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Cabo vs. Puerto Vallarta: Here’s Which One You’ll Love Better

Cabo vs. Puerto Vallarta: Here’s Which One You’ll Love Better

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You would think that being on the Pacific side of Mexico, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta would be similar vacation destinations.

In reality, each of these regions are vastly different, each with their own draws.

This comprehensive Cabo (aka Los Cabos) vs. Puerto Vallarta comparison guide should help you figure out which spot best suits your vibe.  

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Overview, Vibe & Atmosphere – Who Cabo or Puerto Vallarta Appeals to Most

Los Cabo Overview

Cabo’s arid climate and luxury hotels are some of the main reasons people flock to this part of Mexico.

The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula has been mostly built up for tourism purposes, and therefore you’ll have endless options when it comes to luxury and high end resorts and hotels.

Nightlife is one of the things Cabo is most known for, and you’ll find the core of it at the Marina. 

Some people describe Cabo as an extension of California, giving it more of a ‘pretend Mexico’ feel. As a popular spring break destination, Cabo definitely has a bigger party atmosphere. 

All that being said, if you’re looking for a more authentic feel in Cabo, then spend your time in San Jose del Cabo (not Cabo San Lucas).

San Jose del Cabo is more quiet and attracts more Mexican tourists as opposed to American tourists. 

Puerto Vallarta Overview

Puerto Vallarta presents a much more authentic experience. However, you can make it as much or as little authentic if you want.

This city is remarkably charming, especially in the downtown and Romantic Zones with cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture.

This whole area becomes even more charming as you get into small towns nearby like Bucerias. 

Puerto Vallarta offers a bigger variety of reasons to visit. Since it originated as a small fishing village first, this cultural charm still runs strong.

Here you’ll find everything from budget family owned hotels to 5 star properties and everything in between. This part of Mexico caters to families, honeymooners, adventure travelers and the like. 


In Cabo, there are not many ocean swimming opportunities. In fact, people don’t come here for beach swimming- the currents and undertows are tremendously strong here.

This creates waves that are big and rough with sharp drop offs, resulting in few long shallow areas to explore. 

In Puerto Vallarta proper, the beaches are swimmable, but still not the best beaches you will find in the world.

The sand is mostly coarse and golden in color, and some beaches are rocky.

However, you can head just a few minutes outside of PV for dozens of hidden gem beaches with soft sand and almost turquoise water.

Is snorkeling Better in Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas?

If you’re bringing your own snorkel gear (if you don’t have these yet you’re missing out), snorkeling is easier to do in Puerto Vallarta.

There are miles of beaches and hidden coves that are accessible and easy to swim in.

However, if you’re only interested in snorkeling on a tour, then Cabo offers better snorkeling because the Sea of Cortez (where Cabo is), is full of diverse marine life and reefs and there are pockets where it’s safe to swim with a guide. 

That being said, you can still find clear water for snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta with a tour, or visit Los Muertos Beach near Sayulita for crystal clear Caribbean water. Watch the video here

Weather, Climate and Scenery

Both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta experience dry, rainy and hurricane seasons, roughly around the same time of year. 

However, when choosing one of these destinations, it depends on the time year you’re planning to visit. 

Fall & Spring

Many people prefer visiting Cabo in the Fall for great weather and low humidity, and Puerto Vallarta in the Spring, for lush greenery before the humidity really hits.

Dry Season = High Tourism Season

Dry season runs from November to April, which is the most popular and best time to visit. Temperatures will be hot but not unbearable during these months.

It can be cool at night during the first half of dry season. 

Cabo is Less Humid

What a lot of people love about the weather in Cabo is that it tends to be more dry. Cabo has an arid desert climate and generally experiences less humidity than Puerto Vallarta, even during the rainy season.

Rainy and hurricane season technically runs from mid-May to the end of October.

Rainy Season

However, most of the rain doesn’t start until August, with September and early October being the months with the most rainfall. 

Rainy season in Puerto Vallarta isn’t all that bad as long as you can deal with humidity.

May and June are considered off season months, but see very little rainfall. This would be an excellent time to visit with fewer tourists and lower prices. 

Winter Months

Cabo weather is chillier in the winter and spring months, compared to Puerto Vallarta, this also makes the water colder to swim in.

When you come across the occasional swimmable beach in Cabo, it’s not going to be the warmest ocean water you’ve ever swam in. 


Cabo is a desert with most of the area built on rocky cliffs. This makes for some rugged and breathtaking scenery. But some people miss the greenery. 

Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, is set amongst mountainous jungle terrain and is lush, green and alive most of the year. 

Attractions, Activities, Excursions and Things to Do

Whale Watching

While whale watching is great in both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, the humpback whales like to use the Baja Peninsula to protect the young. Therefore, Cabo San Lucas is slightly better for whale watching. 

Day Trips

There are many more day trip options and excursions to take from Puerto Vallarta compared to Cabo.

There are dozens of small towns, beach communities, villages and pueblos magicos to visit around Puerto Vallarta.

Some of my favorite day trips and excursions from Puerto Vallarta include:

Read more in my guide to 14 unique day trips from Puerto Vallarta.

Day trips and excursions from Cabo are limited to the typical activities you would find anywhere else in Mexico: snorkeling, catamaran cruises, ATVing and ziplines.

However there are 2 day trips from Cabo that stand out for me: Todos Santos, which is a small town where you’ll find Hotel California where the Eagles recorded their famous song, and riding camels on the beach


I would say Cabo San Lucas is more well known for its lively nightlife.

You’ll find bars and clubs that surround the Marina and downtown Cabo San Lucas, which has made it a hotspot for spring break parties. 

That being said, the zona romantic in Puerto Vallarta does have a couple lively streets lined with bars which will keep the party and music going into the wee hours of the night.

Additionally, the Malecon is a great alternative for ‘low-key’ nightlife if you want to stroll through vendors, food stalls, watch street performers and grab a nightcap with great views. 


If you’re mostly interested in an all inclusive resort vacation to relax by the pool in a nice setting, Cabo is going to be more your style.

There’s more choices for nicer hotels and resorts here, and generally it feels more upscale.  

Puerto Vallarta does have some all inclusive hotels, but no where near as many, and a lot of them are spread outside of the city.

However, there are an array of authentic accommodations and boutique hotels.

If you plan to venture out of your room and explore the city and surrounding areas, Puerto Vallarta is for you. 


Since Cabo is primarily a resort and tourism destination, prices are higher.

You will find that Puerto Vallarta is less expensive than Cabo. You’ll notice it’s about 30 percent cheaper. 

If you’re on a budget, Puerto Vallarta has many more affordable choices for accommodations and food and drink prices are significantly cheaper than Los Cabos. 

Puerto Vallarta vs Cabo Safety

Both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo are safe for tourists, expats, snowbirds and digital nomads.

In fact, in the main tourist neighborhoods, each of these cities are generally considered safer than some US cities. 

It’s still important to use general common sense when traveling to avoid any issues.

This includes being aware of your surroundings, not wearing expensive flashy jewelry or clothing, not walking alone at night, and not going looking for trouble. 

If you’re very concerned about safety, you might enjoy Cabo a little more, because it’s got a very Americanized feel. 

Whereas Puerto Vallarta is a lovely mix of both a coastal tourist hot spot and working city, which could seem a little foreign to some people. But remember, Mexicans are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met while traveling. 

You can read more about specific scams in Puerto Vallarta to look out for here

I’ve also got more details about safety in my Los Cabos travel tips guide

Food and Restaurant Options

In both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta you’ll find a fantastic selection of seafood, as each each of these cities are located on the coast.

However, Puerto Vallarta is a clear winner for the best choices of high quality, authentic and low cost food.

The street food is phenomenal, especially the tacos al pastor and birria tacos. Plus, you can eat and entire meal of tacos for less than a few dollars.

At the other end of the scale, Puerto Vallarta also has a large number of fine dining restaurants. 

In Cabo, you’ll still find great local cuisine, but you do have to travel outside of the main tourist neighborhoods to find it. 

Is Puerto Vallarta or Cabo better for families?

Since Cabo is generally known as the ‘Cancun of Los Cabos,’ I think Puerto Vallarta is better suited for families.

Along the entire Banderas Bay (in which Puerto Vallarta is centrally located), there are many family-oriented hotels and resorts to choose from.

It’s also quiet, safe and also a lot cheaper if you’re a family on a budget. In regards to activities and excursions, there’s plenty to do for kids. You’ll find many beaches, snorkeling, waterfalls, ATV tours and ziplines. 

If you do wish to travel to Cabo as a family with kids, I recommend staying closer to San Jose del Cabo instead of Cabo San Lucas.

San Jose del Cabo has more of a residential feel, with more choices for quiet hotels & resorts.

I will say if snorkeling if the number one thing you’re looking to do with your kids, Cabo is the place to be. The Sea of Cortez (in Cabo), has some of the most diverse marine life. 

As noted above, if you plan on swimming in the ocean on your family trip to Mexico, definitely choose Puerto Vallarta over Cabo. 

Cabo vs. Puerto Vallarta for First Time to Mexico

If you’re traveling to Mexico for the first time and you’re trying to decide between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, choose Cabo if you’re concerned about safety or just want to relax at a resort for a week.

While Puerto Vallarta is just as safe as Cabo, the tourism area is more spread out and it can be overwhelming to choose which part to stay in.

That being said if you want to experience more authentic Mexico for your first time to this country, Puerto Vallarta will welcome you with open, friendly arms.

Here’s a full guide about the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta. 

Catch my full video which goes into more detail about comparing the differences between Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta:

More Puerto Vallarta and Cabo Mexico Posts:

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