Cabo vs Riviera Maya: Located on opposite sides of Mexico, these two locations are two of Mexico’s premier tourist destinations. Renowned for their beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, great weather, and amazing nightlife, both Cabo and the Riviera Maya are excellent places to spend your next vacation. But how do you decide which one is better for you? If you are considering Cabo vs Riviera Maya, here are the factors you should take into account before making a final decision.
History and Culture
Located on the very southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, Cabo has a long, rich history that informs the culture of the city to this day. The area has been inhabited since ancient times, and was claimed by the Spanish in the 1500s. Throughout the 16th and 17th century, the area was inhabited by pirates, smugglers, and traders, before developing into an important port for galleons to use to refuel on trips back from the Philippines.
In the 1700s, Jesuit missionaries settled in Cabo and established missions, in the 1840s, the city was captured by American troops, and by the early 1900s, the city was the site of a major fishing and seafood packaging industry. Throughout all these centuries, however, Cabo remained largely rural and remote. It was not until the mid 20th century, when the Mexican government began investing in development of tourism infrastructure in the area, that the city became urbanized and began to attract tourists.
The history of the Riviera Maya also goes back centuries. The 100-mile stretch of coast on the eastern Yucatan Peninsula was inhabited by Mayan tribes who built pyramids and other structures throughout the area, many of which are still standing today. By the colonial era, however, the area was largely depopulated, with only a couple small fishing villages still present there in 1970.
After the success the Mexican government saw from developing Cancun into a tourist attraction, the investments into building tourism infrastructure in the area spread south, into the Riviera Maya. Today, the fishing villages and empty land have been replaced with cities and all-inclusive resorts.
Attractions and Activities
The main attraction in Cabo is the beaches. Part of the Los Cabos municipality, Cabo, or Cabo San Lucas, is famous for its stunning yellow sand beaches, with deep blue Pacific waters, and breathtaking natural rock formations along the water’s edge. The best beaches in Cabo include:
Palmilla Beach: Relaxing beach with calm waters that are perfect for swimming. Beautiful rock formations and hidden coves on the beach provide plenty to explore.
Lovers Beach: Secluded beach on the Sea of Cortez with calm, swimmable waters and stunning rock formations.
Santa Maria Beach: Perhaps the best swimming beach in Cabo, with sheltered, calm waters. The beach is also excellent for snorkeling, with clear waters and an abundance of marine life.
Chileno Beach: A clean, calm beach that is excellent for swimming, and very accessible, with public facilities nearby.
Besides swimming, popular activities on Cabo’s beaches include surfing, jet skiing, parasailing. One of Cabo’s biggest oceanfront attractions is fishing. Both deep sea fishing and surf fishing are extremely popular in Cabo. The area is known as one of the best fishing locations in the world, with marlin, dorado, and sharks all frequenting Cabo’s coast.
Off the beaches, Cabo’s shopping centers, spas, golf courses, and its great walking tours, day trips, and excursions are world famous. ATV tours, horseback riding, buggy tours, and hiking and walking expeditions are all popular ways to explore the area. The scenery around Cabo is stunning, from the rock formations on the beach, to the deserts further inland.
When the sun goes down, Cabo’s famous nightlife gets started. Beachfront bars, nightclubs, and lounges are popular spots for those interested in experiencing everything Cabo has to offer.
The Riviera Maya’s main attraction is also its beaches, but the area also has a wide selection of other attractions and activities to take part in. Starting from the north end of the Riviera, Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular resort cities. Famous for its long, beautiful beaches, which are much less crowded than the ones in Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a perfect vacation spot for those who want to soak up some sun or swim in warm, turquoise Caribbean waters.
Aside from the beaches, Playa del Carmen is famous for its ATV and buggy tours of the jungle, swimmable underwater caves, called cenotes; and its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving spots, accessible by boat. Playa del Carmen is also in close proximity to the amusement park, Xcaret, which is very popular among tourists.
When the Riviera Maya was first developed, Playa del Carmen was not known as a tourist destination. In fact, it was regarded only as a port city, which served as the launch point for ferries bringing tourists to the main attractions–the nearby island of Cozumel.
Although Playa del Carmen’s reputation as only a port city has done a 180, the city is still one of the best ways to reach Cozumel. A 45 minutes ferry ride across the Cozumel Channel brings tourists to the island, which is famous for having some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving sites anywhere in the world. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System starts right off the coast of Cozumel and stretches south, all the way to the coast of Honduras.
The reefs off Cozumel are home to a plethora of tropical fish, sea turtles, sponges, coral, shrimp, and even the largest fish in the world, the whale shark. You can also view the reefs in glass bottom boat tours and kayaks, if you would rather see the marine life without getting wet. When it comes to snorkeling and scuba diving sites, Cozumel is by far the best destination.
Further south are a number of smaller towns and villages, with beautiful beaches that are often very secluded, and hidden from the crowds and the hustle and bustle of the more tourist-heavy cities. Another interesting and unique attraction in this area of the Riviera Maya is the cenotes. Cenotes are underwater caves and sinkholes, which are very rare in most parts of the world, but quite common in the Riviera Maya. The water in the cenotes is warm and swimmable, and there are frequent tours taking visitors to them to swim and snorkel.
Located on the south end of the Riviera Maya, is the city of Tulum. Tulum was the original tourist attraction in the Riviera Maya, and the Yucatan as a whole, attracting visitors way before Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Cozumel. Back then, and still to this day, the majority of visitors going to Tulum do so to see the incredible well preserved Mayan ruins in the city. The templates and pyramids in the city are breathtaking, and the beaches are also incredible. It is a once in a lifetime experience to swim in idyllic Caribbean waters with Mayan ruins standing on shore, just feet away from you.
Cabo is located in a tropical desert region on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula. The desert climate means that even in winter, Cabo’s temperatures rarely go below 65 °F. Frost or snow in the area is entirely unheard of. The hottest months are in the summer, from June to October, although even then, the temperature rarely goes above 85 °F, and there is a steady cool breeze through the city. There is also a brief, mild rainy season from August to September.
The Riviera Maya has an average annual temperature of 76 °F. There is a rainy season from May to November, with the wettest months being September and October, and there are fairly frequent tropical storms in the area, but the Riviera Maya generally avoids the brunt of those storms.
Both Cabo and the Riviera Maya have a wide variety of accommodations, from luxury all-inclusive hotels and boutique hotels, to rental estates and villas, to budget hostels. Cabo and most cities in the Riviera Maya have a “Hotel Zone,” where the majority of resorts, hotels, and rentals are concentrated.
In Cabo, many of the visitors choose to stay in the all inclusive resorts, although a significant portion also choose budget accommodations. Nice budget hotels in Cabos include Estancia Real Los Cabos and Seven Crown Express & Suites. Some of the nicest high-end resorts in the city include The Resort at Pedregal, Las Ventanas Al Paraiso, Paradisus Los Cabos, and Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa, all of which have incredible luxury suites, extensive pools, spas, fitness centers, golf courses, fine dining, resort-coordinated tours and excursions, and more.
In the Riviera Maya, the best accommodations vary by the city you intend to stay in. In Tulum, for example, Casa del Sol and Playa Condesa are excellent budget choices, and Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort, and Playaakun are great high-end, all-inclusive options.
In Cozumel, some of the nicest all-inclusive resorts are Cozumel Palace and Occidental Cozumel, which are both located right on the beach, with excellent access to the island’s famous scuba diving and snorkeling sites.
In Playa del Carmen, some of the most popular all-inclusive options include Hilton Playa del Carmen and Paradisus Playa del Carmen, both of which are beachfront, with multiple gourmet restaurants, great pools, tennis courts, and more.
An important factor when comparing Cabo vs Riviera Maya is the cost. The cost of your vacation can vary greatly depending on where you plan to stay in the Riviera Maya. Comparing the most popular cities in the Riviera Maya with Cabo, the average cost per person per week comes out to:
Tulum: $1,890 USD
Cozumel: $1,541 USD
Playa del Carmen: $1,340 USD
In Cabo, the average cost per person per week is around $2,389 USD.