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Cancun vs Cabo: which one is better for a vacation in Mexico?

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Undecided about what destination to choose for your Mexican Vacation? Cancun vs Cabo – the struggle is real. Both are among the top high-end all-inclusive destinations in Mexico. In this post, I will cover all the main differences and similarities among these incredible beach cities to help you decide which one is best for you.


Picture-perfect beaches, enchanting cenotes, amazing water sport activities, vibrant nightlife, mouth-watering food, historic Mayan ruins, spectacular rock formations—the list of Mexican wonders goes on. But you won’t find all of it just by visiting a random destination in this country.

Because of the huge size of Mexico, there is considerable variety among the places inside it. So, instead of winging it by going to a city that everyone else is visiting—like Cancun—I suggest you make a more informed decision to get the most out of your visit.

How to do that? I’m here to help you. In this post, I’ll share with you my experience in two of Mexico’s most famous tourist destinations; Cancun and Cabo San Lucas.

They are both very famous throughout the world and many tourists visit here every year. But the reasons for their appeal are quite different—ranging from the kind of hotels and restaurants they have, to the overall atmosphere and experience they provide.

This Cancun vs Cabo comparison will tell you everything you need to know about both places before booking your trip.

Cancun vs Cabo San Lucas

Cancun vs Cabo – Cancun features and highlights

If you know even a little about Mexico, it’s likely that you already know Cancun is one of the best-known tourist destinations there. In fact, it’s considered the heart of the Mexican Caribbean. There are many reasons for its fame, including gorgeous white-sand beaches, all-inclusive hotels, nightlife, delicious food, and many more things.

But those are just a few of the reasons why millions of tourists go to Cancun every year. So what makes it so popular? The below highlights are some of the most prominent reasons. But there are also some downsides of Cancun. I’ll tell you both.

PUnta Cancun Aerial view
Punta Cancun

Highlights of Cancun

  • Because of its unique location, Cancun is known as the gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula. The city offers unparalleled water activities, including swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, and lots of other fascinating aquatic experiences.
  • It’s also surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty. The lush jungle all around Cancun, mystic cenotes, and many other natural attractions make it a prime spot for adventure.
  • Cancun was built with travel and luxury in mind, so it’s renowned for its all-inclusive hotels and beachfront resorts. There are plenty of restaurants to fit every budget and taste.
  • Cancun also just 10 minutes away from the international airport, which makes it more accessible for tourists from across the globe.
  • The nightlife in Cancun is also very popular. In the Zona Hotelera, you will find all-night parties and events as well.
  • The Lagoon Nichupte offers mesmerizing views, especially of the sunsets over it, besides amazing kayaking and other watersport activities.
Los Cabos Marina
Cabo San Lucas – Marina
  • Cancun is one of the world’s most-visited places. Millions of people visit it annually, and almost 40% of the tourists from the USA come to Mexico to enjoy a dream tropical vacation in Cancun.
  • The majority of Cancun’s resorts in the hotel zone offer access to the picturesque white-sand beaches with their turquoise waters.
  • Along the coastline, beaches such as Playa Delfines and Playa Marlin offer great surfing experiences.
Cancun beach sunset
Cancun beach at sunset
  • The spectacular Isla Mujeres is just a ferry ride away from Cancun. It’s considered one of the most enchanting day-trips from Cancun, where you can enjoy the mesmerizing sites offered by the Island of Women, spend the day at Playa Norte, try out the delicious food, and explore the underwater museum as well.
  • Public transport, like buses, from the hotel zone to downtown is easily available.
  • Archaeological sites like Valladolid and Chichen Itza are 2-3 hours of drive away.

Cancun distances

  1. 30 min (13 km) from Isla Mujeres (ferry ride from Puerto Juarez).
  2. 1 hr (68 km) from Playa del Carmen.
  3. 1 hr 33 min (104.9 km) from Akumal.
  4. 1 hr 40 min (131 km) from Tulum.
  5. 2 hr 8 min (156 km) from Valladolid.
  6. 2 hr 34 min (197.4 km) from Chichen Itza.

Cancun by night
Cancun night in the Hotel Zone

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The negative side of Cancun vs Cabo

  • Cancun is very urban. If you think visiting Cancun will help you with your Spanish and let you experience some authentic Mexican culture, think again. There are a few historic sites that you can visit while you’re in Cancun but it’s more suited for partying and large-city vibes than experiencing culture.
  • Spring break (April and March) means lots of partying teenagers going around and making noise. If you’re visiting with your family, this might be a bit annoying, and definitely not the relaxing vacation that you had imagined.
  • With more than 100 hotels in the Zona Hotelera, there are only a few exceptions when it comes to being all-inclusive resorts. Moreover, there are no boutique hotels in Cancun.
Los Cabos Resorts
Los Cabos Hotel Aerial view
  • It can be a bit expensive, especially if your bucket list includes lots of activities and excursions.
  • Downtown is separated from the hotel zone and the coastline, and doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to the authentic historic charm of Mexico.
  • The majority of lodgings in the hotel zone are expensive ones, except the only two hostels there. For budget stays, you will have better luck in the downtown.
  • Beach clubs aren’t a thing in Cancun. However, some hotels might offer day passes for bars and restaurants.

Cancun vs Cabo – Cabo features and highlights

Cabo is situated in the southernmost region of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Just like Cancun, the city is known for its beaches, nightlife, food, and water sport activities. But the regional difference means a completely changed experience.

It’s a very unique destination in Baja California with world-class golf courses, mouth-watering cuisine, and amazing rock formations.

But it wasn’t always the prime tourist spot of the region. In fact, Cabo used to be a fishing port, which could only be reached after a long drive from La Paz.

After the nearby airport started handling jets and international flights, Cabo started to rapidly develop into one of the most visited high-end destinations in Mexico.

Now it hosts thousands of visitors every year. Let’s have a look at its highlights and downsides.

Whale watching los cabos
Whale Watching Los Cabos

Highlights of Cabo

  • It’s drier and has more sunny days as compared to Cancun.
  • Unlike Cancun, which is a tropical destination, Cabo is a more rugged, desert-like place with other-worldly rock formations. Which means you have a variety of landscapes and will appreciate the contrast between the red rocky desert and the blue ocean.
  • Even though downtown in Cabo is pretty much touristy now, the nearby San Jose del Cabo still has plenty of authentic vibes to offer.
  • Architecture from the colonial era gives San Jose del Cabo a distinct charm.
  • The nightlife in Cabo is less vivid as compared to Cancun. You won’t find any of the fuss that spring breakers make in Cancun. Rather, it’s a more refined experience with rooftop bars, wineries, guitar concerts, and many romantic attractions.
  • There are plenty of other activities as well, like hiking the mountains, desert trails, watching blue and grey whales migrating from Alaska, and water sport activities like snorkeling, surfing, and seeing the underwater waterfalls.
  • The deep blue sea looks all the more splendid from the high altitude of roads navigating the mountainous region.
Playa el Chileno Cabo San Lucas
Playa el Chileno Los Cabos
  • Cabo is considered a world-class resort gateway. It offers one of the most luxurious stays in all of Mexico.
  • El Arco, the most notable of Cabo’s rock formations, can be seen from the hotels near Cabo. If you want to visit it, there are also Playa del Amor and Land’s End monument accompanying the El Arco formation.
  • Although you are on the Pacific coast, renknown for a rougher coastline, you will find amazing incredible beaches that are perfectly swimmable.
  • At a short drive from Los Cabos you will find some of the most amazing surfing spots suitabe for pro surfers and beginners.

Cabo distances

  1. 32 min (33 km) from San Jose del Cabo.
  2. 56 min (76 km ) from Todos Santos.
  3. 1 hr 32 min (98 km) from the Canyon of the Fox.
  4. 1 hr 34 min (112 km) from Los Barriles.
  5. 2 hr (156 km) from La Paz.
  6. 2 hr 2 min (131 km) from Cabo Pulmo National Park.

Los Cabos Arch
Los Cabos Arch

The cons of Cabo in comparison with Cancun

  • The Los Cabos International Airport is 36 mins (44km) away from Cabo San Lucas, well, not that bad, though.
  • Some beaches in Cabo are rougher and feature various rock formations.
  • The undertows from the Sea of Cortez make swimming a little dangerous from some of Cabo’s beaches.
  • There are plenty of hotels and all-inclusive resorts in Cabo, but not as many as Cancun’s hotel zone. However, the luxury offered by the hotels in Cabo is unmatched. In fact, it’s considered the most expensive resort destination in Mexico.
  • There are only a few budget lodgings, but you can find nice and affordable Airbnbs
Cancun hotel beach
Cancun beach

Cancun vs Cabo – Which one is safer?

Both Cancun and Cabo San Lucas see lots of tourists every year, which is a good indicator of their safety profile. Cancun is quite safe for tourists as long as some basic precautions are taken, like keeping away from deserted areas, not going out at night, and other common-sense rules. The few incidents of crime that do take place here are usually petty theft.

Also read – Is it safe to travel to Mexico

Similarly, Cabo is also a relatively safe spot for tourists. Thousands of tourists visit Cabo, which is located within one of Mexico’s safest regions. Not only does Cabo stand out in terms of lower crime rate, but it’s also been declared one of the safest places by the World Travel and Tourism Council, after the reopening of tourist destinations for international tourists in 2020

It goes without saying that some common sense rules apply here as well, including not driving at night—or sticking to toll roads if it’s absolutely necessary—not flaunting your valuables in public, and keeping a watch on your belongings when you’re out.

This basically means doing everything you would do to stay safe when visiting abroad but also in your home town.


Cancun vs Cabo – Weather

Cancun is known for perfect weather during its peak season. Spring breakers, as well as tourists from other countries, flock to it from December to April. The weather is pleasant, with hot and sunny days. Compared to Cabo, Cancun is a much more tropical destination, and it’s more humid as well.

The overall weather here is better than Cabo during winters. But the rest of the year, expect rains and overcast days accompanied by humidity.

Cabo has a more desert-like climate, which is drier. It’s clear and sunny almost all year, with very little chance of rain.

In winters (December through March), the temperatures are usually warm, so you can bring all your beach clothes along. The evenings, especially the nights, are cooler.

Cancun playa delfines
Cancun Playa Delfines

Apart from the occasional cool spells (which means you also need to bring some warm clothes just in case), the temperatures are perfect for golfing, hiking, going for a walk, or just chilling at the beach.

However, Cabo is even better during the shoulder season (from April to June, and from October to November). The days are warm, there are fewer crowds, and the overall weather is way more pleasant in Cabo as compared to Cancun during these months.

Add to the bargain the fact that you get to save a lot on the lodging prices during this time.


Final thoughts on Cancun vs Cabo – Which one to choose?

Cancun and Cabo both have spectacular beaches and feature some of the most luxurious hotels and all-inclusive resorts. But the kind of vacation and experiences you will get in either of the destinations varies hugely.

The landscape is incredibly different and in Cabo, you can have a variety of incredible scenery that you won’t have in Cancun.

On the other hand, if you like swimming in beautiful turquoise Caribbean waters, enjoy vivid nightlife and partying, shopping, then Cancun is your dream destination.

But if you’re more of an adventurer and would like to go hiking mountains, participate in fishing tournaments, watch blue whales, snorkel with whale sharks, and admire splendid rock formations along with the usual resort activities, then Cabo is where you will find it all.

I hope I have helped you made up your mind. So which one did you choose?