One of the questions I hear most frequently is why I chose to live in Mazatlán, rather than the better-known Puerto Vallarta. In fact, even here at Live and Invest Overseas, Puerto Vallarta gets more coverage and usually earns higher ratings.
So why choose Mazatlán? Let’s compare the two.
In some ways, both destinations are quite similar.
Both Puerto Vallarta (PV) and Mazatlán enjoy choice spots on Mexico’s Pacific coast, with good access to the United States and Canada.
Both cities are long time tourism destinations, which has both positive and negative consequences. For example, the touristy “Romantic Zone” in Puerto Vallarta is about the least romantic environment I’ve ever seen… it’s similar to Mazatlán’s Golden Zone. Read more on the ups and downs of living in a tourist destination here.
PV and Mazatlán also both offer numerous, varied lifestyle options for the part-year resident, vacation homeowner, or full-time expat. They have good residential property inventories, and can be great places to manage a rental.
English is widely spoken in both cities, and both are popular with American and Canadian expats.
The infrastructure is good in both PV and Mazatlán; not only for the practical stuff (water, electricity, cable, internet, etc.) but also with respect to their tourism infrastructure, with restaurants, nightlife, and activities.
The cost of living is similar between PV and Mazatlán in the expat areas. The statistical data I found claims Mazatlán to be a bit cheaper, but only by 11% overall. In many categories, they’re too close to call. Mazatlán has a “real”, working-class city behind the coastal areas, in which you can live very inexpensively. But since expats almost never live there, I don’t think it’s fair to include those areas in a cost analysis.
Both cities can be very walkable, if you settle in the right place. Many expats live without a car. And both offer tranquil beachfront neighborhoods, which are completely residential and free from the trappings of tourism.
Finally, the cost of living is very low right now in both places, thanks to a U.S. dollar that’s very strong by historic standards. Based on exchange rates, prices are less than half of what they were in 2008. And the Canadian dollar is also at record highs against the Mexican peso.
And of course, both cities benefit from Mexico’s super-easy residency. I got my resident’s visa at a consulate in about 20 minutes, without translations, background checks, or document certifications. And you may not even need residency, with Mexico’s long, six-month tourist stays.
But Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta differ in a number of important ways
Here are some areas where the cities are different, along with my opinion as to which is better.
Beaches And Boardwalk
Mazatlán wins this category, with miles of contiguous beaches. Compared to those in PV, they’re larger and relatively uncrowded. The longest beach, at 3 miles long (almost 5 km), is along Avenida del Mar. There’s no construction on the beach, so it’s 100% accessible from the boardwalk. The Cerritos beach is also 3 miles long.
Mazatlán’s boardwalk (malecón) is claimed to be the longest uninterrupted boardwalk in the world, at 5 miles (8 km).
Restaurants, Cafés, And Nightlife
Puerto Vallarta takes this one easily. Even though Mazatlán is almost twice the size of Puerto Vallarta, PV has far more restaurants and cafés of the type an expat or visitor would seek out.
Make no mistake: both cities have plenty of fine dining, cafés, casual beachfront restaurants, and night spots. But PV probably doubles Mazatlán’s offering.
I give this one to Mazatlán. With the Angela Peralta Theater, a symphony orchestra, chamber music groups, the Sunday concert series, and Friday Art Walk, Mazatlán offers plenty of cultural activity. Mazatlán’s Carnaval celebration is the third-largest in the hemisphere, after Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans’s Mardi Gras.
Ocean Views And Scenery
This category goes handily to Puerto Vallarta. PV is bordered by mountains to the east, and its elevation rises rapidly as you go inland. This provides for a wealth of magnificent ocean and sunset views from a number of areas. In Mazatlán, the only way to get views like this is to have a place on the ocean or on one of two very small and crowded coastal hills.
Also, the hills around Puerto Vallarta (and heading south) are thick, green, and lush, while the area surrounding Mazatlán is dry and brown during much of the winter high season.
High temperatures are somewhat higher in Puerto Vallarta than in Mazatlán. In August for example, Mazatlán averages 88°F (31°C), while PV comes in at 93°F (34°C). Mazatlán, however, tends to be more-humid than PV, so it won’t feel much different.
Puerto Vallarta gets more rain than Mazatlán, with 55 inches of rain (1,392 mm) falling on 75 days of the year. Mazatlán gets only 32 inches (800 mm), with rainfall seen on just 46 days.
But PV’s increased rainfall is what makes the area so green and lush, so I see this as a benefit.
To me, the weather between the two cities is a wash, in a practical way. If you’re here (in either city) in the summer, you’ll want air conditioning… if you’re here in the winter, you’ll throw the windows open and enjoy the sunshine.
Historic Colonial Center
Here I prefer Mazatlán. The historic center is large, active, and in pretty good shape. It’s undergone a dramatic restoration in recent years and is still improving. Plazuela Machado, the colonial town square, is unlike anything you’ll see, with its historic buildings, outdoor dining, and large historic theater.
In Mazatlán, the historic center is miles from the Golden Zone, Mazatlán’s main tourist area.
The old fashioned “non-tourist” city central market is still thriving, as is the newer Saturday farmers’ market, the huge flower market, and the bustling shrimp market (shrimp is a big industry in Mazatlán).
Most full-time expats live in Mazatlán’s historic center.
Puerto Vallarta wins this category, for sure. PV is known to be the most gay-friendly city in Mexico. But PV is more than just gay-friendly… and gay people are more than just “accepted” or “welcomed”. Here it can feel like being gay is the norm.
You’ll see same-sex couples, both male and female, of all ages and nationalities.
There are gay people and same-sex couples in Mazatlán, too. But they’re not that open, and I haven’t seen any public displays of affection. Mazatlán is more of a Mexican destination than an international resort, and their traditional conservatism shows in this area… when compared to PV.
PV definitely wins this category. If you enjoy outdoor activities, PV (and the nearby jungle) offers plenty. You’ll find quads, buggies, zip-lining, flyboarding, bungee jumping, etc.
And they make booking easy, with agents and kiosks all over town.
In Mazatlán, the biggest outdoor attraction is sportfishing, perhaps followed by golf… both of which you’ll find in PV, too.
Access To The United States And Canada
Here it depends on whether you’re driving or flying.
Mazatlán is a day’s drive closer to the U.S. border, with a drive time about 13.5 hours. Many seasonal residents from the north drive down in the autumn, and drive back in the springtime.
But PV has far better nonstop flight service to both the U.S. and Canada.
Puerto Vallarta nonstops: 17 to United States, 15 to Canada
Mazatlán nonstops: 4 to United States, 5 to Canada
I give this one to Mazatlán.
Studies have shown that PV has the most expensive real estate market in Mexico. But this is a bit misleading. You have to realize that PV is weighted heavily with resort/expat properties, so it doesn’t compare well on nationwide samples that include cities (like Mazatlán) with large, working-class neighborhoods.
Mazatlán is mostly a Mexican market. In the vacation home market (excluding the other parts of town), about 65% of the buyers are Mexican. Of the remainder, 60% are Canadian.
If you want a condo directly on the sand PV prices will appear very expensive. But that’s mostly because the new luxury offerings (on the sand) tend to be larger in PV than in Mazatlán. On a cost per square meter basis, PV is only about 6% higher. In both cities, I used new, high-end construction that was on the beach, and outside of town.
But in the historic center, it was a far different story. We found three front-line condos for sale in Puerto Vallarta, ranging in price from US$600k to 1.3 million dollars. The cost per square-meter averaged US$3,662.
Then I found a brand-new luxury building on the seafront in Mazatlán’s historic center. The average price here is under US$340,000, which works out to US$1,491 per square meter.
For owning a rental however, I’d prefer Puerto Vallarta. I’ve worked the numbers a few times, and I find returns better in PV.
Back to the original question.
So why did we pick Mazatlán? It was mostly the attraction of the walkable historic center, and all the amenities it offers… including the fact that the historic center is miles from the main tourist area in Mazatlán.
And, importantly, it’s possible to buy a beachfront property in the historic center, which is rare… so you can enjoy the advantages of both.
Also, Mazatlán is primarily a Mexican resort. On any given night in the historic center, I’d say 95% of the people on the boardwalk are from Mexico. And while there’s a strong expat presence, it’s unquestionably a Mexican city.
To me, it just feels homier than Puerto Vallarta.
Which city is right for you?
If you want a quiet, lush, hillside setting that’s away from the noise of the beach area—with long ocean and sunset views—then you definitely want to head to PV.
Also, if you want outdoor, active diversions, then PV will be better for you.
Overall, Puerto Vallarta is just, plain “nicer” than Mazatlán, which can be rough around the edges in some areas.
I’d pick Mazatlán if you want a less-touristy environment in a more-Mexican city, or if you like life in the historic center. If you want to walk for miles on an uncrowded beach (while in the city limits) then you’ll prefer Mazatlán.
I personally like Mazatlán better for full-time living, while I’d prefer PV for a vacation home or rental. Also, you’ll likely prefer Mazatlán if you’re over 55…
All analysis aside though, these cities are both good choices for a vacation or second home destination—depending on your preferences—and hold good opportunities for a property investment.