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, especially if you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand.
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 you expect from a dream Caribbean Sea holiday. The water is probably a little clearer in Cancun, but the palm-lined beaches in Punta Cana certainly give it a more tropical vibe.
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.
There is an upside to that for tourists in Cancun though, as because it is so developed there are many hotel rooms with a beachside view here. Whereas in Punta Cana many hotels and resorts are set further back from the beach, and so there’s less hotel rooms with that all important sea view.
In fact because Cancun is so tourist-orientated the service in hotels and restaurants is often excellent, and much better than in Punta Cana. 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 and hotels. (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 another country. The landscape is dramatically different from Cancun too, with Punta Cana’s stunning beaches giving way to a lush mountainous interior.
Therefore if you’re adventurous and willing to explore outside of Punta Cana, there’s lots of opportunities to do more than just sunbathe. Such as hiking, swimming in waterfalls, and culture-based activities. So if you’re wanting a holiday that also has activities and excursions away from the beach and the resorts, then Punta Cana may suit you better.
Regarding cost, the resorts in Punta Cana tend to be cheaper than in Cancun. Which is one of the reasons 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, as long as precautions are taken. 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, so you have an idea of what excursions are possible.
Cancun vs Punta Cana: Natural sights and 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 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 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 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.
The Dominican Republic is marketing itself more and more as a resort destination, with the region of Punta Cana as its crown.
Beaches here, 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.
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)
Something that might make you happy to hear is that 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 can rival Cancun too. 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.
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 here 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 with great service and partying late into the night, then Cancun may be the better choice than Punta Cana.
The beaches in Punta Cana are beautiful too, less developed, and usually less busy than Cancun. 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 here as well, and the resorts tend to be cheaper. Plus, if you’re adventurous there’s some wonderful excursions away from the tourist hotspots.
As such, 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.
Recommended for your trip to Cancun or Punta Cana
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