Two of the most popular resort cities on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta are both excellent choices for your next vacation. When deciding between Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta, there are a number of factors you should take into account. Although the cities are located on the same coast, there are a few major differences between them. Depending on what you want to do on your vacation, the better destination for you will change. Here is what you should take into account when deciding between Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta.
History and Present Situation
Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta both have rich histories dating back hundreds of years, from their foundations as small villages to their eventual growth into large cities supporting hundreds of thousands of residents and millions of tourists annually. Unlike many of the resort cities on the Yucatan, the cities on Mexico’s west coast grew organically, without much investment from the Mexican federal government. This means that both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta are authentic Mexican cities, with great food, culture, historic sites, and more.
One unique aspect of Mazatlan’s history is the fact that the city has a strong German influence, owing to the arrival of a large German population in the mid 19th century. This influence is still present today, and can be seen most strongly in the music of the area, which is similar to Bavarian German style music, as well as the food, and especially the beer in the area.
Mazatlan started to develop into a major tourist destination throughout the 1940s-60s, attracting a number of Hollywood stars and wealthy American vacationers, who were mainly attracted to the sportfishing in the area. The 1970s and 80s saw a decline in tourism, which picked up again at the start of the 21st century, as the area was “rediscovered” by vacationers, and has since become a booming resort city.
Puerto Vallarta started to become a major vacation destination in the 1960s and 70s, with the construction of many luxury beachfront hotels, a new airport, and a highway. Similar to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta saw something of a slump in tourism, starting in the 1980s, and due partially to the construction of Cancun and other Mexican resort cities on the Caribbean Sea. However, since then, there has been a boom in tourism, as land reform opened up more areas for development into private vacation residences, condos, and luxury hotels. Today, Puerto Vallarta is one of the best vacation destinations in Mexico.
When comparing the major attractions at Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta, there are many similarities. Both are mainly popular for their beaches. With yellow sands and cool, blue Pacific waters, the beaches in both cities are stunning and perfect for relaxing or swimming.
The beaches at Mazatlan are longer than those at Puerto Vallarta, with more miles of beach overall and better access from Mazatlan’s five mile long boardwalk. With so many miles of beach, the beaches in Mazatlan are generally less crowded than those at Puerto Vallarta. The waters are also generally calm and very swimmable.
That being said, the beaches at Puerto Vallarta are not to be written off. In fact, Puerto Vallarta’s beaches are very similar to Mazatlan’s, with beautiful yellow sands and even calmer, stiller waters due to the fact that Puerto Vallarta is located on Banderas Bay rather than directly on the ocean.
Both cities have a wealth of beachfront activities and watersports to partake in, including motorboating, kayaking, deep sea fishing, jet skiing, parasailing, and more.
Off the beach, popular activities in Mazatlan include golfing, ATV tours, ziplining, sightseeing tours, excursions to the ghost town of Marmol de Salcido, electric bicycle tours, river kayaking, shopping, and visiting the local spas, hot springs, and restaurants. The food in Mazatlan is widely considered some of the best in Mexico. The restaurants cater to a large local clientele as well as tourists, so the food is authentic Mexican food, not watered down or Americanized like you might get at other destinations. The fresh seafood is some of the best in the country as well.
In Puerto Vallarta, popular activities include hiking, ATV tours, rock climbing, ziplining, swimming with dolphins, and frequenting the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants downtown.
When comparing the restaurants, nightlife, and bars in Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta, the bottom line is that Puerto Vallarta, despite being the smaller city, has a wider range of options to choose from than Mazatlan. Puerto Vallarta has cafes, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs all over the city. Although Mazatlan has plenty as well, Puerto Vallarta has significantly more, so if you are looking for great food and a vibrant nightlife, Puerto Vallarta may be the better choice.
Both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta have a wealth of luxury hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and villas and condos for rent. You will have no trouble finding excellent accommodations at either location. Puerto Vallarta is considered to be the slightly more “touristy” destination, so it has more options in terms of hotels, but typically a suite in Puerto Vallarta is also a bit more expensive than similar accommodations in Mazatlan.
Some of the best hotels in Mazatlan include:
Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort: A stunning, five-star beachfront resort with beautiful suites, a gym, five restaurants, two pools, and more. The resort offers convenient access some of Mazatlan’s best activities, including water sports, tennis, and fishing.
Costa de Oro Beach Hotel: A family-friendly hotel located right on the beach. The Costa de Oro Beach Hotel features beautiful rooms with kitchenettes, a pool and poolside bar, and easy access to some of the best restaurants in Mazatlan.
Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay: A five-star hotel with a private beach and rooms with private balconies that offer stunning views of the Pacific, the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay is one of Mazatlan’s best hotels. The hotel also features a pool, spa, tennis courts, and access to great golf courses and fishing destinations.
Some of the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta include:
Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta: A five-star hotel in the beautiful location right between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madres, the Garza Blanca offers some of the most scenic views in the city. Beautiful rooms with private terraces and whirlpool tubs, and a pool, beach, and gym, make this hotel one of the best in Puerto Vallarta.
Sunscape Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa: Beautiful oceanfront hotel that is close to some of Puerto Vallarta’s best shopping, dining, and nightlife options.
Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta: Five-star oceanfront resort with a pool, gym, spa, tennis court, and beautiful rooms with private balconies. Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta is within walking distance of some of Puerto Vallarta’s biggest attractions, including the El Malecon boardwalk.
Mazatlan is about a 6 and a half hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta. Mazatlan’s location puts it about a day’s drive from the US border, making it more accessible if you plan on driving, however, the vast majority of vacationers coming to either of these two cities do so by airplane.
In this regard, Puerto Vallarta is more accessible than Mazatlan. Puerto Vallarta has significantly more nonstop flights from major US cities than Mazatlan does. In fact, only four airlines currently fly direct to Mazatlan, vs around 20 for Puerto Vallarta, and more airports have frequent direct flights to Puerto Vallarta, making it overall more accessible than Mazatlan.
Cost is a big factor when considering Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta. In general, Mazatlan is less expensive than Puerto Vallarta, in terms of just about everything. From accommodations to food to activities, you will save some money if you choose Mazatlan. The difference is not always significant, usually prices are about 10-15% lower than in Puerto Vallarta, which can add up, but may not be enough to be the deciding factor for a short vacation.
The Bottom Line
There is no wrong choice between Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta. Mazatlan is the less expensive city with arguably better food and nicer beaches, but Puerto Vallarta has more to do in terms of nightlife, excursions, and activities, and the beaches and food in Puerto Vallarta is not far off from those in Mazatlan. Puerto Vallarta is also easier to get to, due to the fact that more airports and airlines have direct flights to Puerto Vallarta.
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