Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta: Which One Is Better for a Vacation in 2023?

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta is not a hard match since both are amazing Mexico beach destinations, and each one of them has very specific characteristics and features offering different kinds of vacations.

So if you are undecided between Tulum and Puerto Vallarta, for your next Mexican vacation, in this post I will share the main differences and highlights of these great Mexican beach cities.

I am sure after this post you will be able to make up your mind and will have no doubts about which one to choose.

If you don’t know much about these charming towns, be prepared for lots of authentic Mexican allure to make you fall in love the moment you set foot in either of them.

While Puerto Vallarta is rich in history, culture, and laid-back, in Tulum you will find a laid back beach town feel where the major attraction is the thriving nature with its spectacular cenotes, the Sian Kaan reserve, the turquoise Caribean sea, and an endless white sand beach.

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta

In both cases, you have picturesque beaches. The ones in Tulum are breathtaking because of their white sands and turquoise waters, and the Puerto Vallarta beaches will leave you stunned with their rugged, rocky beauty and abundant marine life.

Both the towns have done a good job of keeping their tradition and culture alive, but their development in them is also quite impressive.

Tulum has extravagant high-end boutique lodging options and a relaxing atmosphere, while Puerto Vallarta has developed into a resort-town with upscale hotels and lots of partying.

You can already tell Tulum and Puerto Vallarta are equally splendid and worth visiting at least once.

But if, you have to choose only one, for now, read on below to find out more in detail about each one and make the final decision. Let’s start with Tulum.

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta — Tulum features and highlights

Tulum at sunset

Located on the famous Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Tulum is a town filled with trendy boho-chic charm and modern-vintage vibes all around.

What’s more, the natural richness of the place is the perfect match for its stunning beaches and the right complementary touch to the artsy atmosphere.

Tulum is very unique and appealing for a variety of reasons. The Tulum Pueblo is known for its charming yet authentic vibes.

The Caribbean coastline of Tulum is famous for its white-sand beaches. The Mayan archeological site of Tulum sits atop a cliff and offers views of the ocean to make the well-preserved ruins even more awe-inspiring.

Then there are the mystical cenotes hidden in the lush nature of the region. All of these features and many other things about Tulum are the reason thousands of tourists flock to this fishing town every year.

The laid-back atmosphere and plenty of things to see and do make Tulum one of Mexico’s dream destinations.

There are many other things here as well, which means covering everything about this gorgeous town will take a separate post, so we’ll just go with its highlights in this post.

Puerto Vallarta Aerial view
Puerto Vallarta aerial view

Tulum highlights

✅ The town of Tulum is perfect to visit for a relaxing vacation because of its chill atmosphere, friendly community, charming surroundings, a popular yogi and holistic community, and overall very distinct appeal.

✅ Beaches in Tulum have the famous Caribbean-coastline charm to them.

You will fall in love with the breathtaking views that the combination of white sand and unending turquoise waters of Tulum beaches creates.

✅ Tulum is famous for its boutique hotels and adorable high end lodging options, which make enjoying the white-sand beaches a delightful experience.

✅ Downtown Tulum (Pueblo) is where you will find exciting nightlife, lots of great restaurants and cafes, and lots of shopping experiences (which are also available on the beach side of the town).

✅ The Tulum Archeological Site is quite famous because of how well preserved it also, it’s surrounded by thriving tropical vegetation, which makes it even more impressive to visit.

✅ Despite being a laid-back town to have a relaxing vacation in, Tulum has lots of things to leave you awestruck. Everything from Maya ruins, and Mexican history, and culture to striking beaches, extraordinary cenotes, mangroves, and wildlife is part of the mystical charm that makes Tulum a perfect jewel of the Riviera Maya.

✅ Tulum is an excellent destination for style-conscious travelers looking for both the comfort of high-end stylish hotels and adventurous things to do.

✅ It’s safe to rent a car in Tulum or Cancun and drive around.

Tulum Beach aerial view
Tulum Beach aerial view

Distances between Tulum and the famous places in its surrounding region

The downsides of Tulum compared to Puerto Vallarta

🔴 The pueblo in Tulum is separated by 10 kilometers of distance from the hotel zone.

🔴 Between Tulum Vallarta, Tulum is definitely the more expensive destination. However, if you decide to visit Tulum on a budget you can still do that.

🔴 Cancun International airport is the closest airport to Tulum and it’s two hours drive away from Tulum. So you can’t avoid the 1h 30-minute drive from Cancun to Tulum.

🔴 The all-inclusive type of resort isn’t common here. In fact, there is only one All-inclusive hotel in Tulum. If you are an all-inclusive resorts fun, you can still find great options in the surrounding, though.

Down Town Puerto vallarta
Down Town Puerto Vallarta

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta — Puerto Vallarta features and highlights

Another amazing place to visit in Mexico for its authentic charm is Puerto Vallarta which is actually one of the first beach vacation resorts for US travelers and is particularly known for being one of the first official gay-friendly destinations.

Puerto Vallarta in fact has a lot of history and culture which makes the city center a very interesting and vibrant place to hang out and enjoy.

But, unlike Tulum, the beaches are located right in town, and you will enjoy a stroll on the Malecon (beach promenade) while watching the sunset on the beach or walking through local art galleries and shops right across the beach.

You will also find plenty of beachside resorts to enjoy a luxurious stay surrounded by nature, art, and history.

Puerto Vallarta is perfect for a beach vacation, but it has plenty of other things to do and explore to make your stay worthwhile.

Just like Tulum, you can explore genuine Mexican culture and tradition along with arts and thriving nature here in Puerto Vallarta as well.

There are no Maya or Aztec ruins here, but the more recent history of the country is reflected in the cobblestone roads of the historical center and beautiful colonial courtyards and homes, local food and art.

The pueblo here is brimming with historic buildings and monuments, cobblestone streets, and vibrant nightlife.

The Zona Romantica is a unique area where you will find quaint cafes and restaurants, lovely art galleries, and the famous Los Muertos Beach pier!

Since Puerto Vallarta has no shortage of attractions, you can check out all the things to do in Puerto Vallarta in my other post, while here I am just covering the main highlights to show you the main differences with Tulum.

Puerto Vallarta church
Puerto Vallarta historical center

Puerto Vallarta highlights

✅ Puerto Vallarta is a seaside big city, located on Bandera bay. We can distinguish different areas in Puerto Vallarta and in my post on the best areas to stay in Puerto Vallarta I describe it all very well in detail.

✅ Hotels are spread along the coast and you can find boutique hotels and all-inclusive hotel chains.

✅ There is a Marine area with luxury boats and high-end apartments and hotels, besides world-class restaurants and shops.

✅ There is an abundance of nature, art, history, and culture to discover in Puerto Vallarta. The city offers a variety of tours to explore the surrounding nature with hikes, snorkeling, scuba diving, or cultural city walks, and much more.

Playa de Los muertos - best area to stay in puerto vallarta
Puerto Vallarta Playa de Muertos

✅ The town preserves its traditional charm well, but it also has a luxurious resort-city side to it. There are plenty of upscale hotels and all-inclusive resorts here, and you can find every modern facility in town.

✅ Puerto Vallarta landscape is another very pretty aspect of the town. The seaside sunsets of the town are impressive, but there are also plenty of hiking trails and guided tours to explore the scenic Sierra Madre mountain range.

✅ Even though it’s not the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Vallarta’s expansive Pacific coast is just as impressive. Here you will find beautiful white sand bays with lush rolling mountains as a backdrop and a lot of marine life for great snorkeling and diving trips.

✅ Whalewatching is one of the highlight of Puerto Vallarta. It’s not rare to see humpback whales jumping off of the water right from the coast from December through March. But you can also get closer if you join a boat tour.

✅ Puerto Vallarta has an International Airport right outside town that connects the vibrant Mexican resort destination with all the most important international hubs. That makes an easy transfer to your hotel.

✅ Puerto Vallarta is close to Sayulita San Pancho and other pretty towns and spectacular beaches of the Riviera Nayarit.

✅ It’s safe to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta and drive around.

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Distances between Puerto Vallarta and the noteworthy places in its surrounding region

  • 1 hr 4 min (43 km) from Sayulita.
  • 1 hr 13 min (50 km) from El Tuito.
  • 1 hr 30 min (68 km) from San Sebastián del Oeste.
  • 2 hr (98 km) from Mascota.
  • 2 hr 33 min (130.6 km) from Compostela.
  • 4 hr 52 min (330 km) from Guadalajara.
Sayulita main Street
Sayulita Main street

Puerto Vallarta’s drawbacks compared to Tulum

🔴 Although Puerto Vallarta has a walkable historical center it’s still a big city compared to the town of Tulum. Here you can also find big all-inclusive chain resorts and longer distances from one area to another, which is not necessarily a negative aspect but if you prefer the small-town vibes Tulum is your place.

🔴 If you are interested in ancient pre-Hispanic Mayan history, you won’t find anything like that on this side of Mexico.

🔴 Tulum is close to many other world-renowned tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Merida, and Bacalar among others.

🔴 Puerto Vallarta doesn’t have the turquoise waters that the Caribbean sea in Tulum has.

Tulum Beach from a drone
Tulum Aerial View Photo © Isabella Biava by DJI Mini 2

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta — Weather

The weather in Tulum is warmer and more humid compared to Puerto Vallarta, at certain times of the year.

The tropical, balmy weather of the town is coupled with rainy months. Also, even if hurricanes are rare, tropical storms are quite common during the hurricane season in Tulum, from June through October.

So the best time to visit is between December and April when the skies are clear and sunny, and there are little to no chances of rain. But keep in mind that those months are going to be more crowded and more expensive.

Just make sure to book your hotel in advance.

Also, read the best time to go to Tulum.

Puerto Vallarta has drier weather throughout the year. There is also no hurricane season here because of the bay which protects it, but tropical storms are not unheard of (though not very common either).

Puerto Vallarta’s rainy season runs between June and October, and the town is really hot and humid during these months.

The high season—which is from December until March—has really great weather, so it’s the best time to visit here, but it’s also crowdier and more expensive, just like Tulum.

Also, read Puerto Vallarta travel tips for first-timers

Puerto Vallarta Los Muertos beach bridge
Puerto Vallarta at sunset

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta — Which one is safer?

Despite thousands of tourists flocking to Tulum and Puerto Vallarta every year, safety can still be a concern in either destination.

Althoguh we can say that they’re both relatively safe, petty theft isn’t unheard of in both these towns, so make sure you keep an eye on your stuff and never leave your belongings unattended.

Use all the common-sense precautions you would take in any other place in the world.

To learn more about safety in Puerto Vallarta and Tulum you can read my dedicated posts here below:

Is Tulum Safe?

Is it safe to travel to Puerto Vallarta?

Tulum Mayan site
Tulum Mayan site

Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta: airport proximity

As I mentioned before while Puerto Vallarta has an airport right outside the city, Tulum’s closest airport is Cancun international airport located 1h 30 minutes away.

But worry not, in both cases I have the perfect airport transfer company for you.

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Private tranasportation Cancun Airport to Tulum

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► Puerto Vallarta Airport to hotel Private Transportation Round trip

Puerto Vallarta
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Tulum vs Puerto Vallarta — Which one is the better choice?

As I mentioned before, both destinations make a great choice for a beach vacation in Mexico, depending on which time of the year you want to visit and what kind of place you are looking for.

The rustic atmosphere of Tulum makes it ideal for anyone looking for a holiday destination with a laid-back vibe and picture-perfect beaches.

The Yucatan Peninsula, where Tulum is located, is home to more than 6,000 cenotes, scattered around the Riviera Maya and Yucatan, so the cenotes in Tulum are also something you won’t find in Puerto Vallarta.

Cenote Corazon Overview
Cenote Corazon overview

Similarly, there are no Mayan ruins in Puerto Vallarta, and the ones in Tulum are just magnificent and some of the best in Mexico.

All in all, Tulum is better if you’re looking to take a break from city life and relax in immersive nature, explore Mayan culture, and experience the magic of cenotes.

In Puerto Vallarta, you can enjoy a vast array of outdoor activities from hiking to snorkeling, diving and even swimming with dolphins in the wild, something that you won’t find in Tulum.

But also lots of cultural activities, also something that you won’t find in Tulum.

Also, in Puerto Vallarta, everything revolves around the historical center of the city where beaches, coffee shops, art galleries restaurants, and pretty boutique hotels are all within a walkable distance.

So now that you know more about both destinations which one is your pick?

Whatever you choose, I am sure you will have a blast!

To read more about both destinations read my complete guides:

Tulum Travel Blogs

Puerto Vallarta Travel Blogs

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