Last updated on January 12, 2024 by Wandering our World
If you’ve been dreaming of a paradise beach getaway, with endless sands, warm waters, luxury resorts, and perfect conditions for rest, relaxation, and recreation, Aruba and Cancun are two destinations that might be on your mind. They’re both famed for their world-class beaches and amazing accommodation locations, along with wonderful weather and more.
But, given that Aruba and Cancun are quite far apart, it’s not really practical to see them both. So, which one should you pick? Should it be Cancun, famed for its lively vibes and iconic “Hotel Zone,” with bars, restaurants, and beaches all around, easily accessible and suitable for visitors of all ages?
Or should you head to Aruba instead? This small Caribbean island is quite different to Cancun in many ways, with more of an authentic feel, pristine white sand beaches, and untouched tropical rainforests just waiting to be explored. And, while Cancun is all about those vast, all-inclusive resorts, Aruba offers visitors more freedom to get out and explore.
Clearly, these two destinations are both remarkable in their own ways, but also have notable differences to set them apart from one another. And, by digging into those differences, you can easily figure out which one is best for you and your fellow travelers. This guide is here to help with that, comparing Aruba and Cancun in a range of key areas, from climate to cuisine.
- A Quick Overview Of Aruba vs Cancun
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Aruba vs Cancun: Which Is Better?
Wandering Our World’s Ten-Second Comparison:
A Quick Overview Of Aruba vs Cancun
Aruba: A Quick Overview
Aruba is a constituent country that is technically part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It’s located in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea, less than 30 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Measuring 20 miles in length and six miles wide at its broadest point, it’s quite a small island, but still a little bigger than Cancun. Around 106,000 people live here.
Various indigenous people traveled to and from Aruba throughout the ages, like the Caquetio people, who came to the island in the 1500s. Later, European explorers came to the area, and Aruba fell under Spanish control at first, before becoming part of the Dutch Empire, alongside other Caribbean islands, like Bonaire and Curacao.
Dutch and Papiamento (a Portuguese-based creole) are the two official languages on the island, and Aruba’s culture mixes traditional Caribbean elements with Dutch influences, giving it quite a unique and interesting feel. The island is also known for its distinctive Dutch colonial architecture, along with its natural landmarks, like Jamanota Hill and the Ayo Rock Formations.
Aruba also stands out for its uniquely dry climate, with fewer rainy days than most other Caribbean locations. This, combined with the island’s beauty and places of interest, make it a fantastic touristic destination. Many people are drawn here to enjoy activities like sunbathing, scuba diving, and boating, and it’s one of the most romantic islands in the Caribbean too.
Cancun: A Quick Overview
Cancun is a Mexican city and touristic region, located on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Part of the state of Quintana Roo, Cancun gazes out across the Caribbean Sea and is home to over a million people, with countless more flocking here each year as tourists. It’s a little smaller than Aruba, but generally feels a lot busier and livelier.
History-wise, Cancun can’t quite compete with Aruba, as it barely existed on the map before the 1970s. That was when the Mexican government decided to take a barren patch of land on the Yucatan coast and turn it into a touristic zone, funding the construction of luxury hotels and driving investment to the area.
Their project became a huge success. In the years that followed, Cancun swiftly emerged as one of Mexico’s leading touristic hubs, with even more resorts and hotels developing and visitors coming from all four corners of the globe. This provided a big boost to Mexico’s economy which has continued right up to the present day.
The famous “Hotel Zone” dominates a large part of Cancun, made up of vast all-inclusive resorts with long lists of amenities and attractions. There’s also a long stretch of sand surrounding the area, perfect for seaside fun, as well as other sources of fun and excitement, like golf courses, water parks, and even historic ruins just a short drive away.
Which Has The Best Weather?
When it comes to the weather, both Cancun and Aruba are very pleasant places with tons of sunshine and high temperatures. If you’re eager to spend lots of time outside, soaking up the sun’s rays, basking on the beaches, and feeling free to wear shorts, T-shirts, and the like, you’ll definitely have a super experience in either of these two locations.
However, there are a couple of key differences. Aruba, as mentioned above, stands out compared to many other parts of the Caribbean for its surprisingly dry, arid climate. It generally has higher temperatures than Cancun all-year long and is hot no matter when you visit, with more clear days and super low levels of rain.
In contrast, Cancun’s temperatures can be a little lower and therefore more bearable for people who struggle with intense heat. However, you may need to choose your travel dates a little more carefully if you’re heading to Cancun, as it has wet season which starts in June and continues through to October.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Most people associate Cancun and Aruba with beach-based activities. And it’s certainly true that you’ll most likely to spend a lot of time sunbathing and swimming if you visit either of these destinations. However, they both offer many more activities and interesting ways to pass the time. Here’s a look at the best things to do in both locations.
Aruba: The Activities
If you love nature-based activities, you’re sure to adore Aruba, as this island nation has a long list of impressive natural landmarks to visit, starting off with the famous Natural Pool. As the name implies, it’s like a naturally-formed saltwater swimming pool, surrounded by dramatic volcanic rocks, perfect for swimming and admiring the scenery.
If you prefer to stay dry, Aruba also boasts a range of great places to hike and climb. There are the towering hills of Hooiberg and Jamanota, for example, or the vast expanse of Arikok National Park, which covers around 20% of the island. Visitors might also like to head underground at the Quadiriki Caves or admire the awe-inspiring Ayo Rocks.
If you find man-made structures a little more engaging, consider a visit to the California Lighthouse, the tallest structure on Aruba. Or, you could dive into the past and see the Bushiribana and Balashi ruins, dating back to the island’s gold mining days in the 19th century. The yellow Alto Vista Chapel is another must-see, first built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1952.
There are also a couple of interesting urban areas to check out in Aruba, like the thriving arts scene of San Nicolas or the island’s capital city, Oranjestad, home to decorative Dutch colonial buildings. From festivals to jet ski rides or even an aloe vera farm tour, Aruba offers many other quirky and unexpected ways to spend your days.
Cancun: The Activities
If you’re heading to Cancun, you’ll most likely spend a lot of your time (if not all of it) in the so-called “Hotel Zone.” This is the big, touristic part of the city, where you can find its many fancy resorts, all-inclusive hotels, bars, beaches, and clubs. Feeling a little like a Vegas Strip-style city, it’s a great place to roam around and simply take in the atmosphere.
As well as visiting the hotels and checking out their many amenities, like spas and live entertainment venues, you can also stop by at the many sandy strips that surround this area. The conditions are ideal for water sports, like parasailing and kayaking, as well as diving down below the depths – there’s even an underwater museum here, called MUSA.
Families, meanwhile, might like to check out the area’s thrilling water parks and pools, while sports fans can hit up the local golf courses and admire the views as they make their way from hole to hole. Even history buffs can find lots to love about Cancun, as there are some iconic archeological sites and ruins nearby, like El Meco, home to an ancient Mayan pyramid.
It’s also important to note that, while the Hotel Zone tends to dominate the Cancun skyline, it’s not the only part of the city. You can also head into the “Ciudad” side of Cancun, where many of the hotel workers live, to see a more authentic side of the city, complete with independent stores to look around and some terrific restaurants and bars as well.
Overall, there’s much to see and enjoy both in Aruba and Cancun. Aruba is more oriented around outdoorsy activities, like hiking or exploring the forests and caves, while Cancun is much more of a typical touristic destination, with grand resorts and family entertainment, as well as fascinating historic sites nearby.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
Along with the Dutch colonial architecture of Aruba and the Vegas-like hotels of Cancun, both of these locations are also excellent for beaches. With soft sands, warm waters, and idyllic climate conditions to be beside the sea, they’re both great places for those who love to while away the hours sunbathing or strolling along the water’s edge. But which is best?
Well, let’s start with Cancun. A great thing about this place is that beaches can be found all around the Hotel Zone. They’re super easy to access, and there are many miles of soft sands, so you can easily walk along and find a place that suits you just right. There are also plenty of lifeguards to keep people safe, with hotels and restaurants just a short walk away.
So, which ones are best? Well, Playa Norte is one of the most beloved sandy spots in Cancun, ideal for couples with its gentle waters and romantic vibes. Then, there’s Playa Delfines, perfect for dolphin-watching or relaxing on the many loungers available. You can also try Chac Mool for wild water sport fun, or Punta Marona to play games with the kids.
Over on Aruba, the beaches are a little more spread out, and it may take slightly longer to hop between them. However, many of them are very pristine, with peaceful, romantic vibes that help you feel far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities. Arashi Beach is a fine example, renowned as one of the Caribbean’s leading snorkeling spots.
For families, Baby Beach is a lovely spot, with shallow lagoon waters for swimming. Or, if you’re looking for beauty and relaxation all in one, try Eagle Beach, which stretches on to the horizon, offering the cleanest, whitest sands and row after row of loungers and umbrellas to help you drift off for a gentle afternoon nap or work on your tan.
Overall, both locations have terrific beaches, and there’s no clear winner. It all depends on your own personal tastes and preferences. If you want quite busy and lively beaches with great safety ratings and easy access, Cancun’s the place to be. For a little more diversity and quieter, cozier beaches, try Aruba instead.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
Clearly, there’s lots to do in the daytime during your stay in either Aruba or Cancun. But how about evening entertainment? Well, if you’re a fan of nightlife, you’ll enjoy either one of these destinations, as they both have super evening scenes, with clubs, bars, and plenty of friendly locals to share your time with.
Cancun is particularly exciting after dark. The Hotel Zone never truly seems to sleep, and there are always people buzzing about after the sun has set. From live DJ performances and concerts to beach parties, seafront cocktail bars, luxury rooftop lounges, and dynamic dance clubs, you can find it all here, making it easy to have fun all the way until the early hours.
However, while it might not have quite the same party reputation as Cancun, Aruba also has a top class nightlife scene. You’ll find many trendy bars lining the city streets here, along with beachside cocktail spots and funky karaoke bars too. There are also some super casinos dotted across the island at many of its biggest and best resorts.
Overall, both destinations have a high standard of nightlife entertainment, but Cancun just about edges ahead. It’s simply a busier, livelier place with a little more going on compared to Aruba.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
When it comes to shopping, Cancun continues to impress, with a surprisingly diverse range of places to shop the day away. There are two massive malls in the Hotel Zone, along with lots of boutiques and stores among the various resorts. Then, over in the Ciudad area, you can visit a traditional flea market and various stores with handcrafted items, clothing, and more.
Over in Aruba, you can also find some super shopping districts in places like Oranjestad and San Nicolas, with lots of stores selling everything from luxury items, such as fragrances and jewelry, to unique and quirky products like traditional island delicacies, aloe vera products, and handcrafted souvenirs.
Overall, for shopaholics, Cancun is slightly better. There are more stores here, and they’re a little more accessible, too. Plus, with big malls,
Which Is Best For Food?
Both Aruba and Cancun are also fine places for foodies, with lots of delicious delights on the menu in both destinations. However, there’s a big difference between them: in Cancun, most people will stay at all-inclusive resorts and eat most of their meals in the hotel, while over in Aruba, you’ll have more liberty to get out and visit the various restaurants around the island.
So, if you’re traveling as a family or just want a simple, relaxing getaway, Cancun might appeal to you. Lots of the resorts have multiple restaurants on-site serving up all of your favorite dishes, from comfort food like pizzas and burgers to traditional Mexican dishes. And, if ever you want something different, you can head into the Ciudad to find more authentic family-run eateries.
If you like eating somewhere different every day and are eager to taste authentic island foods, you might prefer Aruba. Many dishes here are made with locally-grown or caught ingredients, with lots of quality seafood meals and traditional Caribbean fare. Prices are a bit higher than in Cancun though, so you’ll need to keep that in mind when planning your meals.
Overall, Aruba is ideal for those who want to enjoy a different style of food than they’re familiar with. Cancun, meanwhile, has more options to suit a wider range of tastes, along with more accessible and affordable food.
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re hoping to head to Aruba or Cancun with the family, you’ll need to choose carefully, as one of these destinations might be much better-suited to your kids than the other.
A lot of families appreciate Cancun, and it’s not hard to see why. There are lots of activities and attractions here catered towards the family crowd, including fun-filled water parks and lots of kid-friendly amenities in the resorts. Parents will also appreciate the very safe beaches here, though the energetic nightlife side of Cancun may be a little less appealing to families.
Then, there’s Aruba. There, active families are sure to have the time of their lives, as there are lots of good hiking routes to check out among the hills and natural spaces. You’ll also find quieter and more secluded beaches here, perfect for families that like to get away from the crowds, though the lack of traditional family attractions may disappoint.
All in all, both destinations can work well for families. Aruba is the better choice if you want to get out and have adventures, while Cancun is more relaxing, accessible, and better for magical family moments, either at the water parks, around the hotel, or at the nearby Mayan ruins.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Cancun and Aruba can also appeal to couples. And if you’re looking for the more romantic destination, it has to be Aruba. It’s a quieter and calmer place compared to the somewhat flashy nature of Cancun, with lots of romantic spots where you and your partner can enjoy special moments together. The diverse and often tranquil beaches of Aruba are also well-suited to couples.
Cancun is busier and brasher, but can still be a fantastic destination for couples to visit. The beaches are lively and exciting, and it’s easy to mingle with other travelers and make friends here. Many couples will also appreciate the luxurious resorts of Cancun, with their many amenities, along with the wider range of food and activities.
Overall, the best option for you and your partner will depend on what you and your partner enjoy the most. For a classic romantic experience, Aruba’s the place to be. For a little more diversity and excitement, try Cancun instead.
Which Is Cheapest?
Of course, budget and cost are also important factors for many travelers when picking between two destinations, especially in a region like the Caribbean, which is famed for having quite high prices. So, which of these two locations offers the best value for money and lowest prices in general?
Well, in the price department, Cancun takes the win. It’s often cited as one of the best value places to go in the entire Caribbean, and it’s certainly cheaper than Aruba in many aspects. Firstly, getting to Cancun is usually cheaper, especially from the U.S., and things like food, accommodation, and touristic experiences also tend to cost less here.
Budget: Karibu Aruba Boutique Hotel epitomizes tropical elegance, surrounded by lush gardens and vibrant flora. Tranquil courtyards lead to stylish rooms adorned with modern Caribbean aesthetics. The azure pool glistens amidst swaying palms, offering an idyllic oasis. This enchanting haven captures the essence of Aruba’s beauty and invites serenity.
Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, is a symphony of luxury and natural beauty. Nestled along pristine shores, the resort boasts elegant architecture and lush landscapes. Crystal-clear waters frame the private beach, while opulent interiors, gourmet dining, and attentive service elevate this haven. A masterpiece where indulgence meets the Caribbean’s exquisite allure.
Budget: Adhara Hacienda Cancun radiates charm with its hacienda-style architecture and lush gardens. Majestic archways lead to serene courtyards, adorned with vibrant flora. The shimmering pool reflects the allure of this tranquil haven, providing a captivating backdrop to the hotel’s timeless beauty and warm hospitality in the heart of Cancun.
Luxury: Garza Blanca Resort & Spa Cancun is a paradisiacal masterpiece where luxury meets nature’s grandeur. Nestled along the pristine coastline, its modern architecture seamlessly blends with the turquoise sea. Infinity pools cascade, offering breathtaking views, while the lush surroundings and refined interiors create an enchanting retreat in the heart of Cancun’s beauty.
Aruba vs Cancun: Which Is Better?
Overall, it’s not hard to see why so many travelers recommend their friends and families to visit Aruba and Cancun. Both of these destinations are simply fantastic, with beautiful scenery and the perfect conditions to help you relax. For gorgeous beaches and awesome resorts, there are few places that can compete. But which one is the best?
Well, throughout this guide, one destination has consistently emerged as the winner in many of the key categories, and that destination is Cancun. Livelier, more exciting, and a little more diverse as well, Cancun has got lots to offer, with the best value for money, awesome nightlife, great shopping, and delicious food on the menu, too. It’s the perfect escape.
At the same time, you shouldn’t simply ignore Aruba, as this charming island still has much to offer. It’s not as dynamic or touristic as Cancun, but it can appeal to those looking for somewhere quieter and calmer. It’s also much more authentic, with lovely old buildings to admire and amazing natural spaces to explore.