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Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta - What is Better?

DESTINATION | Published on 31/12/2021
Optimizada puerto vallarta and nuevo vallarta

With similar sounding names and a single river separating them, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta are two of the best places to vacation in Mexico. Located in the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta was a small fishing village and port until filming of the Hollywood movie Night of the Iguana brought international travelers. Since then, the beaches to the north have been developed into a tranquil resort area known as Nuevo Vallarta. So what is the difference between Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta? While each city is distinct, they’re only about 20 minutes away from each other, and most travelers visit both during their trips. Rather than spending too much time debating between Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta, experience the best of both cities on your tropical vacation

Puerto Vallarta

When you look at what is the difference between Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta, it’s the downtown area of Puerto Vallarta that stands out. The cobblestone streets here are decorated with the bright papel picado and are lined with local restaurants and shops. The city has a laidback energy that’s brought so many visitors from around the world. The main resorts are located just north of downtown where there’s more expansive beaches. As you debate between Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta, keep in mind that no matter where you stay, you can spend a day exploring downtown and experiencing Puerto Vallarta like a local. While there are some activities you can enjoy while staying in either city, there are a few experiences that are unique to downtown Puerto Vallarta.


  • Puerto Vallarta Food Tours: There’s no better way to get to know the city and experience authentic Mexican food than with a Puerto Vallarta food tour

  • Hiking: The city is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountains where you’ll find plenty of scenic hikes

  • Art Galleries: Whether you’re just browsing or looking to pick up something to take home, the Puerto Vallarta art galleries will amaze you with their range of traditional works to modern pieces. To see the best of it, head out to the Puerto Vallarta Art Walk.

  • Nightlife: Between the two cities, Puerto Vallarta has the main nightlife with more clubs, bars, and live music. 


  • Camarones Beach: For a relaxing day with plenty of room to spread out, head to Camarones Beach, which is located near the city’s main resorts.

  • Los Muertos Beach: The downtown Los Muertos Beach is bustling with fishing boats, vendors, and tourists. With several restaurants overlooking the beach, it’s a great spot for a meal or just a drink.


  • Malecon Boardwalk: Throughout the day, the Malecon Boardwalk is filled with people going for a jog, walking their dogs, and taking in the sights. As you walk the mile-long boardwalk, you’ll find plenty of options for eating and shopping.

  • Marina Vallarta: While many tours depart from the Puerto Vallarta Marina, it’s also a great area to explore on its own. The Thursday night market is a highlight for both visitors and locals.

  • Vallarta Botanical Gardens: One of the most popular places to visit near Puerto Vallarta Mexico is the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Catch a bus or taxi to explore the lush gardens and tropical jungle here.

Nuevo Vallarta

For travelers wanting a quieter vacation with endless miles of pristine beaches, Nuevo Vallarta is one of the best places to vacation in Mexico. When you look at what is the difference between Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta, it’s Nuevo’s beaches that really stand out. While many of the beaches in Puerto Vallarta are short or rocky, the coastline stretches on for miles here. Nuevo Vallarta is part of a coastal region called Riviera Nayarit, which encompasses several smaller towns known for their traditional culture and surf breaks. This region is one of the top places to visit near Puerto Vallarta Mexico to experience small-town life or to catch a wave.


  • Crocodile Sanctuary Tour: Nuevo Vallarta has been built up around a mangrove forest, and El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary works to preserve indigenous species. 

  • Nuevo Vallarta Bike Path: Walk, run, or bike this local path. With over three miles of trails lined by palm trees, you’ll always see people out exercising here.

  • Beach Hike: In Nuevo Vallarta, you can walk for hours along the beach and even get to nearby towns, like Bucerias.


  • Nuevo Vallarta Beach: If you love spending your days on the beach, Nuevo Vallarta is among the best places to vacation in Mexico. The resorts are located along an endless stretch of soft sands, giving families and friends plenty of space to spread out while building sandcastles or throwing a frisbee.

  • La Lancha: If you’re looking for places to visit near Puerto Vallarta Mexico for good surfing, you’ll have to drive up to Riviera Nayarit. Just past Nuevo Vallarta, La Lancha is one of the most popular surf breaks. Located across from local surf shops on the main highway, this beach is accessed by a short hike through the jungle.


  • Bucerias: Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta are the main destinations in the Bay of Banderas, but there are more small towns nearby to visit, and if you head north along the beach or bike path in Nuevo Vallarta, you’ll reach Bucerias, a small town with a local market and fresh seafood.

  • Sayulita: Sayulita has become an iconic spot with local art and surf culture. Come here to catch a wave, browse the shops, or eat fish tacos on the beach. Having quick access to these traditional towns is something to consider if you’re debating Nuevo Vallarta vs Puerto Vallarta.

  • San Pancho: While Sayulita has started to become crowded with tourists, San Pancho is just 15 minutes down the road, and it’s fairly similar but without so many crowds. There’s plenty of unique shops, delicious restaurants, and a large beach where you’ll want to spend the whole day.

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