If you’re trying to decide between Cancun vs Acapulco for your next vacation, there are a lot of factors you should consider. Depending on what you’re most interested in doing on your vacation, what your budget is, and where you’re located, the right choice for you might vary significantly. Both locations are premiere tourist destinations in Mexico, and you really can’t go wrong with either one. That being said, here are the factors you should consider when deciding whether Cancun or Acapulco is right for your next vacation.
History and Location
The first thing to note when deciding between Cancun vs Acapulco, is the history of both locations. Acapulco is an organic Mexican city that can trace its history back to ancient times and has been a thriving urban center since the 19th century. The first commercial tourist attractions in Acapulco were constructed as early as the 1930s, and the city became the premier vacation destination in Mexico for wealthy Americans and Hollywood celebrities in the 40s and 50s. By the 60s, tourist infrastructure had expanded significantly, and prices in the city dropped, opening it up to mass tourism from the United States.
Despite being a major tourist attraction for so many decades, Acapulco is an authentic Mexican city, with a rich history, a diverse economy, and a population of nearly one million. The food, culture, and atmosphere of the city is thoroughly Mexican, just like you would find in any other major city in the country, and a large percentage of the vacationers visiting the city today are not foreigners, but Mexican nationals. Acapulco also does not have much of a “touristy” feel despite being a major tourist destination for so long.
Contrast this with Cancun, which is a resort city built in the 1970s-80s by the Mexican government purely for the purpose of attracting tourists. The history of Cancun is quite brief–the area where the city currently lies was nearly empty in 1970, with only three residents on Isla Cancun and about 100 living in a nearby fishing village. The Mexican federal government, eager to build a major tourist attraction on the Caribbean side of the country, financed the development of the land and the construction of the first nine hotels in Cancun. Since then, Cancun has developed into the most popular tourist destination in Mexico, attracting millions of visitors per year.
Although the tourism infrastructure, accommodations, and attractions in Cancun are second-to-none, the city has a much more sterile and inauthentic feel, as one can imagine, when compared to Acapulco. You can almost get the impression that you are in a tourist bubble, sequestered from the “real” Mexico.
That being said, Acapulco, as the older city, has problems of its own. Some consider Acapulco to be outdated, surpassed by the beauty, infrastructure, ad attractions of Cancun and Cabo San Lucas, and in some older areas of the city, you will find neglected infrastructure, accumulations of garbage, and wandering vendors, who are not dangerous, but can be irritating as they push you to buy something, and even wander up and down the beach looking for customers.
Neither Cancun or Acapulco have a shortage of attractions and activities to partake in. The beaches in both cities are world-renowned for their beautiful, crystal clear waters, long, sandy stretches, and cool ocean breezes. The beaches in Acapulco face that Pacific Ocean, and are located just meters away from the bustling city, reminiscent of other major beach cities, like Miami and Rio de Janeiro.
The soft, yellow sands are ideal for sunbathing, strolling, watching the sunset, and horseback riding. The waters are a deep blue color, and depending on which beach you go to, are either calm or choppy, and perfect for a variety of waterfront activities, including swimming, surfing, snorkeling, water skiing, parasailing, and motor boating.
In the city, the streets are bustling with locals and tourists alike, and popular attractions include the restaurants, which serve excellent, authentic Mexican food and fresh seafood; bars and nightclubs, which range from having mostly local clientele, to catering to tourist couples, to catering mainly to rowdy spring breakers.
Unique attractions in Acapulco include stunning cliff diving shows, in which professional divers leap off rocky cliffs hundreds of feet above the ocean; baby turtle release tours, which involve tourists picking up just-hatched baby turtles and bringing them to the ocean, in order to help them avoid predators; archeological tourists of the local forts and ruins; and exploring the city of Acapulco.
In Cancun, the beaches are beautiful, with white sands and calm, turquoise, Caribbean waters. This is one area that many people agree Cancun has Acapulco beat. Although the beaches in Acapulco are stunning in their own right, it is hard to beat Caribbean beaches with their soft sands and cool, pristine waters. Waterfront activities in Cancun include snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, boating, and kayaking.
Other major attractions in Cancun include the golf courses, ATV tours, the shopping centers, water parks, and local restaurants, bars, and of course, the nightclubs.
Unique attractions in Cancun include the animal adventures, including swimming with dolphins, stingrays, and tropical fish in Cancun’s Interactive Aquarium; exploring the local Mayan Ruins of Chichén Itzá, El Meco, and El Rey; and visiting Urbano Kabah Park, where you can see coatis, spider monkeys, and iguanas.
When it comes to accommodations, Cancun is hard to beat, although Acapulco gives it a run for its money. Keep in mind that Cancun was built from the ground-up solely for the purpose of attracting and entertaining tourists.
The first buildings constructed in the area were nine hotels that were financed by the Mexican government, and since then, the focus in Cancun has been building and expanding the tourism infrastructure. For that reason, Cancun’s resorts are some of the nicest in the world
The vast majority of Cancun’s resorts have direct access to the beaches. The resorts all offer stunning views and luxury accommodations, with vast pools and swim-up bars, five star restaurants, nightclubs, helpful staff, and more. You could spend a weeklong vacation in Cancun without ever leaving the resort, and have the time of your life.
The accommodations in Acapulco are also excellent. Although some hotels are more dated than the ones in Cancun, the major resorts in Acapulco are on par with those in Cancun, offering beachfront access, beautiful views of the ocean, luxury suites, and relaxing pools, spas, and hot tubs.
Overall, you can easily find incredible accommodations in either city, but you may have to do a little more research when looking at resorts in Acapulco, whereas you basically can’t go wrong no matter what resort you choose in Cancun.
One important factor to take into account when considering Cancun vs Acapulco is accessibility and convenience. Most of us prefer a short, easy flight, especially when we’re trying to go on a relaxing getaway. The trip to your destination can make or break the whole vacation, and is something that should be taken into account when planning a trip to Cancun vs Acapulco.
For those located on the west coast, Acapulco is generally the more convenient vacation, with shorter flights and an easier journey, especially for those who plan on stopping in Mexico City for a few days, as many vacationers headed to Acapulco like to do. For those on the east coast, Cancun is much more convenient, with flights from NYC to Cancun taking about 3.5 – 4 hours, vs closer to 8 hours generally for a flight to Acapulco.
When planning your vacation, you should look up flight times from your location to Cancun vs Acapulco, and take that into account when making your final decision.
In general, Cancun is more expensive than Acapulco, and can be much more expensive without proper planning and budgeting. Resorts, restaurants, and most activities in Cancun are all generally more expensive than their counterparts in Acapulco, but comparing apples to apples, the difference is not that significant.
For example, you could find a small, cheap hotel in Acapulco and stay there for significantly less than you would at a resort in Cancun, but when looking at the luxury resorts in Cancun vs Acapulco, Acapulco will only be a little less expensive for the most part.
Like in the United States, in Mexico, it is customary to tip, so be sure to take that into account when planning the budget for your vacation.
The Bottom Line
When trying to decide between Cancun vs Acapulco for your next vacation, there are a lot of factors to take into account, but it’s hard to go wrong with either one. Cancun may be considered the more “modern” city, but it has its drawbacks, mainly in that it can feel like a sanitized, tourist bubble, almost like an output of the United States for American tourists in Mexico, rather than an authentic Mexican city.
If you are interested in spending your time on beautiful beaches, partaking in waterfront activities and sports, enjoying the restaurants, luxury hotels, and nightlife, Cancun is hard to beat. But if you are interested in a more authentic Mexican experience, a trip that is more conducive to travelling to other locations, like Mexican City, and a vacation that offers nice beaches, great nightlife, and unique experiences without feeling like you’re in a tourist bubble, Acapulco is the destination for you.
See Also: 6 Best Mexican Resort Cities 2021