Puerto Vallarta vs. Playa del Carmen
Mexico has two very popular seaside destinations, Puerto Vallarta and Playa del Carmen, both of which offer many exciting attractions. No matter which one you choose to visit, you are guaranteed to find plenty of reasons to make your trip to Mexico a memorable one.
Puerto Vallarta maintains its old town charm and offers an authentic coastal city feel. On the other hand, Playa del Carmen is incredibly beautiful, with a rustic and boho-chic vibe. However, both destinations offer interesting experiences and stunning scenery.
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Puerto Vallarta is a scenic coastal city on Mexico’s west coast that was once a collection of serene fishing and pearling villages. Over time, it has gained popularity among tourists as a vacation destination. Despite this, it retains its authentic port town feel and embodies the true essence of Mexican culture and history. This sets it apart from other tourist-centric beach resorts in the country. It’s a place that will leave a lasting impression on visitors.
The Atmosphere at Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, located on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, combines an Old World ambience with modern conveniences. The cobblestone streets are flanked by luxurious properties, creating a blend of old and new. Although it is a beach destination, Puerto Vallarta has preserved its charm and traditions. The golden sand beaches, which stretch for miles along the coast, are the city’s centerpiece. The malecón (boardwalk) is located alongside the beach and is busy from sunrise to well into the wee hours of the night.
Every day, large cruise ships arrive in Playa del Carmen, where hundreds of shops cater to them. Despite the tourism and commotion, the streets still feature small tortillerias and taco stalls that have been using the same recipes for generations. The combination of old and contemporary creates a chaotic but authentic atmosphere. Playa del Carmen is located on the very east coast of the country, just over an hour south of Cancun Airport. Playa’s beaches are narrower than those in Puerto Vallarta, but the water is incredibly calm and bath-like in nature.
Why we Love Puerto Vallarta?
Travel back in time in Zona Romantica
Travel back in time and immerse in the authentic Puerto Vallarta by visiting the Zona Romantica, the historic and visually stunning area of the city. Located on the south side, this charming neighborhood attracts more laid-back vacationers and exudes the atmosphere of a relaxed beach village.
Puerto Vallarta’s historic appeal is showcased through the vibrant architecture on the neighborhood streets. The buildings, mostly local homes, have distinct red-tiled roofs with intricate details and are decorated with elaborate gardens, plant-filled balconies, and warm-colored roofs. Travelers are advised to keep their cameras fully charged to capture the beauty of the area. The streets are cobblestoned.
The neighborhood boasts exceptional dining options and premium cultural destinations. It also features Playa Los Muertos, which is the most popular beach in the city. In addition, there is a pier that was built in 2013, offering seating for pedestrians and a colorful nighttime illumination display.
Several previous visitors recommend reserving accommodations in this particular area. If you prefer to stay elsewhere, note that the northern boundary of this neighborhood is Rio Cuale (River Markets), while the southern boundary is Santa Barbara Street. The eastern boundary is Insurgentes Street, and the western boundary is Playa Los Muertos.
Vibrant El Malecon
Puerto Vallarta’s El Malecon is a vibrant waterfront promenade that spans over a mile. The entire walk offers stunning views of the ocean, while showcasing the charming downtown’s red-tiled rooftops.
As you walk by the coolest restaurants, enjoy the sculptures, beaches, and live street performances in the city. People who have visited recently suggest that you stop by one of the street vendors for a quick bite and soak up the night vibe. If possible, try to go there around sunset for some breathtaking photos.
Just so you know, cars are not permitted on the Malecon, so you’re free to walk or run around at your leisure. The Malecon is a great spot for an early morning run and there’s plenty of activity there throughout the day. It’s become a popular place for locals, tourists, and expats to gather.
The Beaches Puerto Vallarta
If you have an address on the coast of Yucatan near Riviera Maya, you can expect to find beautiful beaches in Puerto Vallarta. The beaches are everything you would expect from a popular beach destination, with clear turquoise water, white sand beaches, and palm trees lining the shore. The beaches of Puerto Vallarta are definitely one of the city’s main attractions.
- Playa Los Muertos: To get to Playa de Los Muertos, simply take a short walk from Zona Romantica towards the shore. This beach is for sure the most famous one in Puerto Vallarta. You can unwind and relax on the beautiful smooth golden sand.Many people consider Playa de Los Muertos to be a great place for both relaxation and people-watching due to its spacious and central location. This location offers numerous activities, including Jet Skiing, windsurfing, and parasailing, as well as options for dining out in top-notch restaurants and bars. Additionally, there are also affordable land activities to enjoy such as beach volleyball.
- Playa Palmares: This beach is popular among locals and tourists because of its clean sand and clear water. Playa Palmares is located 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south of the Romantic Zone and has been certified with a Blue Flag. This certification indicates that the beach meets high standards for hygiene, safety, water quality, and accessibility. At Palmares Beach, you will have access to various amenities such as umbrellas, tables, and chairs for your comfort and sun protection. There are also attentive lifeguards who ensure the safety of swimmers, so you can enjoy yourself without worrying about any mishaps. Restrooms are also conveniently located nearby. If you want a serene and worry-free swimming experience without crowds, Palmares Beach is the perfect location for you.
- Playa Olas Altas: Approximately half a mile north of Playa Los Muertos Pier, there is a serene beach area called Playa Olas Altas or High Waves Beach. The waves at this beach can reach a height of 6.5 feet or 2 meters, which makes them strong enough for surfing. The beaches of Olas Altas and Los Muertos are part of a single stretch of sand that extends from El Pulpito in the south to the Cuale River in the north. You can also enjoy all the amenities and activities available at the main beach in town.
Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
There are a lot outdoor activities to do in Puerto Vallarta. You can go ziplining, ride ATVs and horses, hike in the Sierra Madre Mountains, beach hop, and skydive.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is an amazing vacation spot located in the Mexican Caribbean. It’s colorful, exciting, and one of the most beautiful destinations in Mexico. Unlike other beach resorts where lounging in the sun is the only option, Playa del Carmen offers plenty of entertainment options and activities to keep you busy all day.
Playa del Carmen is a trendy community located on the Riviera Maya. It is home to wealthy expats and attracts a significant number of tourists from Asia to Europe. During your stay, you can pass your time indulging in luxurious shopping at high-end boutiques and lounging on the beach. In addition, there are many great dive spots to explore in the area. Once the sun sets, you can savor delicious meals at elegant restaurants and dance the night away in flashy clubs.
The Atmosphere at Playa del Carmen
The main hub of activity in Playa is Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), rather than the beach. This pedestrian promenade stretches for over a mile and is packed with luxury eateries, cafes, and malls, making it the top draw for tourists. The town has a distinctly commercial feel and puts a lot of emphasis on 5th Avenue.
Perhaps due to the European settlement and businesses in the area, Playa del Carmen has a distinctly European atmosphere. English and foreign languages are more commonly spoken than Spanish on the streets, which contrasts with the situation in Vallarta. Compared to Vallarta’s busy beachside establishments, Playa has fewer restaurants and bars, which are scattered around and have a refined and modern ambience.
Why we Love Playa del Carmen ?
The Trendy 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida)
The main beach in Playa del Carmen is located alongside 5th Avenue – Quinta Avenida, which is a trendy street and the city’s main thoroughfare. This avenue is renowned for its lively nightlife and diverse entertainment options, making it one of the top destinations in the city for cosmopolitan delights.
The pedestrian boulevard is filled with a range of street performers, eateries, lodgings, apartments, and drinking establishments. This makes it the perfect place in Playa for travelers of almost any type.
The cobblestone street is a great place to spend the day. It has an authentic and romantic feel, and you can enjoy local breakfast specialties or healthy acai bowls at the many cafes. You can also go for a swim or watch street performers after dark by walking a block over.
La Quinta Avenue is the most popular tourist attraction in Playa del Carmen. However, it will get crowded during the week and on weekends. The avenue starts at the intersection of La Quinta Avenue and Avenida Juárez and goes up to the Grand Riviera Maya Golf Club, covering a distance of 4 miles (6.5 km).
While walking down the street is free, we reccomend you bring some pesos in case you want to purchase a snack or souvenir. Keep in mind that every store and restaurant has its own specific operating hours.
The Majestic Rio Secreto
The area that includes Playa del Carmen has a landmass made of porous limestone with vast underground passages. One of these passages is Rio Secreto, also known as the Secret River, which is popular among adventurous explorers and is considered one of the best-kept secrets on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Rio Secreto is a network of partially submerged caves in Quintana Roo, which houses the longest underground river in the region. The river is ideal for swimming and snorkeling, thanks to its beautiful turquoise waters. Visitors can also enjoy the privacy of the place since it is spacious enough to move around. While swimming in the 600-meter-long (656 yds) river, you will witness numerous stalactites and stalagmites.
Rio Secreto is a natural attraction located about 3.7 miles (7km) southwest of Playa del Carmen. It takes 23 minutes by car to reach there and some packages include transportation. You can visit Rio Secreto on your own or as part of a guided excursion. It is open daily from 8 AM to 3 PM. You can book tours through other operators or directly from their website.
The Beaches Playa del Carmen
The Playa del Carmen Beach is divided by beach clubs and resorts, and the widest part is in front of Parque Fundadores where you can see the Playa del Carmen Arch. La Quinta Avenida is next to the beach, so you might come across Parque Fundadores while exploring the area. Look for the big arch sculpture at the beach’s main entrance to know that you’re in the right place.
The beach is often crowded with tourists because it is located near Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue). There are many great beach clubs on the beach that offer sun loungers for a small fee. The beach is conveniently located near the ADO bus terminal and the Cozumel ferry, and it has many amenities.
While the access to the beach is free, you will need to pay a fee to rent lounge chairs or other beach equipment. You can also try out windsurfing and paddleboarding activities in the Caribbean Sea. And, there is also a full-size volleyball court for your enjoyment.
Xcaret and Xel-Ha
Aside from its beaches and natural formations, Playa del Carmen has impressive man-made attractions. There are always exciting activities to do within the city. In fact, two of the biggest and best theme parks in the Yucatan Peninsula are located in Playa del Carmen – Xcaret and Xel-Ha – which elevate the region’s tourism appeal.
Xcaret is a large outdoor park focused on ecology, which includes an aviary, a dolphin aquarium, and a turtle sanctuary. Additionally, visitors can enjoy a beach where they can swim, dive, and snorkel. This location is often described by experts and tourists as similar to a Yucatan version of Disneyland.
Xcaret park offers a range of activities like speedboat rides, shark swims, stingray encounters, dolphin interactions, and scuba tours. You can spend the entire day exploring the park and attend evening shows that showcase the Mayan history of the region. You can also dine at any of the restaurants inside the park.
Xel-Há is comprised of an inlet and lagoon which form a natural aquarium for swimming and snorkeling. It’s possible to swim with tropical fish, dolphins, and turtles. Enjoy various outdoor activities such as biking, zip-lining, and encountering manatees and stingrays during your visit.
In the Children’s World, you can enjoy a pool with waterslides and a great playground with rope climbing. To get a great view of Xel-Ha Bay and the Caribbean Sea, head to the 40-meter-tall Scenic Lighthouse.
Things to do in Playa del Carmen
You can enjoy most of the Puerto Vallarta activities in Playa too (except for the mountains). However, Playa offers ancient ruins and cenotes, which add excitement to outdoor adventures. If you travel one hour south of Playa, you’ll find the renowned Tulum ruins, while the Coba ruins are 30 minutes inland from Tulum. Both were significant Maya cities during their time. Tulum is an impressive site that sits atop a cliff 39 feet high, overlooking the beautiful turquoise sea.
Meanwhile, Coba is the largest of the ruins around, with much of it still covered by the jungle. Unlike other ruins, you can climb the pyramid, which stands 136-foot-tall.
Natural sinkholes called cenotes are found on the Yucatán Peninsula. These are formed due to the collapsing of limestone which exposes the most beautiful turquoise water. These cenotes are surrounded by jungle, and are full of fish. The Mayans used these as a source of water, and they were considered sacred by them. Today, these cenotes are one of the best tourist attractions to explore. Around 10,000 cenotes can be found in the area, giving plenty of options to choose from.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Playa Del Carmen Better?
If you want an authentic Mexican experience with lots of things to do, Puerto Vallarta is a great choice, but it depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. Playa del Carmen may not feel as authentic as Puerto Vallarta, but it has a rich history and an impressive selection of natural attractions. It can be really difficult to choose between the two.
Let’s quickly make a summary of the points discussed here:
- Beaches: the beaches in Playa del Carmen and Cancun are among the best I have visited in my whole life;
- Budget: Playa del Carmen is cheaper than Puerto Vallarta for sure;
- Nature: outdoor adventures in Playa del Carmen are definitely once-in-a-lifetime experiences;
- Hotels: Puerto Vallarta has better options, although Playa del Carmen hotels (map) and resorts are not far behind!;
- Food: the food in both places is cheap and delicious;
- Nightlife: nightlife and shopping in Puerto Vallarta is better;
- Weather: since the rainy season in Playa del Carmen is quite annoying, I’d choose Puerto Vallarta’s weather;
- Transportation: getting to and moving around Puerto Vallarta is easier than doing so in Playa del Carmen;
- Safety: Playa del Carmen feels overall safer than Puerto Vallarta.
Is the Weather better in Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta Weather?
In terms of temperature, Playa del Carmen has average highs of 87°F (30.5°C), which is slightly cooler than PV’s 90°F (32.2°C). However, Playa del Carmen experiences more rain than PV and has a humidity of 84.2%.
Is Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta Cheaper?
Puerto Vallarta is generally more affordable and authentic than Playa del Carmen, which has a more touristy vibe and a higher cost of living, despite its rustic charm.
Is Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya the same?
So, Playa del Carmen is a town located within the larger region of Riviera Maya.
Are There 2 Airports in Puerto Vallarta?
No. Puerto Vallarta only has one airport – Gustavo Diaz Airport. Getting to and moving around the airport in Puerto Vallarta is very easy.
How Far is Playa Del Carmen from Puerto Vallarta ?
The direct distance between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta is about 1,175 miles or 1,891 kilometers.
Are beaches better at Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta Beaches?
The beaches in Playa del Carmen are better because they have long stretches of white sand, lush greenery, and the mesmerizing blue waters of the Caribbean.
How Can You Get from Playa Del Carmen to Puerto Vallarta?
There are three ways to travel from Playa del Carmen to Puerto Vallarta: by plane, bus, or car.