Cancun vs Cabo: Which Mexican City is Better to Visit?

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Looking for some sun, sea and culture? We feel you, a dream of escapism is never far from our minds, and recently we have been dreaming of Mexico! Some people are still fairly testy about Mexico, deeming it a land of drug cartels and general danger. But just a two week trip will do a lot to dispel these myths. Head to the coast of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula, or Cabo on the Baja coast, and your lasting memories will be less crime wave, more blue ocean surf. Seriously, you will see some of the best beaches here. And that’s just for starters! There is so much to explore within these opposing coastal towns, the more pressing concern becomes which Mexican city is better to visit first: Cancun vs Cabo?

Sure, Mexico has its share of criminal activity—just like any other country. But set one foot in the country, and you’ll discover a world of friendly Mexicana folk, passionate music, food to die for, and all the natural beauty you desire! Live in peace and serenity, dance through the night, or explore a world of culinary and cultural delight. There is something about Mexico, and with Cabo and Cancun as your guides, you will see that for yourself.

Where can you go for the best accommodation? From luxury to affordability! Just where can you snap those insta-perfect beaches? And those all important culinary delights. And, more importantly to some, where can you go to dance your socks off? We will cover all of this, and more. Don’t pick your side yet, this is the greatest Mexican showdown since the invention of Lucha Libre!

Cancun vs Cabo: Accommodation

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When picking your winner in the fight of Cabo vs Cancun, it is important to dive into Accommodation! The location, atmosphere and the actual room where you rest your head at night, should feel comfortable. And not all locations are going to provide you with the comfort list you have in your head.

Cancun

When staying in Cancun, there are only a couple of options to pick from. But these do offer a range of options. Zona Hotelera (the hotel zone) in Cancun is really the best place to stay for first timers. This is the long stretch of shoreline that fronts the town of Cancun. It is closest to all the Cancun attractions, and most accommodation options are right on the beachfront. It also has the largest amount of hotels and resorts with over 100 hotels, and is known to be pretty safe! Whether you’re up for a party, or some chill-time on the beach with the family, there’s something for you. The Ritz-Carlton is usually a reasonable price, if you want to stay on the shore, but further away from the action.

For greater access to nightlife, however, you might want to pick a hotel closest to Punta Cancun. The Fiesta Americana is very good value. Or splash out for the adults only, all inclusive resort, Le Blanc Spa and Resort! Super-clubs like Coco Bongo are very popular here, and many restaurants and tour desks are located in the area. But more on this later!

Tourists who are looking for a more authentic Mexican vibe would do well to book accommodation within El Centro. This area is further from this strip, and holds Mexican authenticity, smaller hotels and a few apartments. Here, travelers will also get better budget options, and charming local streets to explore. Feeling thrifty? Book an apartment with a kitchen, and head to the local supermarket and stock up on supplies!

Though the hotel zone of Cancun stretches far out along the beaches, this and the central zone are really the only two options. So tourists are still quite limited. On Cancun’s beaches, there is a definite resort feel, wherever you go. In Los Cabos, however, the combination of colonial architecture and the sprawling low-key vibe of the Baja coast gives a really lived-in feel.

Photo by Victor Hughes on Unsplash

Cabo

Cabo San Lucas is the proper name for the town of Cabo, though the entirety of the are as tourists know it stretches to several surrounding areas, including San José del Cabo. There are a handful of attractive areas to stay, each one giving a different facet to the region. Similar to Tijuana further up the coast, though with a little more Mexican pizazz. Playa El Médano, is a great location due to its calm waters. Not every beach is ideal for swimming on the Pacific coast, so this is a major plus. Plus there are a wealth of luxury resorts, budget Bed & Breakfast options, and everything in between. The Cabo Inn is a great budget option close to the shore. And for something a little more high-end, try the Hard Rock Hotel, right on the beach close to the Diamante Cabo San Lucas golf spot.

If the sea isn’t your thing, no matter! Downtown is also a fabulous spot for budget options, with many smaller accommodation options and some with a pool for guests. This is also the main centre for connecting with the rest of Cabo. So if you are out for a cultural trip, this is a great hub.

For couples, El Tule is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway. Quiet beaches with sandy desert vibes moving away from the coast bathe everything scene in a picturesque light. Here you will find smaller luxury options with a peaceful atmosphere. As well as the Club del Sol Golf resort. This a must for all golf enthusiasts. There are also a range of golf resorts, as well as high end luxury resorts in the are of San José del Cabo.

The Verdict

Phew, thus concludes our whistle stop tour of accommodation in the bout of Cancun vs Cabo. And we have to say, with Cabo’s variety and picturesque setting, it is the clear winner! Here you will see resorts mingling with budget options, and beaches meeting dessert. You feel a part of Mexican culture, whereas in Cancun the vibe is very much a ‘tourist trap’, sitting outside of authentic Mexican life. This makes sense, given that Cancun practically didn’t exist around 50 years ago. It’s development is entirely based on its tourism.

Cancun vs Cabo: Prices

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With Cancun’s status as a tourist destination, awash with resorts taking up all prime real estate, the prices naturally fall in line with this. Whilst cheaper shoreline accommodation options do exist, prices in bars and restaurants are generally higher than you will find elsewhere in the region. Places like Tulum or Playa del Carmen are likely to cost far less overall. Unless choosing to venture further into the town, travelers in the Zona Hoteleria are a captive market. And even a taxi will cost you more on average. Even if you aren’t being ‘suckered’ by dishonest drivers charging over the odds.

The average price of a beer is much more in line with prices in places like Miami of Los Angeles. Expect to pay around $5 USD for a beer, and $7 for a spirit and mixer. With a couple 7/11 shops around, you can keep costs down. Though prices are still higher than other regions, and most hotel’s prefer you to drink in their bars. A meal will cost you around $15-20 USD on average. Entry into the larger clubs will likely be upwards of $30 USD, dependent on the time of year. Though admittedly places like Coco Bongo do offer a free bar once inside.

mexico market stall
Image by DEZALB from Pixabay

In the central region of Cancun, of course you can locate cheaper local restaurants and bars for locals. These go perfectly with the budget hotels and apartments in this area, so those on a budget can make this work. You can also combine it with daytrips out to the hotel zone to get some beach time.

In Los Cabos, the story is a little different. Whilst there are many resorts, there is also a larger variety of areas and options, and a very lived-in feel that prevents prices from sky-rocketing. A beer is likely to cost the equivalent of between $2-$4.50 USD, with a mixed drink around $5. Liquor stores are also cheaper downtown. There are also some excellent dining options, with the cost for a meal around $6-$13 USD. Seafood is very common, and always beautifully cooked!

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On average you can expect to pay upwards of $4 for a taxi ride to many places in Cabo, with a ride from the International Airport being the equivalent of $90 USD or so. But the best option is to ask your hotel to assist with booking a round airport trip, which is likely to be around $65 USD.

The Verdict

Once again in Cancun vs Cabo, Cancun has wiped out in this round. Whilst Cancun’s travelers are a captive audience, especially in the hotel zone, Cabo’s prices are a lot more budget-friendly. Of course, you can find a share of luxury resorts, bars and restaurants too. But whilst the average spend per day for one adult is around $45 USD in Cabo, whereas in Cancun this is likely to be double! For a more intensive cost breakdown, check out our Cancun price guide.

Cancun vs Cabo: Food

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This Mexican nation has a variety of traditional dishes, and this is what makes it such an exciting country. Comprised of the plentiful ingredients of the region, these two coastal towns have a shockingly disparate culinary style. Though with some familiar ingredients bridging the gaps.

From the narrow peninsula on which cabo rests, many traditional dishes are borne from the sea. On one side, the Californian Gulf. On the other, the pacific ocean. Shrimp tacos and chocolate clams are plentiful. No, this is not clams and cacao, but the name given to the russet look of the shell. Roasting the clams on a stone bed with lashings of rosemary gives this dish its signature taste. You will also find a delicious fish stew called Comida de Pobres, made with seafood stock, Mexican beans and rice. Often served with tortilla. Also known as ‘poor man’s food’, it is extremely popular in the region, with many different takes on the dish.

But its not all seafood! Locals and tourists alike also delight in the traditional Tamales. Made with either a chicken filled corn dough, wrapped in a corn husk and served, these are known as Tamales Fajados De Pollo. Alternatively, you have the Tamales de Guemes. This corn dough made with chicken or pork alongside olives, olive oil and raisins, wrapped in a corn husk. And for dessert, travelers can sample a heap of different sweets made with Pithaya. Also known as the dragon fruit, with its brightly colored pink skin and polka dot black and white flesh, this is used for jams, fruit ices, and various candy forms.

Cabo is also known for its fine-dining restaurants, however, with a range of French, Italian and even Japanese cuisine.

In Cancun, traditional dishes tend to from the land, as opposed to the sea. Here you will find a tumult of pastry and breaded dishes, combined with sweet flavours and meaty staples of pork and chicken. Panuchos and Salbutes take slightly different forms, though with a different texture. Made of a corn dough, the former is fried in a hot pan before being stuffed with refried beans and fried again. This is then topped with fresh local vegetables and shredded chicken or pork. The latter is less crispy, and usually not containing refried beans.

Snacks like Sikil Pak, a dip made from toasted pumpkin seeds, are traditional Mayan fare and great with salty tortilla chips. Perfect to combine with spicy habanero chilli salsa! You might also come across Pozol, made from cacao and corn, and shockingly combined with tabasco, it’s known as the ultimate thirst quencher. Great for anyone who has had a big surf or diving session!

There is lots of meat on the menu, such as the stunningly different Sopa de Lima, a soup made with lime juice, chicken, pork or beef and other seasonal produce. And if you really love pork, try the fried pork belly (Castacan). But there is fish too! Tikin Xic Fish is essentially comprised of steamed fish wrapped in banana leaf, with and earthy, pepperiness of the adobo de achiote marinade, and sour orange flavours.

The Verdict

Whilst the delicious fish dishes of Cabo do call to us, the variety and heartiness of Cancun’s traditional dishes wins out this time! Fish is great, as are the traditional dishes other nations. But being able to sample locally sourced dishes from field and sea is a culinary delight. This is why Cancun wins vs Cabo in this round. Sure, you can easily seek out standard American fast food if you wish. Cancun even has a Hooters! But, if you do your research and avoid the main thoroughfare, you can embark on a culinary adventure that you’ll never forget. Isla Mujeres is a great spot if you wish for this experience, but more on this later!

Cancun vs Cabo: Beaches

cancun beach
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Cancun is well placed for some pretty stellar beaches. Not only is the stretch of beach flat, but you will see the most enticing azure blue waters you have ever seen. Holiday here, and you will never tire of looking out over the calm waters. And with 22km of white sand stretching along the Zona Hoteleria, there is plenty of space for everyone.

The waters are generally calm, though you can also find surfers up and down the coast enjoying the rolling waves that caress the shore. It’s not quite up to the surf you might find in Costa Rica, but beginners will have fun here learning a new skill. And for the more adventurous amongst you, head over to Isla Mujeres for a day-tour. Stroll along its beaches, and finish up with a cool beer from one of the tropical bars you can find along the shore. You could even stop into a local shop and sample some of the local Mezcal!

In Cabo, and the whole of Baja California Sur, you will find an entirely different terrain from the flat lands of Cancun. And the seas to match! The rock dessert lands stretch towards the sea, forming a tumultuous backdrop to the sandy beaches with rocky outcrops along the coast. Many beaches are deemed not safe to swim, due to the strong undercurrents from the Pacific ocean. However, there are several options with blue flags that are safe for swimming.

cabo beach
Image by liezelzpineda from Pixabay

The Santa María and El Chileno Beaches are a great destination for a family trip. Visitors can use the public showers and restrooms, and lifeguards are on duty during daylight hours. The waters are calm and enticing no matter the time, and there are even ramps for differently abled travelers. Remember to pack a picnic if you head to El Chileno, as you wont find restaurants and bards close by.

Playa El Médano is a big draw, golden sands and calm waters. You will discover several beaches with several hotels dotted long the shoreline, perfect for family trips or romantic getaways. If you stay further afield, be warned it can get pretty busy. If you take a car, be prepared to walk a distance to the shore, as parking spaces fill up early! Along the shoreline vendors sell everything from tours to handicrafts. There are also many restaurants and bars. You will also see the odd booze-cruise float by, as well as motorised water sports. Calm waters they may be, but this is a lively place.

Whilst the sea is a different kind of blue to the azure of Cancun’s waters, it is still sure to beguile even the most hard of hearted. For a more exclusive option, perhaps head to the One & Only Palmilla, situated on Palmilla beach. The water is not always as calm as others, but the location close to the San Jose del Cabo is stunning. And when calm, this is a super spot for snorkelling, diving and kayaking.

The Verdict

This is a very tough one! There is something attractive about the variety you can find in the beaches and terrain of the Cabo shoreline. However, Cancun narrowly clutches glory, for the sheer beauty of its tropical waters and the meeting of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean sea. The temperature is gorgeous, the view is always stunning, and you can swim where you like!

Cancun vs Cabo: Attractions

Chichen Itza – Photo by Marv Watson on Unsplash

When it comes to the showdown of Cancun vs Cabo, the attractions might just clinch it. Whilst some people like to just lounge on a beach, we feel that many of you have a thirst for adventure. And we feel you! You need entertainment, so that time spent sunbathing feels like proper rest.

Cancun

Punta Cancun has already been noted as the main hub of the excitement, but we will hear more about this in our ‘nightlife’ section. But where Cancun really shines is in its proximity to a lot of interesting stuff. If you aren’t shy of a bit of traveling, there is lots to explore!

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We have already covered Isla Mujeres, which gives a different side to the beaches of Cancun, but between Cancun and the island sits the Underwater Museum of Art! Here, gaggles of people choose to dive or swim around the sculptures that sit on the sandy bed, surrounded by fish and foliage. It is really a breathtaking site to behold. Alas, most diving options only exist for those who already have their underwater PADI certification. The snorkelling is rather fun, though be warned there will be a lot of people around you, so you may get a flipper to the face! Holidaymakers can also rent kayaks, surfboards and snorkel equipment from the business that line the shore of Cancun’s beach.

Further afield, heading towards Playa del Carmen, you can find a few historical sites of note, like Chichen Itza. This is the most visited site in Mexico, and a relic of Mayan times. The beauty of it must be seen up close, and you will revel in the history as knowledgeable Mexican guides regale you with tales! Perhaps check out some of the Cenotes in the region! These are underground pools set deep into caves, with sunlight pouring in overhead. The contrast of light and dark, and the depth of the pools is a wondrous thing, though these can be very popular. If you prefer a quiet spot, head to lesser known spots like Cenote Tamkach-Ha or Cenote Multum-Ha. But do your research before you go. These can get popular, and some close down if deemed unsafe.

If you are in the area, you can also check out the Xcaret eco-park, a mmix of wildlife, and water park with an emphasis on ecology. Honestly, the Yucatan Peninsula is full of interesting spots for culture and nature, including a number of islands such as Holbox close to the tip. We could go on and on about hot spots for daytrips and adventures!

The Arch of Cabo San Lucas – Photo by Victoria Bragg on Unsplash

Cabo

In Cabo, there are many opportunities for water sports, such as kayaking, snorkelling, Scuba diving and even doing a little fly-boarding at Santa Maria bay! If you’re feeling brave, indulge in a little cliff-jumping at Pelican Rock, or take a stand up paddle-board lesson for something more serene but challenging. There are also several rock formations of note, such as the El Arco de Cabo, the arc that sits at the very tip of the peninsula. If you are there on a lucky year (i.e one out of every four), you might even be able to visit divorce beach, which sits to the right of the arc and is usually covered by the tide.

For more land-based pursuits, visit tourist areas like Marina and watch the world go by. Here, you will also find plenty of water-based tours. In fact, this is one of the top fishing destinations in the world, so well worth a visit if you like a bit of open-water fishing. Shopping the flea markets is also a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, and perhaps brush up on your Mexican Spanish.

For something more high-octane, an ATV tour of the desert might do the trick. Travelers will need to don goggles and a bandana to protect from the sand and wind, but once you are out there it feels like another world! From Cabo, you could also embark on an organised hike of Mount Solmar. And of course, there is always golf at one of the many resorts!

The Verdict

Whilst there are lots of things to do in Cabo, and close to the accommodation you will be staying in, Cancun is a clear winner. If you like a wide variety of activities on land and sea, this is the place for you. Sure, there are greater distances to cover, but this just adds to the adventure. Plus, with sites of history and intrigue, natural beauty and man-made art, there is so much to love! Fair warning though, there are likely to be some steep charges for longer daytrips to the Riviera Maya and such. But for a more independent adventure, travelers can hire a car and tour the Yucatan themselves. Perhaps even combine Cancun with a few nights in a hostel in Tulum?

Cancun vs Cabo: Nightlife

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And finally! In the great Cancun vs Cabo showdown, we explore the nightlife on offer.

For Cancun, the choice is simple. Whilst there are local bars and restaurants in El Centro, the real draw for tourists is the Punta Cancun district. Sitting on the dogleg of Cancun’s shoreline, you have the pick of the crazy spots. The craziest needs no introduction, and has already been mentioned. Coco Bongo. Not only do you get a free bar with your entry fee, but an amazing stage show, often with live acrobatics happening overhead. The entertainment is themed, and there are several areas to party in, with a main floor and surrounding balcony. You also have the option for a VIP area, if you’re feeling flash.

There is a reason Cancun has become synonymous with American College’s ‘spring break’. Thousands of people flock here in April to party with the best. So, if you don’t want to get involved, avoid this time! Other notable mentioned include the more chilled Senior Frogs, or the eighties and nineties vibes of Dady’O. Alternatively, you could head to the Samba-laden dance floor of Grand Cafe Mambo.

In Cabo, the atmosphere is a little more serene on the surface. But its cobblestone streets hides al manner of nightlife, if you care to look! Yes the Baja Peninsula has a party zone, and it’s Cabo San Lucas. More high profile clubs like Pink Kitty host all-night parties, with many high profile DJs having played its hall. Squid Roe is also a great option for those who like a late night and plenty of overstimulation in lights and loud music. Fans of alternative music will also go crazy for Cabo Wabo, Jungle Tavern and Rockstone Tavern, offering a variety of DJs and live music with Rock and alternative styles as the focus.

For those looking for daytime shenanigans a la spring break, Mango Deck is a great beach spot for the younger crowd. But for something with a house and techno edge, Blue Marlin Ibiza will have you dancing day and night!

The Verdict

Cancun is known to be a party town, that much is true. But with the vast range of musical options on display, coupled with lower prices, it has to be Cabo. It’s not a question of just how good one or two clubs can be, but the whole overall setting in which they sit. And with Cabo, you have a sprawling area with many different hang-outs to choose from. Both day and night! So, in this Cancun vs Cabo battle, Cabo snatches victory. But will it win the war?

Cancun or Cabo : Where is better?

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Those who have stuck with us through this Cancun vs Cabo throw-down will know that this is a tough decision. Cancun has some beautiful beaches and has everything you could need in a small area. If you are up for partying all night and sunbathing all day, this is the spot for you! Additionally, if your ideal holiday involves a family fun trip in an all-inclusive resort, Cancun has a variety of resorts that will give you the perfect trip. Often without having to lift a finger.

Though as we have discussed, the prices far exceed those of Cabo. Choose all-inclusive hotels, and this isn’t likely to be an issue. But if you’re on a tight budget, your money will get eaten up fast.

For this reason, we have to pick Cabo as the winner. For a holiday in the sun, with a little bit of everything in terms of entertainment, it’s a real gem! It has charm, a great variety of cuisines to choose from, and holds a laid back vibe. And yet for those who like to party, there’s enough to entertain every taste, and at a lower cost! Whilst some beaches are to be avoided for their rough undercurrents, there are some beautiful beaches, deep blue seas and a rugged coastline of sheer natural beauty.

Whilst the east coast beauty of Cancun cannot be denied, the historic sites of the Mayan civilization can be seen from elsewhere. And the beauty of those beaches can be equally matched by the Riviera Maya up the coast. Sorry Cancun, Cabo is the winner!

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