Are you thinking about moving to the west coast of Mexico, but aren’t sure where to go? You aren’t alone. And we are here to help. Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán are two cities that are often in the running. And for good reason. Both are long time vacation destinations, have fabulous infrastructure, English is widely spoken, and established expat communities exist.
Honestly, both cities are hard to beat. It just depends on your lifestyle needs and wants.
So, let’s figure out if living in Puerto Vallarta vs. Mazatlán is better for your lifestyle.
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Getting to Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta has an international airport with dozens of non-stop flights from cities across the US and Canada. The airport is about 20 minutes from town, so grab a taxi, Uber, or bus to get to town.
Mazatlán also has an international airport, about 30-minutes from the city center, but with fewer direct flights from the US and Canada.
Category Winner: Puerto Vallarta
Both are easily accessible, but PV has a lot more direct flights, so it wins this stand-off.
Which has better weather: Mazatlán or Puerto Vallarta?
Since they are both on the same coast, only a few hours apart, the climate is relatively similar. The difference isn’t very perceptible. It’s a few degrees hotter in Puerto Vallarta and a little more humid in Mazatlán, so it balances out.
Rainfall is a more significant factor. Puerto Vallarta receives an average of 55 inches annually, while Mazatlán only 33. However, all the rain makes PV super verdant, and Mazatlan remains a little drier and, therefore, pretty brown.
Category Winner: It’s a tie.
There can be no winner in the weather face-off. It depends on if rainfall and lush surroundings matter to you.
The Vibe in Mazatlán vs. Puerto Vallarta
Mazatlan is larger than PV, yet somehow it has remained a little sleepy in comparison. Its underrated charm has kept it authentic, and it sees smaller crowds. It’s still touristy, with cruise ships docking almost daily, but it’s laid back, less saturated, and less commercial.
Puerto Vallarta used to be a small fishing village, and even though it’s a prime tourist destination, it still has somewhat of a traditional vibe. But above all, it’s a trendy electric city.
It is also the LGBTQ capital of the country.
Both cities have historical centers where you’ll feel like you’re stepping back into old Mexico. But Plaza Machado in Mazatlan takes the prize for old-world charm and culture.
Category Winner: It depends.
Since Mazatlán is less touristy, it’s ideal for anyone wanting a quieter lifestyle. But on the other hand, Puerto Vallarta takes the cake for inclusivity.
If you want more details about the cost of living in Mazatlán vs. Puerto Vallarta, check out our Mexpat Cost of Living Workshops happening in September and October 2022.
Beaches in Puerto Vallarta vs Mazatlan
Both cities are blessed with miles of soft golden sand rolling into deep-azure water packed with marine life.
However, the beaches in Mazatlán are hard to beat. It has one of the country’s longest (17 miles to be exact) uninterrupted stretches of sand. But it’s more than that. They are also relatively uncrowded, unlike the beaches in Puerto Vallarta.
The PV beaches are action-packed. If you want an umbrella during high season, you might have to reserve one, especially if you are on the most popular beaches.
Both places offer water sports galore, from parasailing to stand-up paddle boarding. But Mazatlán is better for surfing.
Category Winner: Mazatlan (by a grain)
It really depends on your beach style. If you love an action-packed beach, PV is for you. Want long walks on an endless beach? Head to Mazatlán.
Mazatlan vs. Puerto Vallarta: Dining and Nightlife
In Puerto Vallarta, you can find every type of food you crave. Most restaurants are independently owned, not large commercial chains, which means authentic flavors and outstanding food.
Additionally, because it’s so touristy, many places cater to people with all sorts of special diets.
You can find white-tablecloth restaurants and $1 taco stalls. And everything in between.
Mazatlan has incredible food options as well, just not as many. And they are a bit less expensive than their equivalents in PV.
Category Winner: Puerto Vallarta
Solely because there are more options, but it also goes to Mazatlán for its affordability.
Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan: Which is better for activities?
Since both are famous resort cities, they have loads of activities in common. From water sports like snorkeling and scuba diving to adrenaline-pumping activities like zip lines and rappelling down a waterfall, it’s all there. However, Vallarta has more of it since it caters to more tourists.
Mazatlán is known for sportfishing and golf, but both can be found in PV.
Both cities have a malecon or boardwalk. The one in Mazatlán is supposedly the longest continuous one in the world at 5 miles. It has plenty of street food vendors and restaurants to choose from as you stroll along it.
In contrast, the one in PV is shorter and has fascinating sculptures, galleries, nightclubs, boutiques, and restaurants. There is even a small amphitheater where nightly performances are on tap.
If you walk north on the malecon you’ll end up on the iconic Los Muertos Pier, which is a massive sail that is illuminated nightly.
Puerto Vallarta also has a thriving art and gallery scene, and they will ship your purchased art back home.
For wildlife lovers, both places have turtle release programs and dolphin and whale watching tours.
Category Winner: Puerto Vallarta
It really depends on what you’re into. You can really get a lot in both cities, but Vallarta wins by a nose as it has more options.
Mazatlan vs Puerto Vallarta Day Trips
One of the easiest day trips from Mazatlán is Stone Island. It’s a 5-minute ferry ride away and not really an island, but it’s worlds away from the hustle of the city your leaving behind. Once there, you can ride horses, chill on the beach, and sample local delicacies at nearby restaurants.
Another quick day trip is Deer Island. Hop a catamaran or speed boat and head for the quiet shores, which starkly contrast those in Mazatlán. Find a hammock or spend the day snorkeling with a view of the city skyline.
Feel like staying on dry land? Head 40 minutes northwest to Noria for a day of 16th-century history and mezcal tasting. You can see petroglyphs and taste mezcal all in one day. What more could you want?
Now on to Puerto Vallarta day trips.
Marietas Islands National Park, also known as the Galapagos of Mexico, is a wildlife lover’s dream. The islands are known for their bountiful bird and marine life and are just waiting for you to snorkel with turtles and manta rays. Also, don’t miss the Playa del Amor, or Hidden Beach, an underground beach with a perfect circular whole open to the sky.
Love tequila? Then head there for a tour. It’s a long day, about four hours each way, but if you take a tour, you’ll be sleeping on the way back after tasting all that tequila. Not only will you learn about the history and how to make the golden spirit, but the town itself is also adorable. It’s easy to spend a night there if you have the time.
Want to learn to surf? Head to Sayulita, about an hour north. It’s a cute boho-chic town full of lovely restaurants and bars. It has a hippie turned hipster vibe with artists selling their wares and souvenirs a-plenty.
Category Winner: None. It’s a tie.
There are only winners when the day trips are this exciting. We’ve only listed three each, but there are dozens more.
Puerto Vallarta vs Mazatlan Wrap-Up
As you can see, both places have their advantages, and you really can’t go wrong. The bottom line is that it depends on the lifestyle you are looking for. If you want fewer tourists and endless walks on the beach, it’s Mazatlan. If you want buzzy city life mixed with action-packed beaches, it’s Puerto Vallarta.
Hopefully, we’ve helped you decide which is better for your lifestyle. Let us know what you think.