Seating area overlooking the water at Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, Los Cabos.

Cancún and Los Cabos each have incredible hotels and resorts, including Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, Los Cabos. (Photo: Marriott International)

Tips + Trends

Cabo vs. Cancún: How to Choose Which Mexico Destination to Visit  

Choosing between two of Mexico’s most popular beach vacation destinations — Los Cabos vs. Cancún — can feel downright impossible. Both places are known for beautiful beaches, eat-your-heart-out views and fun in the sun and under the moon. If you’ve never been to either, they might seem similar, but locals know they have distinct landscapes, activities, vibes and food.  

Read on to learn more about these two vacation-worthy spots in Mexico. As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip. 

The Basics 

Los Cabos 

Los Cabos is formed by the cities of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas and the corridor that runs between them along the southern coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, located on the western side of the country. 

Los Cabos, known as a playground of the rich and famous, is popular with Hollywood execs, Silicon Valley techies and other West Coasters in the U.S., in part due to its easy accessibility. Fine dining, high-end shopping and luxury lodging are all hallmarks of a Los Cabos vacation.  

Travelers who want to worship the sun sans humidity will love Los Cabos’ dry climate. Pack beach clothes along with some light outerwear, as bright warm days transition to cooler, breezy evenings. 

Cancún  

Cancún is at the northern end of the Riviera Maya on the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a region that hugs the Gulf of Mexico. Cancun is a bit easier to access than Los Cabos for those on the East Coast or from Europe, so you may find a more international crowd there. 

Cancún’s hotels and resorts sit on a long stretch of white sand beach bordered by a lagoon on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. You’ll typically find a wide price range for Cancún hotels and resorts, with a mix of luxury stays and more wallet-friendly options. All-inclusive resorts like Marriott Cancun, An All-Inclusive Resort and Royalton CHIC Cancun, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only can offer a convenient all-in-one vacation experience for families and couples. 

High temperatures in Cancún barely dip below 85 degrees, with sultry humidity and warm tropical breezes. Unlike Los Cabos, you often won’t need any extra layers for evening drinks on a hotel terrace or a beach stroll under the stars. 

Beaches + Water Sports 

Los Cabos

Coastline of Los Cabos
Los Cabos’ dramatic coastline is a sight to behold. (Photo: Getty Images)

The cactus-dotted cliffs and electric blue ocean create a dynamic landscape in Los Cabos. Here the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez meet, carving out the land and creating deep depths right off the coast (one reason why whale watching in Los Cabos is so great) with monster waves that crash against the rocky shoreline. These factors, plus the water’s cool average temperature, mean the Cabo coast is more for hanging by the pool and catching rays than it is for casual swimming in the ocean. 

You’ll discover just a handful of beaches for swimming. Near Fairfield by Marriott Los Cabos is El Medano Beach, a crescent-shaped strip of protected beachfront that runs northeast from Cabo San Lucas’s downtown marina for about two miles.  

You can also swim at Lover’s Beach if you take a boat out from the marina and pass by Los Cabo’s famous El Arco, an Instagrammable granite archway at the entrance of the bay. Playa Acapulquito is another small stretch of sand that’s popular with visitors and expats. 

From January to April, Los Cabos is one of the best places in the world to see whales. Deep-sea fishers can expect to find mahi-mahi, tuna, sailfish, and blue and black marlin year-round.  

Cabo Pulmo, the nearby national marine park, is one of only three reefs on the western coast of the Americas, and its extensive conservation program has led to a bounty of sea life there after years of overfishing. This is an amazing place to scuba dive to see snappers, porkfish, big-eyed jacks, sea turtles, eels and more. 

Cancún  

Cancún, next to the warm, mellow waters of the Caribbean Sea, has endless options for a day on the beach. Most resorts have snagged their own little sliver of paradise along the coast, but there are plenty of public beaches, too.  

Playa Chacmool on the northern end of the Hotel Zone is on the mellower side, and Playa Forum just beyond hosts the party crowd. On Playa Delfines, you can go parasailing or rent Jet Skis for the afternoon. Better yet, book with a local kiteboarding school for a once-in-a-lifetime surfing adventure. 

From the Renaissance Cancún Resort & Marina there’s convenient access to the city’s underwater museum if you are a diver and want an unforgettable underwater experience. You can also try your hand at fly fishing or bottom fishing, and there are kayak tours that will take you through the mangroves of Laguna Nichupté to observe the local flora and fauna.  

Cancún’s high season is December to April, but visit from June to October for some amazing whale shark watching. 

Activities 

Los Cabos 

Out of the water, you’ll find excellent golf courses in Los Cabos, and some resorts offer seamless access to courses. JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa and Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve are both near Puerto Los Cabos, which has three 27-hole courses designed by golf pros Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus. Down the road from Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, Los Cabos, the Cabo del Sol Course provides breathtaking desert and ocean vistas with every stroke.  

For a close-up of the amazing coastal landscape, try an ATV tour in the nearby desert or along the peninsula’s rocky cliffs. Or strap on your hiking boots and hoof it, either with an organized tour or on your own (a nice option is the Cañon de la Zorra trail with a swim in the Sol De Mayo Waterfall).  

Not so nature-minded? Take a meander through charming downtown San Jose del Cabo and check out some of the local galleries. From November to June, join the local evening art walk and sip while you shop. 

Cancún 

An aerial view of The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa
The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa, Cancun is close to some popular local spots. (Photo: Marriott International)

It’s easy to get from Cancún to Puerto Morelos or Cozumel, destinations along the Yucatan coast with some of the best snorkeling and diving in Mexico.  

The ferry from Cancún’s marina will take you to the nearby bohemian paradise of Isla Mujeres, which was considered a sacred island to the ancient Maya, dedicated to the goddess of fertility. Rent a bike or golf cart and explore, stopping at the island’s Playa Norte for a swim, visiting the lighthouse and beach at Punta Sur park, or strolling through the small-town streets of Isla Mujeres’ downtown.  

Downtown Cancún often gets skipped by travelers, but it has its own set of unique highlights. Cancún’s Interactive Aquarium, near The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa, Cancun, is great for families traveling with kids. Foodies should check out a local city market in Cancún for regional specialties. 

Nightlife 

Los Cabos 

In Cabo, a lively nightlife scene centers around the marina in Cabo San Lucas (with San Jose having a much more laid-back, artsy vibe). Most bars and clubs are clustered around a 10-block radius and try to outdo each other as the wildest, most fun party scene.  

For a wild night out, try El Squid Roe, a multilevel club where celebs are often spotted, or Cabo Wabo Cantina, a rowdy bar that has been entertaining locals and visitors since 1990. Looking for a pool party that lasts all night? Try Blue Marlin Ibiza. For clubbing with a view, Nowhere Bar down on the marina will hit the spot. 

Cancún 

Cancún has the reputation of being the place for spring break. If you want to party, you can definitely find the perfect club along the Hotel Zone strip, like Mandala Nightclub for dancing.  

For a sophisticated, nuanced cocktail, visit the JW Lobby Bar or LA 16 Speakeasy at JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa

There are also some more easygoing bars and restaurants, like Sirenas Raw Bar (located in the same building as the Teatro de Cancún, a performing arts theater) or Palapa Belga for casual cocktails and dinner. 

Food 

Los Cabos 

The Baja peninsula is known for its great seafood and North Baja wineries, and you can find a little bit of everything, from shrimp taco shacks to haute cuisine with dramatic views.  

For a casual affair, El Marinero Borracho or Asi y Asado taco shack both have incredible, budget-friendly seafood and cold beer. Also, try some killer handmade tortillas at La Raiz Tortilleria and stop into Flora’s Field Kitchen, a gorgeous outdoor restaurant and 25-acre organic farm that won a Michelin green star for sustainability.  

For a gourmet experience, Lumbre, Enrique Olvera’s Manta, and CarbónCabron are fabulous choices for something more regional, and Mediterranean restaurant Nao for some international flair. 

Cancún 

Cancún and surrounding Rivera Maya’s list of great eateries is endless, from tamale vendors to Omakase on a boat. For some simple but delicious fare with history, stop by Kiosco Verde or El Pocito. Both eateries have been around for more than 40 years and for good reason — both are serve fresh, authentic and delicious fare, and Kiosk Verde has even snagged a Michelin mention.  

As previously mentioned, in the city’s local markets, foodies will find much to delight in, including popular items like recado negro (a spice paste), sopa de lima (lime soup), dishes made with Edam cheese and Nutella-stuffed marquesitas (crepes). 

For something swankier, try Harry’s or Rosa Negra for inventive menus with perfectly cooked proteins worthy of a special occasion meal.  

Getting Around 

Los Cabos 

The high prices of taxis in both Cabo and Cancún (for even the shortest of trips) might have you asking yourself, “Isn’t there a better way to get around?” 

Los Cabos has a public bus that runs up and down the highway along the corridor where most of the hotels are located, but there are no bus stop areas, so waiting on the shoulder of the highway can be perilous — and often even the walk to the entrance of your resort or hotel can be a hike.  

If you want to sightsee on your own, one of the best ways to get around on the Baja Peninsula is to rent a car. This makes it possible for you to freely explore the area and skip pricey cab rides. The traffic on the peninsula is mellow and the scenery divine, which makes a day trip by car all the more fun. 

Cancún 

Cancún’s public bus runs up and down the Hotel Zone into town and is much more rider-friendly than the one in Los Cabos, with actual bus stops that don’t require baking in the sun. If you hop on, you are destined to see lots of other tourists riding alongside you. The bus comes regularly and frequently and is easy and cheap to use.  

Also, along much of the Hotel Zone, there are paved bike paths. With the landscape being what it is — extremely flat — two-wheeling is another great option for getting around Cancún. 

Excursions 

Los Cabos 

You’d need weeks to scout all the memorable day trips that can start from Los Cabos — but these are just a few ideas to get you started. Todos Santos, a bohemian desert town with a lively culinary scene and some great local surfing, is just an hour away.  

Two and a half hours away is Balandra Beach, a protected bay with mellow waves and crystal-clear water near the city of La Paz. It’s dreamy and perfect for swimming — but plan your visit ahead of time because access to the beach is limited to two daily time slots as part of conservation efforts.  

A visit to Isla Espiritu Santo to swim with sea lions is a must, and you don’t even have to drive if you don’t want to — some tours will take you there directly from Los Cabos. It’s always worth inquiring with your hotel for excursion offerings or checking out Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities in Los Cabos

Cancún 

Yucatan's azure cenotes.
Explore the cenotes of the Yucatan. (Photo: Getty Images)

A deep cultural history permeates the entire Yucatan peninsula. Cancún is a convenient base from which to spend a day touring local cenotes, sinkholes fed by underwater rivers that the Maya believed were portals to the underworld. Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul, Cenote Cristalino and Gran Cenote are all within an hour or so of the city.  

There are also incredible Mayan ruins in the area. Cobá, Tulum, Xaman-Há, Uxmal and Chichén Itzá are all within driving distance and can be seen on an official tour or visited on your own.  

A couple of hours south of the Hotel Zone, you can visit the Sian Ka’an coastal bioreserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Float down an ancient Mayan canal through the tropical savannah or arrive by boat from Cancún to Punta Allen for some dolphin watching. 

In conclusion, if you’re debating between Cabo vs. Cancún, you’ll find that they each have unique landscapes, activities and vibes — but they’re both fabulous vacation spots.