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boat docks near Mexico resort in turqoise waters

Cancun vs Mazatlan: The Honest Comparison You Need!

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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 them is as important as it is difficult.

For example Cancun is full of tourist excursions, the beaches and water are better than in Mazatlan, and the shopping and nightlife scene is famous for a reason.

But Mazatlan, on the other hand 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.

But in reality that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to how these two fun Mexican beach cities are similar and different.

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!

So let’s dive in!


  1. A Quick Overview: Beaches, Vibe & More
  2. Which Has Better Natural Sights & Things To Do?
  3. Which Has Better Nightlife?
  4. Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
  5. Which Is The Better Honeymoon Destination?
  6. Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
  7. Which Is Safer?
  8. Which Is Cheaper?
  9. Which Is The Better Holiday Choice
 Mazatlan  vs  cancun infographic

A Quick Overview: Beaches, Vibe & More

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 there 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.

Akumal bay - Caribbean white beach in Riviera Maya, coast of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, Mexico Dannhauer

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.

Mazatlan main avenue called malecon

Which Has Better Natural Sights & Things To Do

There’s plenty to do in both destinations, although there’s no doubt that Cancun has more ready-made tourists activities and excursions.

Below we look at some of the top things to do in each location, so you can see which place may suit your preferences most.

Cancun: 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.

Cancun beach with boat from drone Ross

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 do a tour of the breathtaking ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá.

After that you will get the chance to swim in cenotes – huge sinkholes that have filled with water and are now gorgeous natural swimming pools. A trip like this 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

In essence there’s lots to do in Cancun and plenty of excursions set up for tourists. That’s a big bonus, although they do come with ‘tourist’ prices.

boat docks near Mexico resort in turqoise waters Ross

Mazatlan: Things To Do

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.

Mexico, Mazatlan, Colorful old city streets in historic city center

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!

Mazatlan Golden Zone (Zona Dorada), famous touristic beach and resort zone in Mexico

Which Has Better Nightlife?

Cancun: The Nightlife

Cancun is famous for being a rowdy Spring Break party town. But with tourists coming here from all around the world to party, Cancun’s nightlife thrives year-round, not just during Spring Break. Simply put, it’s one of the most coveted towns in Mexico when it comes to partying.

However there’s a nightlife scene for all here. So whether you just want a relaxed night with cocktail in hand at a beach bar, or a more exciting and wild time, you can easily find a bar or club in Cancun that will suit.

There’s a district in Cancun called Punta Cancun which is an especially great place for partygoers. It’s filled with many bars, pubs, and nightclubs. You’ll find plenty of mega nightclubs there that can hold up to 5,000 people and will play music late into the morning.

Coco Bongo, the area’s most well-liked multi-level nightclub and bar, is the place to go if you’re searching for a truly hip location to hang out. Not your simple nightclub, Coco Bongo offers flying acrobats, live music, and the party atmosphere of a lifetime!

La Vaquita is another popular club, known for its unique cow theme. Playing hip hop to reggaeton, you are in for a wild night at this club.

Dj decks with people dancing

Mazatlan: The Nightlife

The nightlife in Mazatlan is not as lively nor as famous as Cancun’s. And many of the visitors to the city are actually locals from nearby cities looking to unwind at the weekend, so you won’t find them partying hard on weekdays.

But weekends can be good fun, and you’ll certainly have more chances of making friends with locals in Mazatlan than in Cancun.

Zona Dorada or the ‘Golden Zone’ is where both tourists and locals go to party. In this zone, there’s the Fiesta Land complex which is packed with restaurants, nightclubs, sports bars, and piano bars. It’s a great place to go club-hopping and is practically located on the beach.

The most prominent club in the area is probably Valentino’s, a nightclub with unique castle-like architecture. But don’t be fooled by the Disney-esque architecture because the party inside is definitely not for kids.

Young women dancing in a nightclub

Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget


Shoestring: Finding a stylish place on a shoestring budget is hard in Cancun, but Nomads Enigmatic Hotel & Hostel is just that. This modern hostel in downtown Cancun has been created in an old Mexican style but comes complete with bar, outside swimming pool and wonderful shared garden. For the price, it’s a fantastic choice. 

Budget: It’s even harder to find luxurious beachside accommodation in the city’s famous hotel zone without stratospheric prices attached to it. However Oleo Cancun Playa Boutique All Inclusive Resort offers an all-inclusive experience – and even rooms with sea views – at more than half the price of many neighboring hotels.

Luxury: Set in the heart of the action in Cancun’s hotel zone, and with every luxury imaginable including butler service, Turquoize at Hyatt Ziva Cancun with its unbelievable beachside views and infinity pool is as high end as you can get. 

Happy couple in infinity pool


Shoestring: Set in the heart of the historical centre but still just 600m from the beach, Villa Serena Centro Historico is a fantastic affordable choice if you’re looking for beach and city activities. The rooms are decorated in a traditional Mazatlan vibe, but you’ll still have access to an outdoor pool and hot tub!

Budget: The Inn at Mazatlan is a beachfront hotel with spa, gym, large outdoor pool with a waterfall and even a hot tub! Each room has ocean views.

Luxury: It’s hard to get more luxurious in the city than Hotel Boutique Casa Lulu. Gorgeously decorated – this place almost feels like an art gallery – alongside wonderful outdoor pool, fire pits, and rooms with knockout sea views. Yet despite the luxury, the price is surprisingly cheap for what you get. 

Image of couple drinking cocktails when relaxing on chaise-lounges by swimming pool

Which Is The Better Honeymoon Destination?

Cancun: For Honeymoons

Cancun is the best choice for those looking for a traditional honeymoon experience. The city can boast a huge number of all-inclusive resorts with direct beach access to gorgeous sandy beaches, as well as a large number of upscale eateries.

From the start of the city’s developments, Cancun has always been engineered as a tourist destination. That means traveling in Cancun is easy and comfortable, with attractions such as ATV rides and aquariums – it’s the no hassle holiday all honeymooners want after their big day.

Unfortunately though, this also means that there aren’t many natural and cultural attractions – aside from the sea.

However, you can take a 1-2 hour drive out of Cancun to visit the cenotes in neighboring towns. Mexico’s cenotes (see photo below) are amongst the most beautiful in the world, and they give off a romantic feel that will make your honeymoon truly unforgettable.

Another perk for newlyweds is Cancun’s vibrant nightlife. Spend the evening drinking, talking, and enjoying each other’s company or dancing till dawn at one of Cancun’s megaclubs!

cenote with jungle in the background

Mazatlan: For Honeymoons

At first glance, Mazatlan is obviously a more local town than Cancun. While it is a big city, the city isn’t solely centered on tourism and resorts, meaning it feels less commercial and you’ll actually feel an authentic Mexican vibe there.

That being said, Mazatlan is still brimming with resorts that are perfect for a honeymoon. Mazatlan’s coastline is also very long, and because it also tends to be less crowded than Cancun, it’s easier to find quiet beaches for one-on-one time.

So if you’re a couple looking for a honeymoon with the comforts of the beach, but still in a destination that isn’t too popular, then this city could be perfect.

One enchanting place you must visit on your honeymoon is Parque Natural Faro Mazatlán. Sitting on top of a rocky hill 523 feet above sea level you’ll find a lighthouse and glass bridge offering breathtaking views of the sea and the city.

Going at sunset is recommended so you can see the sky turn from sky blue to orange to darkness, giving off a romantic, serene vibe.

However just like Cancun, Mazatlan doesn’t offer a lot of natural attractions away from the beaches. But you must take advantage of the city’s intact historic neighborhoods. Take your spouse’s hand and enjoy a nice afternoon stroll in the streets of Old Mazatlan (Centro Historico), it’ll feel a bit like a fairytale.

For a taste of local culture and food in the most romantic and fun way possible, spend a day learning how to dance salsa with your partner and making salsa sauce at Salsa and Salsa!

It’s such a refreshing and unique type of honeymoon activity that you can’t get just anywhere! You’ll also be welcomed with tasty margaritas. Sign us up!

In general, Cancun has that classic comfortable all-inclusive honeymoon resort feel, while Mazatlan is the better option for couples looking to explore local culture.

romantic couple in love sitting together on rope swing at sunset beach, silhouettes of young man and woman on holidays or honeymoon

Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?

Cancun: For Families

Don’t let the party town status fool you into thinking that Cancun isn’t suitable for families. In fact, you’ll find plenty of families in Cancun during the school holidays.

Starting at the shore, the beaches offer countless activities for the whole family including sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, and water sports. Many on beaches that are very kid-friendly and safe.

But one of the favorite tourist attractions in Cancun for children is a visit to Interactive Aquarium Cancun. This is no ordinary aquarium. Offering interactive experiences from swimming with dolphins and feeding sharks to walking underwater, both kids and adults will have a blast here.

Another unique experience is the Jolly Roger Pirate Show. Captain Black Jack will take you on his journey of treasure hunting while going through a series of betrayals and camaraderie. You will see pirates swinging from ropes, sword fights, and battles.

Away from the beaches, those are the kind of attractions that Cancun offers. Lots of entertainment that’s well suited for children. There’s also plenty of kid-friendly resorts, which has helped make Cancun a popular family vacation spot – more so than Mazatlan.

For more variety and a chance to teach your children some history and culture, there’s also a Mayan ruin in Cancun called the El Rey Archaeological Zone. But the more iconic (and best) one is the iconic Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, about 2 hours away from Cancun.

Sandy toes and feet of a couple on lounge chairs enjoying a beach vacation while watching their kids play in the sand. Tropical resort setting

Mazatlan: For Families

Mazatlan tends to have less kid-focused resorts and activities than Cancun, but it does have plenty of outside adventures for them to enjoy.

The city also has an aquarium, conveniently called Mazatlan Aquarium. There you’ll find huge fish tanks, live marine animal shows, and opportunities to swim with sea lions and sharks.

For an even more in-depth water wildlife and nature experience, Onca Explorations offers day tours of whale-watching, swimming with dolphins, releasing baby sea turtles into the sea, kayaking along a mangrove forest, and many more!

Not only will you be making exceptional memories for your children, but you’ll also be teaching them about nature research and conservation.

If your family is looking for a real adventure, try out Huana Coa Canopy Adventure. They offer a variety of land activities and water sports, from ziplining through a jungle and ATV rides to kayaking.

As for culture, Mazatlan is full of festivals, fairs, and fiestas year-round such as Carnaval Mazatlán which takes place in February, and Festival Cultural Mazatlan which lasts from October to December. Take your kids to those so they can experience authentic Mexican culture at these events!

It’s hard to say whether Cancun or Mazatlan is better for a family vacation on activities alone. However there’s another important point that parents must take into account when determining a holiday destination which we talk about next – and that’s safety.

Happy family - mother, kid in snorkeling mask dive underwater, explore tropical fishes in coral reef sea pool. Travel active lifestyle, beach adventure, swimming activity on summer holiday with child. Raro

Which Is Safer?

Mazatlan – along with the rest of the state of Sinaloa – is known for having issues with cartels. In fact in October 2022, the US government actually issued an advisory saying not to travel to Sinaloa state due to crime.

On the other hand, the advisory for Quintana Roo state (which Cancun is a part of) is only to “exercise increased caution.” Therefore, it’s quite easy to say that Cancun is safer than Mazatlan for tourists. 

The advisory also advises to exercise increased caution when visiting local bars, nightclubs, and casinos. Always be mindful of your belongings and never leave your drink unattended.

However something to note is that there have been recent incidents in Quintana Roo following a dispute between Uber drivers and traditional taxi drivers, some of which have turned sour.

This has actually led the US embassy to issue a security alert on January 2023 advising tourists to take application-based transport such as Uber as opposed to traditional taxi services.

However, Quintana Roo is still one of the safest states in Mexico for tourists.

dark alley in a city

Which Is Cheaper?

Being the big resort and tourism city that it is, Cancun is much more expensive than Mazatlan. In fact, prices for food and accommodation in Cancun can be 2 – 3 times more than in Mazatlan.

While Cancun has nicer beaches and nightlife and overall feels newer, and dare we say it, but also more comfortable, Mazatlan pretty much offers a similar experience at less price.

So if you’re looking for a nice beach resort holiday in Mexico that’s still relatively affordable, Mazatlan may be the better choice.

One woman jumping into blue water

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.

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