Punta Cana vs Cancun: Which Destination is Better?

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Wondering which destination you should choose for your next beach vacation?

Punta Cana and Cancun are two popular destinations that are often debated about.

If you’re looking to book a dream getaway and enjoy a few days lying on the sand, both destinations will not only fulfill your needs, but it will exceed them.

You really can’t go wrong with either choice, but we have all the information you need to help you decide which destination is right for you.

Here’s a quick comparison of Punta Cana vs Cancun to find out which one reigns supreme!

Is Punta Cana or Cancun Better?

What is Punta Cana Known For?

Miles of white sand and lush mountains depict Punta Cana to a “T”.

The friendly energy of the Dominican people carries over into the resort town, creating a buzzy but relaxing destination.

If authenticity is something you seek, you’ll appreciate the fewer high rises and infinite outdoor activities.

Punta Cana is perfect for families and sun-seekers.

Punta Cana Resort
punta cana resort

What is Cancun Known For?

The biggest nightlife scene in the Caribbean, Cancun is synonymous with fun!

It’s your chance to let loose, whether that’s rocking the waves or throwing foam around.

We can’t overlook its tourist-oriented nature, which offers great shopping and the huge array of restaurants.

Luckily, while some consider it quite ‘Americanized’, Cancun’s Mayan roots balance out the ‘outsider’ influences.

Safety For Tourists

Be alert but not paranoid – you should look after yourself as one does when traveling, but Cancun and Punta Cana are generally safe tourist destinations.

Is Punta Cana Safe for Tourists?

Yes, Punta Cana is safe for tourists. Because tourism is so vital for the development of the area, there’s a special police division for tourist security in Punta Cana.

Tourist destinations are heavily policed, making them safer than certain metropolitan areas.

That being said; do look out for petty crime. Don’t flash money and jewelry around, and secure your valuables at all times.

Weather may be more of a concern, especially along the coast. Check for water conditions before surfing or snorkeling as the sea can get choppy.

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Is Cancun Safe for Tourists?

Yes, Cancun is safe for tourists. While there have been an increasing number of reports about violence and drugs being pushed in resort cities, Cancun is much safer than other smaller destinations like Acapulco (for the most part).

Practice general safety by sticking to popular areas and watching out for your belongings.

Petty criminals and scammers do lurk about, but you’re very unlikely to come across heavier criminals like drug cartels.

Is Punta Cana or Cancun Safer?

Both Punta Cana and Cancun carry a Level 2 warning from the U.S. Department of State – so do countries like Italy, the UK and Germany.

As long as you are careful with personal belongings and observe general safety rules, your trip should go smoothly.

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Best Time to Visit

Best Time to Visit Punta Cana

Located at the junction between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Punta Cana enjoys a tropical climate that mostly protects against turbulent storms.

Typically, peak travel for Punta Cana is between December and March. Prices rise during this period, although not as drastically as Cancun.

In contrast, the low travel season starts in the summer months and runs until fall.

Punta Cana hits peak temperatures of 87⁰F / 31⁰C in July and August, which coincides with the rainiest months too.

What follows is the hurricane season (albeit actual impact is rare) which lasts until November.

The best time to travel would actually be the shoulder month of April as tourist flow decreases and prices drop

Punta Cana Pool and ocean
Punta Cana Resort Pool

Best Time to Visit Cancun

Similarly, Cancun’s peak travel season falls between December and April. Cooler weather is welcome, but the big con is huge tourist crowds.

Cancun’s Caribbean Sea location yields warm and sunny weather all year, but it does face tropical storms and hurricanes frequently.

July to August are Cancun’s hottest months, hitting 88⁰F / 31⁰C.

September through October suffers from mood-downing rainfall, although storms rarely hit directly.

June and November are therefore low travel season.

The best time to travel to Cancun would be April and May, after the tourists clear out and before the heatwave hits.

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Beaches

Like most coastal getaways, Punta Cana and Cancun are the epitome of beach oases.

What Are the Beaches Like in Punta Cana?

Punta Cana sells the perfect image of tropical sweetness: coconut palms, secluded beaches, and carpets of vegetation.

In fact, you have 30 miles of it! Its most famous beaches, like Bavaro Beach, are often packed with sun-seekers.

Families with young kids would settle in shallower bays such as Arena Gorda, which faces the Caribbean side.

Although Punta Cana provides ample opportunities to snorkel, kayak, windsurf and lounge, the downsides include rough waters.

It’s not the best place for younger swimmers, especially when Punta Cana lacks amenities in comparison to Cancun.

You might benefit from fewer crowds, but having no lifeguards or beachfront dining can deter many people.

Punta Cana Beaches
Punta Cana Beach photo by Li Tsin Soon

What Are the Beaches Like in Cancun?

The majority of Cancun’s beaches lie along the Hotel Zone. These are easily accessible from hotels and fully decked out; think lifeguards, equipment rentals, al fresco dining.

It’s no surprise then, that water sports are big here. Surfing, paddleboarding, wakeboarding and other aquatic activities are major Cancun draws.

The tradeoff of convenient access is massive crowds. Don’t forget rowdy spring breakers during peak season, although they tend to stick to the pools.

To avoid the masses, hit up public beaches like Playa Tortugas. The gentler waves of these beaches are also great for kids.

Does Punta Cana or Cancun Have Better Beaches?

The results are a tie! Both destinations offer sugary sands and open water access.

Punta Cana features quieter and less commercialized beach experiences, but beaches in Cancun are literally steps away.

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Things to Do

Things to Do in Punta Cana

Punta Cana is very much an outdoor hub. Landscapes aren’t limited to beaches, as beautiful as those are – you can explore jungles, lagoons and waterfalls.

But first, those who love a classic beach itinerary should get ready for all sorts of water sports: kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, and motor boating are popular activities in Punta Cana.

With Punta Cana’s jungle terrain come ATV tours, ziplining, swimming in cenotes and adventures on horseback.

Hiking through wildlife reserves are guaranteed, although the true hiker’s challenge is the Caribbean’s highest peak, “Pico Duarte”.

You can also opt for milder excursions such as chocolate and coffee tasting trips.

The island is famous for its chocolate farms in particular; spare some time for the museum and chocolate-making workshops.

Fueled up on cocoa and sugar, your social schedule will drive you straight into Punta Cana’s nightlife.

Whether you’re gasping at live shows, clubbing, or chilling at rooftop bars – you’ll be out from dawn to dusk.

Cancun Underwater Museum MUSA
cancun underwater museum MUSA

Things to Do in Cancun

Cancun favors beach time with a dash of history, and generous toppings of night-outs.

A big fame factor comes from its image as a young adult’s paradise: multitude of bars, nightclubs and Spring Break parties.

Other metropolitan pursuits include shopping high-end brands at La Isla Cancun Shopping Village, waterfront shopping at Marina Puerto Cancun alongside local designers.

Beyond that, visitors flock to the beaches! Cancun’s most popular activities include water sports such as jet skiing and surfing, plus diving around exceptional locations.

The Underwater Museum of Art is one such experience.

Families also dedicate hours to sandcastles and beachside lounging, or dips in the pool.

Ancient history isn’t far away either. The Hotel Zone is a surprising host for two Mayan features: the Mayan Museum of Cancun and San Miguelito archaeological site.

Day tours to the Mayan ruins of El Ray and the ancient Mayan city of Caoba come highly recommended if you’re interested in the Yucatan Peninsula’s origins.

Chichen Itza and the freshwater cenotes of Riviera Maya are also cultural immersions that everyone should sign up for.

Are There More Things to Do in Punta Cana or Cancun?

The real question is: what activities do you want to do? Punta Cana is great for those who want to immerse in the outdoors, especially on different terrains.

Cancun offers a more urbanized experience and historical outings to complement.

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Nightlife

Nightlife in Punta Cana

Punta Cana isn’t as packed with nightclubs as Cancun, but the ones it does have?
They’re all rather unique.

The Coco Bongo Punta Cana bedazzles with acrobats and dance performances, while ORO Nightclub slicks up the dance floor with Dominican salsa and bachata.

Three acoustic, natural caves have transformed into Imagine Cave Disco; the combo disco-and-casino Kviar Show is conveniently set in an all-inclusive hotel.

Of course, nightlife starts as early as pre-dinner cocktails, so take advantage of happy hour!

Resort bars are best for bottles (especially if it’s included in your package stay) but for chill vibes, hit the beach clubs.

coco bongo cancun
coco bongo photo by Abir Anwar

Nightlife in Cancun

As for nightlife in Cancun…do we even need to ask? A well-established fact: Spring Break is truly wild and crazy here.

While March and April see obvious upticks in nightly chaos, the party scene is no slouch the rest of the year either.

Pulling crowds from 18 to mid-50s and older, the plethora of bars, lounges and storied nightclubs are never quiet.

All-inclusive resorts throw foam parties and beer bongs; nightclubs offer open-bar bracelets that signal free-flow booze.

Senor Frogs, Mandala, and Coco Bongo are some mandatory stops if you don’t intend to sleep.

You can also go the next level with club hopping tours.

Does Cancun or Punta Cana Have Better Nightlife?

Cancun! Punta Cana is fast catching up in terms of tourist amenities, but Cancun’s hard-won reputation can’t be cracked so easily.

It’s about party, party, more party – in the pools, on dance floors, and even on the beaches.

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Dining & Restaurants

Dining in Punta Cana

Dining in Punta Cana is largely limited to resorts – mostly due to their all-inclusive nature.

Breakfast and lunch take the form of different buffet options, while dinner is a la carte.

You can expect international cuisine alongside Dominican food at least once a week.

Do note that you may be required to reserve seats for dinner, and dress codes may be reinforced for fine dining.

For the best dining outside of hotels, land fresh catches at beachfront restaurants!

Capitan Cook is one such ‘thumbs up’ diner; their menu is dedicated to stunning seafood.

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Dining in Cancun

Cancun too, herds you towards hotel restaurants. Onsite eateries and bars cater to largely international guests, focusing on foreign cuisine or fusion dishes.

The classier packaging does come with caveats like higher prices and dress codes.

Of course, romance-seekers would happily compromise for waterfront views by the Nichupte Lagoon.

For more authentic Mexican fare, downtown Cancun is your playground.

Local diners open until midnight to cover party-goers; their prices are likewise more generous.

Hole-in-the-wall bars are popular, as are live music lounges.

Is Punta Cana or Cancun Better for Food?

Cancun has a slightly livelier dining scene (probably as an extension of its nightlife) than Punta Cana.

Enjoy a wider range of options whether budget or cuisine, and most importantly – a later curfew.

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Accommodations

Where to Stay in Punta Cana

Punta Cana has developed from a small town to a holiday resort with over 100 all-inclusive stays.

Generally, resort prices are cheaper than in Cancun, but it hinges on location.

Unlike Cancun’s unfiltered beach access along the Hotel Zone, direct beach access is a major inclusion in Punta Cana.

Luxury suites with ocean views cost a pretty penny!

The hotels are also more spread out, meaning you’ll have to take shuttles to get between them.

These range from adult-only options for honeymooners and romantic getaways, to massive family-friendly complexes.

Cheaper Punta Cana accommodations include hostels, Airbnb’s, condos and mid-range hotels that go from $50 to $1500 per night.

You may also notice a more international crowd compared to Cancun’s American majority.

haven riviera cancun swim out
haven riviera cancun

Where to Stay in Cancun

As most people know, Cancun’s accommodation is clustered around the Hotel Zone.

Gigantic complexes with private beach access, luring in visitors of all dynamics.

You’ll likely end up booking an all-inclusive stay in Cancun, as it covers everything from on-site dining, partying, free-flow drinks and certain day tours as well.

This does mean you’ll be paying anywhere between $300 and $2000 per night.

Boutique hotels are rare and expensive for that reason; budgeteers should look downtown for cheaper lodging.

While nightlife isn’t as lit downtown, paying $25 for a hostel room to crash in is great for funneling more money towards nights out.

Friends doing group travel can also split a vacation rental, which averages around $450.

Are Hotels Better in Punta Cana or Cancun?

Do you prefer easy beach and party access, or equally luxurious but cheaper accommodations?

Punta Cana and Cancun both have great range and amenities, so it boils down to preference.

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Cost & Budget

Before diving into the average 7-day budget for two for Punta Cana and Cancun, there are some things to keep in mind.

Most of your budget for Punta Cana and Cancun will be allotted toward accommodation, which varies largely between budget options and luxurious all-inclusive stays.

Peak season prices (for both flights and hotels) may also inflate outrageously – plan accordingly!

Average Budget for 1 Week in Punta Cana

Flights – Round-trip flights from New York City cost around $350 while the West Coast is a heftier $470.

International flights from the UK may cost anywhere between $600 and $900.

Accommodations – Hostels and 1-star hotels range from $27 to $50 per person a night.

Depending on whether you’re booking an all-inclusive deal or not, mid-range hotels average $108 per night while 5-star stays could cost $600 or more.

Expect to pay around $260 on average for a standard room, making it $1,040 a week.

Food – Budget meals average $3, while casual lunches hover around $10. Fancy 3-course dinners cost anywhere from $14 to $67.

The average weekly food costs for two amounts to $395.

Activities – Entertainment costs are relatively affordable, especially if you don’t require equipment.

Outdoor activities like horseback riding and paragliding may cost $30 – $60; day tours average $70 per person. You’ll likely spend at least $200 for two.

The average one-week Punta Cana trip budget for two is approximately $2,300.

view of cancun resorts with palm trees in foreground
beautiful view of cancun

Average Budget for 1 Week in Cancun

Flights – Depending on departure location and time of the year, economy round-trip costs around $150-350 per person.

Note that international flights (not from the States) may cost a lot more.

Accommodations – Hostels vary largely in Cancun, priced anywhere between $25 and $50 per night.

For hotels costs, standard occupancy differs greatly from all-inclusive packages.

You’d pay around $400 on average for a standard room, with luxury suites at $2000.

Typically, accommodation costs average $2800 a week.

Food – Food is cheap in Mexico, with budget meals averaging $3 and heftier meals averaging $13.

The average weekly food costs for two amounts to $420.

Activities – All-inclusive stays cover much of your activities. Cover charges for night outs, however, cost a pretty penny; averaging $30 per entry.

Extreme ATV adventures and day outs to Chichen Itza can be quite pricey too, from $60 up.

If you’re doing at least two major tours, expect to spend around $300 for two.

The average one-week Cancun trip budget for two is approximately $3200.

Is Punta Cana or Cancun Cheaper to Visit?

Punta Cana is slightly cheaper than Cancun, mostly due to lower accommodation and entertainment costs.

While you can experience Cancun on the cheap, you’re likely to spend more on nightlife and full-day tours.

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