Manzanillo vs. Puerto Vallarta

Choosing your perfect Mexican beach destination? I’m here to help you navigate the charms of Manzanillo and the allure of Puerto Vallarta – two of Mexico’s prettiest coastal towns. Despite being just 5-hours away from each other by car, these two destinations are surprisingly different from one another. 

From the sun-soaked beaches to the verdant green mountains, I’ll compare both of these areas so you can choose the right one for your vacation.

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Which is Better? Manzanillo vs. Puerto Vallarta?

Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular tourist areas in Mexico, which means you’ll find a wide range of hotels, activities, and restaurants. However, this comes at a cost, as things are more crowded and generally more expensive. If you prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, then Manzanillo is likely to be the better choice. 

But there are so many more factors to consider besides cost and crowds. If you want to know which place has better beaches, better food, and better nightlife, then read on!

Location and Weather

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Both cities are located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, although they are 180 miles from each other. Puerto Vallarta is a popular tourist town in the state of Jalisco. It’s further north than Manzanillo, which is in the state of Colima

Manzanillo is a vibrant working town, as it is home to Mexico’s busiest seaport. While there is a separate tourist area with beaches and hotels, this is a bit north of the main area of downtown.

But weatherwise, the temperatures between both places are very similar. Average temperatures in the summer months are in the high 80s or low 90s, while winter is a bit cooler in the mid-70s. 

The rainy season lasts from June to October – which is also when humidity is at its highest. Although it’s unlikely to rain all day, you can expect some showers throughout the afternoon and evening. 

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Beaches

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Regardless of which city you choose to visit, you’ll be spoiled for choice by the number of beaches in the area. 

Puerto Vallarta sits on the Bay of Banderas, which is lined with some of the prettiest beaches in the region. Between the crashing waves of the Pacific and the lush mountains of the Sierra Madre, the landscape of PV is truly a mesmerizing sight. 

Playa Camarones, Conchas Chinas, and Flamingos are just a couple of popular hangout spots. If you’re planning any water-based activities, I highly recommend coming in the summer. There are high swells in the winter, which can be intimidating to some travelers (but ideal for experienced surfers!).

Manzanillo also has miles of pristine coastline, especially considering it is located on two separate baysBahía de Manzanillo and Bahía de Santiago. Popular beaches on Santiago Bay include Playa Miramar and Olas Atlas, while Playa Azul, Las Brisas, and San Pedrito can be found along Manzanillo Bay.

Similar to PV, there are quite a few beaches with rough currents. But if you’re here for surfing, then I recommend going to Miramar or Olas Atlas. These beaches have some of the gnarliest waves in town!

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Activities and Attractions

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There are tons of fun activities to keep you occupied while on vacation. From the top of the mountains all the way down to the waves of the Pacific Ocean, both Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta have a wide range of experiences for all types of travelers.

Here are a couple of things you can look forward to doing in PV:

  • Scuba Diving Los Arcos
  • Watching the sunset from the Malecon
  • Hiking Up to Mirador de la Cruz
  • Taking a walking tour or food tour in Zona Romantico
  • Visiting the Church Of Our Lady Of Guadalupe
  • Ziplining the Superman – the longest zipline in Mexico!
  • Whale watching from December to March
  • Golfing at the Vista Vallara Golf Club

The activities in Manzanillo are equally as entertaining. They include:

  • Golfing at Las Hadas Golf Course
  • Hiking to the Mirador del Cerro de La Cruz Lookout Point
  • Wildlife watching at Laguna de Las Garzas
  • Deep sea fishing for sailfish
  • Snorkeling the San Luciano shipwreck
  • Visiting the Tortugario turtle sanctuary
  • Day tripping to Barra de Navidad

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Accommodation

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When deciding between Manzanillo or Puerto Vallarta, it’s important to look at all the accommodation options available.

When planning a trip to PV, many travelers choose to stay in a resort or beachfront hotel. There are lots of options in Nuevo Vallarta, including a number of all-inclusive resorts. If you prefer something more intimate, you can also find boutique hotels and vacation rental properties in the Romantic Zone or city center.

In terms of tourism, Manzanillo isn’t as popular as Puerto Vallarta, so there are fewer choices when it comes to accommodation. However, there are some great resorts (including all-inclusives) where you can enjoy a traditional vacation experience. Most of these resorts are in the Hotel Zone, which is roughly three miles north of the city center.

You can also choose to stay in a vacation rental property or boutique hotel in Manzanillo. While they may not be directly on the water, they are often more affordable compared to the beachfront resorts in the area.

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Dining

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If you’re a die-hard foodie like me, then you’ll absolutely love the cuisine in PV and Manzanillo. Both cities have a wide range of restaurants, from street food stalls to fine dining establishments. However, Manzanillo is more laid back, so the restaurants here offer a more authentic Mexican experience.

One of the best travel tips I can give you is to try the local food. International restaurants exist, but they definitely don’t compare to the quality of Mexican food available. 

The regional dishes don’t vary too much between both cities. You can find tacos, tostadas, and enchiladas if you’re craving a bit of Mexican comfort food. Great restaurants are not hard to find!

Since both cities are located on the coast, seafood also plays a prominent role in the cuisine. Freshly caught shrimp, lobster, and fish can be found on almost every menu. Ceviche and Pescado Zarandeado are two of the most popular seafood dishes, so don’t leave without trying both of them!

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Nightlife

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After a day of outdoor adventure and sightseeing, you’ll likely want to hit the town for an evening of fun, food, and entertainment. However, there are some significant differences between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo when it comes to nightlife.

As I mentioned, Manzanillo is less crowded, less touristy, and less commercialized compared to PV. For this reason, there aren’t as many places to go out. Of course, there are bars and restaurants in town, but nothing compared to the lively and vibrant nightlife scene in PV.

If nightlife is important, then I suggest staying in an all-inclusive resort. Not only will you have lots of bars right outside your hotel room, but there’s usually a nightclub on the property.

On the other hand, Puerto Vallarta is an awesome city for nightlife. Along the Malecon waterfront promenade, there are plenty of bars, pubs, and live music venues. And if you’re interested in something a bit rowdier, then you can dance until the early morning at one of the many nightclubs here.

Travel Costs

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Mexico is generally considered to be a budget-friendly destination, although costs largely depend on where you go and what type of accommodation and activities you choose. To help you gauge a better idea of how much your vacation should cost, these are average prices that you can expect to pay in both cities.

PV:

  • Mid-range hotel: $50 – $100 a night
  • Luxury hotel or all-inclusive: $200 – $400 a night
  • Meal at local restaurant: $5 – $10
  • High-end meal: $30 – $50
  • Cocktail: $5 – $10
  • Local beer: $2 – $4
  • Snorkeling Trip: $40 – $60
  • Zip Line Tour: $35 – $50
  • Food Tour: $40 – $60

Manzanillo:

  • Mid-range hotel: $100 – $150 a night
  • Luxury hotel or all-inclusive: $250 – $300 a night
  • Meal at local restaurant: $5 – $10
  • High-end meal: $20 – $30
  • Cocktail: $5 – $8
  • Local beer: $2 – $3
  • Snorkeling Trip: $50 – $70
  • Fishing Charter: $200 – $300
  • Hiking Tour: $30 – $50

If you’re basing your decision on cost, then Manzanillo is the clear winner.

Hotels, restaurants, and excursions tend to be cheaper than Puerto Vallarta. However, these are just estimates, as prices can change depending on the time of year. Therefore, its important to do your research first to make sure you aren’t spending more than you want!

The resort town of Puerto Vallarta and the port city of Manzanillo are two excellent choices for your Mexican beach vacation. Each one has their own unique charms and fun experiences. No matter which place you end up choosing, I know that you’ll have an amazing time in this beautiful country! 

FAQs for Choosing Your Mexican Beach Destination: Manzanillo vs. Puerto Vallarta

What makes Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo stand out on Mexico’s Pacific Coast?

Both Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo offer unique charms along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Puerto Vallarta, bustling with amenities, vibrant nightlife, and a wide range of activities, appeals to visitors seeking a lively atmosphere. Manzanillo, with its significant port and tranquil beaches, offers a laid-back experience closer to the Mexican state of Colima’s authentic vibe.

Can expats find good real estate options in Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo?

Yes, expats will find attractive real estate opportunities in both cities. Puerto Vallarta is known for its diverse community and beachside properties, while Manzanillo’s real estate offers value in a quieter setting. Both cities have communities where expats have integrated well with the locals and residents.

What travel information should I know before visiting Manzanillo or Puerto Vallarta in the rainy season, like in September?

During the rainy season, from June to October, you can expect afternoon showers and high humidity. It’s wise to schedule indoor activities or explore local markets during these times. Despite the rain, both destinations remain popular, offering lush, green landscapes and cooler evenings.

Are there direct transport options to get from the bus station in Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo?

Yes, from Guadalajara’s bus station, there are direct transport options to both Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. You can find various bus lines offering services to these destinations with varying schedules and fares. Making reservations in advance is recommended, especially during peak travel times.

How do the beaches of Manzanillo compare to those in Puerto Vallarta for activities like snorkeling or surfing?

Both destinations boast beautiful beaches ideal for a range of activities. Puerto Vallarta, on the Bay of Banderas, is renowned for places like Los Arcos, perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling. Manzanillo, with its Santiago Peninsula and bays, offers great surf spots at Miramar or Olas Atlas, catering to surfers looking for challenging waves.

What dining and nightlife options can visitors expect in Puerto Vallarta compared to Manzanillo?

Puerto Vallarta shines with a variety of dining and nightlife options, from bustling boardwalk bars to gourmet restaurants. Manzanillo, while quieter, presents authentic local eateries and beachside snacks, offering a more relaxed atmosphere. Both cities serve up delicious seafood and traditional Mexican cuisine.

Are there any cultural or outdoor attractions unique to Manzanillo or Puerto Vallarta?

Yes, each city offers unique attractions. Puerto Vallarta is famous for its Malecon boardwalk, vibrant arts scene, and nearby traditional towns like Sayulita. Manzanillo is known for its port, stunning bays, and outdoor activities like deep-sea fishing and exploring the Santiago Peninsula.