When it comes to dream getaways, Cancun and Hawaii are two destinations that are at the top of most people’s bucket list. Both of these tropical paradises can offer unique varied experiences. From lively getaways for couples looking for sun, sea, and sand, to the adventurous backpacker who wants to scuba dive and trek jungles in one of the world’s most exotic regions.
Choosing whether to visit Hawaii or Cancun for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday or honeymoon destination can therefore be difficult. That’s why we’re here to help as we compare Cancun vs Hawaii below, and show you what each has to offer.
Cancun vs Hawaii: Which is the better choice?
These destinations are very different, and so making the right choice between Cancun vs Hawaii is important.
If beaches are your priority, then Cancun will be a better choice than Hawaii. That’s because Cancun has many white sand beaches with soft, ‘powdery’ sand. The water is much calmer and warmer in Cancun compared to Hawaii too – no surprise considering this Mexican destination sits on the Caribbean Sea.
However, because Cancun is such a famous destination, the gorgeous stretches of sand here tend to be highly developed and very busy. That means Cancun feels a bit like a concrete jungle at times, although the upside for tourists is that there are many all-inclusive hotel rooms with an ocean view. (Recommended: Do You Need a Passport to go to Cancun).
Because Cancun is so tourist-orientated there’s also a very good shopping scene, lots of things to keep you entertained, and the nightlife is lively and loud with numerous bars and nightclubs. Although all of that has made the city quite ‘Americanized’ with chain restaurants and hotels.
Hawaii, on the other hand, is an outdoor lovers’ paradise, and while it has many pretty golden beaches, its mountainous jungle-covered interior is begging to be explored and enjoyed. In fact Hawaii’s biggest peak stands at 4207m!
These islands are also full of culture. Hawaiian culture – aloha wear, hula, and luau for example – is almost better known that Hawaii’s gorgeous sunsets and surfing spots. So getting a taste of the real Hawaiian experience is a must if visiting.
Subsequently, Hawaii is a destination that attracts tourists that are looking for outdoor adventures and culture, as well as sun, sea, and sand . There’s also a lively nightlife scene in Hawaii too.
Below we look at what things you can see and do in Cancun and Hawaii in more detail, so you have an idea of what excursions are possible.
Cancun or Hawaii: Natural sights and things to do
Cancun 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, but another fun aspect of this beach are the iguanas that come to sunbathe here too. 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.
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.
For travelers leaning towards a Hawaiian holiday, there’s still many great beaches where you can enjoy that famous laid-back surfer vibe.
Some of our favorites include the less well-known Waimea Bay Beach on Oahu, and the stunning Hanalei Bay on Kauai island. For great snorkeling and the chance to see turtles, then visit Hanauma Bay on Oahu. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
For a more fun-fueled beach adventure, pick up a cocktail at the famous Waikiki Beach and get chatting to locals. If you’re feeling energetic, a hike up Hawaii’s Diamond Head – which looms over Waikiki – will give you spectacular panoramic views of Honolulu and Oahu.
The Hawaiian island of Kauai was the backdrop for the film Jurassic Park, so expect great hiking and walking trails that will take you back in time. A superb walking and hiking in Hawaii book – such as this one – would be a great addition to your suitcase. The tropical forests here on the ‘Garden Isle’ make their way up the mountainsides towards sharp dramatic peaks. However the reefs on this island are also world renowned among divers, and offer spectacular scuba and snorkeling opportunities.
For something more cultural, the iconic luau – a traditional Hawaiian feast with entertainment – should be the first thing on your list. We recommend the Smith Family Garden Luau in Kauai due to the delicious traditional food on offer, and the colorful entertainment and dances. But almost everywhere on Hawaii you can find a spectacular luau experience.
With your interest piqued in Hawaiian culture after taking part in a luau, head to the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Oahu to learn more about the Polynesian people and culture.
Cancun vs Hawaii: Which is the better holiday destination?
Both of these holiday destinations will provide unforgettable memories, but for very different reasons.
Cancun is energetic, busy, loud and developed. The beaches and aqua water here are gorgeous, 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, partying late, and lots of touristy things to do, then Cancun will be the better choice than Hawaii.
However if you want an active holiday, then Hawaii will provide one that can be packed full of culture and adventure, as well as great beaches and snorkeling spots. Hawaii also has a more authentic feel than Cancun, and the landscape is second to none.
Recommended for your trip to Cancun or Hawaii
*This article may contain affiliate links which allows Wandering our World to make a small commission on any sales made – and keep the coffee flowing! It involves no extra cost to yourself. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases, but only recommend products we believe in.