Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta: Two of the most popular tourist destinations on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta are both famous for their vast beaches, beautiful scenery, and wealth of watersports, tours, and other activities to partake in. Despite their similarities and close proximity, there are also many differences between Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta. Here is a closer look at how the two cities compare, and which one you should stay in on your next vacation.
The first thing to note when comparing Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta is the background and history of the two cities. Although Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta are only a 20-minute car ride apart, their histories are quite different. Puerto Vallarta has a long history dating back to the pre-colonial era, when the area was inhabited by the Aztlán people.
In the colonial era, the area was sparsely inhabited, and was mainly a center for sailing, smuggling, and pirate operations. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the modern town of Puerto Vallarta was established, fist as a fishing and pearl-diving village, then as a larger port, and eventually developing into a large city and major tourist attraction by the mid 20th century.
The long and rich history of Puerto Vallarta means that today the city is an authentic Mexican city, with historic buildings and great Mexican food, music, and culture. The state of Jalisco, where Puerto Vallarta is located, is the birthplace of Mexican cultural icons like tequila and mariachi music, and it retains strong elements of this history.
On the other hand, Nuevo Vallarta has more in common with tourist destinations on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, like Cancun, in that it was developed in the 1980s specifically for the purpose of attracting tourism. In fact, in some respects, comparing Nuevo Vallarta to Puerto Vallarta is like comparing apples to oranges, because Puerto Vallarta is a historic Mexican city, and Nuevo Vallarta is a resort town that is only a couple of decades old.
This does not mean that Nuevo Vallarta is the inferior destination, in fact, in many respects, Nuevo Vallarta, as a planned city with newer resorts and infrastructure, can be seen as the better choice for a vacation. Also, because the two cities are so close in proximity, it is more than possible to visit both. Here are the other factors you should take into account when considering which city to stay in.
Attractions and Activities
Despite its authentic Mexican culture and atmosphere, Puerto Vallarta is quite tourist-friendly, with excellent tourism infrastructure, and a wide variety of attractions and activities. The biggest attraction in Puerto Vallarta is the beaches, which are excellent representatives of Mexico’s famous Pacific shores.
The beaches at Puerto Vallarta are long with soft, yellow sands bordered by cool, deep blue waters. Located on the Bay of Banderas, the waters around Puerto Vallarta are much more calm and serene than the waters off the coast of most other cities in the area, which are located directly on the Pacific Ocean. This makes Puerto Vallarta a great place to learn how to scuba dive, jet ski, kayak, parasail, and more. Other popular oceanfront activities in Puerto Vallarta include whale watching tours and deep-sea fishing trips.
Other attractions in Puerto Vallarta include the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, the local 18-hole golf courses, ATV, hiking, and buggy tours through the Sierra Madre, horseback riding, and canopy tours and ziplining. Located in the home state of tequila, the Puerto Vallarta area is full of blue agave fields and tequila distilleries, and tequila tours and tastings are very popular.
Puerto Vallarta is a busy city that has a wide variety of great restaurants to choose from. If you decide not to stay at an all-inclusive resort, or if you just want to venture outside the resort for a meal, Puerto Vallarta has plenty of great authentic Mexican food, fresh seafood, and international options. Some popular restaurants in Puerto Vallarta include Pipi’s, El Palomar de los Gonzalez, Ah Caramba, and Chez Elena.
Nuevo Vallarta has many of the same attractions as Puerto Vallarta, but with a few key differences. One thing to note about Nuevo Vallarta is that the community is centered entirely around tourism. This means that the beaches and the tours are excellent, and very easily accessible. Staying in Nuevo Vallarta gives you easy access to hiking, cycling, and ATV tours; speedboating; ziplining; snorkeling and scuba diving; yachting; sailing; visiting secluded beaches; whale watching; fishing; golfing, and more.
Because Nuevo Vallarta is more catered to tourists than Puerto Vallarta, these tours are easier to get to, and more frequent. Whereas in Puerto Vallarta you may have to walk or drive around the city to get from one tour to the next, in Nuevo Vallarta, the tours often leave right from the resorts. One downside of this though, is that there is no historic city or cultural centers in Nuevo Vallarta. Like Cancun and other resort areas developed specifically for tourism, staying in Nuevo Vallarta can feel like staying in a tourist bubble, with little exposure to the “real” Mexico.
Puerto Vallarta has a beachfront “Hotel Zone” towards the south of the city, where visitors can find all-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, international chains, and villas and condos for rent. The beachfront all-inclusive resorts are the most popular accommodations, offering master suites, a wider variety of tours, fine dining, pools, spas, gyms, and more.
Nice hotels in Puerto Vallarta on the lower end of the budget include Hotel Mocali, Hotel Encino, and Casa Kraken Hostel, all of which are one block away from the beach. One the other end, some of the nicest all-inclusive resorts include Casa Velas Hotel Boutique, Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, and Crown Paradise Club All-Inclusive Resort and Spa.
Similarly, Nuevo Vallarta has a variety of accommodations, including all-inclusive resorts and luxury villas and estates. As a planned resort community, the accommodations in Nuevo Vallarta are second to none. The estates and villas all have private canals lined with gardens, leading to the beaches.
The all-inclusive resorts in Nuevo Vallarta are renowned for their luxury, with excellent food, tropical gardens, private balconies, raised pools, top tier service, and beachfront access. Some of the best all-inclusive resorts in the area include Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Marival Distinct Luxury Residences, and Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, and Vidanta.
Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta: The Bottom Line
When considering Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta for your next vacation, the main factors you should take into account is what you are interested in doing, and the accommodations you are interested in staying in. In general, Nuevo Vallarta, as the newer community, built specifically for tourism, has the better tourist infrastructure and easier access to the main attractions, like beaches and tours. It also has great villas and estates for tourists to rent, and excellent luxury all-inclusive resorts.
Similarly, Puerto Vallarta has excellent accommodations, mainly centered in the beachfront area known as the Hotel Zone. Puerto Vallarta is also an authentic, historical Mexican city, with more restaurants, cultural sites, and much more to see than Nuevo Vallarta, which has mostly just rentals and resorts. The choice between staying in Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta ultimately comes down to what you are more interested in experiencing. And remember, Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta are only a couple of miles apart, so it is certainly possible to see both on you vacation.