There are so many great destinations in Mexico, and Cancun and Cozumel are two of the best. However, both offer very different vacations, so making the choice between Cancun and Cozumel is as important as it is difficult.
Thankfully we’re here to help! Below we pit Cancun vs Cozumel, letting you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, and nightlife.
We then give you a run down of some of the best natural sights and things to do in each destination to help you decide which one is better for your holiday.
Cancun or Cozumel: Which is the Better Choice?
Many people think these destinations will be quite similar as they’re both in Mexico and near each other. However they’re actually very different.
In terms of beaches, both have stunning stretches of coastline. However we believe that Cancun has the better beaches for sunbathing and swimming. Yet the downside is that because of this Cancun is one of the most famous destinations in the Americas, and subsequently the gorgeous stretches of sand here tend to be highly developed and very busy.
However, because Cancun is so tourist-orientated there’s also a very good shopping scene, a huge array of restaurants, and the nightlife is lively with numerous bars and nightclubs.
So if you’re looking for an exceptional coastline – and don’t mind the crowds – as well as shops and an array of entertainment options in the evening, then Cancun is probably the better choice than Cozumel.
What Cozumel offers, however, is something completely different but just as alluring.
This stunning Mexican island is more akin to the Caribbean image that many have in their mind when daydreaming of bucket list destinations.
While Cozumel does have high-end resorts, it is far less developed than Cancun, and so a lot less busy. What that means is you get a more authentic Mexican vibe from this island – in comparison to ‘Americanized’ Cancun – and a slower pace of life than the hustle and bustle of party-central Cancun.
There are some great beaches in Cozumel too, but it’s under the water where this destination really shines. The island lies on the second largest coral reef in the world and it’s one of the best – if not the best – snorkeling and scuba diving destination in the world.
That makes Cozumel the better choice if you’re looking for a more relaxed authentic holiday, with some lovely beaches and world class snorkelling. There are some very nice restaurants here too, as well as a few bars and nightclubs so there are things to do in the evening. That said, the emphasis in Cozumel certainly isn’t on partying.
Cozumel is a safe destination for tourists too – as is Cancun – but as always you must be vigilant in regards to petty crime in both destinations, and be careful of leaving drinks unattended.
Below we look at what things you can see and do in Cancun and Cozumel in more detail, so you have an idea of what excursions are possible!
Cancun or Cozumel: Natural Sights and Things to do
This iconic Mexican destination has many gorgeous white sand beaches, and within the Hotel Zone we would say Playa Delfines is one of the best. The turquoise water here is shallow and warm making it perfect for swimming.Bbut another fun aspect of this beach are the iguanas that come to sunbathe there. You can often spot dolphins from the beach as well!
Of course Cancun is a destination where adventure is always just around the corner. So why not head to Playa Ballenas where you can hire jet skis and go racing over the strong waves.
For something a bit different, become a pirate in the evening and join Captain Hook Cancun. For several hours you will be taken out to sea on huge replica pirate boats to enjoy a themed show & dinner. It’s fun and sums up Cancun well – there’s always something happening here.
There’s always shopping opportunities too! One of the best places to ‘shop till you drop’ is La Isla Cancun Shopping Village. This huge mall has a fascinating array of shops, from locals selling handicrafts to the world-renowned Prada. There’s even an aquarium.
You can find some incredible cultural excursions in the Hotel Zone too. We would recommend taking an excursion to the stunning Mayan ruins of El Rey, or if you venture outside of the Hotel Zone you can find the breathtaking ancient Mayan city of Coba. The three hour trip will let you see another side of Mexico, as well as part of this country’s fascinating history too. (Recommended: Your Guide to Culture in Cancun).
After a busy day soaking up the sun, shopping and exploring, then the nightlife in Cancun beckons. Cancun Mandala is one of the coolest spots for late night fun. This energetic nightclub is one of Cancun’s most popular party spots. Another is Congo Bar Cancun, a nightclub and bar with several levels, dancers, and entertainment.
Recommended Stays in Cancun
Le Blanc Spa Resort: This all-inclusive five-star adults only resort is as luxurious as you can get. Right in the heart of the action, it’s by far the best five-star resort in Cancun. It’s pricey but well worth it. Visit their website by clicking here.
Moon Palace: This five-star golf & spa resort is known for it’s exceptional facilities, huge choice of restaurants and many kid-friendly activities – including their own water park! This is the best choice in Cancun if you’re traveling as a family. Visit their website and learn more by clicking here!
This paradise island in the Caribbean Sea is one of the world’s best underwater destinations. And Playa El Cielo, with its soft white sand and gorgeous turquoise water, is an exceptional place to snorkel and sunbathe. The water is unbelievably clear, warm and shallow, and this spot is the perfect place to find colorful reef fish and huge starfish.
While the beaches in Cozumel are less developed and busy compared to Cancun, the more popular beaches can still draw a crowd. If you want to really get away from it all then head to Passion Island. This small island near the north coast has stunning white sand, palm trees and hammocks. It’s the picture of the Caribbean Sea we all dream of. You can also explore the island and surroundings by hiring a kayak or paddle board.
If you’re a scuba diver then Palancar Reef is probably the best reef around the island. The water is exceptionally clear – with visibility up to 200ft – and you can see huge schools of tropical fish, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, and sometimes even humpback whales. In fact the diversity of species here is astounding. A great underwater camera – like this one – is a must. (Recommended: Sharks in Cancun and the Riviera Maya: Safety Info, Attacks & More).
For a bit of history head to San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological Site which is the home of Mayan ruins. This site is still being dug up, so every week the archeologists are revealing new secrets about Cozumel’s Mayan past.
If you’re looking for something a little different then how about a visit to the only active pearl farm in the Caribbean? Cozumel Pearl Farm is surrounded by mangroves and lagoon so the only way to get there is a beautiful boat ride. That just adds to the experience of course, as you get to learn and see into the world of pearls and oysters.
After a day of exploring, sunbathing and snorkeling, it’s time to grab a few drinks and enjoy Cozumel’s nightlife. While this island doesn’t have the loud, brash and lively nightlife scene that Cancun is famous for, it does have an array of bars and clubs to enjoy.
Check out the reggae beach bar, Freedom in Paradise, for cocktails in a hammock by the beach. Or head to possibly the world’s smallest Hard Rock Cafe for beers in an iconic venue. Then finish the night off at Neptuno Dance Club for late night dancing and partying.
Both these Mexican holiday vacations will provide unforgettable memories but for very different reasons.
Cancun is energetic, busy, loud and developed. However the beaches and water in Cancun are unrivalled in the region, and the shopping and nightlife scene is famous for a reason. So if you’re looking for a lively holiday that combines sunbathing with eating out and partying, then Cancun will be the better choice than Cozumel.
However Cozumel is a real Caribbean paradise, with gorgeous beaches and some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving spots. This island has an authentic feel compared to the more ‘Americanized’ Cancun, and has a much more laid back vibe. So if you’re looking for great beaches, world class snorkeling, and a relaxed holiday, then Cozumel will be the better choice than Cancun.