Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Which is better in 2023?

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Planning a trip to Mexico and deciding between Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City? I’ve got you covered!

Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City are two captivating destinations for those seeking the allure of urban exploration in Mexico. However, they are very different from one another.

I’m a travel blogger who lives in Mexico, and I’ve visited both cities several times. I’m here to share everything I know to help you narrow your decision between Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta.

In this ultimate Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City comparison guide, I’ll dive deeper into what each location offers in terms of location, safety, hotels, activities, nightlife, and more.

So if you’re torn between the white-sand beaches of Puerto Vallarta and the skyscrapers and abundant street food of Mexico City, this guide will help you make up your mind!

Ready to find out which Mexican city is right for you? Let’s get started!

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Overview

Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City are two completely different cities. One is a tropical paradise, while the other is the landlocked capital city. Let’s briefly discuss an overview of each.

About Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a coastal city in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains.

The location between the beach and the nearby mountains means endless water sports and great hiking and jungle experiences.

What I love about Puerto Vallarta is that it’s one of Mexico’s original beach towns so it has a lot of 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 vacation. For that reason, you’ll find many excellent resorts and other fun activities for all ages.

🎥 Fun Fact: A popular motion picture, The Night of the Iguana (1964), was filmed in Puerto Vallarta and popularized the town as a top resort destination. The famous Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton even bought a home in Puerto Vallarta.

An aerial view of Puerto Vallarta with the beach, buildings, and the Los Muertos Beach Pier with the mountains in the background

About Mexico City

Located in Central Mexico, Mexico City, or “La Ciudad de México” in Spanish, is the capital city of Mexico and the most populous city in North America. 

It sits at an elevation of more than 7,000 feet above sea level, and is a thriving metropolis of commerce and culture–it’s my favorite place in Mexico for a city escape from Playa del Carmen!

The city is home to world-renowned historical sites and museums, including the Zocalo (the main square), El Centro Historico (the Historic Center), Chapultepec Castle, and the National Museum of Anthropology.

Outside of its cultural offerings, Mexico City also has a vibrant nightlife and art scene. It also boasts a wide variety of Michelin-star worthy restaurants offering cuisines from all over the world.

And while Mexico City doesn’t cater primarily to tourists, there are still many activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy, from sprawling parks to ancient ruins and sightseeing. 

Plus, with the rise of digital nomads, Mexico City has even been referred to as the “New York City” of Mexico, and is becoming an increasingly popular place to work and live.

In particular, the trendy neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa offer some of the best cafes, restaurants, and nightlife in the city. 

🎥 Fun Fact: The Academy Award-winning film “Roma” was filmed in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, highlighting the class system in Mexican culture in the 1970s.

An aerial view of the Angel of Independence State in Mexico City in the middle of a roundabout and surrounded by skyscrapers

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City Map

Take a look at the map below to get an idea of Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City’s location in Mexico:

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Who are they best suited for?

Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City are quite different, so comparing the two side-by-side is highly recommended before settling on one for your next trip.

Who is Puerto Vallarta best suited for?

Puerto Vallarta is suitable for many travelers, as it offers many different activities. 

Beach lovers flock to Puerto Vallarta because of the beautiful beaches and calm waters protected by Banderas Bay.

But also, Puerto Vallarta is great for adventure travelers, adrenaline junkies, and nature seekers. The surrounding Sierra Madre mountains are a great starting point for various activities, like ziplining, ATV rides, and hiking.

And because of the high-end all inclusive resorts and beach resorts, Puerto Vallarta is also a hit for romantic giveaways and luxury travelers.

Finally, Puerto Vallarta is celebrated for its vibrant LGBTQ+ community consisting of locals, expats, and tourists.

Me standing on Los Muertos Beach Pier in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with the beach, buildings, and mountains in the background

Who is Mexico City best suited for?

Although Mexico City doesn’t draw beach lovers and sun seekers, it’s the perfect destination for those that are looking for a big city escape.

Mexico City is a great starting place for digital nomads or for those who want to learn about Mexico’s unique history and culture. 

The Teotihuacan Pyramids are within driving distance of the city, and Mexico City is also home to some of the most important museums regarding Mexican culture.

Mexico City is also a big hit among foodies or food connoisseurs with its endless amounts of street food and Michelin-star worthy restaurants. 

And while Mexico City is perfect for culture seekers, it’s far from boring! The city is so well-rounded that most travelers will enjoy their time here.

Me standing on a balcony at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City with skyscrapers and trees in the background

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Pros and Cons

Let’s look at some Mexico City vs Puerto Morelos pros and cons to help narrow down your decision.

Pros of Puerto Vallarta

  • Lively beach city atmosphere
  • Some of the best beach resorts in Mexico
  • Blend of beach and jungle adventures
  • Large international airport
  • Very LGBTQ+ friendly

Cons of Puerto Vallarta

  • Lots of tourists and digital nomads
  • Too many cruise ship passengers
  • Ongoing construction developments
  • Occasional beach pollution
A view of Puerto Vallarta city with buildings, a church, and the ocean in the background

Pros of Mexico City

  • Rich cultural heritage and history
  • World-class museums and art galleries
  • Excellent international and local cuisine
  • Numerous shopping districts and markets
  • Opportunities for language immersion and learning

Cons of Mexico City

  • High levels of air pollution and smog
  • Noise and traffic congestion across the city
  • High altitude at 7,349 ft (2240 meters)
  • No beach or natural water near the city
Centro Historico in Mexico City with a cathedral and Mexican flag flying

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Safety Comparison

Here are some important safety and crime statistics for Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City.

U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory

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

The same United States Travel Advisory has Mexico City at a “Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution” due to crime in Mexico City.

The United States Mexico Travel Advisory points out the frequency of petty and violent crime reports in Mexico City and advises travelers to use additional caution, especially when out at night, and to stick to areas frequently patrolled by police.

The report also talks about violence and criminal group activity in Jalisco but doesn’t reference Puerto Vallarta specifically.

There are no restrictions on travel for U.S. government employees in either Puerto Vallarta or Mexico City.

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 Mexico City. A low crime index and a high safety index are ideal metrics.

  • Crime Index: Puerto Vallarta: 35.60 (Low) | Mexico City: 68.20 (High)
  • Safety Index: Puerto Vallarta: 64.40 (High) | Mexico City: 31.80 (Low)

🚨 Do you need travel insurance for Mexico? Yes! Most insurance plans in your home country will not cover incidents abroad. I recommend using Travel Insurance Master, which is a handy travel insurance marketplace where you can compare policies. Get a FREE quote by clicking here!

Is Puerto Vallarta safer than Mexico City?

Statistically speaking, Puerto Vallarta is safer than Mexico City as it has a lower crime rate and higher safety index. But Puerto Vallarta has a much lower population and primarily caters to tourists.

On the other hand, Mexico City is the largest city in Mexico and encompasses many different neighborhoods, including some that are more dangerous than others.

But if you stay within the more popular tourist areas of the city center like Reforma, Roma, or Condesa, you should be able to experience its culture and cuisine without worrying too much about safety. 

I’ve never felt unsafe in Mexico City, even as a solo traveler, as there are always lots of people out and about.

But when visiting either destination, it’s still important to take common sense safety precautions, such as not flashing large amounts of money or jewelry, avoiding dark alleys and unfamiliar neighborhoods at night, and keeping your bags close to you. 

The Malecon boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta with palm trees and the ocean in the background

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Cost Comparison

Both Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City are some of the more expensive places to visit in Mexico.

There isn’t a huge price difference between the two major cities, so the cost of your trip will really depend on your lifestyle and the type of accommodations you choose.

Additionally, both towns have dining options available for every budget.  For example, in Mexico City, you’ll find some high-end, expensive dining options, but you’ll also stumble across mouth-watering street tacos and tortas on almost every corner.

A plate of al pastor tacos at a restaurant in Mexico City

When it comes to flights, both cities have large international airports with direct flights from many major cities in the United States, Canada, and around the world. 

For Puerto Vallarta, you’ll fly into Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR).  Mexico City has two airports–Mexico City International Airport (MEX) is the main airport and Felipe Ángeles International Airport (NLU) is the new airport. 

So when it comes to budgeting for your trip, there are affordable options available in both Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City.

A street with buildings in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Beaches Comparison

First off, it’s important to know that Mexico City is landlocked in central Mexico and doesn’t have any beaches. So if you’re looking for a beach experience, Puerto Vallarta is the obvious winner!

The beaches in Puerto Vallarta are more swimmable than most places on Mexico’s Pacific Coast as the Bay of Banderas offers protection from rough waters.

Puerto Vallarta beaches have golden sand and bright blue water–they’re beautiful, although not quite as picturesque as the beaches you’ll find on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. 

Alternatively, if you opt for Mexico City, you can still consider visiting one of these nearest beaches to Mexico City as an add-on to your trip. 

A beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with golden sand and a boat floating on the water

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Hotels Comparison

Mexico City has many more hotels than Puerto Vallarta because it’s larger. However, Puerto Vallarta is no small town, and there’s plenty to choose from.

One significant difference between the hotels in Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta is the different hotel styles. 

Because of the proximity to the beach, Puerto Vallarta hotels may have a more laid-back, relaxing vibe. And there’s a lot of all-inclusive resorts to choose from too.

In comparison, hotels in Mexico City may have more of an industrial, big-city feel. Depending on the neighborhood, they might even be in high-rise buildings or skyscrapers.

But in either popular tourist destination, you’ll be able to find a wide range of accommodations to meet any budget including luxury hotels, budget hostels, as well as Airbnbs, VRBOs, and vacation rentals.

An oceanfront hotel in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with a pool and the mountains in the background

Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

Here are some of the best hotels for every budget in Puerto Vallarta:

Travelista Tip: The Hotel Zone and the Romantic Zone are the two most popular areas in Puerto Vallarta. The Hotel Zone is mere steps from the beach, while the Romantic Zone is walkable and near all the best nightclubs, bars, and all the best restaurants.

Hotel Mousai in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with a rooftop pool and the mountains and the beach in the background

Where to Stay in Mexico City

These are some of the top hotels in Mexico City:

Travelista Tip: Many of the nicer hotels are in the neighborhoods of Reforma, Roma Norte, and Condesa. These are excellent areas to stay if you’re looking for a walkable, safe atmosphere. 

The rooftop pool at Hotel Volga Mexico City with a skyscraper in the background

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Transportation Comparison

Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta have decent transportation services, like buses, trains, taxis, and ride-sharing services. 

However, the buses and metro in Mexico City can be overwhelming and packed full, and isn’t always the safest mode of transportation due to theft and petty crime.

That’s why the best way to get around is by Uber in Mexico City, which is safe, convenient, and affordable.

Just keep in mind that Mexico City is known for having horrendous traffic, which can make a 15-minute trip turn into an hour trip at the wrong time. 

Paseo de la Reforma street in Mexico City with cars and the Angel of Independence Statue in the background

On the other hand, Puerto Vallarta’s public transportation tends to be less crowded, as the city is smaller and has much less traffic and congestion.

Additionally, Uber in Puerto Vallarta is available, so it’s quick and easy to get around town or request a pickup from the airport. 

Basically, if you’re easily bothered by traffic and congestion, you may prefer Puerto Vallarta over Mexico City.

A street in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with cars and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in the background

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Activities Comparison

Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City have very different types of activities. 

Many of the most popular activities in Mexico City include cultural experiences, like visiting the Teotihuacan pyramids, visiting the many historical museums, and floating down the canals of Xochimilco.

On the other hand, activities in Puerto Vallarta tend to be centered around ocean or jungle activities. There’s less cultural immersion and more focus on nature and water activities.

A pyramid at the Teotihuacan archeological site in Mexico City

Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta

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

  • Take a Boat Tour to Islas Marietas National Park: Islas Marietas National Park comprises two small uninhabited islands, Isla Larga and Redonda. An Islas Marietas boat tour can take you to the beautiful hidden beach on Isla Redonda and other places around the park.

  • Go Ziplining in the Jungle: Puerto Vallarta is nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains with a beautiful mountainous jungle backdrop. Because of the terrain and wildlife, it’s the perfect place to go ziplining in the jungle. If you’re into adventure and this thrilling experience, you can book a Puerto Vallarta zip line tour.

  • Join One of the Whale-Watching Tours: Puerto Vallarta’s whale season is between December and March when the humpback whales cross the waters. This is a great family-friendly activity.

  • Walk the Malecón: Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón is a boardwalk along the coast, lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and street vendors. It’s the perfect spot to soak in the ocean views while getting a feel for the city.
Hidden Beach with a circular opening at Islas Marietas in Puerto Vallarta

Best Things to Do in Mexico City

Here are the activity highlights of things to do in Mexico City:

  • Float Down the Canals at Xochimilco: The canals at Xochimilco is a unique Mexico City tourist attraction. You hop on a colorful trajinera boat, float down the canals, and listen to mariachi music while enjoying food and alcoholic drinks.

  • Tour the Frida Kahlo Museum: Frida Kahlo is the most iconic Mexican artist and has become a symbol of Mexican culture. The Frida Kahlo Museum tour takes you through Frida’s living quarters and offers an up-close-and-person view of her art.

  • Visit Chapultepec Castle: In the heart of Chapultepec Park, Chapultepec Castle is a gorgeous European-style castle that was home to the former emperor of Mexico. Consider booking a private Mexico City tour to learn about the history and cultural impact today.
A colorful trajinera boat floating on the water at Xochimilco in Mexico City

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Restaurants Comparison

When it comes to dining, Mexico City has the definite edge over Puerto Vallarta.  Mexico City is a larger city with many more food options, making it a haven for foodies. 

Whether you’re looking for international cuisine, authentic local food, or a meal right off a street food cart, you’ll find it all in Mexico City.

Regional specialties from Oaxaca, Veracruz, Yucatan, and more converge in Mexico City, providing a comprehensive taste of the country’s diverse culinary landscape. 

It’s also known for having some of the best tacos in Mexico, with tacos al pastor being the main taco speciality in Mexico City.

Additionally, Mexico City is known for having some of the most Michelin star-worthy restaurants in Mexico such as Pujol and Quintonil, for those looking for an upscale dining experience.

Tables and chairs at Pujol restaurant in Mexico City

On the other hand, Puerto Vallarta still has good food options but it’s not considered one of Mexico’s food capitals like Mexico City. 

But what Puerto Vallarta has going for it is that it’s a large city right on the ocean. So, not only can you enjoy some good local seafood or international cuisine, but you can enjoy your meals with an unforgettable view of the Pacific Ocean.

Tables and chairs at an oceanfront restaurant in Puerto Vallarta overlooking the water

Puerto Vallarta vs Mexico City: Nightlife Comparison

If you’re looking for a party scene, you can’t go wrong with either Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta. Both have some of the best nightlife in all of Mexico and even Latin America.

Depending on your neighborhood, you can get more of an authentic party experience in Mexico City. There’s more of a balance between locals and tourist areas, so you have more chances to mingle with locals here.

That being said, Puerto Vallarta is known for its nightlife and also has some excellent clubs, discos, and bars.

Plus, a lot of the nightclubs are located on the Malecón, so you have an unforgettable indoor/outdoor nightclub experience. 

The Seahorse Statue in Puerto Vallarta on the Malecon at night

Mexico City vs Puerto Vallarta: FAQs

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

Is Puerto Vallarta more expensive than Mexico City?

Puerto Vallarta can be more expensive than Mexico City depending on the type of accommodations you choose. But both cities offer accommodation, dining, and transportation options to fit all budgets.

How far is Puerto Vallarta from Mexico City?

Puerto Vallarta is located about 545 miles (877 km) from Mexico City.

Is it worth it to go to Puerto Vallarta?

Yes, it is worth it to go to Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta is a lively coastal city with excellent nightlife and great activities.

What are the best months to go to Puerto Vallarta?

The best months to go to Puerto Vallarta are December and March because the temperatures are more comfortable. This is also the season for humpback whales.

Is Puerto Vallarta ocean swimmable?

Yes, the Puerto Vallarta ocean is swimmable. The city beaches are protected by Banderas Bay, keeping the waters relatively calm.

When is the best time to visit Mexico City?

The best time to visit Mexico City is between March and May, after the chilly winter months and before the rainy season.

How many days do you need in Mexico City?

I would recommend at least 3 days in Mexico City to be able to see the main tourist attractions.

Is Puerto Vallarta or Mexico City better for solo travelers?

Both Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City are a great place for solo travelers. Puerto Vallarta is a “social city,” so meeting people is easy. And Mexico City has many tours, activities, and hostels to socialize in.

Zocalo square in Mexico City at night with the Mexican flag flying

Final Thoughts: Is Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta better?

Choosing between Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta can be challenging. These two popular Mexican cities are so different but have much to offer.

If you’re more into the cultural experience of Mexico and enjoy museums, art, and delicious food, you may want to visit Mexico City. 

But if you’re looking for beaches and beach clubs, high-end beach resorts, or an action-packed jungle experience, consider visiting Puerto Vallarta.

But no matter which one you choose, you’re sure to have an amazing time! Both Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City are some of the best places in Mexico and definitely worth a visit!

🇲🇽 Traveling to Mexico soon?

These are the Mexico travel resources I use and recommend:

🏨 Hotels: I always find the best deals for Mexico hotels and resorts on Expedia or Booking.com. If you prefer a vacation rental, check VRBO as they are often cheaper than AirBnB’s added fees!

✈️ Flights: I recommend using Skyscanner for the best Mexico flight deals. Be sure to sign up for their price alerts for your preferred travel dates.

🚗 Rental Cars: I recommend using Discover Cars because you can compare multiple car rental companies and see detailed ratings for overall value, ease of pick-up, efficiency of agents, car condition, and overall time spent.

🚙 Cancun Airport Transportation: I recommend booking a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation for the quickest and most hassle-free option!

🤿 Tours & Activities: I always use Viator or GetYourGuide for booking tours and activities in Mexico. You can cancel up to 24 hours before the tour for a full refund, plus they have excellent customer service if you were to have any issues.

🚨 Travel Insurance: After my Dad broke his hand in a taxi accident in Playa del Carmen, I always recommend buying travel insurance before your trip for added peace of mind! I recommend Travel Insurance Master for short trips or Safety Wing for digital nomads.

☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Don’t forget to add biodegradable sunscreen to your Mexico packing list! Regular sunscreen is prohibited when swimming in the ocean and cenotes in Mexico, so you’ll need to pack some biodegradable sunscreen for sun protection. I recommend Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is reef-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free.