CANCUN VS. CABO SAN LUCAS
Of all the e-mail questions Carlos Fiesta receives from travellers headed to Mexico, one of the most common inquiries is asking for help trying to decide which vacation destination is better, Cabo San Lucas or Cancun. And as you might expect, the answer is...it depends.
Cabo San Lucas and Cancun are Mexico's two most popular beach destinations. They are both located in the tropics, so warm weather is a given at both locations. But there are other significant differences between these two getaways.
One of the big differences between these two destinations is the general geography. Cabo San Lucas is located at the base of a tall mountain range at the very tip of Baja, an 800 mile long barren peninsula covered with desert and cactus, surrounded by 2,000 miles of spectacular coastline.
Cancun is also located on a peninsula, the Yucatan Peninsula. Although it is short and stubby compared to the Baja Peninsula (and completely flat), it is a peninsula none the less. But instead of being covered by desert and cactus, the Yucatan Peninsula is covered by flora and jungle.
Visitors to Cabo San Lucas can delight in the fact that they can enjoy two different bodies of water...the rugged Pacific Ocean and the more gentle Sea of Cortez. The tip of the Baja Peninsula called Land's End marks the spot where one ocean ends and the other begins. The Pacific Ocean side is often too rough to swim in, where the Sea of Cortez side is usually safe for swimming.
Cancun is located on the warm and clear waters of the western Caribbean. Cancun Island, shaped something like the number "7" offers the calm waters of Bahia Mujeres at the north end of the island and the wide open Caribbean sea on the east side. Both coasts are warm and calm enough to swim in all year long. The huge lagoon on the west side of the island offers additional depth to Cancun's geography.
Another difference between Cabo San Lucas and Cancun is the general layout of the hotels. Cabo's hotels are mostly low rise and spread a fair distance apart from each other. Many of Cancun's hotels are much taller, and tend to line up one after another along the coast (somewhat like Miami Beach, Florida). This makes for a much more active and congested beach environment in Cancun.
The beaches along the 20 mile Los Cabos corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo offer a contrast of beautiful beaches occassionally interupted by rugged granite promitorys reaching into the sea. In Cancun the gorgeous beaches run mile after mile completely uninterupted, except for the low bluffs at Punta Cancun at the north end and Punta Nizuc at the very south end.
Cabo San Lucas has wonderful day trip options, but none of them offshore. Cancun offers island getaways to Isla Mujeres for shopping and snorkeling, Isla Contoy for getting close to nature and Isla Cozumel which offers some of the best Scuba diving on the planet.
Both Cabo San Lucas and Cancun have downtown areas offering a more intimate environment for walking the streets and shopping. But where the downtown area in Cabo is populated largely by Gringos enjoying a break from their poolside umbrella drinks, the downtown area of Cancun is dominated mostly by the local Mexican people doing thier daily shopping chores.
The central downtown area of Cabo San Lucas is ground zero for nightlife that goes on well into the wee hours. Cancun also has exceptional nightlife, but the action is more spread out along the island, in and around the various commercial hubs on the island. In Cabo one cab ride will get you to a drop off point with all the action and restaurants you could ever need just a short walk away. In Cancun it may take you a few cab rides to visit the various night spots.
Water sports are common at both destinations, but are probably more prevelent in Cancun. Playa Medano, the main beach in Cabo San Lucas, has tons of watersports options, but this activity is generally concentrated on a one mile stretch of beach. In Cancun there are water sports options available mile after mile in front of almost every hotel on the beach.
Several of the cruise ships that ply the Mexican Riviera drop anchor in Cabo San Lucas. This ads a frenzie of activity in town for several hours a few days a week, soon to be followed by the mad rush to get back to the boats before they head north back to Los Angeles. Cancun really has no cruise ship activity, except the ones that make port in Plaza del Carmen an hour down the coast.
Both Cabo and Cancun offer some very fun road trip desinations. Most of the highways heading out of Cabo to Todos Santos, Buena Vista and La Paz are narrow two lane roads, where the road heading South of Cancun to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Xel-Ha and Xcaret are wider and mostly four lanes.
Probably one of the biggest differences between these two Mexico getaways is where the visitors come from. Cabo tends to pull from the west side of the United States and Canada, whereas Cancun tends to draw from the east side of the continent. It's strictly a matter of geography. Nobody want to be stuck in an airline seat any longer than they have to.
The bottom line is that both Cabo San Lucas and Cancun are exceptional destinations, each with plenty to offer the traveller looking for a fun escape. Personal preference plays a big part in which destination might work best for any given traveller. Take a tip from Carlos Fiesta...put both of these destinations on your vacation calendar. Once you've done the first destination you will have nothing but fun comparing the other destination on your next trip south of the border!