Both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas are incredible destinations in their own right; they’re home to some of the most iconic beaches in Mexico and in all of the Americas.
While the two cities are very different, they both have plenty to offer for nature lovers and cultural experiences.
If you’re wondering which one is better, we’re here to break it down for you.
In this Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo guide, we’ll compare the two towns and help you decide!
Cabo’s dry desert scene is a stark contrast next to the beautiful shorelines and the varying landscape of jungle, mountains, and beaches is also a sight to see in Puerto Vallarta.
Although both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo have their own identity, most of the activities in both destinations are centered around the ocean.
Puerto Vallarta is a modern beach-town that’s very family-friendly place with lots of entertainment, from aquariums and waterparks to casinos and cruises.
It’s also one of the most beautiful, thanks to its tropical climate, crystal blue waters, and lush gardens.
Puerto Vallarta is very convenient to visit, with most tourist attractions located in a small area near the city center.
In downtown Puerto Vallarta, for instance, you’ll find beautiful historic landmarks.
In the North Zone you can explore small traditional villages, while the Romantic Zone features charming cobblestone streets, a huge array of restaurants as well as the Los Muertos Beach pier (a popular spot amongst couples!).
The city of Puerto Vallarta is a lot more crowded than Cabo San Lucas, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Regardless of which part of Puerto Vallarta you choose to stay in, you’ll have endless attractions to explore within a short stroll.
Cabo San Lucas is a seaside resort town with an impressive Mediterranean feel.
The historic town has a strong Spanish presence, and because of that, it has a lot of historic architecture and cobblestone streets.
There are also plenty of contemporary resorts, and thanks to the influence of Hollywood, it’s also known as a hotspot for celebrities.
Most tourists come to Cabo San Lucas to relax, and there are many beautiful beaches in the area.
The town has a lot to offer for travelers looking for culture, too.
The city is home to the San Ignacio Church, the oldest church in Mexico, and the Cabo San Lucas Museum is a must-see.
There are also several art galleries and museums around town that are open to the public.
Once a small laidback fishing village, Puerto Vallarta is fast evolving as a popular resort town while maintaining its low-key vibe with a trickle of Mexican charm.
Strolling along the captivating streets of Zona Romantica or the famed Malecon; you’ll be awestruck by the rich culture this city has to offer.
The streets are lined with lots of galleries dedicated to exhibiting art from local artists and there are a lot of places you can go to enjoy live art performances.
For history geeks, there are three main museums in the city – the Naval Historical Museum, the archaeological museum of Isla Cuale, and the chocolate museum where you can go a dose of history.
Another great place to visit for art and culture in Puerto Vallarta is Olas Atlas. Here you’ll find galleries exhibiting local artwork.
Plus, the area has authentic local markets such as the Olas Altas Farmers Market where you can freely mingle with the locals as you haggle down the prices of traditional jewelry and crafts.
Aside from dominating Puerto Vallarta’s skyline, Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is also an incredible place where you can learn some history about the town as well as Catholic traditions.
For nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, Puerto Vallarta has plenty to offer; you can visit the local zoo to observe wildlife, or you can explore the city’s outdoor playground, which is filled with waterfalls and trails.
Not only that, you’ll find a number of theme parks that are great for families with young children; there’s also a number of aquatic activities that are sure to please everyone in your group.
Cabo is mainly tailored for tourists with its glitzy lifestyle and lots of celebrity sightings.
However, the town has embraced its traditions and international influences in equal measures.
Its shorelines are lined with chain hotels and high-end resorts which offers travelers a familiar experience.
This also means the excursions, nightlife, as well as shopping scene are tourist-oriented which helps you indulge in the local activities without giving up on comfort or safety.
If you’re yearning for a less tourist-centric area in Cabo, you can visit San Jose Del Cabo, where you can enjoy a laidback atmosphere in an area dominated by residential developments, and historic buildings.
If you want to see some true Mexican culture while visiting, check out one of the markets in town; there are often live music performances and art vendors selling handcrafted goods at all hours of the day.
The hiking terrains in these two cities are a world apart.
Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful place with lots of lush green jungles and rugged mountains rolling down to soft sandy beaches.
The landscape makes this Mexican city a perfect destination for thrilling activities such as zip-lining, rock climbing, and hiking.
Hiking in Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular outdoor activities thanks to the breathtaking scenery surrounded by astounding views of the bay plus the lush mountains.
You’ll also find a couple of waterfall hikes; Boca de Tomatlan to Playa Las Animas trail and Cascada Palo Maria are great examples of trails with beautiful falls where you can swim.
Hiking in Cabo, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to get lost in the glorious desert landscape.
Cabo boasts a jagged desert terrain with wild rock formations.
Although there are many mountainous areas in the city, The Sierra de la Laguna mountain range at the southern edge of the Baja California Peninsula offers incredible cactus-lined sandy trails.
The beaches in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo are absolutely stunning. Puerto Vallarta is home to some of the most iconic beaches in the Americas, and Cabo is no exception.
The two destinations are surrounded by beautiful blue waters that seem to go on forever.
The beaches are sandy, and there are plenty of activities for visitors including swimming, snorkeling, fishing, sailing, scuba diving and more.
Protected from tropical storms and strong winds by the Banderas Bay on its coastline, Puerto Vallarta is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking.
In addition, the rock formations on most beaches in Puerto Vallarta form beautiful natural tidal pools which leave the water calm and warm.
You’ll find a huge selection of beaches in this part of Mexico – some hidden and only accessible by boats, others thriving and surrounded by striking magical landscapes.
Some of the best beaches in the region include; Yelapa Beach, Las Gemelas Beach, Playa Los Muertos, and Las Caletas.
Bordering the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, Cabo boasts miles of staggering coastline.
The water can be a bit chilly and the sand on the beach is very coarse.
Unlike Puerto Vallarta where the water is protected by a huge bay, most Cabo beaches are exposed to the open ocean.
For these reasons, Cabo isn’t one of the best destinations for swimmers, particularly due to rip currents (mighty, fast-moving water that pulls you away from the shore and out to the ocean).
This makes most of the beaches in the region unsafe for swimming.
However, if you look hard enough, you can still find a few safe places to take a dip.
Chileno Beach, Santa Maria Beach, Medano Beach, Cannery Beach, and Lover’s Beach are all great options if you’re looking for swimmable beaches in Cabo.
Mexico is a foodie’s paradise so you can expect delicious and generous portions of food whether you’re in Cabo or Puerto Vallarta.
Also, both of these towns are located in the coastal parts of the country, which means the menus are highly dominated by seafood.
However, as stated above, Cabo is very tourist-centric and its cuisine is largely influenced by American cuisine hence the amazing taco spots.
So, if you’re an adventurous foodie and you want to experience authentic local cuisine, Puerto Vallarta is by far the best place to visit.
Although Cabo is slightly on the pricier side, these two cities are relatively comparable especially when it comes to food.
However, the all-inclusive resorts in Cabo are expensive compared to those in Puerto Vallarta.
A rough estimate for daily expenses would be around $92 in Cabo and $75 in Puerto Vallarta per day (this includes food and transport only).
The hotel accommodation ranges from $8 to $313 a night, while private accommodation can be as high as $1000 per night depending on the size and the amenities the property has to offer.
On average, for a 7-day trip, you can expect to spend around $1,400 in Puerto Vallarta and $2300 in Cabo as a solo traveler.
Puerto Vallarta and Cabo are considered safe to visit; both are bustling tourist destinations with a large number of tourists visiting every day.
While you’ll still want to exercise caution while traveling throughout Mexico, you won’t have to worry about your trip being cut short due to safety concerns.
Minor petty theft is common, but just like in any destination in the world, being vigilant and aware of your surroundings is crucial.
Puerto Vallarta and Cabo experience similar weather conditions year-round; both have tropical climates with moderate temperatures.
In fact, Puerto Vallarta is often considered the “winter” destination for tourists, as the average temperature is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cabo is a desert climate and drier; you’ll find temperatures usually stay between 80 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Puerto Vallarta and Cabo both have a lot of options when it comes to nightlife and entertainment; however, the nightlife in Puerto Vallarta is more lively than that of Cabo San Lucas.
Both cities are known for their vibrant nightclubs and bars; however, Puerto Vallarta has more options for dining after dark.
You can find everything from fine dining restaurants to casual eateries that serve up delicious tacos or burritos.
In addition to the food scene, there are also plenty of dance clubs in Puerto Vallarta.
As for Cabo, the city isn’t really known for its late nights and more so for its luxury resorts and relaxation.
In general, you’ll find a nice selection of shops in both destinations.
Cabo San Lucas has a variety of high-end shops, including designer boutiques and brand-name stores like Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
Puerto Vallarta is better for specialty shops and traditional Mexican crafts.
There are also plenty of souvenir shops where you can buy local items like handcrafted jewelry at reasonable prices.
Puerto Vallarta is also home to a large art scene, including galleries, street art and cultural events.
If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas, you’ll need to find transportation that works for you.
There are a number of ways to get around these two destinations, including taxis, buses, and cars.
Taxis are easy to find in both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo. They are the most convenient option for tourists who don’t speak Spanish fluently.
Buses will take you throughout both cities; however, they don’t run as frequently as taxis do. Most of them leave from the same terminal near downtown each day.
Renting a car is the most convenient option for exploring Mexico’s Baja Peninsula but is also the most expensive.
There are a number of car rental agencies in both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas; you can rent a car at one location and return it at another.
The most expensive place to stay in Mexico, Los Cabos is known for its luxury hotels and resorts, as well as its high-end restaurants.
Because of its popularity with tourists, there are a lot of resorts in Cabo with most being sprawling villas with dreamy views.
The city’s best are lined along the beachfront and the cost for an oceanview room runs about $300-$1000 per night.
You can also find some budget and hostel options in the city. The major difference is the level of service you’ll receive.
Check out these top resorts in Los Cabos:
Garza Blanca Resort & Spa Los Cabos
Nobu Hotel Los Cabos
Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa
Although not the cheapest place to visit in the country, the average hotel price in Puerto Vallarta is a bit below what you can expect to pay in Cabo.
You can find mid-range hotels for around $100 per night, while a budget option will cost you about $50.
The cost of a beachfront all-inclusive property will cost about $200-$500 per night in Puerto Vallarta.
There is also an abundance of adults-only resorts perfect for couples looking for a quiet getaway.
Here are some hotels for you to consider:
Secrets Vallarta Bay Todo Incluido
Crown Paradise Golden Puerto Vallarta
Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta
If you’re on the fence about booking an all-inclusive stay, make sure you check out this guide to see if it’s worth your money.
If you want a short getaway and are happy to spend most of your time sunbathing, snorkeling, or just chilling around the resort, then Cabo would be the perfect option for you.
This city is great if you want a low-effort vacation.
However, if you’re an adventurous person that would rather be out and about exploring the jungle, indulging in an authentic Mexican vibe in a slow-paced destination, then Puerto Vallarta will suit you better.
With relatively warm weather year-round, Puerto Vallarta is one of the best beach destinations in Mexico.
It’s also a very welcoming town to everyone (there are lots of LGBTQ-friendly beach bars and clubs) and there’s always an adventure waiting for you.
Cabo is a very tourist-friendly destination which means you’ll have a bunch of options when it comes to great accommodations and fine dining.
If you want a taste of the good life, this is the perfect sunny destination for you.
It’s all about relaxation and being pampered all the way through.
There are extraordinary spas, beautiful golf courses and a lot of posh water sports activities including swimming with whales!