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By Kathleen Peddicord | U.S. News

Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán are two of the best-known beach retirement options on Mexico’s Pacific coast. If you want to spend your retirement years relaxing on a Pacific Ocean beach, these two cities should be at the top of your list.

In some ways, these two destinations are very similar. Both Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán have good access to the United States and Canada, and English is widely spoken. They are popular among American expats, so there are established communities to tap into for support with your move. A retiree in either city can benefit from Mexico’s retiree residency program. The infrastructure is good, so practical amenities including water, electricity, cable and internet are widely available. There’s also a dependable lifestyle infrastructure such as restaurants, nightlife and activities. Both cities can be very walkable if you settle in the right place, and many expats live without a car.

The cost of living in the areas where an American retiree would want to settle is comparable in both towns. A couple could retire in either location on a budget of about $1,600 per month, including rent. The generally low cost of living is even more affordable right now thanks to a strong U.S. dollar. Prices in Mexico are now about half what they were in 2008 in U.S. dollars.

Both cities are longtime tourism destinations, which has both positive and negative consequences. Lots of tourists means continually developing and improving infrastructure. It also means crowded and over-priced tourist zones, including the “romantic zone” in Puerto Vallarta and the “golden zone” in Mazatlán. However, there are also tranquil residential beachfront neighborhoods completely removed from the tourism trappings.

Both towns offer varied lifestyle options for part-year residents, vacation homeowners and full-time expats. They have big and diverse inventories of residential real estate. And both areas can be a great place to manage a rental, which could be a solid retirement strategy if you’re interested in being in Mexico only part of the year.

However, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta also differ in a number of important ways:

Beaches and boardwalk. Unlike Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán offers miles of contiguous beaches. Mazatlán’s beaches are also bigger and less crowded. The longest beach, which extends for three miles, is along Avenida del Mar. This beach is completely undeveloped and accessible from the boardwalk. Mazatlán’s Cerritos beach is also three miles long.

Restaurants, cafés and nightlife. Puerto Vallarta takes this one easily. Even though Mazatlán is almost twice the size of Puerto Vallarta, PV has many more restaurants and cafés of the type an expat retiree would seek out.

Cultural scene. With the Angela Peralta Theater, a symphony orchestra, chamber music groups, the Sunday concert series and Friday art walk, Mazatlán offers a lot of cultural activity for a beach town. Mazatlán’s carnaval celebration is the third largest in the hemisphere, after those in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans.

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 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.

Weather. Temperatures are slightly higher in Puerto Vallarta than in Mazatlán. In August, for example, Mazatlán averages 88 degrees, while PV averages 93 degrees. Mazatlán, however, tends to be more humid than PV.

Puerto Vallarta gets more rain than Mazatlán, with 55 inches of rain falling over 75 days of the year. Mazatlán gets only 32 inches of rain per year, with rainfall seen on just 46 days. PV’s increased rainfall is what makes the area so green and lush, so this could be viewed as a benefit.

However, you’ll want air conditioning in either city in the summer. And in either city you can throw the windows open and enjoy the sunshine in the winter.

Historic colonial center. Mazatlán’s historic center is big, active and relatively well kept. It has undergone a dramatic restoration in recent years and continues to improve. Its colonial town square, Plazuela Machado, boasts historic buildings, outdoor dining and a big, respected theater. In addition, this historic center is miles from the city’s touristy golden zone. Puerto Vallarta doesn’t have any comparable classic colonial zone.

Outdoor activities. If you enjoy outdoor activities, PV (and the nearby jungle) offers plenty, including quads, buggies, zip lining, fly boarding and bungee jumping. Booking is easy, with agents and kiosks all over town. In Mazatlán, the biggest outdoor attractions are sport fishing and golf, both of which you’ll find in PV, too.

Access to the United States. To get from the United States to either Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlán you can drive or fly. Mazatlán is a day’s drive closer to the U.S. border, with a drive time of about 13 1/2 hours. Many seasonal residents from the north drive down in the autumn and drive back in the springtime.

On the other hand, it’s easier to fly to PV, which enjoys much better nonstop flight service to and from the U.S. There are 17 nonstop flight options from the United States to Puerto Vallarta, compared with only four from the United States to Mazatlán.

The better choice for you depends on your preferences. Mazatlán is primarily a Mexican resort, and while there’s a strong expat presence, this is unquestionably a Mexican city. On the other hand, if your ideal setting is a quiet, lush hillside that’s removed from the noise of the beach area and the tourists – with long ocean and sunset views – then you should consider Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta is also more polished and finished than Mazatlán, which can be rough around the edges in some areas.

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