Are you debating between a Cancun or Puerto Vallarta vacation? Keep scrolling to learn everything you need about choosing a trip to Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta.
This comparison of Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta Mexico was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta are action-packed vacation places in Mexico. But one is on the Pacific Coast, and the other is on the Caribbean Sea. There are some other major differences between the two, as well.
Comparing Cancun to Puerto Vallarta can help clarify which is best for your ultimate family vacation.
Keep reading to find out whether Cancun or Puerto Vallarta is calling your name. We’ll look at activities in each city, things to do, where to stay, and other important information to know beforehand.
Overview of the Two Areas: Cancun and Puerto Vallarta
Cancun is a large city in the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean Sea. It has one of the country’s biggest international airports.
Cancun beaches are some of the best beaches in the country, but it’s so much more than that. Cancun is surrounded by a lush jungle with ancient Mayan ruins scattered around.
So, it’s an excellent destination for learning about the cultural history of the region while relaxing on the beach between activities.
Cancun’s hotel zone is also a very convenient place to stay. It’s right on the beach, with great Caribbean views, and easy to get around. It’s a very convenient city, with so much to offer.
Puerto Vallarta is a beach town on the Pacific Coast in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. It’s a small city, but with all the popular amenities and conveniences you want.
The city itself is beautiful, with a long boardwalk called the Malecon. There’s a lot to do in and around the city.
However, there is less cultural Mayan influence in this region, so it’s not the place to go for ancient ruins and archeological sites.
Nonetheless, many beautiful nearby towns, the Sierra Madre Mountains, and fun ocean sports are available.
Puerto Vallarta is 1,532 miles (2,466 km) from Cancun. So they aren’t exactly close to one another. But they both have incredible white sand beaches and plenty of activities for the whole family.
When to Visit Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun
The weather is similar between Puerto Vallarta and Cancun, with the same rainy season. The rainy season is from June through November in both places.
In Puerto Vallarta, it rarely ever rains outside of the rainy season. And in Cancun, there are only a few scattered showers here and there outside of the rainy season.
I’d recommend avoiding the rainy season if it’s possible. It usually doesn’t rain all day during these months, however. So, it’s possible to enjoy your stay even during the rainy season.
In my opinion, November is the best time to visit both Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. It’s the end of the rainy season, and the weather is cool and refreshing.
The downtown area is usually a little more crowded and more expensive around the holidays in the winter and in the middle of the summer.
Getting to Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta
Both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta have direct access to an international airport, so it’s also straightforward to get here and get around the city.
For Cancun, you’ll fly into Cancun International Airport. The airport is only about 20 minutes from the hotel zone and downtown Cancun. According to World Data, Cancun Airport is one of the largest airports in Mexico, alongside Mexico City.
From Cancun Airport, there are several buses and shared vans that go into the city center or the hotel zone. Private drivers, transfer companies, and taxis are usually affordable for this trip.
Uber technically operates in Cancun, but it’s not the most reliable or trustworthy method of transportation. Most people take taxis or walk around the city itself.
For Puerto Vallarta, you’ll fly into Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (Puerto Vallarta Airport). The airport is three miles south of downtown Puerto Vallarta, and the ride only takes about 10 minutes.
You can also explore Puerto Vallarta on a cruise. There’s a large cruise ship terminal just outside of the town center. The terminal is about 3 miles north of downtown Puerto Vallarta.
There are city buses that leave from the airport directly to downtown, but you can also take a private van, taxi, or driver.
Once in Puerto Vallarta, many main attractions are within walking distance. There are taxis on every corner, but Uber does work in Puerto Vallarta. Uber is usually the easiest way to get around.
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun
Here are some kid-friendly hotels in both beach cities. Both cities are some of the most popular hubs for a beach vacation, so there’s no shortage of boutique hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and beachfront hotels.
Best Kid-Friendly Puerto Vallarta Resorts
Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa
Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa is a beautiful beachfront hotel in Puerto Vallarta. It’s only a 4-minute walk from Garza Blanca Beach and an 8-minute walk from Playa Palmares.
The rooms are large, spacious, and nicely decorated. Several rooms have multiple bedrooms, with a living room space, so there is plenty of room for the whole family. Check rates here.
The hotel has three outdoor swimming pools, beach bars, a kids’ club, and babysitting services. One of the main pools is set right up against the beach, with only a few feet separating the pool from the sand and beach.
The hotel has an all-inclusive package, though this usually has to be specified when booking.
Velas Vallarta Suites Resort All Inclusive
Velas Vallarta Suites is a beautiful, all-inclusive hotel near downtown Puerto Vallarta. You’re only a 7-minute walk from Marina Vallarta Golf Club, a 12-minute walk from El Faro Lighthouse, and a 5-minute drive from the cruise ship terminal.
The hotel has a rooftop terrace with a small pool and a great view of the Pacific Coast stretching out beyond. Check rates here.
There’s also a lazy river, kids pool, kids club, two outdoor swimming pools, and a private beach.
The food is also very good for an all-inclusive. There are two on-site restaurants with great meal items and views of the surrounding area.
Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is a more affordable beachfront property popular for families near the cruise ship terminal in Puerto Vallarta.
The hotel has a beautiful pool on the beach with a swim-up bar, fitness center, spa, and other great amenities. The pool, surrounded by sway palm trees, is the property’s highlight. Check rates here.
The hotel has a kids’ pool, club, playground, and babysitting service. The rooms are simple but nice and comfortable. On the higher floor, you can enjoy panoramic views of everything around Puerto Vallarta.
Best Kid-Friendly Cancun Resorts
Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun – All-Inclusive
Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach is a beachfront resort in Cancun’s hotel zone, right on one of the best white sand beaches in Cancun. Cancun is known for its plethora of all-inclusive resorts, and this is one of the best in the area.
The hotel has four outdoor swimming pools and guests like the comfortable and clean rooms and friendly staff the most. Check rates here.
Children love the game room, kids pool, kids club, and on-property playground.
The rooms are large, with beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea. The family room has two queen-sized beds and a mini living room, as well as all the amenities you would ever need.
Paradisus Cancun – All-Inclusive
Paradisus Cancun pulls its name from the paradise of the Riviera Maya. Not only is this region of Mexico considered paradise, with the never-ending beauty of the Caribbean Coast, gorgeous beaches, and lush jungle, but the hotel is pretty close to paradise, as well.
The hotel has four outdoor swimming pools, five restaurants with international cuisine, and several spots for those who want a more authentic Mexican experience. Check rates here.
For families, the hotel offers a kids pool, kids club, playground, game room, and babysitting services. The suites are also perfectly designed for families, with spacious rooms and a mini kitchen.
InterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort, an IHG Hotel
InterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort is a more affordable, yet still comfortably luxurious, resort for your next Mexico vacation.
The hotel is in Cancun’s hotel zone and just a short drive from Tortugas Beach and Langosta Beach, as well as other main attractions around downtown Cancun. Check rates here.
You can walk to one of the nearby local restaurants or take a quick taxi ride to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The hotel is also right on the beach, with babysitting services, several pools, and a playground for families.
Best Things to Do in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta
If you’re still torn between Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, you might want to look at the best things to do in each town to get a better idea.
Long story short, you really can’t go wrong with either. Let’s discuss the best things to do in each destination.
Things to do in Cancun with Kids
Visit Chichen Itza, Cenotes, and other Mayan Ruins
Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Valladolid are all great starting points to visit the incredible Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a great place to learn about ancient Mayan ruins and civilization and a must-do when you visit Cancun.
Chichen Itza is only about 125 miles (200 km) from Cancun, and the drive takes about 2 hours.
On your way to the ancient ruins, stop at one or two cenotes. The cenotes are freshwater swimming holes fed by a network of underwater rivers in the Riviera Maya.
There are several different types of cenotes. For example, some have “closed entrances” which feel more like a cave. Others have “open entrances” that feel like a refreshing lake in the jungle.
The ancient ruins and cenotes are an essential piece of Mexican culture, so it’s a must-do while on the East Coast of Mexico.
Chichen Itza, Cenote, and Valladolid All-Inclusive Tour is the best way to visit the ruins, one of the nearby cenotes, and the town of Valladolid. Check rates here.
The all-inclusive tour includes transportation, meals, and a bilingual guide who walks you through the history and significance of each place you visit.
Take a Boat Trip to Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a tiny island off the coast of Cancun. It’s only about a 30-minute ferry ride, so you can easily get there from anywhere in Cancun.
Isla Mujeres is known for its beautiful beaches, with Playa Norte being one of the best beaches in all of Mexico. The shore has crystal clear waters, long white sand beaches, and calm waters. It’s the perfect place to spend a day relaxing.
You can take a ferry to Isla Mujeres from Gran Puerto Terminal or take a full-day tour to Isla Mujeres in an action-packed catamaran.
Cancun: Isla Mujeres Full Day Dancer Cruise is hands-down the best tour to Isla Mujeres for families.
The three-story catamaran makes two stops, one on a beautiful reef, where you can swim with sea turtles, snorkel, and admire the lively marine life. The second stop is to Isla Mujeres itself. Check rates here.
The boat has a waterslide, diving board, a DJ, and includes food and drinks.
Snorkel or Scuba Dive
If you don’t join a snorkel cruise to Isla, you should still make time for some snorkeling. The Quintana Roo is world-renowned for its turquoise waters and location near the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest reef in the world.
You’ll find turtles, tropical fish, and some other animals.
Cancun’s beaches aren’t the best for snorkeling, so if you want to experience the best of the best, I highly recommend a snorkel boat tour that takes you just off the coast. Alternatively, take a short bus or taxi ride to Akumal and swim with sea turtles there.
If you’re certified, scuba diving is another fun and adventurous activity. Many people visit Cozumel, just off the coast of Playa del Carmen, for exciting scuba diving. However, the underwater museum near Cancun is another popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Cancun: Snorkeling Boat Trip is the best family-friendly tour that takes you to the most famous beach destinations for snorkeling.
The tour stops at four snorkel sites, including the underwater museum, a shipwreck, and reefs. Check rates here.
The tour includes all equipment, snorkel lessons, roundtrip transportation, a qualified snorkel guide, and bottled water.
Take One or Two Day Trips
Cancun is the heart of Quintana Roo, and while most people visit the incredible Cancun beaches, there’s so much to see and do just a short hop, skip, and jump away from the big city.
Some popular day trips from Cancun include Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Valladolid, Bacalar, and Puerto Morelos.
Tulum and Valladolid are best for a cultural experience, as Mayan archeological sites and many different cenotes surround them.
Playa is a popular shopping destination, with a large beach right in the downtown area. Bacalar is a bit further away, but it’s one of the most beautiful and magical lagoons in Latin America.
Things to do in Puerto Vallarta with Kids
Try a Canopy Zipline Tour
If you’re visiting the West Coast of Mexico, you’ll spend plenty of time at the incredible Puerto Vallarta beaches. However, if you want a break from the beach to explore the mountainside, you have plenty of options.
Puerto Vallarta is right on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, but the Sierra Madre Mountains surround it. The mountain range is the perfect place for a zipline tour, which is also really fun for kids who like adventure.
Puerto Vallarta: Canopy Tour with Zipline and Speedboat Ride is one of the most exciting zipline tours through the jungle.
The adventure park has 19 different zipline routes, an exotic animal sanctuary, water slides, kayaks, and river fun if the weather is good. Check rates here.
The tour includes roundtrip transportation, lockers, a bilingual guide, and a tequila tasting. This activity is not recommended for children under five years old.
Join the Humpback Whale Research Project
While Cancun is a popular destination for whale shark tours in the summer months, Puerto Vallarta is known as an excellent place for humpback whale-watching tours.
Humpback whales swim through the Pacific Ocean near Puerto Vallarta between December through March, but the best times to spot them are in January and February.
There are several boat tours and whale-watching tours that leave from Puerto Vallarta’s central piers. However, I’d recommend an informational tour with a biologist, as it’s a great learning experience for the kids.
Puerto Vallarta: Humpback Whale Research Adventure Tour is one of the best whale tours around Banderas Bay, where Puerto Vallarta is located.
The tour includes a brief lesson on the humpback whales, their behavior, and life in Banderas Bay, as well as a boat ride to observe the whales and even listen to their sounds through a hydrophone. Check rates here.
The tour cost includes a donation to the humpback whale research project, three hours on a small boat, water, coffee, tea, expedition insurance, and a live guide.
Snorkel and Explore the Area on a Boat Tour
When it comes to Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun, Cancun and the Riviera Maya have slightly better snorkeling. However, Puerto Vallarta has a few good hidden gems, as well.
Los Arcos is a well-known natural formation right off the coast of Puerto Vallarta and has some exciting marine life when the weather is good. There are also some secret beaches that rival all of Puerto Vallarta’s beaches on the coast.
If you want to make the most of your Mexican vacation, I recommend joining a snorkel tour to see all of Puerto Vallarta’s highlights.
Puerto Vallarta: Los Arcos Snorkel & Beach Private Boat Tour is an excellent tour from Los Muertos Pier near Zona Romantica in Puerto Vallarta.
It stops at Los Arcos for a quick snorkel, then cruises to Las Animas Beach for lunch and more beach time. Check rates here.
Go on a Taco Tour
Puerto Vallarta has it all: lively nightlife, luxurious hotels, beautiful art galleries, international food, and, of course, incredible street food. And one of the best things about Mexico is the local street food, like tacos, tamales, and tortas.
Many luxury hotels, boutique hotels, and other accommodations are in Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica (the Romantic Zone). Still, there are so many different restaurants it can be hard to find the best spots to dine.
If you’d like a little more guidance and even explanations behind some of the most popular foods in Mexico, consider joining a taco tour.
The tour is also a little city tour, as your guide will point out all the landmarks you pass by throughout the trip. It’s a fun way to start a lively holiday in Puerto Vallarta.
Beaches in Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta
If you’re deciding between Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, you might want to consider the beaches to help decide which is the better fit for the family.
Both Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are popular beach destinations, and both have incredible beaches. But they are slightly different.
Puerto Vallarta is Banderas Bay, which keeps the Pacific Ocean calm and tranquil. The waters are a little darker and sometimes a little cooler than in Cancun.
Cancun is in the Caribbean Ocean, with crystal-clear waters and miles of sand and sun in every direction. However, Cancun has on-and-off battles with sargasso (or seaweed), especially during hot summer.
Sometimes, the seaweed piles up on shore and even taints the waters around the beach. It usually isn’t too bad, and the hotels do everything they can to clean it up as much as possible, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Los Muertos Beach is the most popular in Puerto Vallarta, but there are many others. The most popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta are:
- Los Muertos Beach in Zona Romantica
- Las Glorias Beach
- Tranquila Beach
Cancun beaches are also something to write home about, as you really can’t beat the incredible Caribbean. When the weather is good and the seaweed is minimal, I’d choose Cancun beaches in the Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun debate.
These are the top beaches in Cancun:
- Dolphins Beach (Playa Delfines)
- Tortugas Beach
- Langosta Beach
However, regarding Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun and their respective beaches, it might come down to personal preference because both are remarkable.
Deep Sea Fishing in Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun
Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are both great spots for deep sea fishing, although it’s slightly more prevalent in Cancun.
The most popular time for deep sea fishing in Puerto Vallarta is in the summer months when you can catch cow tuna and giant yellowfin tuna just off the coast of Mexico. However, autumn, winter, and spring have their charm, as well.
4 Hrs Private Boat Fishing is a fun activity for the family, and you can go deep sea fishing on a private boat, all to yourselves.
The tour includes all necessary fishing equipment, snorkeling equipment, safety equipment, and a bilingual guide. Check rates here.
Summer months are also the most popular time for deep sea fishing in Cancun, although you can find a good catch any time of the year. Some popular fish are mahi-mahi, sailfish, snapper, white marlin, blue marlin, and much more.
Most fishing charters go out near Isla Conty, a small uninhabited island. So, it’s also a great way to explore the surrounding waters.
6-Hour Shared Fishing Tour is a highly-rated tour right from downtown Cancun. The tour includes all necessary equipment, beverages, a bilingual guide, and a captain. It also guarantees a small group size, with a maximum of six people. Check rates here.
You could also visit a nearby fishing village if you aren’t as interested in deep-sea fishing. Puerto Morelos is the most popular fishing spot near Cancun, and Yelapa is a popular spot for fishing near Puerto Vallarta.
Day Trips from Cancun and Puerto Vallarta
Both Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun have excellent day trip options. Depending on the length of your trip, you might want to escape the city for one or two days, and you have plenty to choose from.
Let’s review the most popular trips from Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.
Popular Cancun Day Trips
Tulum is only 80 miles (130 km) from Cancun and one of the best day trips. The small town has recently gained popularity for its authentic vibes, beautiful beaches, laid-back atmosphere, and proximity to significant ruins and cenotes.
ADO buses leave from downtown Cancun and Cancun Airport frequently, bringing you to the Tulum Archeological Ruins or downtown Tulum.
Tulum is also near Coba, a lesser-known but impressive archeological site in the jungle. But if you’re more interested in natural watering holes and cenotes, several options exist.
Cenote Eden is a cenote just outside Tulum, popular for families. Grand Cenote is another large cenote just past Tulum town.
Cancun/Riviera Maya: Tulum Ruins, Sea Turtle Swim & Cenotes is the perfect tour for families that want transportation, and all planning is taken care of.
It’s a full-day tour that covers all the main highlights in Tulum and the surrounding region. You’ll also be accompanied by a guide who can explain historical context and more. Check rates here.
Valladolid is 96 miles (156 km) from Cancun. It’s also the closest town to Chichen Itza, a great starting point to discover the most well-known Mayan sites in the world.
If you’re going to the ruins without a tour guide, I recommend heading to Valladolid the day before and spending the night in the small town, as it’s only about 30 minutes from the ruin’s entrance.
You can also visit Valladolid on a quick day trip, as well. ADO bus leaves from downtown Cancun to Valladolid regularly. Once in Valladolid, you can explore the old cobblestone streets, admire the Spanish-inspired architecture, and jump in the cenote right in the center of town.
Cancun: Chichen Itza, Cenote, Valladolid, Lunch, and Tequila is the most popular tour of Valladolid and the nearby ruins.
The tour includes roundtrip transportation, buffet lunch, entrance to the cenote, and a knowledgeable guide. Check rates here.
Isla Holbox is not the most popular day trip from Cancun because it’s set further back, but it’s worth the trouble. To get to Holbox, you’ll have to first get to Chiquila, a small port town. Chiquila is 87 miles (140 km) from Cancun.
From Chiquila, you can take a 20-minute ferry ride to the small island of Holbox.
Holbox is “off the beaten path” compared to other popular tourist destinations around the Yucatan Peninsula. There are only dirt roads, simple infrastructure, and incredible nature.
From Cancun or Puerto Morelos: Holbox Boat Tour with Lunch is the easiest way to get to Holbox. You’ll arrive by boat, which saves a lot of time.
And the tour makes sure you catch all the most important spots along the way. You’ll also get some free time to explore the island alone or with your guide. Check rates here.
Popular Puerto Vallarta Day Trips
Nuevo Vallarta, which translates to “New Vallarta” in English, is only 9 miles (14 km) north of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a resort destination known for its golf courses, marina, and a long, sandy central beach.
You can easily take a local bus, taxi, or Uber to Nuevo Vallarta as it’s so close to the downtown region.
However, many snorkel tours include stops in the waters at both Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta.
Half Day Snorkeling Tour in Puerto Vallarta & Nuevo Vallarta is a popular snorkel cruise around the waters of Banderas Bay.
The tour includes all snorkel equipment, buffet lunch, entrance to a beach club, alcoholic beverages, a live commentator on board, and a professional guide. Check rates here.
San Pancho and Sayulita
San Pancho and Sayulita are two small towns right next to one another. San Pancho is a small fishing village 26 miles (43 km) from Puerto Vallarta. Sayulita is a world-class surf destination 24 miles (40 km) from Puerto Vallarta.
Because of their proximity, I recommend visiting both in one day. You can explore the small-town streets, shop for local souvenirs and handicrafts, and dine on traditional Mexican cuisine.
From Puerto Vallarta: San Pancho and Sayulita is one of the best full-day tours that includes transportation, time in each town, and a live tour guide who can teach you all about the two small towns.
You’ll also enjoy air-conditioned transportation for the entire there-and-back trip. Check rates here.
San Sebastian del Oeste is a small mountain town in the Sierra Madre Mountains, making it the perfect escape from the sea and salt. The town is 42 miles (68 km) from Puerto Vallarta.
Even though it’s not too far from the central city, San Sebastian feels like a little oasis with cooler temperatures, incredible mountain views, forests surrounded by rolling fog in the mornings, and quintessential small-town cobblestone streets.
Puerto Vallarta: Guided San Sebastian Tour is the easiest way to visit this little mountain town.
You’ll have transportation all taken care of, and you’ll be with a tour guide who can teach you and the family about the history of this intriguing town. Check rates here.
You’ll have lunch in downtown San Sebastian and get leisure time to do as you’d like between planned activities.
Cancun vs Puerto Vallarta FAQs
Is it better to go to Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
Both Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun are incredible beach destinations in Mexico. I don’t think one is better than the other, as they offer different experiences. Cancun is in a flat region on the east coast of Mexico in the Caribbean. Puerto Vallarta is on the Pacific coast, surrounded by mountains and views.
Are the beaches nicer in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
When it comes to beaches between Puerto Vallarta vs Cancun, I think Cancun has slightly better beaches because of the picturesque, blue waters. However, when seaweed is prevalent around the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta takes the cake for clean beaches and lovely waters. However, the Mexican government and hotels are always trying to find a solution to the seaweed problem.
Is it hotter in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta?
Cancun and Puerto Vallarta have similar climates, but Cancun is much more humid in the summer months, so Cancun feels hotter. Cancun tends to be one or two degrees warmer than Puerto Vallarta year-round but with higher humidity percentages.
Comparing Cancun to Puerto Vallarta Wrap-Up
When determining whether Cancun or Puerto Vallarta is best for your next family vacation, you must consider several factors. For example, what type of accommodation are you looking for? What day trips are you interested in? And what activities does your family like the most?
I’d recommend Puerto Vallarta for those who want a more authentic Mexican experience, with beautiful beaches and a view of the mountains surrounding the small city.
I’d recommend Cancun for those who want a more lively resort destination with a wild party scene for the parents, gay travelers, solo travelers, and many cultural experiences for the children.
No matter which you choose, you and your family are sure to love both beach destinations.