There are so many great destinations in Mexico, and Cancun and Mazatlan are two of the best. However, both offer very different vacations, so making the choice between Cancun and Mazatlan is as important as it is difficult.
Thankfully we’re here to help! Below we pit Cancun vs Mazatlan, 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 vs Mazatlan: Which is the better choice?
Many people think these destinations will be quite similar as they’re both in Mexico. However there are notable differences.
We’ve found that Cancun has better beaches than Mazatlan, as it has many white sand beaches with soft, ‘powdery’ sand. Cancun is also on the calmer Caribbean side of Mexico, and so the water here tends to be warmer than on the Pacific side of Mexico – where Mazatlan is.
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 hotel rooms with an ocean view.
Mazatlan, on the other hand, is a more laid-back place with many boutique hotels and a great variety of independent restaurants. The long stretch of beach here is great for sunbathing, but the sand and water doesn’t really compare to Cancun which has those Caribbean-esque beaches we all dream about.
However, what we like about Mazatlan is that isn’t as developed as Cancun, and while there are resorts here, this destination still feels very local. The vibe, character and culture feels far more authentic and Mexican in Mazatlan than Cancun.
A bonus that comes with that, is the fact Mazatlan is still a local city so the prices for eating out, hotels, drinks, and activities are much cheaper than in Cancun. So if you’re looking for a Mexican holiday that won’t break the bank, Mazatlan will be the better choice.
When it comes to nightlife, Cancun is probably the more lively destination – but again it’s a very costly place to party. Mazatlan has a great nightlife scene too – and is known for beach parties. You’ll find more opportunities to meet locals in Mazatlan than in touristy Cancun.
Mazatlan 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. The Mexican cartels leave both tourist regions well alone.
Below we look at what things you can see and do in Cancun and Mazatlan in more detail, so you have an idea of what excursions are possible.
Cancun or Mazatlan: 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. (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: Do You Need a Passport to go to Cancun).
While everything feels new in Cancun, Mazatlan has a far more local vibe and as a city founded in the 16th century, there’s plenty of old Mexican and Colonial architecture here to discover.
This is a city which is begging to be explored and discovered, so if you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort holiday then Cancun may suit you better.
The 21km long seaside boardwalk here – the second longest in the world – will bring you to several of the city’s best beaches, as well as countless beachside bars, restaurants and street food stalls.
Mazatlan’s longest beach – Playa Norte – is a popular swimming spot as the water is clean and calm. The beach has a real local feel and you’ll find families having picnics here and fisherman reeling in their daily catch. Grab some cheap street food and enjoy the sun.
Another must-visit beach is Playa Bruja, which is a popular surfing spot. This stretch of beach is fantastic for long walks, and with several excellent beachside seafood restaurants, it’s probably our favorite place in the region to grab dinner – try Mr. Lionso’s Restaurant.
Grab a short five-minute boat ride to Stone Island (which is actually a peninsula) if you’re looking for the warmest water for swimming and some of the best snorkeling spots. Because you need to get a boat here, the beaches on Stone Island are usually quite empty.
If you’re feeling adventurous try some big game fishing – Mazatlan is one of the best locations in Mexico for sportfishing. Or for a bit of culture, spend some time strolling around the city’s historic center. The Plaza Machado is full of historic buildings and local buskers, and is the life and soul of Mazatlan.
Tired of the beach? Then challenge yourself to climb El Faro de Mazatlan. A half-hour hike which features over 300 steps will take you to the highest point in the city, a hill that has commanding views over Mazatlan and out across the Sea of Cortez. At the top is a pretty old lighthouse, and if you’re daring enough, there’s a glass bridge which will allow you to ‘walk over’ the edge of the hillside!
After a day of exploring, watch the sunset at the laid-back Joe’s Oyster Bar – a thatched beachside hut which has good food, live music, and buckets of cold beer! If you fancy something a little more lively, head to La Catrina. This popular local haunt has live music most nights and a very good drinks selection.
Cancun vs Mazatlan: Which is the better holiday choice?
Both of these Mexican holiday vacations will provide unforgettable memories but for very different reasons.
Cancun is energetic, busy, loud and developed. The beaches and 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 on stunning beaches, with eating out, partying late, and lots of touristy things to do, then Cancun could be the better choice than Mazatlan.
Mazatlan, on the other hand, has some lovely beaches, is less busy, more relaxed and is much cheaper than Cancun. It also has a far more authentic Mexican feel compared to the more ‘Americanized’ Cancun. So if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand in a cheap location with a variety of independent restaurants and a more local experience, then Mazatlan will be the better choice than Cancun.