Mexico is a destination with beautiful beaches, rich culture and history, delicious cuisine, and an amazing underwater realm to explore. Both the east coast and west coast offer delightful travel experiences, with a variety of different activities, regional cuisine, and landscapes to choose from as well.
With Cabo San Lucas perched at the tip of the long Baja peninsula between the shorelines of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, and Cancun lying on the Caribbean Sea, both are stunning destinations. Read on to discover whether Cabo or Cancun fulfills your vacation dream.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
Since the time of year you plan your vacation can highly impact your experience, evaluating the weather and possible best seasons or months to visit is a top priority when deciding between Cancun and Cabo.
The Baja Peninsula has a drier climate in general thanks to its proximity to the desert, and a long season. The sweet spot for traveling to Cabo San Lucas typically falls between fall and spring, usually September through April for ideal weather and temperatures.
Later in spring or autumn offer top conditions for watersports and beach activities and wintertime makes for a fantastic warm-weather escape, particularly in January when the rainfall levels are at their lowest.
Wildlife enthusiasts interested in checking whale watching off their bucket list should consider traveling to Cabo between November and April.
You’ll have the opportunity to swim with or see whale sharks and gray whales, and with luck, the mighty blue whales that head here to give birth. Cabo San Lucas is one of the best places in the world for this amazing aquatic experience in nearby La Paz.
Cancun travel is at its best at similar times of year as Cabo San Lucas, with a slightly shorter window, typically from November or December to May, when the climate is drier. Visit during the shoulder seasons, typically October or May to June, if having more space to yourself is your priority, although you may encounter higher humidity during these months.
The Yucatan Peninsula shines in the winter months as a tropical getaway from harsh winters. Rest and relax on the soft sand beaches near Cozumel and Cancun, dip in the comfortable sea, and bask in the sun.
When deciding between Cabo and Cancun, think about what kind of beach person you are. Both coasts offer scenery seemingly straight out of a postcard while being very different at the same time.
The powdery soft white sand of the Yucatan peninsula is perfect for wading into the calm turquoise Caribbean. Swimming for all levels is possible here, and it’s a great place to embark on a snorkeling expedition as well, due to typically pristine conditions and clear visibility.
The endless golden sands of Cabo San Lucas are the place to head for a more rugged coastal experience, backed by the Pacific Ocean. El Arco, Cabo’s dramatic rock arch, is a defining feature of this wild, pristine coastline.
You’ll find sheltered coves where it’s safe for swimming, as well as impressive surf breaks. Offshore reefs teem with tropical fish, while there’s a very real chance of seeing the blow and splash of whales out to sea without even getting up from your lounger.
The contrast of the deep blue sky, the sapphire Pacific and the stark beauty of the desert is irresistible.
Medano Beach is one of the best beaches around Cabo, offering facilities as well as bars and restaurants for refreshments.
Or head to the famous Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach). This secluded stretch of sand sits at the base of dramatic rock formations, making for a unique beach-going experience in an otherworldly sea landscape.
Lover’s Beach can be accessed by glass-bottom boat, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, or boat tour and is a must-see during your time in Baja.
Mexico is known for its vibrant culinary scene in general, with a wide array of authentic delicacies to indulge in while exploring the country. Each region offers travelers its own specialized gastronomical delights, something to keep in mind in the process of weighing up Cabo vs. Cancun.
Both destinations have traditional recipes and Mayan culture at the heart of their cuisine, with typical dishes consisting of local favorites such as fresh seafood, tamales, ceviche, and tacos, of course.
While visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, enjoy hearty home-cooked meat and/or fish, corn dough, and vegetables steamed in banana or corn leaves, such as tamales.
Make sure to try the famous “tamal toreado de pollo”, which features a melt-in-your-mouth red sauce. Spices such as onion, garlic, epazote, and pepper complement the chicken and sauce for an undeniable treat.
While in Cabo, you’ll find that the cuisine focuses more on fresh seafood such as shrimp and fish tacos, oysters, delicious smoked marlin, and the famous chocolate clam, usually prepared with rosemary and roasted.
Try local dragonfruit, a cactus plant that’s used in anything from jams to candy and even marzipan. Don’t leave without sampling some “comida de pobres”, a seafood soup with beans and rice, served with flour tortillas.
After indulging, a good digestif to try that Cabo is famous for is the Damiana liquor, made from its namesake plant, cane alcohol, water, and sugar.
Both Cabo San Lucas and the Riviera Maya are hubs for adventure on land and water, though each coast presents slightly different opportunities for catching a thrill.
Whether you’re interested in exploring the underwater world, golfing, or trying your hand at the many watersports, there’s a long list of things to do in Mexico.
Cabo is one big adventure playground, offering the thrill of exploring the stark desert and cactus-studded mountains outside town, the glittering Pacific always in view. The area around Cancun, in contrast, is more about exploring a jungly world of rivers, caves, cenotes, and rainforest.
Some of the best things to do in Cabo include hopping on an ATV tour, going horseback riding, or hiking, exploring the striking mountain and desert landscape the area is known for. Head for the Cerro de la Z trail, a one-and-a-quarter mile out-and-back trek with sweeping views of Cabo’s craggy surroundings.
Race through the Baja California desert on an ATV for pure adventure while keeping an eye out for cacti and wildlife such as foxes and rabbits. Or speed through the Wild Canyon Ekopark on a zipline for a higher vantage point of the desert landscape.
The adventure doesn’t stop there; the ocean beckons with surfing, deep sea fishing, for which the area is famous, sailing, diving the offshore coral reefs, and whale-watching expeditions.
Venture by boat to the rock formation of El Arco on the very tip of the peninsula, a Cabo highlight, or embark on a snorkeling tour to Pelican Rock, where you’ll have the chance to spot starfish, sea lions, sea urchins, and more.
The Riviera Maya’s lush foliage, historic ruins, and rich marine world give travelers a plethora of exciting adventures to choose from around Cancun, as well.
Explore the famous underground rivers and caves of the limestone scenery that defines this part of the Yucatan Peninsula, for an unmissable experience.
Swim in the clear waters of the cenotes, while learning about their cultural ties to Mayan mythology from a knowledgeable guide. Cenote Zaci and Cenote Azul are some of the most popular in the area.
Wander back in time at archeological sites such as Chitchen Itza for a memorable day’s adventure. Mayan ruins are one of the top highlights to experience in this region of Mexico, something that should be on every traveler’s list.
Under the sea, the Yucatan Peninsula is a hotspot for snorkeling and diving, offering some of the most diverse marine life in the Caribbean. Pack your snorkel gear to admire the aquatic gems in Cozumel’s El Cielo Reef, where you’ll have the chance to view stingrays and schools of vibrant tropical fish in the clear waters.
Submerge yourself into the Yal-kú Lagoon’s ecosystem near Playa del Carmen for another snorkeling option in a nature park where you can swim in a cenote, enjoy walking paths, and spot sea turtles as well as tropical fish.
Read: Mexico Travel Tips
History & Culture
Discover the Mexican culture and history of each coastal destination through Mayan ruins, villages, art, and events, depending upon where you choose to visit.
Cancun is widely known for its access to Mayan antiquities. Visit some of the best-known archeological sites such as the magnificent Chichen Itza, or the seaside Tulum ruins with impressive fortifications and views across the turquoise Caribbean. Or head for the smaller El Rey ruins that date back to the 13th century.
Additionally, a visit to the Mayan Museum of Cancun can provide an enriching experience as you observe artifacts from some of the major Mayan cultural sites like Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Comalcalco.
Cabo San Lucas is more about art and architecture than antiquities. Native American tribes have lived on the Baja peninsula for centuries but the area was only really developed at the beginning of the 20th century.
There’s plenty to discover here—and if you’re interested in Mexican arts and crafts, you’re in the right place to browse beautiful handicrafts and find authentic pieces.
Stroll the downtown area of San Jose del Cabo to admire the historic adobe and colonial buildings, or browse vibrant galleries in the art district. Take a walking tour by the San Jose Mission, where you’ll be immersed in the rich cultural scene.
Another fantastic choice when exploring the cultural side of Cabo is the pretty oceanside village of Todos Santos, all colorful adobe houses and artisan craft shops. Marvel at the old Jesuit mission building, peruse art galleries, and purchase a souvenir from one of the many small artisan shops.
Also located nearby are the historic mining villages of San Antonio and El Triunfo, with an 18th-century cathedral, seaside promenade, and the intriguing Museum of Anthropology and History.
Shopping & Downtown Area
If you’re looking to explore the downtown areas of either Cancun or Cabo on your vacation for restaurants, shopping, culture, art, or events, there are a few key differences to consider.
Cancun is a larger city with a lively restaurant and a notoriously buzzing bar scene. Cabo, in contrast, has more of the feel of a laid-back vacation resort, the two smaller towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo situated approximately half an hour apart.
Both feature plentiful cafés and bars, and an atmosphere reminiscent of the original historic fishing village, with buildings dating back to the 18th century.
Shopping in either destination will be a treat, allowing you to unearth unique souvenirs as a token in your time in paradise. In Cancun, you’ll find everything from upscale shopping malls and boutiques to flea markets like the famous Market 28, where handicrafts and other trinkets are in abundance.
In Cabo, you’ll find a multi-level shopping mall like Plaza Puerto Paraiso, with galleries and boutiques, as well as the Marina Mercado and arts and crafts market.
Enthusiasts of Mexican arts and crafts, though, should head for the nearby village of Todo Santos, the place to come for colorful woven blankets, silver jewelry, Talavera pottery, boho fashions—and even locally made surfboards.
Both Cancun and Cabo offer travelers an amazing Mexican getaway, though key differences such as climate, beaches, adventures, regional cuisine, and more, might make one destination a better fit for you.
Read: Guide to Shopping in Cabo San Lucas
A cruise is the best way to experience the rugged beauty of Cabo San Lucas, with whale watching and rock formations, or the Mexican Caribbean of Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula with white-sand beaches and snorkeling. Browse our luxury cruises to Mexico and book your next adventure today.