Similarities and Differences Between Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

in #travel4 years ago (edited)


We spent over two weeks in both Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta during the first few months of 2018. We took every opportunity during our stays to explore the cities, learn about the culture, meet people, and discover how much things cost.

We've found quite a few similarities and differences between the two cities including demographics, tourism, expats, language, cost of living, weather, cleanliness (including air quality), walkability, food, vendors, and what it's like to drive in these large Mexican cities.

If you're considering moving to or traveling to one of these popular tourist destinations from the US or Canada, we hope this blog post gives you an idea of what to expect.

Spoiler: One city wins almost every category.


Tourists and expats are prevalent in both Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta (PV), but you're going to find more vacationers and expats in PV.

When eating out in Mazatlán, you'll often find yourself in a restaurant eating with both Mexicans and US/Canadian expats and vacationers. Whereas in Puerto Vallarta, you'll frequently be eating in a restaurant where everyone is speaking English. The only locals are the staff members.

Category Winner: None. (Varies based on personal preferences.)
Our Preference: Mazatlan.

Age of expats

Puerto Vallarta definitely has a younger crowd than Mazatlán, at least in the areas where most of the expats and snowbirds live. In Mazatlán, you'll find a significant amount of US and Canadian retirees between the ages of 50-75 and not many younger folks. Looking back, we can only remember a handful of people—locals and visitors combined—our age (20s and 30s).

PV has plenty of retirees as well, but it also has a decent-sized crowd between the ages of 20-50. Additionally, there's a sizable gay community in PV (primarily males) which makes up a considerable percentage of that younger crowd.

Category Winner: None. (Varies based on personal preferences.)
Our Preference: None.



Del Mar Juice Bar in Mazatlán

The two cities have pretty similar cuisine. Puerto Vallarta probably has more options than Mazatlán, but there's no shortage of options in either city. PV has a few more restaurants for special diets (i.e., gluten-free, vegan), but you can still find accommodating options in Mazatlán.

Breakfast prices are very close to the same in both cities, however, you'll find that lunch and dinner are noticeably​ more expensive in PV. The cost of produce at local markets is significantly cheaper in Mazatlán with the exception of certain locally-grown fruits.

Category Winner: Mazatlán (Due to its cheaper prices.)


You can easily get by in either city without knowing a single word of Spanish, but you'll find English communication easier in PV. Everyone speaks English in PV and, from our experience, if you don't look like a Mexican, they'll continue speaking to you in English even if you're talking to them in Spanish.

In Mazatlán, if you talk to someone in Spanish, they'll speak to you in Spanish. Just like in PV, almost everyone in the touristic areas speaks English, but unlike PV, it's not their go-to language.

If you're trying to learn Spanish, you'll find it much easier to learn in Mazatlán because people will actually speak to you in Spanish if you're making an effort. There are still plenty of retirees in Mazatlán who know zero Spanish and don't care to learn it. Based on our conversations, they get by just fine with no communication problems.

Category Winner: None. (Will vary based on personal preferences.)
Our preference: Mazatlan.


The most desirable areas of Puerto Vallarta are much more expensive than those in Mazatlán. If you're looking to buy/rent a home, you can expect to pay about double in PV. Uber costs about 80% more in PV and restaurants are about 25% more expensive, on average.

You'll find that you're able to live a much higher quality of life for your money in Mazatlán in the most sought-after areas.

For more details on the cost of living in each city, check out our Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta cost of living posts.

Category Winner: Mazatlán, hands down.



It's hard to beat Puerto Vallarta's sunsets but Mazatlán's shouldn't be scoffed at either.

The climates are pretty similar, but Puerto Vallarta is more humid than Mazatlán and slightly hotter.

Mazatlán - Average high of 77 in the winter and 90 in summer
Puerto Vallarta - Average high of 80 in the winter and 90 in summer

Category Winner: Mazatlán (because temps are slightly more moderate and we, like many people, appreciate lower levels of humidity.)

Cleanliness of the city

You'll find both cities to be clean along the malecon (boardwalk along the ocean), but when venturing out of that area, we found the difference to be like night and day!

Get outside of the tourist areas in Puerto Vallarta and you'll find graffiti and trash all over the place with displaced cats and dogs digging through the sometimes-unbagged garbage. In Mazatlán, on the other hand, you'll find people constantly sweeping the sidewalks outside of their homes, not much trash, and neighborhoods are pretty clean. In our opinion, the people of Mazatlán seem to take more pride in keeping their city clean.


Trash pickup in Puerto Vallarta. Put your trash in the street and wait for the trash fairies.

Category Winner: Mazatlán

Air quality

Once again, the air quality was a night and day difference. So far in our travels through Mexico, we've visited about ten different cities and the only city with worse air quality than Puerto Vallarta was Hermosillo.

From our hilltop Airbnb in PV, we had a great view of the city. Unfortunately, about half of the time the view was covered in a thick layer of smog. If up in the hills of PV, however, you can still get a nice clean breeze by opening your windows. Additionally, if you're near the shore in PV, you're going to get a fresh, clean breeze off of the water.

However, once we got down from the hills of PV and started walking through the flatter streets of the city, we'd often find ourselves choking on bus fumes and on struggling to breathe on certain streets.

When it comes to Puerto Vallarta's counterpart, Mazatlán had very clean air! Although the two cities do have similar-looking buses, for whatever the reason may be, we never noticed any bus fumes in Mazatlán.

Category Winner: Mazatlán


Old Town PV is extremely walkable. However, once you get outside of Old Town/malecon area the rest of the city becomes quite the opposite. There are a lot of hills, low-quality or nonexistent sidewalks, and rough cobblestone streets. These are not your average cobblestone streets, they're incredibly uneven and very difficult to walk on!

Note: You do have the option to take one of the many busses in both Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, but we're only talking about how easy/central the cities are on foot.

Mazatlán also has some rough cobblestone streets, but they aren't nearly as prevalent as in PV. Things in Mazatlán are a little more spread out than the tourist areas of PV, but we still found more of it to be walkable. A noteworthy benefit to Mazatlán's walkability is they have much nicer sidewalks and not nearly as many hills.

Category Winner: Mazatlán (this is a difficult one to choose a winner, but I think Mazatlán wins thanks to its nicer sidewalks and flatter terrain.)



An example of a rough cobblestone street in Puerto Vallarta. Watch your step!

Neither city was fun for us to drive in. If living in either, we'd probably go without a car and either walk or Uber everywhere.

We'd consider Mazatlán the easier city to drive in due to its lack of steep hills and more normal road rules. But it's not without its faults - the city has some rough cobblestone streets, its fair share of poorly-designed speed bumps, and plenty of messed-up, unnecessary​ twists and turns in the roads.

PV, on the other hand, has more of a grid pattern, so the roads make more sense in that way. But then you encounter a road where you have to be in the far right lane in order to turn left! It's the strangest thing and tough to navigate for someone new to the city. Also, if you find yourself having to drive up into the residential hilly neighborhoods of PV, it's a bit terrifying for those of us accustomed​ to flat land. PV also has far more rough cobblestone streets than Mazatlán.

Category Winner: Mazatlán (Or would it be fairer​ to call Uber the winner?)

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Both cities have a lot of street vendors who are trying to sell you something: from tacos and fruit to souvenirs​ and weed.

Maybe it's because we're younger than many people in the places we visit, but it seemed like just about every vendor (in both cities) would first ask if we wanted to buy something "innocent" like bracelets​, fruit, or wooden sculptures. If we declined, then they'd offer us drugs. (Makes no sense to us, either.)

Although these entrepreneurs were prevalent in both cities, we had to deal with them 2-3 times as often in Puerto Vallarta.

Category Winner: Mazatlán (You don't have to say "no gracias" nearly as much and the drugs seem to be less prevalent.)

Our overall preference

If it's not obvious by now, between the two cities, we prefer Mazatlán and think it's highly underrated​. There are numerous great things about the city and it's much cheaper to live in than Puerto Vallarta.

PV can be a wonderful place to visit and there are a lot of people who love living there. But if you're an English-speaking individual from the US or Canada who's looking for a place in Mexico to call home, we think you will probably be happier living in Mazatlán.

What do you think? Have you visited both cities recently? Where would you rather call home?

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Until next time,
@sharingeverybite (Maddie)
@shenanigator (Jordan)
(and Laska the Siberian Husky)


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Thank you so much for making this comparison. It's so interesting to see cities in relatively close proximity to one another have vastly different cultures. I plan on visiting Mexico but not moving there. This guide will definitely help as a primer before going. I like to be as educated as possible when visiting foreign countries. I feel like as Americans we tend to push our own beliefs far too much and we should be learning about new cultures and respecting them as much as possible when visiting. Thanks for sharing!

Hey @chaseburnett, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. We directed this article toward people considering moving, but that was only for SEO purposes. Like you say, people who are only visiting can benefit from it too.

Do you have any ideas where you'd like to visit in Mexico?

I am currently spending the last of two months in Mazatlan. There is a HUGE difference between the Gold Zone and Old Mazatlan. There are tons of young people in Old Mazatlan, there are two colleges in the area and a music/dance school. Most of the expats are Canadian, they call the Gold Zone "little Canada". The old part of the city is way more tranquilo. There are parks with music at night and lots of local vendors selling just about anything you can imagine.

LOVE me some Mazatlan. You can take a pulmina anywhere for between 50 and 100 pesos. Good times!!

Hey @gigantomachia, thanks for the info about old Maz. We spent most of our time in the golden zone and never saw old Mazatlán. Aside from the peoples' age have you experienced any other differences between what we wrote in this post about Maz and what you've experienced?

Pulmonias are pretty cool! You should be able to get them a bit cheaper than what you're paying - the locals pay 30 pesos. Or you can take an Uber for 21.90 for short drives or a bit more for longer drives. You'll definitely save some money taking Uber if you can do without the open-air experience of Pulmonias.

Enjoy your time there! We sure did!

Hi @tangerinetravels, and yeah there are quite a few differences really. Old Maz is way more "local", though the expats that live around here do come down from time to time and there are quite a few expats living in Old Maz as well. There are no burger kings or mcdonalds in Old Maz, the food is more local as well. You can buy fresh oysters right from the dudes that just got them from the ocean on the beach for example. There is a Looney Bean as well, the coffee shop that is more American than Mexican, but otherwise Old Maz is like most Mexican cities not taken over by tourism.

The biggest difference is the "parks". At night they have bands, dancers, all kinds of fun stuff. Mostly college kids looking to both practice their arts and maybe make a little money on the side. Though they had Jazz Fest this last weekend and those were actual bands; pretty damn good too. Again, Old Maz is way more chill and laid back than the Gold Zone. The GZ reminds me of Cancun or any other resort town, though better than most for sure as your review pointed out. I drove down from the states, so I stayed in some pretty "interesting" places along the way. I have also drove to Nicaragua and back a few years ago, so I knew my way around a bit. This is like my 5th time in Mexico. LOVE Mazatlan.

As to the pulmonias, yeah I get different prices depending on whether I haggle or not, but when you are haggling over a dollar or two I usually just give them their asking price even if it's a bit high. Most drivers rent their pulmonias so they have to pay to use them, and I make okay money so I don't mind paying a bit more. And yeah, I do uber if I want to go somewhere very far, as it is cheaper and meets me at my door. But sucking in the fumes of the pulmonia is just fun, and it makes understanding why they are named after a lung disease way easier.

Rage on!

We will definitely have to stay in Old Mazatlan the next time we come to the city. You've sold us! :) Sounds like they really do have totally different characters/vibes to learn and love. We didn't notice overcrowding from tourism in the Golden Zone, but the experience in San Blas definitely made us realize we could go for even less than what was there....probably something like Old Maz! Thanks for your detailed message, we really appreciate all the information and your perspectives on things!

As far as the Pulmonias, we found that most of them tried to "gringo price" us, even if we were speaking Spanish and asking for the price in pesos, not USD. Probably something we could get past if we spent more time there.

Btw - didn't realize "pulmonia" was a lung disease. Can't imagine they did that on purpose?

Haha, pulmonia is a lung disease and they totally did it on purpose. That is one of the things I love about Mexicans, they have a great sense of humor.

Hola y Grande por este post.
Pronto voy a Mazatlán Dios mediante.
Gracias por esta guía turística.
Dios los Bendiga.
Luego les comento y monto las fotografías.
Gracias de nuevo.
Hasta luego.

Que buenisimo! Que le vaya bien!

Very good comparison and introduction to these places! I hope I'll have a chance to visit one day. The food seems amazing though, and I haven't even had breakfast yet so it's making me really hungry.

I found the part about the language to be super interesting because I have had similar experiences in Shanghai and Hong Kong. I'm fluent in Mandarin and a lot of time they just continue speaking to me in English because they just believe I can't speak Chinese. Even the ones who can't speak English, some times they're just completely flustered and don't notice that I'm speaking to them in their language haha.

Even the ones who can't speak English, some times they're just completely flustered and don't notice that I'm speaking to them in their language haha.

We've experienced that here in Mexico, except we were the ones on the other end of the exchange. It has happened multiple times when we're expecting them to speak Spanish and we're listening for Spanish words. But then they start speaking English and we don't realize it because we're expecting Spanish. Then we feel like idiots for not understanding English haha.

I'v had it happen to me before too haha. Sometimes I'll be speaking to a chinese friend in mandarin and they suddenly insert an english word because they might think I don't know it in chinese or whatever and it always goes right past me and takes a minute to realize.

Hahaha, I do that all the time.

Always good for a laugh at least! ;)

I would chose Mazatlan from you description. Overall would suit me better especially cleaner air and outside and cheaper cost of living.

Nice post as usual...Keep on traveling.

Stay free always, all ways!

Like you, the clean air is also a big deal to us. We really want to be in a city with very minimal pollution.


So, you will eventually settle in one of the cities you visited? When, if settling down in Mexico?

Definitely! To be honest, we're getting a little tired of traveling and would love to settle down soon.

The thing is, we want it to be in a city that we absolutely love, and are willing to travel a bit more until we find that city.

Maybe not meant to settle in Mexico but travel other Latin American countries?

We've really liked a lot of cities, so we're confident that we'll stay in Mexico for a while.

@TangerineTravels I just saw your reviews of Pancho's on google. I have not been there, so I am going down there today to try it out. When I saw it was you on the google review I was IN. I will report back about how good it was 😉

Nice, enjoy! It is one of the more expensive restaurants we ate at in Mazatlán. Make sure you go to the right Panchos because there are two restaurants named Panchos. The main reason we liked it was for the really strong drinks in addition to all of the free shots they'd give us.

Our favorite restaurant in Maz ended up being Carlos and Lucia's. We'd recommend giving that place a try as well :)


It was pretty good. The free stuffed pepper in the beginning and free iced coffee shot at the end were a nice touch. And the marg was super strong! My favorite places are in Old Maz, especially the Fish Market, yummy!! The best pizza I have had since NYC is at a place along the strip called Pizza Al Taglio Da Venzi. The owner's name is Eddy and he is from Italy and knows his shit!! His ravioli is some of the best I have ever had. Would have never even seen his place if a local hadn't turned me onto it. I am going there tonight in fact!!

woow. what a nice comperism. and great picture quality there. i love your post.

Thanks for reading and for the compliments :)

Bro, I love your post, I am from Mexicoooo

Thanks for checking it out @edgarcanela18! Where are you from in Mexico?

muy buena tu publicacion realmente la disfruto exito saludos

Gracias por leerlo!

It's a nice piece. I wish to see more of this

Nice picture! 👍
You got an upvote, so it would be kind to follow this account for more upvotes in the future 👊🏼

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Great breakdown. Thanks :)
Mazatlán is officially on the list.

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