Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Which is better in 2023?

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Planning a trip to Mexico and stuck between visiting Puerto Vallarta or Cozumel? You’re in the right place!

As a travel blogger that lives in Playa del Carmen (just a short ferry ride from Cozumel) and previously lived in Puerto Vallarta, I know all about these two beach destinations.

While both Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel are stunning beach vacation spots, there are some key differences between the two.

In this ultimate Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about cost details, safety concerns, the best activities, and where to stay in each tropical location.

Ready to find out if you’re more suited for Cozumel, the small Caribbean island, or Puerto Vallarta, the lively city on the Pacific Coast? Let’s get started!

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Overview

Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel are two completely different tropical locations with endless appeal.

While I think they’re both worth a visit, the final decision will come down to your preferences.

About Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a large coastal city on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the state of Jalisco. It’s known for its lively nightlife, beautiful beaches, and adventurous water sports. But there’s so much more to it.

Puerto Vallarta has a stunning backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountain range, making it the perfect place for outdoor activities like ziplining, biking, and hiking.

Plus, as one of Mexico’s original beach towns, it has classic Mexican charm with cobblestone streets, Spanish architecture, and incredible hillside views.

Some of the town’s most famous sites include the impressive beachfront boardwalk known as the “Malecón”, the spiral-shaped Los Muertos Beach Pier, and the beautiful pink-hued Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Much of Puerto Vallarta caters to tourists, cruise ship passengers, and local families on vacations. For that reason, you’ll find many excellent resorts and other fun activities for all ages.

The city of Puerto Vallarta and Los Muertos Beach Pier next to the ocean

About Cozumel

Cozumel has an entirely different vibe than Puerto Vallarta. Where Puerto Vallarta is large, bustling, and loud, Cozumel is small, tranquil, and quiet.

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, located just off the coast of Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

It’s a small place–you can easily drive around the island in about an hour. And yet, there’s so much to do and see with numerous water activities and attractions.

Additionally, Cozumel is worth visiting due to its location on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second longest barrier reef system in the world. 

This makes it a divers paradise because of the stunning coral formations, shipwrecks, and lively marine life off the coast. 

And as one of the most visited cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean, there are tons of cruise ships arriving daily to the island.

Basically, it’s a small island with a ton of personality to match the influx of tourists, divers, and cruise ship arrivals.

The island of Cozumel on the Caribbean Sea with boats and buildings in the background

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel Map

Take a look at the map below to see where Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel are located:

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Who are they best suited for?

Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel are beach destinations catering to beach tourism, but they differ in many ways.

Who is Puerto Vallarta best suited for?

Puerto Vallarta has more of a city vibe, with great nightlife and many adventure activities. But there’s so much to do here that various travelers will find an oasis at this beach destination.

Puerto Vallarta is perfect for solo travelers looking for the ideal Mexican destination with a welcoming atmosphere to meet other like-minded travelers. Plus, it’s one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in Mexico.

And because of the large variety of all inclusive resorts, cute boutique hotels, and family resorts, Puerto Vallarta is also great for couples and families looking to settle in the hotel.

And finally, don’t forget it’s right on the beach. This makes it perfect for all beach lovers, and the proximity to the mountains also makes it great for hikers and other thrill seekers.

The city of Puerto Vallarta Mexico with many buildings, a church, and the ocean in the background

Who is Cozumel best suited for?

Cozumel is much calmer, often called a “sleepy town” because everything shuts down early, and there are rarely crowds of people on the streets.

Due to this low-key vibe, Cozumel is great for couples looking for a romantic escape, solo travelers who want to escape the fast-paced atmosphere sometimes found on the mainland, and families who wish to relax and unwind.

Cozumel is also a haven for scuba divers, snorkelers, and water sports lovers. It’s the best place to settle down, enjoy the majestic beauty of the Caribbean Sea, and soak up the sun.

A picture of me standing in front of a colorful mural in Cozumel Mexico

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Pros and Cons

Here’s a look at the Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel pros and cons to help with your decision:

Pros of Puerto Vallarta

  • City vibes with all the amenities and comforts
  • Many beach activities and adventure tours
  • Large variety of Puerto Vallarta resorts 
  • Excellent nightlife and restaurant variety
  • Large international airport and easy transportation
  • Very LGBTQ friendly

Cons of Puerto Vallarta

  • Noisy and overwhelming
  • Frequent construction noise
  • Higher crime rate
  • More tourists
  • Less picturesque beaches
A picture of me standing on Los Muertos Beach Pier in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with the mountains and water in the background

Pros of Cozumel

  • Quieter, more peaceful atmosphere
  • World-renowned scuba diving and snorkeling
  • Lower crime rate
  • Caribbean beaches with crystal clear water
  • Cute all inclusive resorts, boutiques, and family-friendly oceanfront resorts

Cons of Cozumel

  • Doesn’t have many public beaches
  • Harder to get to
  • Doesn’t have great transportation options
  • Less developed
  • Limited shopping and dining options
A picture of me in front of the colorful Cozumel sign

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Safety Comparison

Now, let’s look at a safety comparison between Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel.

U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory

The official U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for Puerto Vallarta is currently “Level 3 – Reconsider Travel” due to crime and kidnapping in the state of Jalisco.

The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for Cozumel is currently “Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution” due to crime in the state of Quintana Roo.

The United States Mexico travel advisory mentions violent criminal activity in Jalisco but references Guadalajara, not Puerto Vallarta. 

The same report warns tourists to exercise increased awareness in the tourist areas of Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum) but doesn’t mention Cozumel.

A screenshot of the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory Levels

Crime and Safety Index

Numbeo reports the following crime and safety indices for Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel. Basically, you want the crime index to be low and the safety index to be high.

  • Crime Index: Puerto Vallarta: 35.60 (Low) | Cozumel: 34.57 (Low)
  • Safety Index: Puerto Vallarta: 64.40 (High) | Cozumel: 65.43 (High)

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Is Cozumel safer than Puerto Vallarta?

You can see from the Numbeo Crime and Safety Index above that, statistically, crime and safety statistics are similar for both Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel.

Cozumel has a much lower population and fewer crime reports than Puerto Vallarta, so the data may not be a perfect representation. But based on my experience, I would say Cozumel is safer to visit.

Generally, there will be fewer incidents in Cozumel than in Puerto Vallarta because it is a much smaller city. While Puerto Vallarta has more city appeal, Cozumel has a more friendly island vibe.

However, when traveling anywhere, practicing mindful awareness is essential. You should always be aware of your surroundings, never leave personal belongings unattended, and avoid illegal activity.

The Mexican flag on a rock pile in front of the ocean in Cozumel Mexico

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Cost Comparison

Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel are close in cost comparison. Both are on the more expensive side of places to visit in Mexico, as they have many all inclusive resorts and tourist attractions.

But when it comes to transportation costs, you’ll probably save money in Puerto Vallarta as it has a large international airport (PVR), with direct flights from many international cities. 

Additionally, Uber in Puerto Vallarta is available and very inexpensive, which makes getting around the city easy and affordable.

White buildings with palm trees and a street in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Cozumel does have an international airport (Cozumel International Airport – CZM), though flights are typically more expensive.  

That’s why many travelers choose to fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) and then take the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel.

Uber in Cozumel is not available, so you’ll need to rely on taxis or a rental car to get around the island.

But in both places, there are ways to save money to meet any budget.  For example, you can choose cheaper accommodations and avoid the high season (winter months and spring break).

The Cozumel ferry terminal with ferry boats on the water

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Beaches Comparison

Both Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta have beautiful beaches with blue waters, rows of swaying palm trees, and a sea full of tropical fish.

The island of Cozumel is known for its warm, turquoise crystal clear waters and vibrant marine life, so it draws scuba divers and snorkelers.

And due to its location on a barrier reef, many of the beaches tend to be more rocky.  However, there are still beautiful white-sand beaches to be found on the island like Playa Palancar.

Additionally, there’s a lack of public beaches in Cozumel. So, finding good beach spots will be challenging unless you’re staying at a resort or visiting beach clubs or Cozumel water parks that have their own private beach.

Playa Palancar Beach in Cozumel Mexico with clear water, palm trees, and lounge chairs with umbrellas

Puerto Vallarta is located on the Pacific Coast, with many beaches open to the public. Banderas Bay also protects the beaches, meaning the waters are calmer than other beach destinations on the west coast.

The waters of Puerto Vallarta tend to be more rugged and you don’t have that bright, turquoise blue coloring like the Mexican Caribbean. Plus, the sand is more golden and isn’t as white and soft.

A sandy beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with a boat floating on the water

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Hotels Comparison

Another important thing to consider between Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel is the accommodation and hotel options available.

Puerto Vallarta has more than double the amount of hotels than Cozumel, so Puerto Vallarta will have many more options.

Plus, there’s so many more neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta so you have a lot more variety depending on what you’re looking for.

So whether you want a boutique hotel in the walkable Romantic Zone, an all-inclusive beachfront resort in the Hotel Zone, or a family-friendly resort in Nuevo Vallarta, there’s a lot to choose from.

Alternatively, the resorts in Cozumel are mainly larger all inclusive resorts.  But you can still find cute boutique hotels and plenty of budget-friendly options closer to the town center. 

Cabanas on a dock at a resort in Cozumel Mexico with palm trees in the background

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

Here are a few great options for where to stay in Puerto Vallarta:

Travelista Tip: If you’re looking for the best beaches, I recommend staying in the Hotel Zone, as you’ll have several within walking distance. If you want to be near the action and good nightlife, I recommend the Romantic Zone.

Hotel Mousai in Puerto Vallarta with a pool on top of it and the mountains and beach in the background

Where to Stay in Cozumel

Here are a few great options for where to stay in Cozumel:

Travelista Tip: If you’re looking for the best beaches, I would recommend staying on the southwestern side of the island, as the beaches are less rocky, and the snorkeling is fabulous.

An aerial view of the infinity pool at Hotel B Unique Cozumel next to the ocean

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Activities Comparison

Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel activities differ, so the better destination depends on your preferences.

Puerto Vallarta has more of a well-rounded activity list that includes beautiful beaches, great hiking in the Sierra Madre mountain range, vibrant nightlife, and plenty of other things to do.

Many of the biggest things to do in Cozumel center around the ocean. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and beach clubs are the most popular activities on the island. 

So, this may not be your place if you aren’t obsessed with the sea (or at least appreciative of it). 

A floating water park and water activities in Cozumel Mexico

Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta

Here are some activity highlights of things to do in Puerto Vallarta:

  • Take a Boat Tour to Islas Marietas National Park: Islas Marietas (The Marietas Islands) is a beautiful group of tiny islands off the coast of Puerto Vallarta.  You can take an Islas Marietas boat tour there to visit the stunning Hidden Beach, as well as go snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

  • Go Ziplining in the Jungle: Puerto Vallarta’s location in the Sierra Madre mountains makes it the perfect place for ziplining.  You can book a fun Puerto Vallarta ziplining tour to soar through the jungle canopy and enjoy the incredible views.

  • Go Whale Watching: Whale watching season is between December and March when humpback whales enter Banderas Bay. It’s a really fun activity, perfect for any family vacation.

  • Walk the Malecón: Puerto Vallarta’s “Malecón” is a beautiful beachfront boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants, and bars where you can enjoy incredible ocean views.
The Hidden Beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with a circular opening

Best Things to Do in Cozumel

Here are some activity highlights of things to do in Cozumel:

  • Go on a Snorkeling Tour: A snorkeling tour in Cozumel is a must to explore the lively Mesoamerican Reef (the second largest reef in the world, only behind the Great Barrier Reef).

  • Snorkel at El Cielo: El Cielo is among Cozumel’s most prestigious and well-known snorkel spots. You can only access it by boat, but the abundance of starfish and the bright turquoise water make it well worth the trip.

  • Visit Punta Sur Ecological Reserve: Punta Sur is the perfect place to go if you want some time away from the coral reefs and salty water. There are other fun activities here (like a crocodile boat tour and a beautiful lighthouse with great views).

  • Go on the Atlantis Submarine Expedition: The Atlantis Submarine in Cozumel is Mexico’s only submarine dedicated to tourism, diving up to 100 feet beneath the sea. While on the 2-hour submarine expedition, you’ll see the Felipe Xicotencatl sunken ship and pass near “La Pared”, a vertical drop that plummets to more than 2,000 feet deep at the edge of the island.
A boat floating on the bright turquoise water at El Cielo Cozumel

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Restaurants Comparison

When it comes to dining, Puerto Vallarta wins on this front. While Cozumel has some great restaurants, Puerto Vallarta has a much larger variety.

Puerto Vallarta is known to have some delicious international food and a good blend of local food. Plus, a lot of the restaurants have fantastic views.

You’ll have to indulge in some fresh seafood when you’re in Puerto Vallarta! The city is home to some of the best fresh ceviches in Mexico if you’re a big fan of this dish.

A restaurant with tables and chairs overlooking the ocean in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Cozumel, on the other hand, has fewer options. However, you’ll still find some great dining experiences. 

Many of the restaurants are located in downtown San Miguel de Cozumel, with stunning oceanfront views.

One of my favorite breakfast and lunch spots is Aqui + Ahora, located right across from the ferry terminal. You’ll have to walk back a few blocks for more local food. 

Guisado’s is a short walk from downtown Cozumel and has some of the best tacos in Cozumel.

A plate of tacos with blue tortillas at Guisados Tacos Cozumel

Puerto Vallarta vs Cozumel: Nightlife Comparison

When it comes to nightlife, Puerto Vallarta also takes home the cake. Puerto Vallarta is one of the best party places in Mexico, so you’ll find endless opportunities for partying, clubbing, dancing, and any other drinking-related activity.

The Romantic Zone is the best district in Puerto Vallarta for exciting nightlife, but you can find good dancing and drinks in almost every neighborhood.

Cozumel is not really known for its nightlife, although there are some places here, too. Right across the Puerta Maya Cruise Ship Terminal, Señor Frogs and Hooters are open late and get reasonably busy.

However, most people go to Cozumel for relaxing, snorkeling, and scuba diving, so there are fewer options.

The Seahorse Statue at sunset on Puerto Vallarta's Malecon with people walking on it

Cozumel vs Puerto Vallarta: FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Cozumel vs Puerto Vallarta:

Is it worth it to go to Puerto Vallarta?

Yes, it is worth it to go to Puerto Vallarta. It’s a fun beach town with classic Mexican charm and has the perfect blend of adventure activities, water sports, and opportunities for lounging by the beach.

Why is Puerto Vallarta so popular?

Puerto Vallarta is popular because it’s a well-known spring break destination and family vacation spot. There’s a little something for everyone, making it a great place to explore on vacation.

What are the best months to go to Puerto Vallarta?

The best months to go to Puerto Vallarta are between December and March, when the weather is cooler and more temperate. You’ll also be able to spot humpback whales during this time.

Is Puerto Vallarta ocean swimmable?

Yes, the Puerto Vallarta ocean is swimmable. The city beaches are in Banderas Bay, making the water more calm than other Pacific Coast destinations.

What month is hurricane season in Puerto Vallarta?

Hurricane season in Puerto Vallarta is technically from June to November, with the largest risk of hurricanes in August and September.

When is the best time to visit Cozumel?

The best time to visit Cozumel is between December and February, when the weather is more dry and less humid.

The summer months past June is the rainy season and it can get incredibly hot and humid. But the island is warm enough to visit all year round.

A street in downtown San Miguel de Cozumel with orange buildings and people walking around

Final Thoughts: Is Cozumel or Puerto Vallarta better?

When choosing between Cozumel or Puerto Vallarta, many factors must be considered.

Are you looking for the best nightlife? Are you looking for the most active reef? Are you looking for the best dining experience?

Both Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta have a lot to offer. Puerto Vallarta is more well-known as a party destination, but it also has many high-end resorts, restaurants, and adventurous activities for anyone.

Cozumel is world-renowned as a top cruise ship destination, with excellent snorkeling and diving excursions. But overall, it’s more quiet so it’s best suited for those looking for a relaxed atmosphere.

No matter what you decide, I hope you enjoy your time soaking up the sun and getting to experience the vibrant Mexican culture at either destination!

🇲🇽 Traveling to Mexico soon?

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