This paper presents a mesh adaptation procedure linked to a finite volume solver, the goal of which is to increase the precision of the numerical simulation of a wing tip vortex flow. The adaptation scheme is applied to hexahedron meshes and hybrid meshes made up of tetrahedrons and prisms. To evaluate the ability of each type of element to capture the physics of a tip vortex, a specific test case is studied and results obtained numerically from this test case are compared with experimental results. The error estimator of the adaptation scheme is derived from a solution scalar variable. It is shown that the element anisotropy as well as the adaptation algorithms used have an impact on the precision of the solution. Adaptation of hexahedrons allows a better capture of the tip vortex far from the vortex root, even though the adaptation of those hexahedrons barely changes the number of nodes used to achieve a specified precision, contrary to the adaptation of hybrid meshes. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.