancun has Puerto Vallarta beat in this regard. Caribbean beaches like those found in Cancun are some of the nicest in the world, with warm, white powder sands and turquoise waters. The beaches in Puerto Vallarta are also stunning, and you would be hard pressed to find nicer beaches up or down the Pacific coast, but in general, most people seem to prefer the Caribbean to the Pacific.

Nightlife- No contest here. Cancun has Puerto Vallarta beat. Cancun’s nightlife is some of the best in the world, and while there is no shortage of nightclubs and bars in Puerto Vallarta, if you are mainly interested in the nightlife, Cancun is the obvious choice.

Culture and Experiences – As the more authentic Mexican city, Puerto Vallarta has Cancun beat in this department. The food, the buildings, the culture, and the overall experience is authentically Mexican, and you will walk away feeling like you experienced the best Mexico has to offer, while you may walk away from Cancun feeling like you just took a trip to Miami.

Cost – Puerto Vallarta is less expensive overall than Cancun

In conclusion, there is no universal “right” choice when considering Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun for your destination. The better choice for you will depend on the above factors.

See Also:

Playa del Carmen vs Cancun 2021: Which is the Best Vacation Destination

Cozumel vs Cancun: Best Vacation Spot in Mexico 2021

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