Two cities that often come to mind when considering a vacation to Mexico are Cabo and Cancun. While both are popular beachfront resort areas, many people don’t know how different these two cities can be.
Our comparison of Cabo vs. Cancun will give you a better idea of what each destination offers so you can decide which is better for your Mexico getaway.
Cabo vs. Cancun Quick Picks
- Most Affordable: Cancun
- Better All-Inclusive Accommodations: Cancun
- Better Beaches: Cancun
- Best for Luxury: Cabo
Cabo vs. Cancun: Location and How to Get There
One of the biggest differences between Cabo vs. Cancun is where they are located. While both are on peninsulas, Cancun is on the east coast of Mexico and Cabo is on the western side of the country.
Cancun is set at the northeast edge of the Yucatan Peninsula, along the Caribbean coast. Located at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, Cabo’s beaches front the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.
Both areas are fairly easy to get to, although flights to Cabo tend to be more expensive than to Cancun. Since Cancun is a hugely popular inexpensive tourist destination and has its own international airport, you can find plenty of direct flights there from the U.S. Average flight times are around 4 to 5 hours.
You can also find plenty of direct flights to the international airport near Cabo from the U.S. These range depending on your departure city, with flights from California being the shortest at about 2 and a half hours. If you are staying in Cabo San Lucas, you’ll have about a half hour drive to town from the airport, which is 8 miles from San Jose del Cabo. However, there is also a smaller international airport in Cabo San Lucas.
Cabo vs. Cancun: When to Visit
The best time to visit Cabo is during peak season: December to February. Peak season offers the best weather with plenty of fun to be had in and around the ocean. The downside to a peak season visit is the larger crowds.
If you are looking for a time to visit Cabo with fewer tourists, then you might want to consider May and June. The issue with this travel time is the fact that it falls in hurricane season. This doesn’t guarantee an interruption to your travel plans, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Cabo is also great in October and November. During these months, Cabo hosts the largest fishing events of the year. This does mean larger crowds and can lead to some higher prices. But it’s still a great option if you love to fish or want to experience a Cabo-specific event.
Something unique to Cabo is the chance to spot whales. This is most likely in mid-December or mid-April.
Cancun, on the other hand, is best from December to April. You’ll find great weather and cheap flight prices, even though this is Cancun’s peak season. Beware of traveling to Cancun between mid March and early April. This is spring break season, and Cancun plays host to many, many travelers in these months.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Weather
Both Cabo and Cancun are cities in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean they experience the same weather patterns. However, both have warmer temperatures year-round and are popular winter getaway destinations.
As noted before, Cabo is situated on the southern end of the Baja California peninsula, which gives it drier weather with more sunny days than Cancun. The Cabo area only averages about 10 inches of rain per year, so you generally won’t experience canceled or delayed plans because of rain. It is warm year-round.
Cancun’s climate is more tropical, with higher humidity and average rainfall. The rainy season runs between May and October. Temperatures are a bit warmer year round than in Cabo, and despite the rain Cancun does have nearly 250 days of sun each year.
Both Cabo and Cancun are at risk of hurricanes, however, with Cabo’s hurricane season lasting from mid-May through November, and Cancun’s from June to November. If you’re traveling during this time, be sure to get travel insurance and pay attention to forecasts.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Beaches
Both Cabo and Cancun are havens for beach lovers, but there are some notable differences to consider.
Cancun beaches are what you imagine when you think of a Caribbean beach vacation–long stretches of white sand with vivid turquoise water. The ocean off of Cancun is the meeting point between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, so the water here is warm. It’s also quite clear. You’ll have plenty of options to enjoy swimming and more than a few water sports, including snorkeling and scuba diving.
Cabo beaches, on the other hand, have rock formations, so it’s a different experience for relaxing and walking along the beach. The water in Cabo, though a beautiful blue, also has a strong undertow that makes swimming dangerous. Don’t worry though, there are beaches in Cabo that are good for swimming, like Medano Beach. However, pay attention when booking your accommodations–just because a resort is beachfront doesn’t mean you can go in the water there.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Things to Do
Cabo and Cancun are both full of amazing activities and adventures. But the differences in their geography and location make what you can do in each place a little different.
Cabo has everything from long stretches of sand to high mountains and dry deserts. This means you can go from lounging on the beach to hiking up mountains, or walking along a desert trail. The atmosphere in Cabo tends to feel laidback and relaxed.
Despite the water being too rough for swimming off some beaches, Cabo does offer water sports, including snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing. And, depending on the time of year that you visit, you can catch a glimpse of migrating blue whales.
Cancun is considered the more exciting area, with plenty of options for fun nightlife as well as all sorts of watersports, including scuba diving and snorkeling (especially off the nearby islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres).
But there are some fascinating cultural and historical spots that are more than worth a trip. Close to Cancun is the ancient capital city of the Mayan empire, Chichen Itza. You can take a day trip to see the ruins still standing. You can also plan a trip to Tulum, which is perfect for a day trip or overnight stay.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Resorts & Hotels
In Cancun’s famous “Hotel Zone,” which is a strip along the beach, there are more than 100 hotels and resorts to choose from. Regardless of what type of accommodations you’re looking for, you’re likely to find them, with everything from inexpensive hotels to swanky all-inclusive resorts. This can be a busy and crowded stretch, however.
Cabo also has a range of hotels and resorts to choose from, some of which are all-inclusive, but not as many options as Cancun. However, Cabo accommodations tend to be more upscale than those in Cancun.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Food
Both Cabo and Cancun offer all sorts of delicious food, including authentic Mexican and fresh seafood. However, you may need to hunt a bit to find good quality options.
When it comes to Cabo, the food in and around the city center tends to be aimed at tourists and may be less authentic; if you’re looking for the “real thing,” you might want to consider a rental car.
Just outside of town you can find more local fare and some really interesting dining options including organic farms that offer farm to table type meals, the perfect way to get great food with a natural experience.
In Cancun, a lot of the food options are provided by the hotels, especially at all-inclusive resorts which tend to offer a variety of international cuisine. The good news is you can still experience an authentic regional dining experience pretty easily, as there are local restaurants that offer great food for lunch and dinner.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Cost
The difference in cost between Cabo and Cancun really comes down to when you visit and how you like to travel.
If you’re traveling during peak seasons, accommodations and activities can be more expensive. However, you can easily find budget friendly options in both areas. In general, we find that Cancun is more affordable than Cabo.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Safety
When it comes to safety, Cabo and Cancun are both considered safe areas, although Cabo may have a bit of a safer reputation. In either place, there are some things to be aware of.
Both Cabo and Cancun have areas that are considered “riskier” or less safe. These are areas generally off the beaten path and are less visited by tourists. If you do find yourself in those areas, the biggest threat is petty theft. The best course of action is to stay in well-lit and well-populated areas.
Also follow common sense precautions like not walking alone, not carrying large amounts of cash or wearing flashy jewelry, and not accepting drinks from strangers.
Cabo vs. Cancun: Conclusion
The final verdict: both Cabo and Cancun are great travel destinations! Which one is best for you depends on how you want to spend your vacation time.
If you want a more traditional beach experience or enjoy lots of nightlife, then you’ll probably want to visit Cancun. If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe or want to see whales, then it’s probably Cabo for the win.
Now that you’ve read our comparison of Cabo vs. Cancun, which one do you choose? Let us know in the comments! And if you’d like help planning your trip, feel free to reach out to one of our trusted travel advisors.
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