Mexico is the most visited country by international tourists in Latin America, and it’s easy to see why. With vivid culture, diverse cities and towns complete with awesome backdrops, there are many reasons why it should make your list. And if you’re specifically seeking out a sunshine, beachy vacation? Even more so! Some popular choices for soaking up the sun in Mexico include Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta.
We’ve already spent some time weighing up whether Cancun or Cabo is the best, and Cabo came out top. Now, we’re zoning in on Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas. Puerto Vallarta is a resort town on the Bay of Banderas, boasting a warm, tropical climate with panoramic views of the Pacific. Cabo San Lucas, on the other hand, is on the southernmost tip of the Baja California Peninsula, with an equally scorching desert climate. Both are loved for spectacular beaches, marine life, and local resorts, but which is better to visit?
We can already tell this is going to be close, so let’s get to it. We’ll look at accommodation, food, nightlife, culture, entertainment and of course, how much it’ll cost you. Once done, we’ve got no doubt your decision will be clearer than the crystal waters in both of these beach-front destinations.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Accommodation
When it comes to accommodation, the good news is that both offer something for all sorts of travelers. From budget-friendly hostels to boutique hotels and luxury resorts, they’ve got it all – and in a range of areas depending on which type of trip tempts you. However, you will find that Puerto Vallarta comes out cheaper when compared with Cabo San Lucas.
There are many cool places to stay in Puerto Vallarta. The town is split by old and new and if you’re looking for a mix of small boutiques amid the action, Zona Romantica and El Centro are your best bet. Two particularly vibrant and small boutique hotels that match the colorful hues and cobbled streets of the Zona Romantica are Casa Maria Hotel Boutique and Hotel Boutique Rivera Del Rio.
What if you’re looking for a little slice of luxury away from the hustle and bustle, however? Head north to the Marriot Puerto Vallarta by the Hotel Zone/Marina, or south to Villa Divina Luxury on Conchas Chinas beach.
There is an assortment of accommodation in Cabo San Lucas, and the downtown area is a strong choice for the cost-savvy among us. In fact, The Cabo Inn and The Cabo Vista Hotel towards the Marina both boast stunning charm and charisma with rates that offer bang for your buck.
When it comes to 5* luxury in Cabo San Lucas however, our list could go on and on. This resort city is well known for its celeb sightings and luxury vacays, and the lavish choice of hotels will give you a clue as to why. Most will look towards Medano Beach, with the likes of The Cape (offering the only open-air rooftop bar in the whole of Cabo complete with views of the iconic El Arco) and Hacienda Beach Club.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Food
We really wish we didn’t have to sit on the fence here, but the food is sensational in both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. It is Mexico, after all! Both being coastal areas, you’ll also find that fresh seafood is in abundance and offers a special spin to your stay. However, Cabo does tend to be more influenced by American cuisine than its competitor, so we’d say Puerto Vallarta slightly tips the scales for more authentic dishes in Mexican culture.
From street food stalls serving grilled shrimp on a stick, to cute cafes serving churros right through to the finest of dining, Puerto Vallarta is an all-round foodie hotspot. For authentic, Baja style seafood treats, you’re going to want to head to Joe Jack’s Fish Shack or Pancko’s Takos.
Another noteworthy place to stop by for some lunch is Gaby’s, famous throughout the town for its friendly atmosphere, authentic Mexican cuisine and stunning views that look out onto the ocean. And if you get the chance to try Puerto Vallarta’s main dish while you’re there? That’s ceviche: freshly-caught raw fish marinated in signature blends.
As day turns to night, La Palapa is considered the perfect place to watch the sunset. And of course, Casa Kimberly is known by movie buffs all across the land with its stunning ambience, Hollywood culture and exquisite cuisine. That’s right, the former homes of The Night of the Iguana stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have been conjoined to create luxury suites, a spa, and an amazing open-air dining and tequila bar experience! Finally, we couldn’t forget Cafe des Artistes, where you can enjoy exclusivity and elegance paired with orchestral music and the phenomenal culinary creations of Chef Thierry Blouet.
Cabo plays host to many food options, from fast food to casual bites and local cuisine. Some of its most popular seafood dishes include the chocolate clam (not actually chocolate-flavored!), Baja-style jumbo shrimp and fish tacos, as well as smoked marlin fish. For some of the most authentic Mexican flavors, don’t miss out on Los Tres Gallos. It’s tucked away between the spring break bars and serves as a secret romantic spot for classics like fresh queso, chile rellenos and mole. Another choice we love is La Lupita Taco & Mezcal!
As we’ve mentioned, Cabo San Lucas caters to many tourists around the world – and its fine dining options range from French to Italian, Japanese and traditional American. One movement really making waves in Cabo right now though, is the farm-to-table setting. Flora Farm’s restaurant in San Jose del Cabo (San Lucas’ more authentic sibling) is the shining example, and it has now brought Outpost to Cabo San Lucas. It offers residents the freshest food straight from the farm, or is grown in-house on the roof.
One final place to keep stashed away for a special occasion? Tucked into the cliffs with waves crashing below and breathtaking views that will stay with you for life, is ocean-to-table restaurant El Farallon of the Waldorf Astoria. It simply doesn’t get much better.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Nightlife
We’re happy to tell you that ‘boring’ could not be associated with either of these nightlife scenes. There are plenty of options for slow-sipping by the beach to late-evening strolls and all-out parties. In fact, the latter of those is what makes Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas so popular for spring breakers between March and April.
Things in Puerto Vallarta can be as chilled or as crazy as you want. From post-dinner cocktail bars tucked down side-streets, to craft breweries, relaxing beach bars, the buzzing boardwalk and raucous nightclubs, Puerto Vallarta has it all.
It all goes down on the mile-long esplanade of the Malecon. Here, you’ll find plenty of truck food, street performers, bars and beach clubs such as El Solar. As you make your way further down the Malecon towards Zona Romantica (the most LGBTQ+ friendly place in Mexico!), you’ll find the highest concentration of bars/clubs including Bar La Playa, Twisted Palms and the much-loved Mr Flamingo. You’ll also be partying it up in the state best known for being the birthplace of tequila, so get those margarita orders in pronto!
Likewise, Cabo San Lucas has a reputation for its crazy night life and it’s true – but it doesn’t have to be. For those just looking to spend time with their significant other, there are plenty of sunset beach bars and waterfront cantinas to choose from. Where Cabo really lights up, though? It’s party vibes.
For a night you’ll never forget, head to the downtown tourist district by Plaza Bonita and the bars and late-night clubs surrounding it. For those spring-breaker style nights, Squid Roe will suit you to a tee. For something a little more up-scale, swap the flip-flops for some smarter sandals or shoes and enjoy the live DJs and VIP services at Mandala. Finally, if you’re really into your live rock, then you’d be mad to miss Cabo Wabo, notoriously owned by Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar and open both day and night.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Culture
Being so popular with tourists, neither of these places will come highest in a poll for the most Mexican culture, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any! In fact, Puerto Vallarta has retained its traditional red roofed, charismatic streets and still has a lot of that locally lived-in feel. Cabo San Lucas is considered to be predominantly tailored to Americans and expats, but if that’s something that bothers you, then San Jose del Cabo – its more rustic and cultural counterpart – makes a great day trip only 30 minutes away.
Puerto Vallarta was once voted one of the friendliest places on earth. Though it is of course a tourist hotspot, its small and narrow streets are still brimming with culture. In fact, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (A Catholic place of worship in Puerto Vallarta) pierces the skyline in order to set the scene. Walking through charming neighborhoods you’ll find plenty here – from the town’s picturesque buildings, to its famed street murals and sculptures.
It is especially known for its artistic heritage, (sometimes named the San Francisco of Mexico), and you’ll find there are many events and exhibitions in order for you to see the local art and artisans around town. You’ll also find many local markets with traditional art, jewelry, crafts and local foods to satisfy your inner adventurer.
Believe it or not, Cabo San Lucas was once a sleepy fishing town. By the 1950s however, its glorious landscapes and sparkling waters were spotted by celebs and it became known as a popular playground for the rich and famous. From Ernest Hemingway back in the day, to the likes of George Clooney and Jennifer Anniston today, you’re more likely to spot an A-Lister than not!
Though this glamour is an experience in itself, many will take a trip to San Jose del Cabo (the old town) to see its colonial buildings and stroll down its quaint streets. Here you’ll find the atmospheric square Plaza Mijares hosting many performances from singing to dancing and theatre, as well as the San Jose Mission and the town’s small boutiques and galleries.
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Entertainment
Both of these beach resorts offer plenty to do for vacationers – and as you may have guessed, they really sparkle when it comes to nautical activities. If the beach and blue sea is where you plan to stay, Cabo San Lucas may just hold the prize, particularly considering famous explorer Jacques Cousteau once nicknamed it ‘the aquarium of the world.’ If you want something that is more of a combination between land and the ocean however, then Puerto Vallarta is the place.
Puerto Vallarta is the perfect place for wanderers. As we’ve mentioned, The Malecon is where most people will spend their days – a beautiful beachside promenade with unique sculptures, boutique shops paired with a gazebo that sees live music, street venders, arty café culture and more. The most popular beach here is Playas Los Muertos, or for a quieter option you could try Conchas Chinas or Playa Camerones. You’ll find many water activities around, from boat tours, to snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and more.
Finally, if you want to take a day trip, you can head to Boca de Tomatlan. From here, you’ll either take a water taxi or hike through the jungle past alcove beaches and up the mountains to Las Anamas, which is a small, picturesque island simply perfect for chilling out.
In Cabo San Lucas, the crystal-clear waters are undoubtedly its most alluring feature. Stunning as they are, it’s important to note that currents in Cabo San Lucas are super strong, so the safest beaches for swimming (especially with family) are the popular Medano Beach, or Playa Chileno. At Medano Beach, you’ll find a whole manner of splash-based activities, from scuba diving to snorkeling, luxury sailing and whale watching tours.
We’d recommend taking a boat to the iconic Land’s End for the day, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. Here you can enjoy an unparalleled snorkeling experience in Cabo, known for being the aquarium of the world – and there’s a chance you’ll see whales, sea lions and a whole manner of rainbow fish along the way. You can then relax at the romantic setting of Lover’s Beach before your return. Finally, as a uniquely tropical and dessert setting, you could also consider ATV tours or a camel ride at the Wild King Inn amusement park!
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Price
As you can probably tell by now, both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas have a lot of similarities that make them a magnificent choice. If you’ve not yet been swayed one way or the other, you may now be wondering whether the price section will do just that. Both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas are decently priced on an international scale, but country-wise, you’ll find that Puerto Vallarta is the most budget-friendly of the two. Not by anything too trip-defining, though.
We pulled together some figures by looking into accommodation prices, as well as daily costs including how much you can expect to spend on your everyday beverages, right through to your different meals.
|Puerto Vallarta||Cabo San Lucas|
|1* hotel||$18-52 per night||$26-41 per night|
|2* hotel||$25-70 per night||$48-99 per night|
|3* hotel||$42-123 per night||$56-185 per night|
|4* hotel||$36-295 per night||$72-246 per night|
|5* hotel||$185-505 per night||$600-792 per night|
Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo San Lucas: Where is better?
Ah, the big question – where is better? The truth is that both of these destinations are wonderful in their own right. It’s therefore impossible to crown a winner per se, but we can tell you which place is best suited to the type of trip you’re looking for.
Cabo San Lucas is a vacation station through and through. From its luxury resorts to its relaxing spas and stunning restaurants, it gives you paradise so that you can simply sit back and take it in. From sunbathing on the beach, to luxury sailing, shopping by the marina and partying into the night, it’s truly tailored towards everything a tourist could want from a gorgeous holiday. And if sand, sea and oceanic activity are where your priorities lie, we’d say this is the better option of the two.
Yet for those that get restless and like to roam, we’d have to go with Puerto Vallarta. While it’s certainly catered in parts to tourists, there is a thrilling clash of old and new with a touch more culture, and every twist and turn differs from one street to the next. From the oozing charm and coffee houses of Zona Romantica, to the buzzing Malecon with all its sounds, sights, and scents, it can serve as an adventurer’s playground and relaxing holiday all rolled into one.