Mazatlan, despite its size and proximity to the US, is sleepy, yet charming, simple, and authentic. While Puerto Vallarta offers a little bit of everything, from the beaches to nightlife. Whenever you find yourself wanting to visit Mexico’s western reaches, you can easily visit both. After all, they’re just a bus ride away from each other.
The underrated old city in the western seaboard of Mexico, Mazatlan has stood in glory well before Cancun and Los Cabos. It has seen both the varied history of Mexico up to its tourism boom. If you want to catch a glimpse of the soul of Mexico, Mazatlan is the place.
With a historic town center, an expansive golden coast, to an excellent gastronomy, Mazatlan is cultural capital at best. Expect to see twists and quirks in every turn, full of authenticity and culture.
What Makes Mazatlan Unique?
Off the Beaten Path Charm
Mazatlan is Sinaloa’s shining sleepy beacon at its coasts. Despite its underrated charms, and its smaller crowds, Mazatlan is a darling in a crowd of premier resort cities. From a curious historic town to the longest Malecon in the country, Mazatlan is still one of Mexico’s best.
Just across the Gulf of California, Mazatlan is another shining gem on the Mexican Pacific coast. The Sinaloan gem is noticeably modest and historic. Old and quintessentially Mexican, Mazatlan offers what resort cities like Cancun and Los Cabos can’t. The authenticity of a real established Mexican seaside city.
While you’ll most probably catch swaths of tourists, and fun-loving crowds brimming in Canun and Los Cabos, Mazatlan is different. It has lesser people, is more laid-back, and is true to its historic roots. The thing with less-touristy resort cities is that they can easily introduce their history and culture.
Thanks to fewer crowds, the city is less saturated with tourism so, in turn, it has kept its authenticity and culture. Mazatlan can be considered an “off the beaten path” given its more famous neighbors.
People who get to choose Mazatlan over other Pacific jewels like Puerto Vallarta or Los Cabos will find a city that has a special touch. Less commercialized and non-Americanized scenes are just some of Mazatlan’s best charms.
Endless Coastal Stretch, Beaches Galore
Coastal cities will always have a wealth of beaches in their roster as blessed by their location. As for Mazatlan, it boasts one of the longest coasts in the country, if not the longest. You can be sure to find an abundance of beaches in Mazatlan.
Mazatlan is also one of the largest resort cities in Mexico. The city’s 1,184—sq mi land area (3,068 sq km) even overshadows Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. You can expect to find heaps of sights and special corners in the city, especially with its rich culture and history.
You can also find one of the most extensive coasts in Mexico adjacent to the city’s enormous size. Mazatlan features a 17-mile (27 km) golden stretch that fronts the Gulf of California. The city easily offers a long list of beaches, each offering something for everyone.
Here are some of the most notable spots on the Mazatlan coast:
Playa Olas Altas
Consistently ranked as one of Mazatlan’s best beaches, Playa Olas Altas has been a go-to option for many of Mazatlan’s tourists. A huge chunk of it may be because of how it’s famous among surfers. The beach sports perfect waves for that ideal surfing experience, especially during weekends.
But if you visit during the weekdays expect that you can have an exclusive feeling of the beach because there won’t be a lot of people on it. Allowing you to enjoy this famous stretch with a bit of privacy.
Playa Cameron has to be one of the most picturesque beaches in all of Mazatlan. The beach boasts perfect swimming conditions and romantic sunsets. This perfect blend makes the beach Instagrammable at best. Boats are also anchored across its waters, perhaps more than any other beach on the coast, evoking a postcard-perfect scene.
You can also purchase different goods displayed from the many shops lining the shore. Parallel to the beach are also hotels and a wide range of tourist accommodations.
Playa Las Gaviotas
The waters in Playa Gaviotas are the exact contrast to the famous Olas Altas. The beach has gentler waves ideal for just simple swimming and chilling under the sun. To better enjoy your time here, you can lounge and sample the menus in the many restaurants near the beach.
Expect sands that gleam gold as the sun hits, alluring sunsets, and people worth smiling, too. Playa Las Gaviotas is also a bustling beach due to swaths of crowds getting ready for their tours and excursions to nearby islands.
Perhaps Mazatlan’s most defining natural feature, the Golden Zone’s sheer length and charms can even best that of Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. The “Zona Dorada” or the Golden Zone is the city’s epicenter of tourist activity. The dramatic stretch houses most hotels and resorts in Mazatlan, including its charming Malecon.
Located 4 miles (6 km) north of the Old Town, Mazatlan’s Golden Zone stretches for over 17 miles or 27 km. The zone is best for tourists looking for whatever thrill the sleepy city can offer.
The Golden Zone used to be just a sand bar with a swamp behind it. Now with the swamp filled and the tourism boom, the once quiet stretch has developed. It is now lined with resort charms, like restaurants, bars, shopping centers, and all good fun.
You can be sure to find everything you could ever want in Mazatlan right here in the stunning, most-happening area of the city. It offers both the aesthetics and the thrills of a classic Mexican resort city. It is considered the most upscale part of town.
Encompassing 6 miles (9.7 km) of the Golden Zone’s 17-mile stretch (27 km), the Malecon is easily one of the longest in the country, if not entire the Latin America. A Malecon is a seaside promenade usually found in many cities across the Hispanic world. Malecones are ideal for running, cycling, and leisurely strolls.
The Mazatlan Malecon is arguably Mexico’s longest, besting Puerto Vallarta’s. Popular among locals and tourists alike, the Malecon features different charms as well. You can find stores and food places along the expanse, as well as famous and important statues nodding to the city’s rich history.
Among the many features, you can find are monuments dedicated to important events in Mazatlan’s history. You can check out the Family Monument, Fisherman’s Monument, and the Pacifico Brewery Monument. And along with these monuments, you can also find a plethora of various spots perfect for your post-strolling break.
Expect to find an abundance of seafood restaurants in Malecon, ranging from the midrange to the cheap eats. You can also find food places under palapas, or traditional open-air huts, selling a variety of dishes.
And if you’re visiting from late February to early March, you can witness the Mazatlan Carnival parade traversing the Malecon. The Mazatlan Carnival is usually held during the Lenten season. Expect a festive vibe kickstarting the actual start of the Carnival season.
If you’re worried about safety and security in the Malecon, you can expect it to be generally safe even for women and solo travelers.
However, you have to be cautious as petty crimes are still rampant in resort cities. You also have to be extra vigilant when going out at night, just like you would in any touristy city in the world.
When you arrive in Mazatlan, Deer Island tours are always a word-of-mouth away because of their popularity. It is the most visited offshore island from Mazatlan. Located just a few miles away from Playa Gaviotas, you can get to Deer Island via special excursions available across the city.
Perfectly providing seclusion, and quiet, Deer Island is a rich contrast from the crowded beaches of Mazatlan’s favorite spots. The small island can feel like a temporary escape with its unspoiled outdoors and relaxing vibe.
Not to mention, the island provides a picturesque vantage point of the city’s skyline. Imagine relaxing along the beach, with the golden gleaming sands of Mazatlan and its skyline as your backdrop.
Some more adventurous folks even opt to take a catamaran, a sailboat, or a kayak from the shore of the Golden Zone to get to Deer Island. You can also enjoy other water activities here such as snorkeling and banana boat rides.
Old Town Flashbacks
Located just a few walks away from the Golden Zone, the Old Town or the Centro Historico is the city’s soul. Mazatlan has kept its authenticity and history. Most of which rests within the cobblestone streets of this old colonial district. You can expect to be in constant awe as you take a guided walking tour here.
You will get a clear image of the city’s history as you walk around the Centro Historica. Visit the many art galleries and museums you can find in the district and soak up the vibe of the city’s culture and authenticity.
Apart from historical and cultural features, you can also sample the best that Mazatlan gastronomy can offer in the old town. You can find many of Mazatlan’s most recommended restaurants here.
And as you dine, stroll, and explore, you will constantly be greeted by the colorful colonial buildings. Most of these buildings are of colonial origin, many believe to date as far back as the time of the Spanish occupation.
Mazatlan’s local gastronomy is a mishmash of foreign influences and native roots. Expect to have a spectrum of flavors bursting on your palate. Fortunately, Mazatlan offers a wide range of food places, from luxury bistros to street food options.
If you like to explore a cheaper and more raw approach to the authentic food scene, you can try many of the city’s famous eats in its streets. You can easily find many street food options in food trucks, sidewalk vendors, even family homes serving food. A pro-tip is that if you see longer lines, they’re locally famous and are therefore top-notch.
Some of the famous dishes you can try are grilled chicken, corn on the cob, and chili-lime sauce as well as ceviches made from fresh fish. If you want to sample as many as you can while having your curiosities satisfied, you can book a food tour.
And if on some nights, you’d want to experience a bit of a classy dinner, you can find many of the top-rated restaurants in the Old Town. Try out dishes served by El Presidio, the most famous alfresco restaurant in Mazatlan. Or perhaps, a mix of local and international palates, then you have Casa 46 for that.
Puerto Vallarta, its authentic appeal and gilded beaches is a gem of the Mexican Pacific coast. Puerto Vallarta’s allure is in its nitty-gritty, true Mexican seaside city vibe. While most resort cities in the country boast jam-packed draws and excitement.
Though still touristy and famous, Puerto Vallarta, or PV for short, doesn’t rely on big commercial plays to lure its visitors. Its rough-around-the-edges deal and authentic cultural scenes are its best vibe. The city is home to probably the friendliest Mexicans. You can expect a welcome like no other.
What Makes Puerto Vallarta Unique?
The City’s Beachside Heart
One of Puerto Vallarta’s interesting draws is how it is rugged and raw when it comes to its beaches. Alluding to its authentic branding, PV boasts beaches with a different twist.
Instead of the classic soft white sands, the city’s pacific coast has sands that seem to radiate a golden hue. Plus, most of its beaches aren’t as expansive and smooth as the Caribbean. Many of the beaches in PV are broken and have gentler waves.
PV’s beaches are often best for plenty of other water activities such as jet skiing, kayaking, swimming, and sailing. Unlike Cancun, where tourists dominate the beaches, PV’s beaches are everyone’s turf, locals and tourists alike.
A lot of this has to do with how the city runs parallel to its coast as if the beach is its spine. Its notable districts such as the Hotel Zone, Downtown, and Zona Romantica all run along the beach. To add, its famous Malecon, perhaps the most iconic in the country, just runs north of the Zona Romantica, at the heart of the downtown.
But despite its seaside heart, the best beaches in PV, at least according to tourists, is located outside the city center. Some of which are located hours away from the downtown area. Here are some of the most recommended spots:
Conchas Chinas is located within the city limits south of the Zona Romantica. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Mexican Pacific seaboard. The beach is interestingly nestled between the rainforest and the majestic Pacific Ocean. Think of swimming with a lush view of the forest on one side and the vast expanse of the Pacific on the other.
The beach is also dotted with food places, providing a wide range of food choices and refreshments as well. You can find many restaurants and bars, perfect after a fun time in the water.
Playa Palmares is popular among families and friend groups. It offers conditions that are perfect for relaxation and laid-back lounging. The atmosphere almost always invites you to kick back and hang out with friends and family.
You can also buy a variety of items, or even food from the vendors in the area. Plus, the journey to the Playa, which often takes hours, offers breathtaking views of the mountains and the ocean.
Punta Negra is everybody’s beach because of its swimmable and near-perfect conditions for a beach day. The beach offers safe and gentle waves that are perfectly safe for everyone no matter the age. Punta Negra is also desirable because of its pristine conditions and privacy, thanks to fewer crowds.
If you’re looking for a beach to truly relax and chill, Punta Negra is the place. You can also snorkel peacefully from Punta Negra; among many other simple water activities you can do.
You can also find a few vendors selling snacks, freshly-caught fish, fruits, and even small souvenirs. Punta Negra is best for the slow-traveling beach bum, or vacationers who just like to veer away from the crowd and get cozy on the beach.
If you’re looking for the most popular beach in the city, the Playa Los Muertos crowd is the answer. Just south of Puerto Vallarta’s heart, this is the most visited beach. If you want an interesting way to get here, you can walk south from the Malecon.
The thing with Los Muertos is that it’s not just a tourist’s beach, it is also a local favorite. So if you’re looking to meet locals, and talk to them about what PV is all about, this is the place. Playa Los Muertos is also the perfect place to chill on the beach with a beer in hand as you marvel at the setting of the sun.
Central PV may have a noticeable absence of beaches, but it makes up with its grand Malecon, the best place to get to know PV a bit more. It is a mile-long boardwalk that offers sprawling views of the adjacent Pacific Ocean.
The promenade is speckled with many features. Check out art galleries, restaurants, food vendors, and art sculptures and installations. Think of it as the modern cultural hub of the city, outside of the old town. Here you can get up close and personal to the heart and soul of Puerto Vallarta.
Mexico’s Pacific coast is famous for its congregating marine animals. Dozens of meeting points dot the entire expanse of Western Mexico, from Los Cabos to Puerto Vallarta. You can expect to find large marine animals congregating just off PV for various reasons, mainly for mating.
Thanks to this phenomenon, PV has turned it into quite a spectacle by offering encounters and tours to these congregating points. While on tour, you may see whale sharks, whales, dolphins, manta rays, and turtles. Other tour packages can even offer whale shark encounters, letting you swim with these gentle giants.
The coasts of PV offer excellent visibility and mild temperatures that make plenty of activities possible. You can easily snorkel or dive here. You can even swim close to these large marine animals.
From Puerto Vallarta, you can have access to a plethora of smaller, quirky towns. Most of which are deep inland. These little gems are the ideal inland day trip excursion for the adventurous traveler.
These small towns hold great value in them, despite their size. They have been designated as “Pueblos Magicos” or Magic Towns by the federal government. Upon your visit to these little gems, their charms will eventually tell you why they’re magical.
Here are some towns just hours away from PV:
A surfer’s paradise and coffeeshop capital, Sayulita is a backpacker’s paradise. If you’re looking for a bit of a hipster, free-spirit vibe then Sayulita is perfect. Especially for millennials.
The magic of the town lies in its rustic scene, simple and slow living. Authentic and rough on the edges, Sayulita is the epitome of “laid-back”.
The Villa de Galicia de Compostela de Indias, or simply Compostela, is a famous cultural center in the Nayarit state. This town is known for its wealth of natural resources, long pristine beaches, and lush forests.
San Sebastian del Oeste
San Sebastian del Oeste’s magical charm is how it has perfectly preserved a part of Mexico’s colonial past. The town is teeming with well-preserved colonial buildings, aged like fine wine. As you walk around you’ll feel like stepping directly into the past.
Which Is Better – Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta?
For a jam-packed vacation, full of diverse experiences and various scenes, Puerto Vallarta takes the win. The city is basically a small, simpler, and authentic version of Los Cabos, or even Cancun.
From its local scenes, nightlife, down to its beaches, PV has everything. But unlike Cancun and Los Cabos, PV can offer quieter more serene places that are otherwise hard to find in packed resort cities.
Mazatlan is still an excellent choice, yet it lacks the balance that PV has perfectly mastered. In Mazatlan, you’ll only have authenticity, simplicity, and a few thrills here and there. PV has all that, and more.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan Safer?
Despite the bad rep Mazatlan’s state of Sinaloa gets from the media about drug and gang crimes, the city is safe in reality. Mazatlan is perhaps as safe as Puerto Vallarta. Both cities can be extremely touristy, but you can get by in both destinations without a scratch.
However, just like anywhere in the world, you can still become a victim if you let yourself be. It’s best to exercise caution wherever you go. Avoid going to dimly lit areas, and places where there are no people at night.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan Cheaper?
When it comes to costs and living expenses, Puerto Vallarta is much more expensive than Mazatlan. Its higher demand and much more crowded streets may have been responsible for its high prices.
Mazatlan, on the other hand, is one of the cheapest resort cities you can visit and you’ll get good value for your money.
Mazatlan vs. Puerto Vallarta Weather
Both located at the western seaboard of Mexico, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta see similar weather patterns. They only slightly differ in temperatures, sunshine, and rain.
Puerto Vallarta tends to be hotter than Mazatlan. While Mazatlan has an average temperature of 88ºF (31ºC) in August, PV has an average temperature of 93ºF (33ºC). However, Mazatlan is more humid than PV, making the perceived conditions somewhat similar or equal.
With 55 inches (1,392 mm) of rain falling on an average of 75 days a year, Puerto Vallarta gets more rain than Mazatlan. Mazatlan receives only 32 inches (800 mm) of rain per year, with an average of rain of 46 days in a year.
Which Has Better Beaches – Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta?
When it comes to beaches both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta have good scenic beaches, with golden gleaming sands and clear blue waters. You could say that it’s a draw. However, their differences offer unique twists and experiences.
If you’re up for more crowded beaches, filled with fun and interesting activities Puerto Vallarta is the better choice.
But if you love the quiet, much fewer crowds, and fewer activities, then the beaches in Mazatlan’s expansive stretch are the place to be.
Is Mazatlan Near Puerto Vallarta?
Despite being on the same coast, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta are nowhere near each other. A drive or a bus ride between them can take hours.
How Far Is Mazatlan From Puerto Vallarta?
Mazatlan is approximately 196 miles (315 km) from Puerto Vallarta, directly.
Is Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan Bigger?
Mazatlan is way bigger than Puerto Vallarta. The Sinaloan city has a total land area of 1,184.75 sq mi (3,068.5 sq km), while Puerto Vallarta has around 502 sq mi (1,301 sq km)
How Much Is the Bus From Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan?
A bus ride can cost around 48 to 71 USD, one way. Most trips usually take around six hours to get to Mazatlan from Puerto Vallarta.