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Mexico is one of those overlooked places that hide a lot of unique gems, and I would know because I recently returned from a three-month trip across Mexico. Cabo and Cancun are two places that I visited on my trip that I thought would be the same based on what people had told me, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out they had quite a few key differences that make each of these places unique.
Both Cabo and Cancun are tourist destinations that people flock to for that Mexico sun, beautiful beaches, and an escape from reality. Even though most people go to these places for the same reasons, they are on two opposite sides of Mexico, meaning they are not all the same. Below, we will describe what exactly differentiates these two places and which one is the better place to go for your vacation.
Cabo vs. Cancun Bottomline Upfront
The critical difference between Cabo and Cancun is Cabo is a luxurious party city on the Pacific side of Mexico and Cancun is more relaxing with budget-friendly options on the Atlantic side. Cabo is great for a bachelorette party or spring break, while Cancun is an excellent place for the family reunion you’ve been planning.
Main Differences Between Cabo and Cancun
- Cabo is on the Pacific side, whereas Cancun is on the Atlantic side.
- Cabo is a party city, whereas Cancun is relaxing.
- Cabo is cooler and drier, whereas Cancun is humid and warmer.
- Cabo has more upscale resorts, whereas Cancun has budget-friendly options
Cabo Key Features
- There’s a party every night
- More adventurous
- Cooler, drier weather
- Opportunity to see marine life
- There’s not much culture
What makes Cabo San Lucas such a unique resort destination is that it is on the tip of the Baja Penninsula. This means that it is the dividing point between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, creating giant waves, a mixture of cooler and warmer water, and a cool breeze. Cabo is also situated on large mountains and cliffs, giving it a unique landscape with plenty of adventurous things to do.
Another thing about Cabo’s location is the Baja Peninsula is mostly desert. Therefore, Cabo’s climate is arid, which is almost always preferred when you are on vacation in a beach city. You don’t have to worry about sweating through your shirt or makeup, and you are dry almost immediately after you get out of the ocean or pool.
The Pacific from Divorce Beach
Nicknamed Cabo San Loco, this is the place you go if you want to have a good time. One of Cabo’s most famous bars to visit is Cabo Wabo by Sammy Hagar, where they play live music all night and hold special events every so often. You could also walk around the downtown Plaza Bonita area and find any bar or nightclub right on the street and walk in.
There are also quite a few beach clubs that you can visit during the day, with one of the most popular being the Mango Deck, with good food, live music, and interactive games. If you are a pool person, try out Blue Marlin Ibiza, which gives you more of a Las Vegas day club feel with electronic music, a giant pool, and padded beds to lounge. Try out Cachet Beach Club, which is also pet-friendly, for a nice in-between of these two.
If you want a day away from the hustle and bustle, you can spend a day relaxing at your resort. Although most resorts feature a beach club and nightclub, the resorts are less compact in Cabo, so you can easily find a nice quiet spot next to the pool or beach with an empty day bed. Cabo resorts also feature a spa or relaxing activities, like yoga and lead meditation.
Things to Do
Cabo has so much to offer without going far, and one of Cabo’s key attractions is whale watching! The best way to see them up close and personal is on a boat tour. The whale season is usually from early December to late March, but I was lucky enough to see an early whale in November right from shore. Some other marine life you may get to see while exploring the waters around Cabo are dolphins, Orcas, and sea turtles.
Other fun things to do in and near Cabo are deep-sea fishing, surfing, riding camels on the beach, hiking up to Land’s End, and taking a water taxi or kayak to Arco Del Cabo and the secluded Lover’s Beach. The last two are excursions you can do without paying for a tour. I found out about hiking to Land’s End by reading this article, and I had guys offering a water taxi to me while walking down the beach. If you don’t feel safe going with a stranger on a boat, you can go to Muelle Principal Marina and ask for a water taxi.
The Hike to Land’s End
Although both Cancun and Cabo have modern-style resorts with all-inclusive options, Cabo’s resorts seem a little more expansive and intimate. They are also much more luxurious, with no resort in Cabo being less than four stars. Because of these factors that make Cabo accommodations so much better, the resorts here are relatively more expensive than Cancun’s resorts, with the cheapest non-all inclusive starting at around $150.
If you are looking to stay in Cabo but want something a bit more budget-friendly, there are a few hostels and boutique-style hotels inland. These are small accommodations with few amenities, but honestly, I think they are cuter than the large resorts. You can stay at one of these places for anywhere from $25 a night to $80 a night.
Cancun Key Features
- Relaxing atmosphere
- You’ll feel at home
- More budget-friendly
- There’s not much culture
- Very humid
Cancun is located on the Atlantic side of Mexico, where the water is bluer, calmer, and warmer. You will feel like you are in more of a tropical oasis in Cancun with Palm trees and white sands. Cancun’s hotel zone is basically on an island, with the ocean on one side of the road and a giant lagoon on the other side. This means you’ll get the chance to see lagoon creatures, like alligators, or relax in a calm ocean.
Situated in a tropical area also means that Cancun is humid. In my opinion, humid weather is not the most fun weather with the water in the air making warm-weather feel hotter and cooler weather feel colder. It also means that you will be almost constantly sweating and will never be able to keep your hair the way you want it to be.
I love to go to Cancun when all I want is to sit on a beach, sip on mojitos, and think about nothing else. All of the places you stay are located right on the coast, where the moment you step off the resort, you are stepping in the sand. The beaches also feel more relaxing because they are giant, giving you plenty of room to spread out from others.
There is a small area of Cancun that is made for a night out if you want a little more excitement. The site is called Punta Cancun and features all of Cancun’s nightclubs, bars, and, my personal favorite, Coco Bongo. I named Coco Bongo because it is a must-visit nightclub in Cancun with aerial dancers, lip-syncing performers, and confetti canons.
Things to Do
Cancun has all of the usual activities that you can do in any tourist destination, including para-sailing, sunset cruises, and snorkeling. However, there is not much to do in Cancun that is unique to Cancun. The one thing I found while in Cancun that is unique to the area is snorkeling at the underwater museum, where concrete sculptures are underwater, covered in coral.
There are a few excursions that you can take out of Cancun to some incredible locations, such as Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, Cenote Suytun, and Las Coloradas (the pink lakes). However, these excursions are all-day events, often starting at about 6 am because they are a two-hour drive one way. I feel like these excursions are usually not worth it because you feel so exhausted by the end of the journey because of how much travel you do in one day.
Like Cabo San Lucas, Cancun has modern resorts that make you feel at home, but Cancun’s resorts are more like skyscrapers that aren’t very spread out. You will also find a lot more budget-friendly options in Cancun, with more all-inclusive resorts that start at $150 a night, which is the price of Cabo’s cheapest non-all-inclusive resort.
Even though Cancun has a lot more budget-friendly options for resort-style accommodations, there is not much in the hotel zone of Cancun that is not a resort-style hotel. There are no boutique-style hotels and only two hostels in the entire hotel zone. The two hostels in Cancun are the Mayan Monkey and Hostel Natura, which are right across the street and a bit expensive compared to other hostels.
Other Places To Go In Mexico
Tulum is an up-and-coming destination near Cancun with a smaller town feel, lots of adventure, and it is for those who like to party. This was my favorite tourist destination in Mexico, with everything feeling like a piece of art and the opportunity to experience more culture. If you want to see precisely how Tulum and Cancun compare, read my other article, Cancun vs Tulum here!
Puerto Vallarta is another town in Cancun that feels like a smaller community that throughs you into Mexican culture. It is also on the Pacific side of Mexico, so you could get a chance to see whales and sea turtles. I didn’t get the opportunity to visit Puerto Vallarta on my journey through Mexico, but I’ve heard that the jungle-lined beaches are beautiful.
For something very different from the usual Mexico vacation, try Mexico City. You won’t get a beach here, but you do get the chance to see more Mexican culture, the Teotihuacan Archeological Site, and the Grutas Tolantongo hot springs. Mexico City has been a place that has been growing in popularity over the years for those who like to see more adventure.
Answer: Both places are relatively safe because they have a lot of tourism, and Mexico makes a lot of its money from tourism. Therefore, they tend to protect these places much better than anywhere else because they don’t want their main moneymaker being scared off. It would be best to practice regular caution while visiting Cancun or Cabo.
Answer: Cabo has the nickname Cabo San Loco because it is a big party city. The entire downtown area of Cabo is lined with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that stay open all night. You can also find quite a few beach clubs in Cabo San Lucas.
Answer: Cabo and Cancun are similar in that they are both right on the beach, have resort-style accommodations, and you won’t be too far out of your comfort zone in either place. However, there is quite a geographical difference that separates these two places.
Answer: Cabo and Cancun have very different beaches and saying which one is better depends on what you like to do at the beach. Cabo has wavier beaches with cooler water and more marine life, so if you want to surf and see a whale or turtle, Cabo has better beaches. Cancun has better beaches for relaxation and beauty because the water is warmer, calm, and incredibly blue.
Is Cabo or Cancun Better?
Cabo and Cancun have many similarities in that you will feel more at home with modern accommodations and staff that will do anything to make you feel at home. However, I found myself liking Cabo San Lucas better than Cancun. Cabo can be a relaxing destination depending on where you stay, but it also has so much adventure and is a lot of fun when it comes to nightlife.
Some of the fun things that I did in Cabo that you can not do in Cancun are whale watching, hiking the mountains around Cabo (Land’s End specifically), and taking a water taxi to the secluded Lover’s and Divorce beach. I also like that Cabo is not a place you bring your kids because I want a kid-free vacation where I can party the night away if I feel like it.