When it comes to dream getaways and honeymoon vacations, Cancun and Punta Cana should be two destinations at the top of your list. Both of these friendly beach paradises can offer amazing experiences, fantastic all-inclusive resorts and that tropical sun, sea, and sand experience.
However choosing whether to visit Cancun or Punta Cana for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult. Particularly as these destinations are actually very different from each other.
Having visited both, we compare Cancun vs Punta Cana below, and show you what each has to offer! 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 Punta Cana: Which is the Better Choice?
Both Cancun and Punta Cana have stunning beaches and that picture-perfect white-sand coastline but there’s definite differences you need to know.
While you can expect a dream Caribbean Sea holiday in either, the water is probably a little clearer in Cancun, but the palm-lined beaches in Punta Cana give it a more tropical vibe.
We’ve also found that the sand in Punta Cana is softer and finer than in Cancun, and there’s less coral on the shoreline. Albeit there’s not a huge difference between both destinations.
However one of the big differences we’ve found in terms of the coastline, is that the gorgeous stretches of sand in Cancun tend to be highly developed and very busy.
Whilst in contrast, the beaches in Punta Cana tend to be less developed and less busy, so it’s easier to find your own more private spot. That also makes the Punta Cana beaches, in our opinion, more picturesque.
For tourists who choose Cancun there is an upside to all the development though. Because Cancun is home to so many all-inclusive resorts and high rise hotels right on the shoreline, there are many hotel rooms with a beachside view.
Whereas in Punta Cana many hotels and all-inclusive resorts are set further back from the beach. The result is far fewer hotel rooms with that all-important sea view. That’s definitely something to consider when making your decision.
In fact because Cancun is so tourist-orientated the service in hotels, all-inclusive resorts and restaurants is often excellent, and tends to be better than what you would get at all-inclusive resorts and hotels in Punta Cana. Although that’s not to say the service in Punta Cana is bad, it’s anything but.
There’s also a great shopping scene in Cancun, a huge array of restaurants, and the nightlife is lively and loud with numerous bars and nightclubs.
That means you can step outside your hotel or resort in Cancun and easily find things to do. However all of that has made this destination quite ‘Americanized’ with chain restaurants, hotels and high rises. (Recommended: Do You Need a Passport to go to Cancun).
Punta Cana, on the other hand, has a far more authentic vibe, and you certainly feel like you’re on holiday in a tropical country.
The landscape is dramatically different from Cancun too, with Punta Cana’s stunning beaches giving way to a lush mountainous interior. (Related: Spiders in Mexico – What You Need to Know).
Therefore if you’re adventurous and willing to explore outside of Punta Cana, there’s lots of opportunities to do more than just sunbathe, shop and party. Such as hiking, swimming in waterfalls, and culture-based activities.
So if you’re wanting a holiday that has cultural activities and nature excursions away from the beach and the all-inclusive resorts, then Punta Cana may suit you better than Cancun.
Regarding cost, all-inclusive resorts and hotels in Punta Cana tend to be cheaper than in Cancun. Which is one of the reasons why the Dominican Republic is included on our list of cheapest Caribbean islands to visit.
In terms of safety, both Cancun and Punta Cana are safe. But you should still take precautions of course. I.e. avoid unlit areas at night and confrontations with locals. Non-tourist areas in the Dominican Republic do have notable crime rates though.
Below we look at some of the things you can see and do in Cancun and Punta Cana in more detail. That’s so you have an idea of what excursions are possible, and how different these destinations actually are.
Cancun vs Punta Cana: Natural Sights & Things To Do
This 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 there 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! (Recommended: Sharks in Cancun).
Of course Cancun is a place 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 in Cancun too – far more than in Punta Cana!
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.
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.
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!
The Dominican Republic is marketing itself more and more as a resort destination, with the region of Punta Cana as its crown.
Beaches there, such as Bavaro Beach and Macao Beach, are incredible white-sandy stretches of coastline that are perfect for a day’s swimming and sunbathing. The water is often calm, but it can get a bit choppy.
For one of the best places to swim in the area, head to Hoyo Azul. This watering hole looks out of this world, and jumping into the clear blue water on a hot day is a must!
Staying in Punta Cana, take a visit to Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve. This nature reserve has shady hiking trails and lagoons for swimming. (Related: Common and Deadly Spiders in the Dominican Republic).
In fact having easy access to hiking trails, jungles, lagoons and waterfalls is one of the big things that sets Punta Cana apart from Cancun.
The Dominican Republic destination has a huge variety of landscapes and nature activities right on your doorstep. That’s just not the case with Cancun.
And if you want to see a bit more of the Dominican Republic, then adventurous travelers can hike the Caribbean’s highest peak – Pico Duarte – which lies in the center of the island.
This 3098 meter mountain has several spectacular hiking trails, which can be walked as part of a hiking tour. (Related: Hiking Pico Duarte)
After a strenuous hike you will deserve a treat. So you’ll be happy to hear chocolate is a big thing in the DR! The chocolate made on this island is some of the world’s best, and ChocoMuseo in Punta Cana is a museum dedicated to it. If you take one of their half-day workshops, you will get the chance to make your own bar.
Punta Cana has a fun nightlife that we believe rivals Cancun. For something unique, head to Imagine Punta Cana which is a nightclub set in a cave. Made up of different passages and rooms, this evening spot is famous for its atmosphere and being one of the best places to dance in Punta Cana.
Another one of our favorites is Coco Bongo Punta Cana. This place has great music, entertainers like acrobats and dancers, and is often regarded as the hottest club in the region. A must visit if you come here on vacation.
Recommended stay in Punta Cana:
Radisson Blu Punta Cana: This exceptional all-inclusive resort is just steps away from the “Coconut Coast”, an area of white sand, great activities and nightlife. The resort has a stunning lagoon-style pool, six exclusive restaurants, a fitness center, spa and more. Find out more by clicking here.
Cancun vs Punta Cana: Which is the Better Holiday Choice?
Both of these holiday destinations will provide unforgettable memories but for very different reasons.
Cancun is energetic, busy, loud and developed. The beaches and water there are gorgeous, and the shopping and nightlife scene is famous for a reason. The vibe is quite ‘American’, but that’s because Cancun has been built as the ultimate easy tourist destination.
So if you’re looking for a lively holiday that combines sunbathing, easy access to tourist activities, great service and partying late into the night, then Cancun may be the better choice than Punta Cana.
The beaches in Punta Cana are arguably more beautiful than Cancun, less developed, and usually less busy too. With lush green surroundings, Punta Cana feels more like a tropical paradise, and has a more authentic vibe than Cancun.
There’s a great nightlife scene in Punta Cana as well, whilst all-inclusive resorts and hotels tend to be cheaper than Cancun too. Plus, if you’re adventurous there’s some wonderful excursions away from the tourist hotspots.
So if you’re looking for a holiday that encompasses sun, sea and sand but in a unique location that has lots to offer away from the coast too, then Punta Cana could be a better choice than Cancun.