Last Updated on November 21, 2022 by Wandering our World

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.

The difficulty is understandable though as both Cancun and Punta Cana can give you some extraordinary experiences — dreamy beaches, incredible nightlife, historical landmarks, adventure, and much more. Yet the reality is these destinations are actually very different from each other.

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 in Cancun is quite ‘American’, but that’s because it has been built as the ultimate easy tourist destination.

On the other hand Punta Cana feels more like a tropical paradise, and has a more authentic vibe than Cancun. The beaches in Punta Cana are arguably more beautiful than Cancun, less developed, and usually less busy too.

However that’s just scratching the surface!

As we know both so well, we compare Cancun vs Punta Cana below, and show you what each has to offer and how they differ.

We show you how the beaches and vibe compare, which is cheaper, better for families, what activities you can do and much more.

Not only is our comparison the most honest and in-depth out there, we’re also sure you will have made your final decision by the time you finish reading.

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. How Do The Beaches Compare?
  3. Which Has Better Activities & Attractions?
  4. Which Has Better Nightlife?
  5. What About Accommodation?
  6. Which Is Cheaper?
  7. Which Is Safer?
  8. Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
  9. Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
  10. Which Is The Better Choice?

A Quick Overview Of Cancun vs Punta Cana

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Recommended: Punta Cana Safety Tips Every Tourist Should Know

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.

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How Do The Beaches Compare?

Cancun: The Beaches

Cancun’s coastline has that postcard-worthy look: fine white sand and gorgeous turquoise ocean. This destination welcome millions of tourists every year, which is why the beaches are packed with services – from free parking and deck chair rental to beach bars and resorts. It’s the ultimate tourist beach destination where everything is on your doorstep.

However, it’s worth pointing out that most beaches in Cancun are short — only a few kilometers long – compared to the much longer beaches in Punta Cana.

Cancun’s beaches also have enormous resorts right beside them. So if you like rugged, undeveloped beaches, then Cancun may not be the best option for you. 

Indeed the beaches of Delfines and Caracol (more on both later) may be the most laid-back out of all Cancun’s beaches, but they certainly aren’t the most authentic and undeveloped beaches in the world.

If you enjoy busy, active beaches, Chac Mool Beach and Gaviota Azul Beach (also known as Playa Forum) are a good fit. They are a part of the Zona Hotelera, the area where all the all-inclusive resorts, hotels, and world-class restaurants are grouped.

Gaviota Azul is ideal for surfing and other water sports. But its specialty is beach parties and nightlife. It offers a wide selection of bars which usually attract young crowds.

If you are more interested in enjoying a quality meal than partying, then book a table at one of the many restaurants that line Gaviota Azul and delight your taste buds while admiring the aqua-blue sea.

Commercial squares and convenience stores surround both Chac Mool and Gaviota Azul too. That’s not the case for Delfines Beach, which is in an outlying area of Zona Hotelera. The lack of shops at this beach means fewer crowds which is a bonus. But you’ll have to take your food and necessities with you.

As the name indicates, at Delfines — which means dolphins in English — dolphin sightings from the shore are common. You can often spot them playfully jumping and diving in the ocean while you’re sitting on the sand.

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And if you feel like taking a quick 15-minute walk from this beach, you can visit the San Miguelito Archeological Site. It is the most important archeological zone in Cancun, so it is a must-visit for anyone who visits Delfines. Once there, you will find imposing stone ruins from the 13th and 14th centuries and varied items from the colonial period.

Continuing with laid-back beaches, Caracol Beach offers an intimate and quiet vibe despite being in the center of the Zona Hotelera. Enjoy the stunning ocean views from the wooden dock or visit the surrounding craft shops, cafés, and restaurants.

Everything is calm on this beach, including the sea. The ocean in Caracol tends to be waveless and shallow making it perfect for relaxed swimming and very safe for children too.

Playa Mujeres (not to be confused with Isla Mujeres) is also one of the few places where you can find preserved beaches. The coast there depicts what Cancun was like before it gained today’s popularity.

Simply put, there’s a whole range of beaches to enjoy in Cancun – from party places to beaches perfect for dolphin spotting. However just don’t expect to get that ‘deserted tropical island’ feel anywhere in Cancun. This is one of the most developed – and busiest – beach vacation spots in the world.

One woman jumping into blue water
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Punta Cana: The Beaches

The Dominican Republic is marketing itself more and more as a beach destination, with the region of Punta Cana as its crown. It certainly feels more ‘authentic’ than Cancun, and as it’s less developed, the beaches are arguably more beautiful and tropical looking too.

Punta Cana’s coastline caters to everyone’s likes and needs too, from sunseekers to adventure lovers. And unlike Cancun, Punta Cana’s beaches are perfect for long walks, with some even connected to each other through hiking trails.

This Dominican Republic destination has a huge variety of landscapes and nature activities right on your doorstep – it’s not just beach after beach. That’s just not the case with Cancun.

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. More on that in the next section.

Back to beaches, and if you’re looking for an exclusive getaway Playa Juanillo is your place. It is home to the Cap Cana Marina, a leisure port that has many restaurants, casinos, and shops. Not only that, but it is also among the most beautiful beaches in Punta Cana.

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However Playa Bavaro is the most famous beach in the region and many tourists who visit Punta Cana consider it the best of them all.

It has lots of space to relax in and the sea is usually quite calm. Yet, Bavaro’s fame draws in the crowds (not as much as Cancun’s beaches, though) so it can be busy. It is also slightly difficult to access if you don’t stay at one of the resorts directly on the coastline at Bavaro.

Macao and Cabeza de Toro are good alternatives if looking for less busy beaches. Instead of upscale shops, there are some craft shops there. These beaches have a nice laid-back, authentic vibe, and attract fewer tourists.

Cabeza de Toro is filled with greenery, while Macao has stunning cliffs with trees and shrubbery at the top.

If you’re looking for a beach destination which has all the amenities you’d want from a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, but where it doesn’t feel like an over-run tourist mecca, then Punta Cana will likely suit you more than Cancun.

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Which Has Better Activities & Attractions?

Cancun: Activities & Attractions

When in Cancun, you will always find something to do – and there’s arguably far more things to do in Cancun than Punta Cana.

Whether that is enjoying water sports, diving, shopping, or exploring historical sites, it’s impossible to get bored in this city. No wonder too, Cancun has been created with tourists in mind.

The most famous excursion in Cancun is the Chichen Itzá ruins tour. This iconic pyramid is one of the many Mayan archeological discoveries in Mexico and is quite a sight. While it is quite far from Cancun, that shouldn’t be a problem. Just book a guided tour and a bus or van will pick you up from your hotel and take you back once the outing ends. In this way, you won’t have to worry about transportation.

Many Chichen Itzá tours include a visit to the Mayan Cenote. This is an enormous semi-open cave that the Mayans considered to be their underworld. Go down the zig-zag staircase and then dive in the refreshing clear water after a walk through the ruins. Or zipline across the cavern and observe the lianas and spiky rock formations. It is a surreal experience!

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Speaking of surreal, ever heard about a pink beach? The salt at Las Coloradas near Cancun has changed the sand color from white to bright pink due to chemical processes in the water. The result is a breathtaking pink lake, one of the only few in the world.

If you can’t get enough of Cancun’s beaches, Isla Mujeres is just a short catamaran ride away. It has water parks, national parks, picturesque squares, street food shops, and Hidalgo Street — a fun avenue filled with restaurants, bars, and cafés.

While in Isla Mujeres, you can also watch the sunset at Playa Norte and the sunrise at Isla Blanca, the second being the least crowded of the two beaches.

And if you are interested in water sports, the sea on this island is incredibly calm, perfect for kitesurfing and scuba diving sessions. Whilst if you’d like to get close to wildlife, you can swim with whale sharks and take part in the release of sea turtles. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Adventure and extreme sports are also a possibility in Cancun. Visit Xcaret Park to swim in underground rivers and parasail, or Playa Tortugas to try bungee jumping and jet skiing.

Between the activities, historical sights, shopping, bars and restaurants, there’s so much going on in Cancun. So if you’re looking for a destination where you can easily book up excursions, eat at fancy restaurants, and do lots of shopping, Cancun could be a better choice than Punta Cana.

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Punta Cana: Activities & Attractions

Punta Cana and Cancun are quite similar when it comes to the variety of activities on offer.

However, while Cancun has more archeological sites and shopping, Punta Cana arguably has more natural wonders to enjoy. So if you’re an outdoors lover, Punta Cana will likely suit you more.

The Ojos Indígenas Ecological Reserve in Playa Juanillo is one of Punta Cana’s main attractions. Twelve lagoons interconnected by hiking trails and surrounded by jungle have created a fairytale-like place.

The water shines like no other there, and it is almost unbelievable how blue the lakes look. Swimming is allowed in three lagoons, where you will find turtles and different kinds of fish.

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You can also observe the marine wildlife that inhabits Punta Cana’s coral reef barrier. Not all beaches are suitable for snorkeling because of the rough sea, but hotels offer scuba diving sessions preceded by safety talks and lessons taught by experts.

If you’d rather stay on firm ground, there is something for you too: ATV and buggy tours at Macao Beach. Drive on the sand and the mud, speed along the shoreline, and then taste the strong Dominican coffee at local plantations..

Or do you see yourself ziplining above the treetops, hiking in an underground cave, interacting with all types of animals, and swimming in the bluest natural sinkholes you’ve ever seen? If that sounds like something you’d love then buy your tickets for Scape Park. It is among the most exciting and complete experiences you can get in the region!

As you can see, the activities in Punta Cana are heavily focused around nature, which is not always the case in Cancun.

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Which Has Better Nightlife?

Cancun: Nightlife

As if the stunning beaches and activities weren’t enough, Cancun also boasts excellent nightlife. Which makes sense considering it attracts the Spring Break crowd.

In fact there’s no doubt in our mind that Cancun’s nightlife is livelier and louder than Punta Cana – which could be a positive or a negative depending on the sort of person you are.

However, if you’d like to meet some locals or get an idea of what an authentic Mexican party looks like, then you’d have to get out of the Zona Hotelera and head to the city center (downtown Cancun).

A popular venue among locals there is Mambo Café. Don’t let its name mislead you, this is not a café but rather a fun-filled club! Put on your dancing shoes and head to the dance floor while sipping cocktails to the rhythm of live Latin music.

Everyone feels hungry after a night out, and what better meal to satisfy your cravings than street tacos? They are authentic Mexican food and delicious — don’t hesitate to try them. You’ll find many options in downtown.

Now, if you prefer to stay in the tourist area, then Coco Bongo is located in the Zona Hotelera. At this club you can enjoy thrilling live shows which include stunts that vary depending on the night’s theme.

Not everyone likes watching live shows, so if you only want to dance the night away, visit Mandala. It is an energetic nightclub where you’ll enjoy the best Latin beats for a lower price than Coco Bongo.

There are many nightclubs and even more bars in Cancun. Restaurants, shops, and casinos abound too. As you can see, the nightlife in this city is vibrant and varied, so it is not uncommon for tourists and locals to stay out until 6am!

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/DisobeyArt

Punta Cana: Nightlife

Compared to Cancun, Punta Cana’s nightlife is not as loud, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. In fact, despite having fewer venues than Cancun, Punta Cana is regarded as having some of the best nightlife in the Dominican Republic.

We’ve already mentioned Coco Bongo when talking about Cancun, but the same company also exists in Punta Cana! The dynamic is the same: talented dancers, singers, and acrobats put on different themed performances every night. While Coco Bongo is considered the number one club in the region, other great clubs include Hard Rock Oro and Jewel.

Oro is an exclusive nightclub with over 30 VIP tables where DJs play reggaeton and hip-hop. On the other hand, Jewel specializes in electro music. Dance under the pink lights there and a huge crystal chandelier!

These clubs close their doors at around 4am, earlier than in Cancun. 

Imagine Punta Cana closes even earlier, at 2am. However, the experience at this club is incredibly unique: the party takes place inside a group of natural caves every Saturday.

The colorful laser lights, upbeat music, and the cave’s rock formations will make your night unforgettable. Even the nightlife in Punta Cana is able to show off the natural beauty of this destination!

Dancing inside dark nightclubs isn’t the only option in Punta Cana. There are beach bars along the whole coastline, especially at Los Corales Beach. Flamingo Bar is one of them, and it’s perfect if you want to enjoy a chilled night out with a gorgeous ocean view.

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What About Accommodation?

Cancun: Accommodation

The Zona Hotelera (or Hotel Zone in English) is the main accomodation area in Cancun. You will find that every single hotel or resort there is all-inclusive, and they will also have direct beach access and wonderful seaviews.

Because of that excellent location and numerous services, these resorts are the most expensive ones in Cancun. Hyatt Ziva Cancun and The Royal Sands Resort & Spa are popular options with great reviews.

The city center, also known by tourists as Downtown Cancun, offers hotels that often have a pool and include breakfast, like Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool Cancun and Four Points by Sheraton Cancun Centro. The price range is wide in Downtown, and not all are all-inclusive – so you are sure to find a place that aligns with your budget. However, remember that while cheaper than in Zona Hotelera, Downtown hotels don’t have direct access to the beach.

Playa Mujeres and Puerto Juárez have good accommodation options and gorgeous beaches too. These areas are less crowded than the Zona Hotelera, but in Playa Mujeres, many of the hotels are all-inclusive, too, such as Riu Palace Costa Mujeres

The difference with the Zona Hotelera is that the resorts are not built directly on the beach, so they don’t completely block it, and there is more space, vegetation, and dunes.

On the other hand, Puerto Juárez offers less expensive, more authentic alternatives like Hotel del Sol.

Our Recommendation: 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. See photos are rates here!

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Punta Cana: Accommodation

As we mentioned before, apart from the tourist area Punta Cana isn’t that developed. You won’t find as many resorts directly on the beach there as Cancun, but that also means the beaches aren’t as much of a concrete jungle.

However that does mean finding a beachside room in Punta Cana can be harder than Cancun as there are less of them available.

All-inclusive resorts are the norm in Punta Cana too, and they offer everything your heart desires: international restaurants, entertainment, dance lessons, huge swimming pools, live shows, water sports, easy access to the beach, and much more.

While we don’t recommend staying inside your resort for your whole vacation as you would miss out on all the things that Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic has to offer, it is true that all-inclusive resorts are excellent for those who only want to de-stress instead of exploring and being active.

Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, Dreams Macao Beach, and The Reserve at Paradisus Palma are just a few of the best resorts.

However, Punta Cana also has many more affordable options, such as hotels and rentals. So you can definitely vacation there on a budget. In fact Punta Cana is a more budget-friendly destination than Cancun, as we show you next…

Our Recommendation: For a taste of luxury in Punta Cana, it’s hard to beat the all-inclusive adults-only resort of Live Aqua Beach. This beachside hotel is the perfect place to relax, has its own private beach area, swimming pools, and rooms with unbelievable seaside views. Plus all of that is set in a great safe location to enjoy everything Punta Cana has to offer. See photos and rates here!

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Which Is Cheaper?

Prices usually play a big part when choosing a destination. The cost difference between Punta Cana and Cancun is not significant, but it does exist.

The disparity comes in the form of accommodation and activities: all-inclusive resorts or hotels are slightly more expensive in Cancun than in Punta Cana. It may vary according to season and demand, but that is the usual situation.

Regarding activities, most tours in Cancun take the whole day as Cancun is far away from many tourist sights. On the other hand, Punta Cana offers more half-day excursions, which are cheaper.

Nightlife is also key when discussing prices as well. If you choose Cancun as your destination, you will probably go out to eat, party, or shop. That is not always the case in Punta Cana since, as we have already mentioned, there are fewer things to do when the sun goes down.

So, what does this mean? Well even if you decide to travel to Cancun and save money on accommodation — maybe by choosing a regular hotel instead of an all-inclusive one — you might still have to spend more on activities and nightlife.

With this in mind, it is safe to say that a trip to Cancun is a tad more expensive than one to Punta Cana.

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Which Is Safer?

When compared to global standards, Mexico is safer than the Dominican Republic since the latter has a higher crime rate.

However, Punta Cana and Cancun are the regions that attract the most tourists in both countries. That being the case they have the necessary resources to protect and look out for travelers, and both areas are very safe.

But if you were to leave Punta Cana or Cancun to explore less crowded parts of the DR or Mexico, keep in mind that you will not be as protected as in those tourist areas.

Although it is highly unlikely to come across crime, petty offenses like pickpocketing can happen. To keep safe, take general security measures, such as keeping your valuables out of sight and avoiding isolated or dangerous areas.

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Which Is Better For A Family Trip?

Cancun and Punta Cana have been popular destinations for years now. But which one is better for enjoying with your family?

As we’ve already mentioned, Cancun is an energetic city. It has Vegas-like nightlife, a huge array of full-day activities, and busy beaches.

If you’re traveling with children, there’s a good chance that the city’s activity levels will overwhelm them. That doesn’t mean Cancun is unsuitable for a family trip, but there are many experiences that certain age groups might not love: for instance, the Chichén Itzá full-day tour, nightclubs, upscale restaurants, and crowded beaches and streets.

On the other hand, Punta Cana is a quieter place. It does have fun activities, but the overall vibe is more peaceful. The beaches are less crowded, making them safer for kids and more relaxing for everyone in the family.

The activities in Punta Cana are just as adventurous as in Cancun, but they are often shorter and require just half a day, so will be more bearable for easily bored children.

So, in general Punta Cana may be better than Cancun for a family trip. However, if your family likes cities and action – or your kids are older – then Cancun may suit you just as well.

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Which Is Better For Honeymoons?

In this case, the choice between Punta Cana and Cancun depends entirely on what kind of couple you and your spouse are.

If the two of you like to party until your feet hurt, shop internationally renowned brands, and go on long tours, you’ll have an incredible honeymoon in Cancun.

In contrast, Punta Cana is better for honeymooners who long for a more relaxing getaway. Living the resort life, peacefully swimming in cenotes, and walking hand in hand on the warm white sand are a few of the many romantic and intimate experiences Punta Cana can offer both of you.

An important aspect when planning your honeymoon is your accommodation. Many couples want to avoid hotels full of families and children. If this is your situation, you might want to look into adult-only hotels. These resorts specifically target couples. Some of the amenities they offer include hydrotherapy spas, numerous pools with swim-up bars, aromatherapy sessions, and fantastic restaurants. As you can see, romance, privacy, and comfort characterize this kind of hotel.

Luckily, you can find dozens of them in both Punta Cana and Cancun, so you will have the honeymoon of your dreams wherever you decide to travel!

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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.