Cancun and Cabo (Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos) are two of the most popular vacation spots in all of Mexico. Both offer amazing opportunities for travelers to Mexico. And while both have grown around their tourist industry, each destination is decidedly unique. I’ve visited both numerous times with my family and can provide a unique perspective on each destination to help you decide which to visit.
When you are deciding between Cancun vs Cabo, there are plenty of features that you will want to compare. Whether you are looking for a great beach vacation, luxurious resorts, or a family-friendly spot, Cancun and Cabo offer something for every traveler.
A Quick Overview & Comparison: Cancun vs Cabo
Quick Answer: If you are looking for a party atmosphere on beautiful tropical beaches, Cancun is your pick. If you want a luxury getaway where you can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet, and amazing meals, Cabo is your perfect destination.
Before I dive into the details of both locations, I offer a quick overview of each destination and what you can expect when you vacation at each.
- Tropical climate
- Great nightlife
- Diverse hotels
- Lots of history
Cancun sits on the east coast of Mexico. This bustling city was actually developed as a tourist destination. The lush jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula descend to the Caribbean Sea where they are met with white sugar-sand beaches. The calm Caribbean with its crystal blue waters make Cancun an ideal spot for travelers looking for sun and sand.
Many people associate Cancun with wild spring break adventures. However, there is plenty more that the area offers. And, if you travel here outside of March and April, you’ll find the atmosphere more relaxed. Cancun, no matter when you visit, is a party destination and you’ll find plenty of places to party long into the night.
- Desert paradise
- Amazing food scene
- Luxury lodging
Cabo is located at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. When people refer to Cabo, they are actually talking about the two southernmost communities, Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas. These two cities were once sleepy fishing villages, today they are popular tourist destinations and home to a large community of expats.
Today Cabo offers visitors one of the most luxurious travel destinations in all of Mexico. When considering hotels in Cabo you’ll have plenty of options, but the bulk are upscale, 4 and 5-star resorts. These resorts cater to those looking for spas, fine dining, and activities like golf, deep-sea fishing, and ATV adventures.
Cabo San Lucas has a great downtown area that offers numerous high-end restaurants, art galleries, and small bars that excel at local music. This relaxed, yet luxurious destination is great for a wide range of travelers.
Suggested Reading: Cabo vs Puerto Vallarta: An Honest Comparison
Cancun vs Cabo: A Quick Guide to Choosing
Cancun Mini Guide
- Location Size – 55.1 sq mi
- Population – 1,023,000
- Rainy Season – June-September
- High Season – December- April
- Top Sights – The Hotel Zone, Maya Ruins Of El Rey, Cenotes, Chichén Itzá
- Major Airports – Cancun International Airport
When you consider Cancun, it can be summed up very easily. This is a city made for tourists that like to have fun. It is also a much better destination for adults, though many of the resorts in the hotel zone have kid-friendly amenities.
Traveling to Cancun tends to be relatively affordable, as it offers a wide variety of hotel options ranging from your standard chain hotel to luxury all-inclusive resorts. All-inclusive resorts are king in Cancun, particularly in the Hotel Zone. Here you’ll find hotels designed for comfort and travelers that want great amenities without leaving their hotel.
Cabo is a significantly smaller community that still holds on to its roots as a fishing village. The climate here is that of a tropical desert. You’ll not find a jungle here, but rather towering mountains, cacti, dry air, and very few rainy days.
Cabo has become a favorite retirement spot for Americans, so you’ll find that it is very Americanized and easy to navigate around the town. The distance you’ll travel from most parts of the US makes Cabo a more expensive destination from a flight perspective, and fewer US airports have direct flights to Cabo. The area is dominated by luxury resorts that offer beautiful pools, upscale dining, and spas. Many of these resorts are family-friendly and also offer the best possible amenities for kids of all ages.
The 7 Key Differences Between Cancun and Cabo
Now that you know a little about Cancun and Cabo, I’ll dive a little deeper into what makes each location best for vacationing. In this section, I offer seven ways that Cancun and Cabo are different.
Which Is Better for Activities?
It is hard to pick between Cancun and Cabo for activities. Each offers unique activities that are specific to where they are located in Mexico. So, I suggest that both are great for activities.
Not only is Cancun great for beach activities and swimming, be sure double check when seaweed season starts, it’s also great for exploring the tropical jungle and learning about the culture of the Yucatan and the Mayan people.
Cabo is perfect for lazy days by the pool. Or head out on an ATV tour of the desert, horseback ride on the beach, go on a whale watching excursion, or try your hand at deep sea fishing.
1. Which Is More Family Friendly?
Though Cabo tends to lean more toward the luxury side of travel, it is a great spot for families. Many hotels offer daily activities for kids, childcare services, and kid-friendly meals. Since swimming in the ocean isn’t a safe option in Cabo, you’ll find that many hotels have great pools for kids. One of the newest hotels in Cabo even has a massive lazy river.
2. Which Has Better Nightlife?
Cancun is really known for its party atmosphere. The nighttime in Cancun is almost legendary during March and April when thousands of college students descend on the city for spring break.
When they leave, the party atmosphere lingers. It is a bit more low-key but year-round, Cancun offers lots of amazing nightclubs, fun bars, and venues with great music.
3. Which Is Cheaper?
Cancun tends to be more affordable for travelers than Cabo. It has a larger airport that has more direct, affordable flights. The city center has very nice, but affordable hotel options, and food tends to be more affordable in Cancun.
However, if you are looking for a splurge, Cancun does have some beautiful resorts that offer travel specials and deals during the low season.
4. How Does the Food Compare? Or Which Is Better for Restaurants & Eating Out?
Cancun and Cabo have two different, yet similar local cuisines that make dining an adventure. In Cabo, you’ll find lots of seafood on the menu. However, area farmers also grow Mexican staples like tomatoes, avocados, fresh greens, beef, and chicken.
In Cancun, seafood also dominates menus, but you’ll find that the local cuisine has many Mayan influences, so you’ll see many dishes using banana and pork as the base.
From the restaurant perspective, Cabo is really the winner when it comes to great food. You will find that many Cabo resorts have exquisite restaurants, so eating at your hotel can be an experience. However, there are also great, upscale restaurants throughout Cabo.
5. Which Is Easier to Get To?
When it comes to traveling to Cancun vs Cabo, the one that is easiest to get to really depends on what side of the US you are traveling from.
For those living in the western half of the US, Cabo is a short flight (even with layovers). Plenty of larger airports in the western US offer direct flights to Cabo, for added convenience.
Cancun is a very easy location to get to if you are in the eastern part of the US. As it is a larger city with a larger airport, you’ll find that Cancun has more direct flights, even from western US cities. But, if you’re traveling from the western US, you’ll find the flight to Cancun long.
6. Which Is Easier to Get Around Town?
I cannot pick a distinct winner when it comes to traveling around Cancun or Cabo. Both are fairly easy to navigate by taxi, hotel shuttle, or car. You will find that most visitors utilize shuttle services to travel between the airport and their hotel in both Cancun and Cabo.
Once at your hotel, both cities offer great taxi services to get you around town. Make sure to bring your US dollars and a willingness to barter for the best rate with your taxi driver.
5 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Cancun or Cabo
If you are still unsure about whether you are planning your next vacation to Cancun or Cabo, in this last section, I offer some answers to questions that many first-time visitors have about the two communities.
Is Cancun or Cabo Better for Hotels?
It really is hard to pick Cancun vs Cabo when it comes to hotels. Both destinations excel at providing visitors an amazing array of lodging options. However, there are distinctions. Cancun has a multitude of all-inclusive resorts that fall in every price range. And, even the affordable resort options are comfortable and well-maintained.
Cabo is better for those in search of luxury hotel offerings. In Cabo you’ll find luxury chains like The Four Seasons and Waldorf Astoria. There are also smaller, boutique resorts that excel at providing their customers the most luxurious experience available in Cabo.
When Should You Visit Cancun or Cabo?
If you are planning a trip to Cancun, the best time to visit is early December through early March. This is when the weather is best. However, visiting in mid-April through early June is a shoulder season and you’ll find good lodging deals.
Cabo has great weather all year-round, and only experiences about 10 days of rain annually. The high season in Cabo is November through June, which is when the temperatures are more mild and there is less chance of rain.
Is Cancun or Cabo Better for Outdoor Adventures?
I have to pick Cancun for the better option for outdoor adventures. Cancun has so many different things to experience that there really is something for everyone. The beaches offer great access to the warm Caribbean Sea. The jungle offers a range of activities including tubing the cenotes (under-ground rivers), zip-lining tours, and exploring ancient ruins. You can also partake in typical oceanside activities like scuba diving, snorkeling and guided fishing tours.
Is Cancun or Cabo Better for Remote Work?
If I have to do work when I’m on vacation, I hope that I am visiting Cabo. This destination is more low-key and quiet. Also, the large population of expats that demand good WiFi to connect with their family means that resorts in Cabo have great internet access.
Is Cancun or Cabo Better for Beaches?
It is hard to beat Cancun when it comes to beaches. Some of the best beaches in the world are located in Cancun. The Cancun Hotel Zone is conveniently located along one of the longest stretches of white sand beach. The calm Caribbean is perfect for swimming and water activities.