If you’re planning a Mexico vacation in the near future then I’m sure two destinations that are near the top of your list are Cabo and Cancun.
Both Cabo and Cancun are stunning places to visit with beautiful beaches, great weather, and excellent tourism infrastructure, but they are quite different when you get into the details, so how do you work out which one is best for you?
In this Cabo vs Cancun article, we dive into all the details about Cabo vs Cancun and compare them so you can get to know each place a little better and hopefully find out which one of these stunning vacation destinations is right for your next holiday.
Cabo, also known as Los Cabos, is made up of two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo which are about a half an hour drive apart. Cabo is also referred to as lands end and means “Two Capes” and this is all because of its location on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula on the west coast of the country.
Cabo San Lucas is more of a resort town and is home to high-rise hotels, buzzing nightlife, and some great beaches. Whereas San Jose del Cabo has more of an authentic Mexican feel to it and is a bit more of a quiet sleepy fishing village. The area between the two towns is known as the Corridor and is home to a string of hotels and beaches that connect the two towns.
The Baja California Sur has a very deserty vibe to it with dry arid land and it feels a bit like the Mexico you’d imagine if you were in a western. There are stunning mountains in the background and the views in every direction are quite breathtaking as they combine the blue Pacific ocean with the arid mountains.
Getting to the Los Cabos area is very easy as there is an international airport near San Jose del Cabo which has direct flights from San Francisco, L.A., Vancouver, Calgary, Houston, Toronto, Chicago, and more North American hubs.
Cancun is a resort city that sits on the eastern side of Mexico at the tip of Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is on the Caribbean Sea side of Mexico. It’s home to stunning white sand beaches, turquoise waters, great weather, and lots of high-rise hotels that run along the beach which are just waiting to make your vacation dreams come true.
Cancun is known as a Spring Break party destination and it’s full of huge nightclubs that are ideal for youngsters to let loose during their break between semesters. There are even specific party hotels in Cancun.
It’s not all about partying though, as Spring Break comes but once a year and it’s also a favorite place for honeymooners and anyone looking to sip cocktails bu the pool, stare out over picture-perfect views of the Caribbean Sea, and then either have a dance after the dinner to retire early to get some rest.
The landscape in Cancun is very different from that of Los Cabos. It’s not desert-like at all and is far more tropical thanks to its wetter and more humid climate. If you’re outside of town you’ll find lush tropical forests meeting the azure blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Getting to Cancun is very easy thanks to the Cancun International Airport which has direct flights from most cities in North America including Houston, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and lots more.
The city of Cancun is quite removed from the Hotel Zone which is about 12.5 miles from Cancun city center. One amazing thing about Cancun is that it’s a part of the ancient Mayan civilization and is considered the gateway into the old Mayan world.
You can easily visit the ancient ruins like Chichen Itza while staying in Cancun, and be wowed by the ingenuity of the Mayan civilization!
When it comes to Cabo vs Cancun, they are both very easy to get to from the US thanks to their international airports. If you live in the western US then a flight to Los Cabos might last just 2hrs whereas from the eastern US a flight to Cancun is just under 3 hours, but don’t let a few hours on a plane decide which one is better for you.
The main differences between Cabo and Cancun are the natural landscapes and how built up they are. Cancun has more of a lush tropical appeal to it and is quite built up with tourist infrastructure while Cabo is far from desert-like and while it’s built up, it’s not quite as high-rise hotel as Cancun.
The beaches in Cabo San Lucas are stunningly beautiful. They are covered in golden sand and the views of the desert, arid, rocky landscape falling into them is a sight worth seeing. The water is warm most of the year, but it does get cold around winter when the colder currents from the north come down and cool off the ocean around the Baja Peninsula.
One thing you should be aware of when it comes to Cabo San Lucas is that not all of its beaches are great for swimming. The western edge of Cabo see’s big swells (great for surfers) and can have a lot of currents to go with it. The beaches are still beautiful to walk down and sunbathe on though, and a little wash in the shallows to cool off is very possible as long as you’re careful.
The beaches on the south or eastern side of Los Cabos, on the other side of the Baja Peninsula, are great for swimming as they are sheltered from both big waves and strong currents.
The most famous beach is Playa El Medano (Medano Beach) which is the main beach in Cabo San Lucas. This 2-mile long stretch of paradise is perfect for swimming with its calm clear waters and stunning to walk down with its golden sands and you get a great view of El Arco, the tip of Baja.
As you work your way east from Cabo San Lucas along the corridor, you’ll find a string of further beautiful beaches that are great for swimming and sunbathing, Playa Santa Maria is also awesome for snorkeling.
Right on the top of the Riviera Maya, it’s no surprise the Cancun beaches are quite spectacular. And, if you have ever seen a photo of them, you’ll know what I mean. The sand is incredibly white and powdery soft and with a backdrop of some of the clearest turquoise water, you’re likely to see and lined with palm trees. The beaches are like a paradise postcard.
All the beaches around Cancun are made for swimming and tanning. The water is always warm, the seas are usually very calm, and you can pretty much snorkel right off the beach and be in with a chance of seeing some cool marine life.
There are a few downsides to these paradise beaches though, one of which is the people. The beaches of Cancun are very busy and you’re not likely to find a little quiet spot for yourself, you’re going to have to be prepared to be a part of a large crowd. There are also a lot of beach salesmen in Cancun, so be prepared to be asked if you want to buy something all rent a jet ski quite often.
The beaches of Cancun are well looked after though, despite the number of people on them and you have to give the beachside resorts credit for this as they make sure they are clean and white every morning. But, in recent years they have had a problem with a lot of seaweed which makes swimming a little unpleasant for some and when drying on the sand, smell a bit.
This is just part of being by the sea on the Riviera Maya, and the resorts do what they can to remove the seaweed and keep the beaches looking and smelling fresh. But, you should be prepared to deal with a bit of seaweed while you’re there.
If you’re planning your vacation over the winter and want your vacation to be all about the beach and going for daily swims, then Cancun is the better destination to head to. The sea will be warmer and you’ll be able to swim every day regardless of what the ocean has in store for you.
When it comes to going away between March and November, they are both awesome destinations just be prepared to have a few more tourists on the beach in Cancun and have a few less swimmable beach options in Cabo.
Cabo San Lucas isn’t world-famous for its Spring Break party scene but it does have one and there is no shortage of bars and nightclubs in the town of Cabo San Lucas but it’s not the main event. A visit to Cabo, for most vacationers, isn’t about having a party, it’s more about relaxing and connecting with nature.
Cabo is a great place to spend your evenings enjoying a beautiful sunset while having a drink on a rooftop bar and then seeing a traditional Mexican band strum their guitars and play local music.
If you want to be well away from any kind of party scene, Cabo San Lucas has that option as the town of San Jose del Cabo is devoid of nightclubs and instead has little wine bars along old Spanish cobblestone streets with stunning architecture all around. It’s super romantic and a delightful place to have an evening but still get to bed early without the noise of partyers around you.
Cancun is a town that was built on nightlife, just like Playa del Carmen if you know it. And, if you want to spend a few nights dancing until the early hours of the morning while you’re on vacation, then it’s a great place to go.
Every year, tons of students fly down to Cancun for Spring Break and the place goes wild, and it’s a load of fun if that’s what you’re looking for.
Some of the biggest and best nightclubs on the planet are in Cancun and they are all found within the hotel zone and are very close to each other too, so club hopping is very much a thing in Cancun. The range of venues is excellent, each having its own vibe to keep your evenings fun, different, and they also cover a wide range of music tastes. Some of the best clubs to head to include Coco Bongo, Mandala Beach Club, Senor Frogs, and The City.
If you really want a party vacation then you might consider booking to stay at either Grand Oasis or Hard Rock Hotel as these are resorts designed for partying with clubs and bars inside them that have their dancefloors pumping all night long.
If partying isn’t your thing but you still want to go to Cancun, don’t worry, the entire scene is easily avoided and you can still find some quaint and peaceful places to have a romantic or relaxing evening away from all the party-goers. It would also be a good idea to avoid Spring Break too and travel outside of that time.
When it comes to Cabo vs Cancun and nightlife, Cancun is the place to go if you want to party as it’s designed for it with so many great clubs, lively bars, and more.
Cabo is the place to go if you want to have nice relaxing romantic evenings with a dash of culture. The nice thing about Cabo San Lucas is that if you do feel like having a party one night, just because you’re in the mood, then you can but it’s not in your face everywhere you go.
Cabo is full of great things to do that will keep everyone entertained, whether you’re a land lover or want to spend your time at sea looking at the amazing marine life that comes past the Baja Peninsula.
Every year between December and April, thousands of whales including a lot of humpback whales come past Cabo as they migrate south from Alaska in search of food during the winter. You’ll find hundreds of operators waiting to take you on a whale watching tour and you can also see them breaching from the beach if you’re lucky.
It’s not just whales that you might encounter either and you have a real chance of also seeing dolphins, turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, and even marlin depending on the time of year you choose to visit.
With waters that teem with life, spending some time underwater while you’re in Cabo is a must. You’ll find tonnes of snorkeling tours and dive operations that are very safe and professional that are just waiting for you to join them.
Snorkeling tours are a great way to see the Baja Peninsula as you’ll get to cruise around all the inlets and then jump in with your fins and masks in some of the best spots. The waters are filled with brightly colored fish, sea fans, corals, rays, turtles, and even the odd sea lion.
You don’t have to join a snorkeling tour if you want to do it yourself either. Just head to Santa Maria Bay, Chileno Beach, or Land’s End and swim right off the shore and you’ll be in amongst all the underwater action. You’ll end up seeing an amazing variety of sea life, but we do recommend going on a snorkeling tour while you’re there as it’s an experience worth having.
When it comes to Scuba diving in Cabo, you’ll find the underwater world is ever more alive than you might have thought. Where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific is known as the ‘The World’s Aquarium’ and within Cabo San Lucas UNESCO Marine Park you are in the best place in the world to see big pelagics such as dorado, marlin, sailfish, as well as hammerhead, silky, and white tip sharks, plus you can dive with the whales that pass by and the local sea lions.
Cabo is home to some of the best offshore fishing in the world and it’s no surprise one you read about how full of life the waters are. Every year, thousands of marlin, sailfish, and dorado follow huge shoals of sardines into the area and you can have days of catching 30 striped marlins in a day. You can also do some amazing inshore fishing for roosterfish and other snapper species too.
There are hundreds of world-class game boats in the Cabo San Lucas marina just waiting to take you out to catch your fish of a lifetime.
If you enjoy playing golf, then Cabo is an amazing place to do it. It’s home to a lot of championship golf courses that offer some of the most unique golfing landscapes in the world. You’ll be teeing off on cliffs with views across the blue seas, it’s quite fantastic.
The most famous course in Cabo is the Diamante Dunes course at Cabo del Sol’s Cove Club Golf Course which is known as one of the top 100 golf courses on the planet and was designed by Jack Nicklaus.
If you want to spend some time on the land, then Cabo also offers some great things for you too. You can go hiking through the mountains around the sea, there are some world-class mountain bike trails for thrill-seekers, you can drive ATVs and explore the nearby beaches, hop on a fun zipline, do food and wine tastings, and even enjoy a beach ride on a camel.
If you want a splash of culture, you’ll find the historic art district of San Jose del Cabo super interesting and you can hop on a free Art Walk in the evenings to learn about all its history which takes place every Thursday. And, you can always take a short trip north to La Paz for a day.
Like in Cabo, there are so many things to do in Cancun that you will always be entertained while you’re there. The ocean is alive, not quite as much as Cabo, but it’s still awesome and there are some interesting things to do on the land as well.
Snorkeling in Cancun is fantastic. The visibility is about as good as it gets and you can just swim right off any part of the beach and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see beautiful tropical fish and lots more. If you join a snorkeling tour, of which there are many, you’ll have a better chance of seeing the amazing marine life in the area which includes turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, and a lot of coral and tropical fish.
When it comes to diving, Cancun has some awesome dive sites that include shark tunnels, great wrecks, and the world’s largest underwater museum called MUSA. MUSA is an artificial reef that is dotted with over 400 life-sized sculptures which are amazing to see. Amongst the sculptures, you’ll also find its residents which include rays, eels, turtles, barracuda, and more.
Something Cancun has which Cabo doesn’t is cenotes which are huge deep sinkholes inland that connect to the sea via tunnels. You can dive inside these cenotes and it’s some of the best cave/cavern diving in the world. You’ll be able to find secret caves and underwater swimming pools in these.
The offshore fishing from Cancun is pretty good but it’s not on the same level as Cabo. You can still catch awesome species like blue marlin, sailfish, and wahoo but they won’t be in the same quantity that you’ll find in Cabo.
The flats fishing near Cancun is awesome as the shallow waters are home to tarpon, permit, and bonefish. You’ll find excellent guides with flats boats where you can hire spinning or fly fishing equipment to target these awesome species.
There are more than 15 amazing golf courses in Cancun, so if you love golf then Cancun is a great spot. It’s home to numerous championship courses but they don’t quite match Cabo’s when it comes to the scenery and their high standards.
Being the gateway to the ancient Mayan Civilisation, you can access loads of awesome Mayan Ruins from Cancun via a day trip south towards Tulum. You should also go and see the cenotes while you’re there as they are great for swimming and snorkeling in plus there are even some underground cave cenotes that you can check out.
As you can see choosing between Cabo vs Cancun isn’t that easy as they are both pretty amazing destinations. If you’re looking for more of an action-packed ocean adventure or something a little bit more traditional, then Cabo is the place for you as it has it all.
If you want to spend your time sipping cocktails in paradise, pool or beachside, with the odd day trip out to sea or Mayan ruins then Cancun will suit you better.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!