Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo: If you are trying to decide between these two locations for your next vacation, there is no wrong choice. That being said, there are some major differences between Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, and one location may be better for you than the other depending on what you are interested in doing. Here is an overview of the main differences between Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo, followed by a detailed breakdown weighing the pros and cons of both locations.
Beaches, watersports, Malecón Boardwalk, Historic Center, Romantic Zone, Los Arcos de Mismaloya, Los Muertos, tequila tours, horseback riding, sightseeing cruises
Beaches, watersports, Arch of Cabo san Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, whale watching, deep sea fishing, ATV tours, camel riding, horeseback riding, nightlife
Food and Drink
Great seafood and Mexican food, excellent tequila, fine dining at all-inclusive resorts
Excellent seafood and Mexican food, good international choices, fine dining at all-inclusive resorts
All inclusive resorts, chain hotels, and villa rentals concentrated in the Hotel Zone
Variety of beachfront all inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and villas and condos
Weather and Climate
77.6° F average yearly temperature. Rainy season from June-Oct, but mild rainy season compared to other cities on Mexico's Pacific coast
75° F average yearly temperature. Rainy season from June-Oct
Background and History
Both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo are located on Mexico’s Pacific coast. The two municipalities are about 300 miles apart, but driving from one to the other takes about 22 hours, due to Cabo’s location at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula.
The early history of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo is quite similar. Both have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and were claimed as Spanish territory in the 1500s. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the remote locations of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo made them popular hideouts for pirates and smugglers.
In the 1960s and 70s, land reform and the development of significant infrastructure and transportation improvements led to Puerto Vallarta becoming a premier resort city in Mexico, attracting famous and wealthy tourists from the US.
In the 1980s, the increasing strength of the dollar made Puerto Vallarta a bargain destination for US travellers, and the city became accessible to middle class tourists from all of the US. By the 90s, the construction of other resort cities like Cancun caused tourism to Puerto Vallarta to slow down, only to pick up again in the 2000s, as the city was “rediscovered” by a new generation of tourists. Today, Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular resort cities in Mexico.
Similarly, the development of Cabo from a rural fishing village to major tourism hub took place largely in the middle and latter half of the 20th century. Significant federal investment into improving infrastructure and promoting Cabo as a resort city led to a major influx of tourism in the 1980s, and Cabo’s reputation as a premier tourist destination in Mexico has remained consistent to this day.
Attractions and Activities
The major attractions and activities available in Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo are similar in many respects, but also have some significant differences. In general, Puerto Vallarta feels like a more authentic Mexican city, while Cabo feels more commercialized.
The Mexican 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 culture. A walk through the historic Old Town is like stepping into a time capsule of Puerto Vallarta’s origins. The cobblestone streets lined with old churches and buildings in Mission-style architecture are reminders of what Mexican cities were like in decades past.
Despite its authentic culture and atmosphere, Puerto Vallarta remains very tourist-friendly, with plenty of attractions and activities to take part in. Likely the biggest draw in Puerto Vallarta are the beaches. The long, yellow sand beaches bordered by cool, deep blue waters are a perfect place to relax, swim, fish, snorkel, and more.
Located on the Bay of Banderas rather than directly on the Pacific Ocean, the waters around Puerto Vallarta are calmer than the waters off the coast of most other cities in the area, making it a great place to learn how to scuba dive, parasail, jet ski, kayak, and more. Frequent whale watching tours and deep-sea fishing expeditions leave from the marina.
Off-the-beach attractions include the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, the local golf courses, adventures through the Sierra Madre, horseback riding, and canopy tours and ziplining. Located in the home state of tequila, the area around Puerto Vallarta is full of blue agave fields and tequila distilleries, and tequila tours and tastings are a popular activity.
Cabo is a municipality that is divided into three main districts. There are two towns, located a 30 minute drive apart. The first town is San Jose del Cabo, or the “Old Town,” which is the historic district, full of old buildings and some new resorts. The second town is Cabo san Lucas, which is the main tourist hub. In between the two towns is the third district, called “The Corridor,” and encompasses the highway connecting San Jose del Cabo and Cabo san Lucas, plus the surrounding golf courses, resorts, and rental properties.
Like Puerto Vallarta, the major attraction in Cabo are the beaches. Both San Jose del Cabo and Cabo san Lucas have beautiful Pacific beaches, flanked along the water’s edge with stunning rock formations unlike anything elsewhere in the world. Aside from relaxing and swimming, popular beachfront activities include surfing at the beaches on the eastern coast, and snorkeling and scuba diving at the reefs and shipwrecks off the coast. Other popular activities include deep sea and beach fishing, whale watching cruises, a submarine tour, and ATV and buggy tours of the nearby mountains, deserts, and beaches.
Visitors to Cabo have their choice of staying in Cabo san Lucas or San Jose del Cabo. Most choose to stay in Cabo san Lucas, which is the larger city, and has better access to the majority of Cabo’s tours and activities. Cabo san Lucas also has a larger hotel zone, with a wide array of accommodations, ranging from all-inclusive resorts to boutique hotels, to international chains, to condos and villas for rent.
Many of the visitors to Cabo prefer to stay in the all-inclusive resorts, which typically have beachfront access, raised pools, luxury suites, fine dining, on-site golf courses, and everything else you could possibly want on your vacation. Some of the nicest high-end resorts in the municipality include The Resort at Pedregal, Las Ventanas Al Paraiso, Paradisus Los Cabos, and Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa. Nice budget hotels in Cabos include Estancia Real Los Cabos and Seven Crown Express & Suites.
In Puerto Vallarta, there is no shortage of places for travellers to stay. The beachfront all-inclusive resorts are the most popular accommodations, but, like Cabos, Puerto Vallarta also has boutique hotels, hotel chains, and villas and condos for rent. 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.
One of the most important factors to weigh when considering Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo is the cost. With plenty of budget accommodations available in both cities, it is possible to stay in either one without breaking the bank. That being said, comparing apples to apples, Cabo is generally more expensive than Puerto Vallarta. As possibly the most famous Mexican resort city after Cancun, Cabo sees high tourism traffic from all over the United States and Canada, driving up prices in the city significantly for everything from food to tours to accommodations. The average price of staying in Cabo for one person for one week is $2,389 vs. $1,411 per person per week in Puerto Vallarta.
The Bottom Line
When considering Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo, the main factors to consider are what you want to do and experience, where you want to stay, and what your budget is. There are many similarities between the two cities, but also some significant differences.
If you are interested in experiencing authentic Mexican culture and history, going on tequila tasting tours, enjoying a relaxing beach with calm waters, and staying in a beautiful resort while saving some money, Puerto Vallarta is the better choice for you. If you don’t mind spending more and going to a more touristy area, and are interested in experiencing a wider variety of activities and adventures, Cabo is the better choice for you. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong choice, it all comes down to personal preference.