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.
Because of the huge size of Mexico, there is considerable diversity among different areas in Mexico.
So, instead of winging it by going to a city that everyone else is visiting, 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.
This Cancun vs. Cabo comparison will tell you everything you need to know about both places before booking your trip.
PSSST! make sure you read through the end for some more useful info!!!
⬇️Book Your Transfer from Cabo Airport to Your Hotel⬇️
- Cancun vs Cabo – Cancun Features and Highlights
- Cancun vs. Cabo: Activities
- Cancun vs Cabo – Cabo Features and Highlights
- Cancun vs Cabo – Which One Is Safer?
- Cancun vs Cabo – Weather
- Cabo vs Cancun – Airport Transportation
- Cancun vs. Cabo: Accommodation Options
- Top All-Inclusive Adult Only Hotels in Cancun
- Final Thoughts on Cancun vs Cabo – Which One to Choose?
- How to Find the Best Deals for either Destination
- ✨ Mexico Travel Planning Guide ✨
- 👉 Do I Need Travel Insurance to Travel to Mexico?
- 🚰 Can I Drink Tap Water in Mexico?
- 🚗 Is It Safe to Drive in Mexico?
- 📱 Will My Phone Work in Mexico?
- 🤕 Is It Safe to Travel to Mexico Right Now?
- 💉 Do I Need Any Vaccine to Travel to Mexico?
- 🇲🇽 Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Mexico?
- 💸 Where Do I Find the Best Travel Deals for Mexico? 💸
- Isabella, author, editor, and founder
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.
Its fame has many reasons, 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 to Cancun. I’ll tell you both.
✅ 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.
✅ 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 is 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.
✅ 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, arguably some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.
✅ Along the coastline, beaches such as Playa Delfines and Playa Marlin offer great surfing experiences.
✅ The spectacular Isla Mujeres is just a ferry ride away from Cancun.
It’s considered one of the most amazing 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.
⊙ 30 min (13 km) from Isla Mujeres (ferry ride from Puerto Juarez)
⊙ 1 hr (68 km) from Playa del Carmen
⊙ 1 hr 33 min (104.9 km) from Akumal
⊙ 1 hr 40 min (131 km) from Tulum
⊙ 2 hr 8 min (156 km) from Valladolid
⊙ 2 hr 34 min (197.4 km) from Chichen Itza
Cancun vs. Cabo: Activities
Both Cancun and Cabo offer a vast array of things to do, but while in Cancun you will find a good balance between cultural sites and natural wonders, in Cabo it’s all pretty much a bit the spectacular nature and outdoor activities.
But in both cities, there is something for any traveler.
Let’s see what are the most popular activities in both cities.
Top Things to Do in Cabo
► Land’s End Luxury Sail & Snorkel Cruise
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 501 Reviews
A lovely 3-hour cruise around Cabo’s waters along Baja Southern point. You will enjoy sightseeing while sipping your cocktail, and snorkeling among colorful fishes near the iconic El Arco.
You will also enjoy a delicious lunch on the boat while looking at the views of the popular Lovers’ beach and other spectacular spots along Baja coastlines.
Free cancellation – Up to 24 hours in advance!
👉 I recommend booking the Land’s End Luxury Sail & Snorkel Cruise tour in advance on VIATOR
► Los Cabos Arch and Playa del Amor Tour by Glass Bottom Kayak
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 503 Reviews
A beautiful 3-hour kayaking tour. You will paddle around El Arco and the surrounding waters or Los Cabos led by a knowledgeable guide. You will see a colony of sea lions and gaze at tropical fish through the glass bottom of your Kayak.
You will snorkel near pelican rock for more colorful fish sights. Choose between a morning and afternoon departure.
Air-conditioned round-trip minivan transport from hotels and the cruise ship pier included
Free cancellation – Up to 24 hours in advance!
👉 I recommend booking the glass bottom Kayak tour in advance on VIATOR
► Snorkeling or Swimming with Sharks in Cabo San Lucas
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 428 Reviews
This is an half-day tour where you Swim or snorkel with sharks in the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean
Your knowledgeable guide ensures a memorable and safe experience in the waters of Baja California as you look for blue sharks, silky sharks, mako, smooth hammerheads, and other marine life, and get a close look at the Arch of Cabo San Lucas and sea lion colony.
The snorkeling gear, guide, refreshments, and boat transportation from a central marina are included.
Free cancellation – Up to 24 hours in advance!
👉 I recommend booking a swim with sharks tour in advance on VIATOR
► Stroll around San Jose del Cabo on a Thursday night
San Jose del Cabo is the colonial area of Cabo and the prettiest. On a Thursday night, it gets even more lively with live music and all sorts of arts displayed along the main streets. Make sure you check it out and try some of the local restaurants.
► Try the Tamarindos Mexican Farm-To-Table Restaurant
Delicious restaurant for breakfast and lunch on the terrace of a beautiful farm. The meal is made with their own products and they taste delicious. The natural setting is also part of the incredible experience.
► Take a road trip to Todos Santos
Todos Santos is one of the few Pubelos Magicos in Baja California Sur. Its pretty colonial town is brimming with art galleries, craft shops, and colonial buildings. Make sure you visit the Turtle farm and check out the beach at sunset.
Things to Do in Cancun
► Chichen Itza, Cenote and Valladolid All-Inclusive Tour
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 6297 Reviews
Among the things to do in Cancun, visiting Chichen Itza is a must.
This full-day tour combines the most important highlights of the Yucatan Peninsula from Chichen Itza, the pre-Columbian archeological sites of the Maya civilization, to Valladolid, a 16th-century town settled by the Spanish.
You will also swim in one of the 3000 refreshing cenotes in Yucatan and enjoy a delicious buffet meal.
Make sure you check what’s included in the price before booking.
Free cancellation – Up to 24 hours in advance!
👉 I recommend booking this tour in advance on VIATOR
► Isla Mujeres All Inclusive Luxury Catamaran & Snorkel from Cancun
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1684 Reviews
Sail along the beautiful crystal-clear waters of Cancun’s Caribbean coastline on this half-day sailing adventure to Islas Mujeres.
You will snorkel in its turquoise waters among colorful fishes and coral reefs.
A delicious lunch will be served on your catamaran before stopping at the island of Isla Mujeres where you will have time to explore and visit on your own.
Free cancellation – Up to 24 hours in advance!
👉 I recommend booking the Isla Mujeres Catamaran tour in advance on VIATOR
► Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour in Cancun
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 826 Reviews
This tour will take you to explore some of Cancun’s most stunning underwater worlds by a this shipwreck swim and coral reefs. You will Paddle through tropical fish, coral reefs, shipwrecks, and giant sea turtles over the course of the day.
It’s a small-group tour that ensures personalized attention and service and includes round-trip transportation from your Cancun hotel.
Free cancellation – Up to 24 hours in advance!
👉 I recommend booking the Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour in Cancun in advance on VIATOR
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 the 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 not the relaxing vacation you had imagined.
🔴 With more than 300 hotels in the Zona Hotelera, there are only a few exceptions for being all-inclusive resorts. Moreover, there are no boutique hotels in Cancun.
🔴 It can be a bit expensive, (but so is Cabo) 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 for the only two hostels there. For budget stays, you will have better luck 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 sports activities. But the regional difference means a completely changed experience.
It’s a 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 rapidly developed 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.
✅ 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. This means you have a variety of jaw-dropping views and landscapes and will appreciate the contrast between the red rocky desert and the blue ocean.
✅ Even though downtown 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 sports 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.
✅ If you’re visiting from October through February, you can go swimming with the whale sharks in La Paz (a 2-hour drive from Cabo).
✅ 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 monuments accompanying the El Arco formation.
✅ Although you are on the Pacific coast, renowned 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 suitable for pro surfers and beginners.
⊙ 32 min (33 km) from San Jose del Cabo
⊙ 56 min (76 km ) from Todos Santos
⊙ 1 hr 32 min (98 km) from the Canyon of the Fox
⊙ 1 hr 34 min (112 km) from Los Barriles.
⊙ 2 hr (156 km) from La Paz
⊙ 2 hr 2 min (131 km) from Cabo Pulmo National Park
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. Book your airport transfer here
🔴 Some beaches in Cabo are rougher and feature various rock formations.
🔴 The undertows from the Sea of Cortez make swimming a little dangerous on 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 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 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 in 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.
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.
Cabo vs Cancun – Airport Transportation
Both cities offer great transportation service options to get to the hotels in the area or the nearby cities. Here below I will share my recommendation for the best companies for a safe and seamless transfer.
Shared Transportation from Cabo Airport to Hotel
Private Transportation from Cabo to Cabo Area
Best Transportation Company from Cancun Airport to Cancun Hotels
If you need to know how to get from Cancun to Tulum and other cities I have got you covered as well.
⬇️Get a Free Quote for Your Transfer from Cancun Airport to Your Hotel⬇️
Cancun vs. Cabo: Accommodation Options
Both cities offer amazing accommodation options, and in both cases all inclusive hotels are more popular. However while in Cabo you can also find many adorable boutique hotels, that is not the case in Cancun.
Here, I will share my favorite hotels in both destinations.
Best Hotels in Cabo
👉 Esperanza – Corridor, Cabo San Lucas (5-Star)
Esperanza is a beachfront resort belonging to the Auberge Resorts chain. The Auberge Resorts Collection is famous for its 5-star luxury and world-class service, so you can expect the same from Esperanza in Cabo San Lucas.
There are many reasons guests love Esperanza. The top ones include its exclusive comfort, charming neatness, top-notch facilities, and professional staff.
👉 The Cape – A Thompson Hotel Corridor, Cabo Bello (5-star)
Located in the Cabo Bello community, The Cape is a peaceful escape along the Pacific coast of Cabo San Lucas.
But, despite its secluded location, the hotel isn’t too far from the famous places in the city, so that’s a plus if you’re looking for a relaxing trip.
Accommodations at The Cape include spacious rooms, suites with sitting areas or living rooms, and villas with private kitchens.
The private beach area of The Cape features a snack bar as well. Guests love everything The Cape has to offer, including its amenities, services, pools, food, staff, and especially the hotel’s vibe.
👉 Castillo Blarney Inn (4-star)
Overlooking the city and the Sea of Cortez, Castillo Blarney Inn is a laid-back hotel set on a rocky hill just a kilometer away from the Natural History Museum of Cabo San Lucas.
The property has a very intimate atmosphere and offers spacious rooms with sublime views.
Guests love the service and staff here as well. Everyone is warm and friendly, and they will go above and beyond in accommodating you, so your stay in the Castillo Blarney Inn will be a very delightful experience.
👉 Casa Palo Verde (Affordable cute boutique hotel)
Casa Palo Verde is a great choice if you’re looking to explore the local charm of Cabo San Lucas at an affordable price.
Surrounded by plenty of cafes and eateries where you can sample the local cuisine, take a walk around the neighborhood.
Just a short distance from the hub of Cabo’s partying and crowds, Casa Palo Verde is a modest lodging option where you will find every comfort for some of the best prices without compromising on any of the fun.
Top All-Inclusive Adult Only Hotels in Cancun
👉 Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun
Sitting in the heart of Cancun’s hotel zone, Live Aqua Cancun is one of the most popular inclusive resorts both for its strategic location and luxury facilities.
It’s in fact located on one of the best stretches of beach in Cancun, Playa Marlin, and within a walking distance of the luxury mall La Isla.
Besides the elegant spacious accommodations facing the turquoise ocean, the hotel offers world-class cuisine in its multiple restaurant choices and personalized exceptional service.
👉 Le Blanc Spa Resort
Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun is one of the finest all-inclusive adult-only resorts, Le Blanc Spa is the crown jewel of the Palace Resorts brand.
Sitting on Cancun white sand beach, Le Blanc Spa Resort offers many dining options that rank among the top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the World.
Guests are raving about the outstanding personalized service, the impeccable room equipped with modern and elegant furniture and exclusive amenities, the fine restaurants, and the pristine spacious beach.
👉 Hyatt Zilara Cancun Resort
The most affordable yet luxury all-inclusive Adult only resort in Cancun, Hyatt Zilara is part of the well-renowned Playa resorts group, a guarantee of quality and a high standard of service.
A little less pricy than the other hereby mentioned resorts, and still a great hotel for your luxury all-inclusive adult-only vacation in Cancun.
All the spacious guest rooms are either ocean view or ocean front and offer premium bedding, 24-hour room service, coffee/tea maker, free bottled water, and other minibar items.
👉 Read more about the top All Inclusive Adult only Hotels in Cancun
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 astonishing scenery that you won’t have in Cancun.
On the other hand, if you like swimming in beautiful turquoise Caribbean waters, enjoying vivid nightlife and partying, and 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.
However, keep in mind that Cabo has its share of nightlife too.
I hope I have helped you make up your mind. So which one did you choose?
How to Find the Best Deals for either Destination
As you could see both Cancun and Cabo are quite expensive destinations, not only in their high seasons. However, the best way to find great deals is by purchasing packages that include flights and hotel rooms and sometimes they throw in car rentals or tour to make the package more appealing.
But where to find the best deals?
I found that Expedia is one of the top online operators to find amazing deals.
Skyscanner is another great one to compare flights and find the cheapest one. Then you can add hotels and car rentals. But make sure you compare the car rental price with other direct companies.
For car rentals, I usually check Discover Cars to compare rates among different car rental companies and find the best deals.
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✨ Mexico Travel Planning Guide ✨
👉 Do I Need Travel Insurance to Travel to Mexico?
I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and know that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out SafetyWing which I have used and find it affordable and comprehensive and also Travel Insurance Master which is great because you can insert all your information and what kind of insurance you need and their system will pull out the best insurance for your need.
🚰 Can I Drink Tap Water in Mexico?
No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.
🚗 Is It Safe to Drive in Mexico?
The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I recommend Discover Cars because the site offers the option to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.
Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.
📱 Will My Phone Work in Mexico?
It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!
🤕 Is It Safe to Travel to Mexico Right Now?
The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around.
Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunting expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keeping a low profile.
Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:
💉 Do I Need Any Vaccine to Travel to Mexico?
No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico
🇲🇽 Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Mexico?
If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form that you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine.
Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards.
It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa
💸 Where Do I Find the Best Travel Deals for Mexico? 💸
A trip to Mexico can be expensive if you love to travel with all the comforts (like I do). There are a few tricks that will help you find the best deals. Here are my tips:
👉 DON’T travel in the high season, which is Holy week, Christmas and winter in general, and August.
👉 Book months in advance to find early booking discounts
👉 Use aggregators such as Discover Cars to find price comparisons and VRBO for vacation rentals!
👉 Look for packages flights+hotels on Expedia.
👉 Check on Booking.com or Hotels.com for hotel deals