The question isn’t really whether you should visit Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas. If you have the time, you should definitely visit both destinations.
Puerto Vallarta and Cabo are both phenomenal seaside towns situated along Mexico’s western shores, and both enjoy the backdrop of the mighty Pacific Ocean. Sunshine, if that’s what you’re chasing after, is bountiful in both.
Puerto Vallarta tends to be the more relaxed, culturally oriented destination of the two, while Cabo San Lucas, located at the southern end of Baja California, is known for its beach life and good-time atmosphere.
Here are a few more of the differences and similarities between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, to help you decide where you should plan your next vacation.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
High season, which lands during the winter months (December to March), is when you’ll experience the best weather. Average highs are typically in the low-to-mid 80s. And chances are you’ll be treated to lots of sunny days.
From mid-summer, and then moving into September, you’ll be in the midst of the rainy season. September tends to be the rainiest month of the year in both locales.
Cabo San Lucas has more of a desert climate, and is drier overall, averaging less rain compared to Puerto Vallarta. But all of that extra precipitation in Puerto Vallarta gives the area a lusher mountainous landscape.
Later spring and early summer is the shoulder season for both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Summer temperatures can occasionally hover around 90°F (32°C) in Puerto Vallarta, and it can get even warmer in Cabo.
And while the humidity in late spring and summer in Puerto Vallarta might be too much for some people to handle, if you’d like to avoid the busier times and you can take the heat, May and June are actually excellent times of the year to visit the region.
Puerto Vallarta and Cabo aren’t too far apart. Both towns are situated south of the Gulf of California. Cabo San Lucas is located along the very southern reaches of Baja California, while Puerto Vallarta—also known as PV—is farther south, across the water, on the western shoreline of the south-central Jalisco state.
Puerto Vallarta enjoys a more humid climate, hence the rugged tropical jungle and green landscapes surrounding the city.
Cabo, in essence, sits in an arid desert, although it benefits from world-class beaches, which many seem to rate as slightly better than Puerto Vallarta’s stretches of soft sand. Cabo also rests at the entrance to the Sea of Cortez, or the Gulf of California, which is a wildlife-watching paradise.
On the other hand, compared to Cabo, the beaches near Puerto Vallarta tend to have calmer, warmer water, and are better for swimming, given protection by the large, semi-circular Banderas Bay.
While Puerto Vallarta and Cabo have been visited by European explorers for centuries, and inhabited by indigenous peoples for millennia, both towns, in their current guises, aren’t “ancient” by any stretch of the imagination.
Spaniards, then Mexicans and others, have been visiting the shores around Cabo San Lucas since the 1500s. An American tuna cannery began operating in the area in the 1920s, with a small fishing village growing around the lucrative fishing business. The first hotel here, the Hotel Palmilla, only opened its doors in 1956.
Puerto Vallarta, once known as Las Peñas de Santa María de Guadalupe, was officially founded in 1851 by Don Guadalupe Sánchez Torres. When it comes to cultural sites linked to Mexican history, Puerto Vallarta has a little more to see than Cabo.
For example, if history piques your interest in PV, you can visit the neoclassical Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, built during the 1930s. This distinctive church dominates the city skyline.
You can also visit the Naval History Museum, or call upon the small Rio Cuale Museum, with the latter focused on pre-Hispanic archaeological finds.
Most of the structures in Cabo San Lucas are fairly new, although if you’re interested in regional history, head over to the nearby town of San Jose del Cabo.
In San Jose del Cabo, you can wander through the historic center, or stop by the Mission San José del Cabo Jesuit church, established by the Society of Jesus in the 1730s. The church, rebuilt since its founding, is known for its distinctive-looking white bell towers.
When contemplating Puerto Vallarta vs. Cabo, you’ll quickly discover that both spots offer wonderful environments for exploring the natural world. PV and Cabo do differ, however, in some of their adventure-based offerings.
Cabo is all about the sea, wildlife watching, and sport fishing. A catamaran-based coastal cruise will let you check out the region’s craggy shoreline, along with many of the area’s gorgeous beaches, like Lover’s Beach, from the water.
A good land-based activity would be a short but rugged hike up to the top of Mt. Solmar, which will offer you spectacular views across the ocean, and Cabo.
Wranglers who adore deep-sea fishing can hunt for mahi mahi, marlin, tuna, and other species in and around the Sea of Cortez. You’ll find plenty of charter outfits in Cabo more than happy to expedite your efforts to reel in some of the biggest fish around.
If arriving in Cabo during the late November to March or early April period, sign up for a humpback whale watching tour.
A humpback outing will provide you with yet another thrilling way to explore the local seascape. Observing these majestic marine mammals in their natural setting is something you don’t want to miss.
In contrast to Cabo, Puerto Vallarta features a verdant, jungle-like landscape, with intimate proximity to the Sierra Madre Mountains. Thrilling Sierra Madre ATV tours will let you power through the green foothills and take in the tropical environs.
Jungle hikes are one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta and a great way to experience the local flora and fauna; badgers, jaguars, wild boars, and other fascinating creatures make these mountains their home.
Puerto Vallarta, like Cabo, is also one of the best places to go whale watching in Mexico. A four-hour Banderas Bay sailing excursion will give you the chance to soak in the primeval beauty of this massive bay.
You can also arrange a boat trip out to the uninhabited Marieta Islands, a national park, where you can snorkel around the coral, swim among colorful fish, spot manta rays and sea turtles, and spend time at Hidden Beach, secreted away inside a low-tide cavern.
Puerto Vallarta’s Hidden Beach, also known as Playa del Amor, is one of the area’s most popular natural wonders.
The same can be said for the Islas Marietas overall, with their alluring rock formations. The picturesque biodiversity on display in the vast Sierra Madre foothills, just beyond the city to the east, should captivate your attention as well.
The five islets that make up Los Arcos National Marine Park, in the Bay of Banderas, feature granite rock plunging down into a vibrant ocean ecosystem, surrounded by caves and arches. Los Arcos is perfect for diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and standup paddle boarding.
Slightly inland from Mismaloya Beach, south of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll encounter El Eden de Mismaloya. This riverside jungle playland is great for some nature-based adventure, with river pools, waterfalls, plus a forest canopy zipline for your amusement.
Cabo’s most famous natural wonder, perhaps, is the Arch of Cabo San Lucas, or El Arco, which marks the southernmost tip of Baja. These towering limestone rock formations are truly arresting. You’ll spot kayaking groups in the area, plus sea lions lounging on the rocks.
If living wonders of nature enthrall you, then one of the best things to do in Cabo is to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, in the Sea of Cortez. And despite the off-putting “shark” in their name, these creatures are, in fact, gentle giants, with no interest in human snacks.
Drive north for an hour and a half or so from Cabo and you’ll come across the Santa Rita Hot Springs, located in the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range. These divine natural hot springs offer a relaxing break from the thrum of life in Cabo, should you need a reprieve from the fiesta atmosphere.
Puerto Vallarta and Cabo both have plenty of beaches to choose from. As far as sheer, splendid sandy beauty goes, Cabo seems to have a slight edge, with incredible spots like Playa del Amor, or Lover’s Beach, not far from the city.
Cabo San Lucas can be rougher for swimming, though, as the regional beaches here suffer more pounding from the incoming surf compared to PV, which benefits from the shelter of its large, protective bay.
You’ll find some lovely beaches in the city proper, like Playa Los Muertos located in Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica. And if you venture outside the city along the crescent of Banderas Bay, you’ll stumble across some handsome sandy strands as well, like Playa Las Gemelas and Playa Palmares, both brilliant spots for a morning or afternoon swim.
You don’t have to choose between Puerto Vallarta or Cabo if you crave exceptional Mexican cuisine, particularly when it comes to fresh fish and seafood. There are, however, some provincial culinary differences between the two ports.
Puerto Vallarta, compared to Cabo San Lucas, tends to dive deeper into the nation’s gastronomic roots. Cabo, with plenty of great eateries to choose from, caters for more international tastes.
In Puerto Vallarta, make sure you try some Tacos al Pastor, with their Lebanese influences, featuring delicious marinated grilled pork. Birria tacos, with braised spicy beef, are another must.
Pescado zarandeado is a fish plate, often red snapper, marinated in lemon and chili paste, then smoked and grilled.
While you’re in PV, you’ll likely hear about Vallarta ceviche, which is a fish dish “cooked” in citrus, like lime juice. The citrus juice breaks down the protein bonds in the hunks of raw fish, which are then served with diced onions, cilantro, and other fresh veggies.
In Cabo, if you’re looking for a hearty meal, comida de pobre (poor man’s food), a filling seafood soup stocked with beans and rice, should satiate your appetite. Delicious roasted Mexican chocolate clams ought to satisfy any shellfish cravings you might have as well.
In the “everyday eats” category, Cabo’s chicken tamales, or zesty shrimp and fish tacos, which you’ll find all over the place, will ensure that you never go hungry. Smoked marlin is big in the area too.
The state of Jalisco, where PV is located, is famed for its tequila, as this is where most of Mexico’s agave succulents, used to make tequila, are grown. You’ll find no shortage of tequila-tasting tours in the region, or vendors willing to sell you a bottle or two.
If searching for something to drink in Cabo, sample the spicy clamato (similar to Canada’s Bloody Caesar cocktail), prepared with clam and tomato juice, booze, and hot sauce, or else try the sweet, herbal Damiana liqueur, made from a plant of the same name.
Regardless of whether Puerto Vallarta or Cabo appeals, now is the time to start planning your next trip to Mexico’s western shores and visit both. Browse Celebrity’s Mexican Riviera cruises and get ready for a voyage that will treat you to some of the best Mexico has to offer.