Puerto Vallarta is best for the city-loving sunseekers. Especially if you’re looking to have the most authentic Mexican experience. Riviera Maya, on the other hand, is fitting for the adventurous and ever-curious lot. But whichever you choose, you will certainly revel in the best authentic Mexican experience.
Puerto Vallarta prides itself on how it has kept its authenticity in the midst of a tourism boom. The city has continued to stay in the limelight of Mexico’s tourism landscape without drowning in tourist saturation. PV for short has kept a genius balance of mass appeal and its true Mexican soul.
The city is best known for how it perfectly harmonizes its old town charms, its upscale hotel zone, and rugged beaches. PV is gritty, and rough around the edges, unlike other tourist-saturated resort cities. PV’s best selling point is how it can offer the true Mexican seaside experience for all.
What Makes Puerto Vallarta Unique?
The City’s Beachside Heart
Contrary to the Caribbean coast, the Mexican Pacific is not only stunning and unique. The famed coast also boasts a diverse set of quirky characteristics worthy of attention. And when it comes to quirkiness, nothing best represents golden Puerto Vallarta or PV as it is shortened.
PV doesn’t have continuous stretches of white-sand beaches, unlike the famous ones in Cancun and Tulum. But what the famous city has are gilded shores, and a city that both runs parallel to the coast, and runs up a hill at the same time. This creates a rather spectacular sight for first-time visitors.
Despite being a coastal city, PV’s beaches have a different take. You can’t find continuous stretches of smooth sand here, instead, most of the central beaches are broken, irregular, and are often rocky.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t swimmable, in fact, they’re safe, gentle, and beautifully unique. PV’s beaches are considered some of the most fascinating in the country. Many of the best spots in PV are located south of the central parts, hidden behind rocks and lush vegetation.
Most of PV’s most recommended beaches are found south of the central area. Here are some of the most-visited:
Drive 30 minutes south from Zona Romantic and you’ll reach the beach of Conchas Chinas. It is one of the most accessible and most beautiful beaches in Puerto Vallarta. Conchas Chinas provides a combined backdrop of lush green and stunning blue.
Conchas Chinas is interestingly nestled between the rain forest further inland on one side, and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other. The beach offers one of the most picturesque views in the Mexican Pacific.
Sceneries aside, Conchas Chinas also offers leisure, fun, and entertainment. You can find several restaurants and bars serving all your Mexican cravings. Plus, you can meet tons of travelers as well because it is one of the most visited in the city.
Playa Palmares is best for lazing away your day while savoring quality time with friends, and family. The beach is complemented by a view perfectly combining the breathtaking Pacific, and the mountain above. Here you can enjoy a truly rewarding beach experience here.
The gorgeous beach is located 4.6 miles or 7.5 km south of central Puerto Vallarta, and it only takes 17 minutes to travel there, by bus or rental car. However, it will feel longer than that because of the dramatic views you’ll be seeing while getting there.
The highway that leads to the Playa runs along the oceanside. Getting there gives you breathtaking views of the ocean, like a teaser of what you’ll see on the beach itself.
Punta Negra, just like many beaches in the Pacific is undeniably beautiful. However, its best selling point isn’t its beauty but its swimming conditions. The famous beach is famous for how swimmable it is, especially for younger children. The waves are noticeably calmer, resembling swimming pools.
Plus, it isn’t also a crowded place to visit. You can enjoy your entire stay without large swaths of tourists around, making it feel a bit exclusive. And on top of its quieter vibe, the beach is also cleaner and well-maintained, which is always a major plus for Mexican beaches.
Punta Negra isn’t only best for relaxing and doing nothing, the beach also offers underwater activities. The water conditions allow for decent snorkeling, swimming, and many others. You can either laze away or go under the water. Or both, just one after the other, of course.
If you’re looking to directly head to the most famous beach in the city, Playa Los Muertos is only a few minutes south of the downtown area. You can even walk there if you traverse the Malecon south. If you can brave crowds and are up for fun and entertainment, you can definitely have your best time here.
Everyone likes to flock to Playa Los Muertos, whether they’re international visitors, Mexican tourists, or locals. Playa Los Muerto is famous for its ability to introduce the authenticity of the Puerto Vallarta spirit to everyone. The beach is also dynamic, and jam-packed. You can’t only swim and lounge here, you can drink, dance, meet people, and watch the sunset.
Though PV may not boast gilded beaches in its central area, it has its grand Malecon – the most famous in the country. El Malecon is a mile-long promenade fronting the Pacific Ocean that stretches parallel to the entire downtown area.
The famous expanse houses a plethora of homegrown businesses and features. As you traverse through the Malecon, you can check out food stalls and kiosks, restaurants, cafes, and shops. El Malecon is also famous for exhibiting the artistry of the city’s residents, you can expect to find art galleries and even public art pieces here.
The El Malecon, contrary to most Malecon in Mexico, isn’t only for viewing, walking, and taking Instagram-worthy photos. The iconic promenade is jam-packed with several cultural features. These draws further put forward PV’s campaign for its authenticity and uniqueness.
One fascinating fact about Mexico’s Pacific coasts is its abundance of marine-animal congregating areas. A phenomenon that the Caribbean has a shortage of. The most famous marine animals congregating in PV are the large whales and whale sharks, making the waters of the city a tourist wonder in itself.
Apart from the gentle giants of the ocean, you can also find a diverse sight of marine animals just off of the PV shores. You might encounter dolphins, manta rays, and even turtles. However, you can only reach them by tours you can book around the city.
Thanks to the conditions in the waters of PV, you can snorkel, dive, and swim with these marine animals. The Pacific Ocean offers excellent visibility and perfect temperatures for water activities.
Sometimes, for the adventurous and the wanderlust travelers, the best thing to do in PV is to get out of the city and explore some more. Thanks to their accessibility from Puerto Vallarta, you can visit small gems just a few hours away from the city.
Loaded with historical and cultural values, some even quirky, these small gems are special. They are towns endowed with a special designation by the government.
“Pueblos Magicos”, or Magic Town, implies a great value and authenticity to Mexican culture that they can almost feel magical. With their magic, these towns are worth a day trip from PV.
Here are some of the closest ones:
A YouTube-famous entry, Sayulita is famous among millennial nomads seeking a home away from home. Even just for a few months.
Sayulita is slow, rustic, laid-back, and young. Or so it feels.
Packed with appeals that lure younger crowds, the town is famous for its cool nightlife, surfing scene, and coffee shops.
Villa de Santiago de Galicia de Compostela de Indias, or “Compostela” for short, is found in the neighboring state of Nayarit. This gem is known for its abundance of natural resources, complete with green expanses and extensive beaches. The town is a perfect blend of history, culture, and nature.
San Sebastian del Oeste
Visiting this quaint aesthetic town is like stepping back into the past. San Sebastian del Oeste has perfectly preserved the beauty of its colonial edifices. This scene inspires a certain romanticization of its colored past. The streets can have you reimagining life during the 1700s and 1800s.
Often considered Mexico’s most famous region, Riviera Maya is the epitome of “jam-packed”. The region practically has everything. It boasts ancient ruins, good cosmopolitan scenes, and lovely natural wonders. You can never run out of things to be in awe here.
The lovely coast boasts cities and towns that offer different flavors of the Mexican experience. You can expect to be in constant thrill and satisfaction when you’re staying at any point in the region. And one more advantage, each town is just minutes away from each other.
What Makes Riviera Maya Unique?
The Cancun–Tulum Corridor
Cities and towns situated south of Cancun encompass the heavenly slice of the Riviera Maya. One of Mexico’s best, the gifted stretch is brimming with inland and coastal wonders that continue to lure throngs of curious visitors. Each of these charming towns and cities has its own unique flavors. From Puerto Morelos to Akumal, they offer diverse experiences to anyone curious enough to explore them.
Puerto Morelos has a distinct personality, a trademark in many of Mexico’s quaint seaside towns. It is a genuine Mexican Caribbean fishing community with a quiet, bohemian, and easygoing flavor. The town’s vibe allows you to connect with the people’s simplicity.
Fine white sand and calm surf characterize the beaches of Puerto Morelos. Puerto Morelos’ National Reef Park is only 500 meters (547 yd) from the water’s edge. The reef is responsible for providing gentle waves that are suitable for swimming by people of all ages.
Ventana al Mar, right downtown, is the most popular beach in the lovely and historic fishing village. The beach at Ventana al Mar is Blue Flag certified.
Playa del Carmen
One of the hottest spots in the Yucatan, Playa del Carmen is undeniably famous. The charming city is known for its laid-back, authentic, and rustic flavor. A stark contrast to Cancun’s bustle.
Playa del Carmen is the heart of the Riviera Maya, once a sleepy fishing village now a thriving beach town bursting with the right kind of draws.
Apart from its obvious beautiful beaches, Playa del Carmen also boasts its city scene thanks to its 5th Avenue, or “Quinta Avenida”. The most animated artery of the city is probably its second-biggest draw.
The avenue features shopping centers, great gastronomy, and decent nightlife. 5th Avenue runs through the city, just a few steps from the coast. It is a pedestrian stretch completely accessible to everything. The avenue is especially near Playacar, the main beach.
One of the Riviera Maya’s best-kept secrets, Puerto Aventura’s brand is slow-living at its most authentic. Puerto Aventuras was once a vacant coast, now it is an established planned subdivision. This neighborhood boasts amenities and services ideal for anyone curious enough. This is especially perfect for people seeking a more relaxed approach.
This community was one of the first to design and construct a master-planned community. The expanse is complete with tourist and residential projects. It even houses a golf course, and a marina, all contained within a private gated community.
A little beach town between Puerto Aventuras and Tulum, Akumal is small and simple but it doesn’t hold back when it comes to tourist draws. Imagine swimming alongside turtles in some of the most gorgeous waters in the Mexican Caribbean. This town is anything but lowkey and small.
The town’s name means “the place of turtles”, and evidently enough, one of the best things to do here is to explore its coastal world and its diverse denizens. It has an approximately 5 km (3.1 mi) beach expanse surrounded by four bays. Akumal is one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s underrated resort zones. The area mainly consists of luxury hotels, condominiums, and residential buildings.
Located about an hour away south of Playa del Carmen, Tulum is famous for its iconic ruins-by-the-beach attraction. Not to mention, the rustic town also boasts its soft white-sand beaches, brushed by the iconic turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
Tulum has grown from a sleepy beach town with a few wandering yogis and artists to a thriving tourism hotspot. Modern hotels and amenities are now accessible but don’t worry, the Mayan spirit is still alive and well.
Perhaps Riviera Maya’s best selling point is its wealth of natural wonders. These draws leave millions of visitors in complete awe every year, making Riviera Maya one of the most visited.
The gifted stretch houses a special ensemble of geological and aquatic features. All of which perfectly blend together, ultimately making it one of the most fascinating regions in Mexico.
Cenotes are especially unique to the Yucatan Peninsula and several are found across the Riviera Maya. They are natural sinkholes that have been formed long before the establishment of the nation. It is even believed that they were formed sometime after the Chicxulub asteroid fell eons ago.
What’s fascinating about them is that they often feature clear blue waters inside an open cave, surrounded by lush vegetation. This gives them a special feel. Among the many you can find, you can visit Gran Cenote, Sac Actun, Cenote Carwash, and Dos Ojos.
Puerto Morelos National Reef
The advantage of Riviera Maya’s underwater world is that it sits right along the world’s second-largest coral reef system. Thanks to the reef system, several people come to Puerto Morelos Reef Park to dive or snorkel.
You can encounter diverse marine life in the reef park housing over 500 different species. Due to the wealth of marine life in Puerto Morelos, it also became a protected area in 1998 and is highly regulated. Expect to see a variety of fish, turtles, rays, and barracudas.
Celestun Nature Reserve
The Celestun National Biosphere Reserve is the biggest groundwater basin in the Yucatan. The expanse houses over 400 different species of wildlife. Celestun is Riviera Maya’s center of ecotourism. Expect to find a thick mangrove forest providing support for the thriving natural life in the area.
If you’re a bird watcher, you can most certainly find joy in the many feathered residents of the reserve. The most famous bird you will encounter here is the famous pink flamingos, feeding and congregating across the basin. Other bird species you’ll encounter are frigate birds, great egrets, and cormorants.
Apart from its migratory birds and mangrove forest, the reserve also boasts pristine water conditions. You can marvel upon Celestun’s turquoise to light blue clear waters, making the entire expanse a worthy quick visit.
Riviera Maya is an uber-gifted place not just with its natural landscape, but also its history. The ruins mostly date back way beyond the Spanish occupation. From the name itself “Maya”, the Riviera Maya encompasses much of what used to be the area of the ancient Mayans’ seat of power.
Expect to see a lot of remnants of the once-great civilization speckled across the Quintana Roo. By visiting a lot of these sites, you can get a glimpse of what the ancient Mayan people were like back before their decline and the conquistadors.
One of the most famous sites in the region is the iconic watchtower ruins in Tulum. Perched on top of a cliff overlooking the beach, and all of the Caribbean, you can take a dip with the charm of the ruins overhead.
Mexico’s Best Beaches
The entire stretch of the Riviera Maya is filled with gorgeous beaches defined by the glorious turquoise blue of the Caribbean. They’re also complemented with white sands and lovely palm trees, further adding to their tropical charm. From Cancun to Tulum, the famous riviera promises some of the best and most picturesque beaches in Mexico.
Playa Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos has a thriving marine habitat that is home to over 65 species of tropical fish and sea turtles. Because the ocean waves are usually quiet and serene, you may get up and personal with a wide range of tropical marine species.
The chilled, laid-back attitude of Puerto Morelos makes it one of the nicest beaches on the Riviera Maya. Puerto Morelos is ideal for individuals looking for a quiet, family-friendly, or romantic getaway.
Akumal is famous for its swimmable lagoon, high-end scene, and snorkeling. You can swim alongside turtles and various marine animals in its gentle waves, and clear blue waters. Sample the local gastronomy in the many casual restaurants along the sand, while you stay in the many historic hotels. The whole stretch of Akumal is like an amusement park for laid-back beach bums.
Tulum, formerly a valuable spot for the ancient Maya, is now one of Mexico’s most popular historical sites. Playa Ruinas beach is littered with well-preserved ruins going back to the 13th century. Numerous additional pyramids and ruins line the grassy walkways just above the sand. The iconic clifftop Castillo overlooks the broad ocean.
Join other beachgoers along the coastline at the bottom of the cliff. The seas are tranquil, and you may even swim to the Boca Paila Peninsula to the north. While Playa Ruinas may not have the resort amenities that other beaches possess, it is a historic gem that should not be overlooked.
Playa Maroma lies just 30 minutes south of Cancun, near Playa del Carmen. The beach offers a striking blend of white powdery sand, alongside a lush rainforest backdrop. The beach is dubbed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The shallow waters of this secluded beach entice guests of all ages, divers, and explorers. Playa Maroma is ideal for snorkeling and other water activities. Plus, it has resorts of the highest caliber.
Is Riviera Maya or Puerto Vallarta Better?
If you want to have jam-packed draws and charms that have everything you could ever look for in a vacation, then Riviera Maya is the best option.
The famous region is bursting with natural, historical, and cultural features. Most of which often overshadowed most of Mexico. From ruins and good food to great shopping and beaches, Riviera Maya practically has everything.
Puerto Vallarta may have all that you could ever need, yet its caliber can’t offer as much thrill as all of Riviera Maya’s towns and cities put together. But that doesn’t mean that PV is a bad choice, it is actually the Pacific Coast’s darling.
Which Is Safer – Puerto Vallarta or Riviera Maya?
Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya are both equally safe for tourists and locals alike. These destinations are not only famous for the attractions they have, but for their safety as well. Visitors who have been to both expressed that they never felt unsafe in either destination.
Puerto Vallarta’s state of Jalisco is often at the US State Department’s advisory. The warning insinuates heightened caution due to the related drug crimes. Nevertheless, Puerto Vallarta, apart from its friendly locals, is safe and clean. Even the water in the city is potable.
While all of Riviera Maya is as safe as Cancun. The region is one of the most-visited places in Mexico, so you can expect security, and locals are already used to foreigners.
However, it is best to exercise caution in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya as petty crimes can still happen to you. Pickpocketing has to be the most common case for tourists traveling around any famous destination in the world.
Puerto Vallarta vs. Riviera Maya Beaches
Riviera Maya has the best beaches out of the two. Riviera Maya is famous for its Caribbean turquoise blue water, and soft continuous white-sand shores. The region’s coasts will always stand out in Mexico.
But that doesn’t mean Puerto Vallarta’s beaches aren’t short of stunning. Puerto Vallarta’s beaches tend to have fewer charms than Riviera Maya’s mass appeal. First off is that PV tends to be rocky and broken, a complete contrast to Riviera Maya’s smooth and continuous expansive beaches. PV’s sand tends to gleam gold when hit by the sun, unlike the Riviera’s bright white.
Is Riviera Maya in Puerto Vallarta?
Riviera Maya is located right on the opposite side of the nation from Puerto Vallarta. Both destinations are completely far away from each other.
Is Puerto Vallarta Near Riviera Maya?
Puerto Vallarta is approximately 1,163 mi or 1,873 km from Riviera Maya, directly. They both sit far away with a whole country in between. You can get in between them by driving, taking a bus, or flying.