Cancun vs Punta Cana 2023: Best Caribbean Vacation Destination (updated)



Punta Cana


$691 per person per week

$662 per person per week


Beaches, watersports, great nightlife, nearby Mayan ruins, coral reefs, Cancun underwater museum, easy access to Cozumel and Tulum, Urbano Kabah Park

Beaches, watersports, nightlife, ATV tours, ziplining, wildlife reserves, horseback riding, hiking, coffee tasting tours, and more.


Tropical climate with yearly average temp of 77°F. Dec–Apr peak travel months due to warm (but not overly hot) weather, Jun–Aug very hot, possible hurricanes Jun–Nov

Tropical climate with average yearly temp of 79°F. Hot and humid from May to October, with peak travel from December to March.

Food and Drink

Excellent Mexican food, although not as authentic as elsewhere in Mexico and caters to American tourists. Plenty of international options, fine dining establishments, and lots of bars, cafes, and takeout options

Great international restaurants, plenty of fine dining establishments and casual eateries. If you are looking for authentic Dominican food, you will need to leave the resorts and head to some of the local restaurants


100+ luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Hotel Zone, a strip of land along the beach. Plenty of estates and condos also available for rent

100+ all-inclusive resorts located on Punta Cana's white sand coast. Plenty of villas, air bnbs, and condos for rent


Frenquent direct flights from most major US and Canadian cities

Frenquent direct flights from most major US and Canadian cities

Cancun and Punta Cana are two of the most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean, attracting tens of millions of visitors per year. When deciding between Cancun vs Punta Cana for your next vacation, there are a couple of main factors you should take into account. Although Cancun and Punta Cana are similar in many ways, the two cities have a couple major differences, which will be important to take into account before you make your final decision. 


Cancun vs Punta Cana: A Beach in Punta Cana
Cancun vs Punta Cana: A Beach in Punta Cana

Despite being located in different countries 1,200 miles apart, Cancun and Punta Cana have surprisingly similar histories. Up until 1970, Cancun was almost empty, with only a small fishing village of about 100 residents in the area. Throughout the 1970s, the Mexican federal government made significant investments into developing the area, starting by building nine hotels along the beachfront, in what would later become a 15-mile strip of land known as the “Hotel Zone.” Cancun became a major tourist destination shortly after that, and private investors began putting billions of dollars into the city, quickly developing it into the premier tourist destination in Mexico, surpassing Mexico’s traditional west coast resort cities like Acapulco and Mazatlan in popularity. 

Similarly, the area currently known as Punta Cana was almost empty, with just a couple small fishing villages in the area, up until the late 1960s, when a local businessman and a team of investors from the United States partnered to develop the area into a tourist destination. They started by constructing hotels to attract tourists, and by 1984, had built an international airport. Since then, Punta Cana has developed into a bustling resort city and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with almost 5 million annual visitors.



Cancun vs Punta Cana: The Hotel Zone in Cancun
Cancun vs Punta Cana: The Hotel Zone in Cancun

Like many of the popular Caribbean vacation destinations, there is a lot of overlap between the main attractions in Cancun vs Punta Cana. That being said, there are also plenty of differences between the two, some of which may be the deciding factor for your next vacation.

In Cancun, the main attractions include the beaches, the nightlife, the activities, and the excursions and day trips. Cancun’s beaches are some of the nicest in the world, with white powder sands and cool, calm, turquoise waters. The popular activities on the beaches and in the ocean include swimming, motorboating, jet skiing, snorkeling and scuba diving at the reefs, parasailing, hoverboarding, paddleboarding, or just relaxing on the beach. The wealth of activities available in Cancun make it a great destination for spring breakers, honeymooners, and families alike.

Mayan Ruins

Cancun vs Punta Cana: The Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza are Close to Cancun
Cancun vs Punta Cana: The Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza are Close to Cancun

Cancun is in close proximity to many interesting historical sites that are unlike anything else in the world. One popular attraction in the Cancun area are the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, which features some of the best-preserved Mayan architecture in the world. Built between 700 and 1100 AD, the city features pyramids, temples, a ballcourt, sculptures, statues, and more. The pyramid El Castillo dominates the landscape, standing at almost 100 feet in height. The site is about a 2.5 hour drive away from Cancun, and is well worth taking a day trip to.


A popular day trip for Cancun visitors is the island of Cozumel. Located just a short, 15-minute flight or a car ride and ferry trip away, Cozumel is a pristine island that is a popular tourist destination in its own right, mainly due to its close proximity to some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling sites in the world. Just off shore of Cozumel is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is home to a wide variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and other marine life. 

Cozumel is also home to some of the best preserved Mayan ruins in Mexico. San Gervasio is a pre-Columbian archaeological site site built around 800 AD as a hub of religious activity on the island. It is one of 30 heritage sites and Mayan ruins located on Cozumel.

Catamaran Tours to Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a stunning island 8 miles off the coast of Cancun. The island has quiet beaches, excellent restaurants, and great snorkeling and diving locations. It is also smaller and less crowded than Cancun, making it a great place to spend the day. Catamaran tours leave regularly from the docks in Cancun and sail through the calm Caribbean waters to Isla Mujeres. Along the way, passengers are welcome to swim and snorkel alongside the boat.

Once the catamaran reaches the island, you are free to explore everything Isla Mujeres has to offer. Popular activities include visiting the island’s secluded beaches, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, renting a golf cart to drive around and tour the island, fishing, shopping, or going to the bars and restaurants. In the afternoon, your catamaran will sail you back to Cancun. The entire tour usually takes around 7-9 hours.


Perhaps even more famous than the beaches is Cancun’s nightlife. The nightclubs and bars attract millions of tourists each year, who come for the open-air and rooftop settings, live DJs and entertainment, low-cost drinks, and vibrant atmosphere. 

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most incredible experiences Cancun has to offer. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, growing up to 40 feet in length, and swimming alongside them can be both thrilling and humbling.

The whale shark season in Cancun typically runs from June to September, and during this time, the waters are teeming with these gentle giants. Swimming with them is done in a responsible and eco-friendly way, with tour operators taking visitors out to designated areas where the whale sharks are known to congregate. There are certain rules that you need to follow–for example, wearing sunscreen is not allowed due to its toxicity to the sharks, so make sure to wear a long sleeve shirt and hat to avoid getting sunburned.

Once you are in the water, you will feel like you are swimming next to a bus as these massive creatures gracefully glide by. It is an unforgettable experience that offers a unique glimpse into the underwater world and the majesty of these incredible creatures.

Cenote Swimming

Swimming in the cenotes near Cancun is a unique experience. Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed from limestone that are filled with crystal-clear, fresh water. They are often connected to underground rivers and caves, creating a surreal and otherworldly environment. They are a very rare geological formation that only appear in a few places in the world–Cancun being one of them.

There are many cenotes near Cancun, each distinct from the others. Some are open-air, while others are partially or entirely subterranean. The water in the cenotes is typically calm and clear, and the temperature is refreshingly cool, especially after traveling in the hot Mexican sun.

In addition to swimming, many cenotes also offer activities such as diving, snorkeling, and zip-lining. Some even have areas for cliff jumping and rope swings.

Punta Cana

Like Cancun. Punta Cana is well known for its beaches, which are long with white sands and lined with palm trees. Swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving in the clear waters, sailing, and motorboating are popular activities in Punta Cana. The city is located on the eastern tip of Hispaniola, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, so the waters are slightly rougher and choppier than the still Caribbean waters around Cancun. But that also makes Punta Cana the better location for activities like surfing, bodysurfing, and boogie boarding.

Cancun vs Punta Cana: A Beach in Punta Cana
Cancun vs Punta Cana: A Beach in Punta Cana

Unlike Cancun, Punta Cana does not have any nearby ruins or historical sites of note, so most visitors choose to spend the whole vacation in the resort area. But the resorts offer plenty of activities, including jeep and ATV tours, ziplining, trips to nature and wildlife reserves, swimming at local underwater caves called cenotes, horseback riding, chocolate and coffee tasting trips, hiking, and much more.

The nightlife in Punta Cana is another one of its major attractions. With a wide variety of bars, nightclubs, and casinos, Punta Cana’s nightlife leaves nothing to be desired. In fact, the nightlife in Punta Cana is some of the best in the Caribbean, with live entertainment, large-capacity clubs, outdoor beach and rooftop bars, inexpensive drinks, and clubs that stay open until 3 or 4 in the morning.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Punta Cana is an excellent destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. The waters around Punta Cana offer great diving and snorkeling locations for adventurers of all experience levels. Many tour operators offer snorkeling excursions to different locations, including coral reefs, shipwrecks, and shallow coves.

Some of the best dive sites in Punta Cana include the El Choco National Park, where you can explore underwater caves, and the Catalina Islands, where you can dive with reef sharks.

Visit Hoyo Azul

Hoyo Azul is a natural freshwater pool located in the Scape Park at Cap Cana, which is a natural park in Punta Cana. The name translates to “Blue Hole,” and comes from the strikingly bright blue color of the water.

The pool is nestled in a natural cave-like setting surrounded by lush greenery and limestone cliffs that create a stunning backdrop. Visitors can reach Hoyo Azul by hiking a short trail through the forest or via a zip-line adventure that ends with a refreshing dip in the pool.

Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park

Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park is a natural reserve located within the Punta Cana Resort and Club in Punta Cana. The park covers an area of 1,500 acres and is home to 12 freshwater lagoons, each with its own unique ecosystem and wildlife.

Visitors can explore the park’s walking trails and discover the different lagoons, which range in size and depth. Some of the lagoons are easily accessible and perfect for swimming, while others are more secluded and require a bit of a hike to reach.

The park is also home to a variety of bird species, including herons, kingfishers, and ducks, making it a great place for birdwatching.

In addition to its natural beauty, the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park also serves as a center for research and education about the local environment and its ecosystems. The park’s staff offers guided tours and educational programs to teach visitors about the importance of preserving the park’s natural resources.

Visit Saona Island

Saona Island is a beautiful and pristine tropical island located off the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, near Punta Cana. It is part of the East National Park, which is a protected area and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island features beautiful white sand beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and lush tropical vegetation, making it a true paradise for nature lovers. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing on the beach, or explore the island’s natural beauty on a guided tour.

Saona Island is accessible by boat from several points along the coast of Punta Cana, and many tour operators offer guided tours that include transportation, meals, and activities. Visitors can choose from a range of activities, including snorkeling, swimming, and beach relaxation.


Cancun vs Punta Cana: Poolside at a Beachfront Resort in Punta Cana
Cancun vs Punta Cana: Poolside at a Beachfront Resort in Punta Cana

The accommodations in Cancun vs Punta Cana are similar, with a few key differences. The main tourist area in Cancun is called the “Hotel Zone.” It is a 15 mile strip of land along the beachfront that contains over 100 hotels, ranging from small hostels, to luxury all-inclusive resorts. The resorts are where most visitors choose to stay. 

Cancun’s all-inclusive resorts are renowned for their luxury suites, beachfront access, five-star dining, extensive pools with ocean views, swim up bars, and more. The resorts also offer group activities and excursions, like snorkeling trips and day trips to local sites. 

The dining in Cancun is excellent, with great Mexican food and plenty of American options as well, although many feel that the food in Cancun is less “authentic” than the Mexican food you can find in other major cities throughout the country, since Cancun mainly caters to tourists rather than locals.

Like Cancun, Punta Cana has over 100 all-inclusive resorts, most of which have luxury suites, multiple pools, fine dining with multiple restaurants, beachfront access, spas, and adult-only options. The hotels in Punta Cana are more spaced out than the ones in Cancun’s hotel zone, which means that you may need to take a shuttle to certain locations, including the beach. If you do not want to spend time on a shuttle, make sure to look for resorts with beachfront access, of which there are plenty.

Punta Cana also has plenty of hostels, house, condos, and villas for rent if you prefer to stay in one of those accommodations instead of an all-inclusive resort.

Recommended Resorts in Cancun

Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun – A five-star luxury resort on Maroma Beach in Cancun, Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun is one of the best resorts in the city. With a private beach, ocean-view rooms, a fitness center, 13 outdoor pools, seven restaurants, and a coffee shop, this resort is hard to beat.

Le Blanc Spa Resort All Inclusive Adults Only – A five-star, all-inclusive resort on the beach, with four restaurants, six bars, a spa, and a golf course.

Secrets The Vine Cancun – A popular, five-star, all-inclusive resort with luxury suites, seven restaurants, six bars, three pools, and a spa.

Recommended Resorts in Punta Cana

Excellence Punta Cana – Luxury, adults-only resort located right on the beach. Two pools, a spa, nine restaurants or bars, a gym, and more make this one of the best resorts in the city.

Sanctuary Cap Cana – All-inclusive, adults-only luxury resort in southern Punta Cana, with a private beach, five restaurants, multiple pools, and a spa.


Cancun vs Punta Cana: Weather
Cancun vs Punta Cana: Weather

Both Cancun and Punta Cana are known for their excellent weather, with average year round temperatures in the high seventies, and relatively little rainfall, although both locations do have a rainy season between May and September. 

The Caribbean Sea has an active hurricane season between June and November, and there is a possibility of a hurricane or topical storm impacting your vacation plans between those months. Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic as a whole has traditionally been relatively safe from hurricanes. Cancun and the Riviera Maya are more frequently impacted, however Cancun remains very well protected from hurricanes and it is generally safe to travel to Cancun during hurricane season.


Cost is a big factor when planning any vacation, and is certainly something to consider when comparing Cancun vs Punta Cana. In general, Punta Cana is slightly less expensive than Cancun. The all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana are on par with those in Cancun, but are cheaper, and the restaurants and shops in Punta Cana are cheaper too, although the difference is often not significant. 

If cost is the main factor you are considering for your vacation, Punta Cana may be the better option, but prices can fluctuate and sometimes you may be able to find accommodations in Cancun that are as nice as similar accommodations in Punta Cana but for the same or a lower price.

The Bottom Line

When considering Cancun vs Punta Cana, you should consider the activities and attractions you are interested in, the accommodations, and the cost. 

In general, Punta Cana is less expensive, but when vacationing at Punta Cana, you should be prepared to stay at the resort for the entire time. Punta Cana does not have the same types of day trips to local ruins or excursions to nearby islands to snorkel at the reefs, like Cancun does. Cancun offers more options for adventures and day trips, so if that is important to you, Cancun may be the better option. Cancun is also widely considered to have the better food, although it is more expensive.

In terms of the resorts, both Cancun and Punta Cana have some of the nicest in the world, but Cancun’s are generally more expensive, as is just about everything else in Cancun vs Punta Cana, so if cost is a big factor, Punta Cana may be the better destination. 

See Also:

Cancun vs Tulum: Best Mexican Vacation Spot

Playa del Carmen vs Cancun: Which is the Best Vacation Destination

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