The Best of Mexico: Cabo and Cancun

Mexico's most popular beach destinations, Cabo and Cancun, have totally different vibes. Find out which one is right for you.
By: 
Donna Heiderstadt

The Scoop on Cancun

Despite its singles-gone-wild, party zone image (which, in some respects, is well-deserved), Cancun has plenty to offer in the romance department. You just need to know where to find it. The calling cards for honeymooners jetting to this island city on the Yucatan peninsula are the sea (the warm, translucent Caribbean) and the sand (super soft and talcum white). Adventure junkies and culture lovers get a bonus: Just to Cancun’s south, along the Riviera Maya, lies a jungle playground filled with freshwater-filled limestone cenotes (sink holes) ideal for rappelling and snorkeling, colorful reefs perfect for diving and photogenic Mayan ruins begging to be climbed. And the Mayan-influenced Yucatecan cuisine (grilled corn tortillas, chaya soup and chicken pibil) makes for an edgy dining scene.

cancun hotel zone

Photo courtesy of Cancun CVB

Easily accessed from the Eastern U.S. (flying time is four hours from New York, under two from Miami and about two-and-a-half hours from Houston), Cancun also offers tremendous value — whether you’re looking for all-inclusive ease or luxury for less. But unlike Cabo, which has few high-rise hotels, Cancun offers large, modern resorts lined shoulder- to-shoulder along its wide, gorgeous sands. If you’re the type of couple who craves nightlife, you’ll be happy here — even the resorts’ bars and lounges tend to be lively well before nightfall.

While usually balmy, the seasons are a bit more distinct here, with the best time to visit being December to April. High temperatures and humidity are typical May through July (but the inviting Caribbean Sea is just steps away), while in the late summer and early fall you risk encountering hurricanes.

Hot Hotels

Located in Cancun’s beachfront Hotel Zone, but offering the elegance of a Mediterranean palazzo, the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun delivers classic luxury in 365 rooms, plus a wonderful spa and a fun culinary center (room rates start at $224 a night; ritzcarlton.com).

spa at ritz carlton

Photo Credit: Mark Weiland/ The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun

The contemporary, 371-room Live Aqua Cancun is a sensory experience, from the aromatherapy menu (choose a scent for your room) to the music (different hotel areas have different playlists chosen by a DJ). A romance bonus: It’s adults only (room rates start at $400 a night, all-inclusive; feel-aqua.com/en).

To chill out away from the bustling Hotel Zone, consider Excellence Playa Mujeres, a sophisticated, adults-only all-inclusive featuring 450 suites, all with private Jacuzzis, set around a free-form pool with dreamy daybeds facing a quiet, beach (room rates start at $406 a night, all-inclusive; excellence-resorts.com).

Appetizing Cuisine

For a romantic splurge, enjoy locally inspired appetizers and fresh grilled fish and steak at Casitas, the beachfront cabana dining experience at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun. At La Destileria sample tequila (there are more than 100 varieties on offer) paired with seafood or steak. You can also take a tour of the on-site tequila distillery. If you’ve rented a car to explore the attractions of Riviera Maya, stop for lunch or dinner along the way at Yaxche, an eatery in Playa Del Carmen featuring authentic Mayan cuisine.

casitas restaurant

Photo Credit: Robert Reck

Adventurous Excursions

Cancun’s mangrove-lined lagoon is a watery playground as you rev the engine of your two-person Thunder outboard and zip through the water on a Jungle Tour with Aquafun. The half-day excursion includes snorkeling in the National Marine Park. Head south on a full-day Coba Mayan Encounter Adventure to 1,500-year-old ruins followed by ziplining over cenotes and rappelling into them with Alltournative Offtrack Adventures. Then slow things down a bit with a visit to a spa for a Temazcal ancient Mayan steam ritual at the posh Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita.

zoetry

Photo Credit: Zoetry Wellness & Spa Resorts