Mexico City vs Cancun: Where Should You Visit in Mexico?

Mexico city vs Cancun

We definitely think Mexico is a must-visit destination for any traveler. Whether you dream of lounging on white-sand beaches or hunting for treasures in local markets, this country has got you covered. Mexico City and Cancun are well-known for being up there among Mexico’s top vacation destinations, and each has a lot to offer. 

Both of these cities have some amazing places to stay, food to die for, and shopping that will have you returning home just over the airline weight limit. However, they are also unique, so, depending on exactly what you want to get out of your vacation, one city may just come out on top!

Having said that, it’s time for us to jump right in on answering the question: Mexico City or Cancun? We have done all the legwork for you so you can just sit back, relax, and decide which baller destination you’ll be jetting off to next! 

Mexico City vs Cancun: Accommodation

Resort area in Cancun
Photo by Envato Elements

There’s no denying that both Mexico City and Cancun have some stunning places to stay. But, being a beach resort destination, Cancun is going to come out on top every time if you’re after an all-inclusive hotel\resort experience. This city is a favorite amongst those with more than a little cash to splash, so you’ll find all the big players here, like the Intercontinental, the Marriott, and the Ritz-Carlton. 

Don’t fret if you’re on a budget though, as there are more reasonable options out there but expect to be farther away from the Cancun “Hotel Zone” (the main hub of tourist activity), and closer to the center of town. Mexico City on the other hand is just teeming with budget-friendly options. These range from modern, city-view condos, to private rooms in historic buildings like this one, which was designed by the same architect who completed the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s safe to say that the rentals in Mexico City have a LOT more character than Cancun, which can give off a very “cookie-cutter hotel” vibe. 

Winner: Mexico City – sorry Cancun, but there’s a clear winner…  We wanna spend our vacation feeling like we’re actually IN Mexico, not every other beach resort in the world. 

Mexico City vs Cancun: Nightlife

friends drinking on a boat
Photo by Envato Elements

It’s no great secret that the nightlife in Mexico is off the charts. If you wanna spend your vacation partying it UP then you definitely came to the right place! Cancun is known worldwide for its next-level after-hours scene and has even been dubbed the “Las Vegas of Mexico”.

Once the sun sets it basically transforms into a giant nightclub with each bar/club competing with the next to be the center of attention. What does this mean? It means there’s one HELL of a show. Lights, music, entertainment, you name it! Congo Bongo is where it’s at in Cancun, with world-class DJs, acrobat performers, and free unlimited drinks included with admission. Yaaaas.

Not to be overlooked, Mexico City also has its own hopping nightlife. Since this city is a diverse melting pot, we wouldn’t expect anything less when the lights go down. You will find everything from bougie piano bars, clubs, and disco bars, to venues that specialize in traditional Mexican music! For something really special, Mama Rumba is THE venue to be at for live music, DJs, and some steamy salsa. They even have lessons earlier in the evening if you wanna conquer the dance floor yourself!

Winner: Cancun – while we looove a good salsa club, nothing can beat the “Las Vegas of Mexico” and you know what they say… What happens in Cancun…

Mexico City vs Cancun: Shopping

Mexico city aerial view
Photo by Envato Elements

Let’s be honest, we all love a good shopping spree when we’re on vacation. From cute local souvenirs to a new pair of sunglasses, any form of retail therapy is always welcome (at least in our books). So how do Cancun and Mexico City measure up when it comes to spending those dollar dollar bills? Well, Cancun has got it all, from luxury shopping malls to flea markets with hand-made souvenirs. Market 28 is by far the best open-air market in the city, and if you take the time and look past all the tourist tat, you can find some real bargains! 

Mexico City also has more than its fair share of fantastic markets. Mercado de Artesanías La Ciudadela is the place to go for traditional Mexican handicrafts that were made all over the country. Yes, you’ll find your typical souvenirs, but you can also get beautifully embroidered blouses, folk art, and traditional beaded jewelry.

We recommend bringing your Mexican pesos with you as most vendors don’t accept credit cards, and you will give yourself more power to haggle with cold, hard cash. For boutique shopping and local designers, the neighborhood Roma Norte is the up-and-coming trendy place and also houses some seriously cool cafes and restaurants for when you want a break from shopping your heart out.

Winner: Draw – Mexico City might have the upper hand when it comes to stores, but in Cancun, you can relax on the beach with a Margarita after your shopping spree. So it’s a tie!

Mexico City vs Cancun: Food

Traditional Mexican food
Photo by Envato Elements

We all know Mexican cuisine is up there as one of the best and tastiest cuisines around. There’s nothing and I mean NOTHING better than trying authentic Mexican food in (you guessed it) Mexico! Mexico City is known for its food and it houses some of the country’s best street food stalls and some world-class restaurants. If you’re interested in fine dining ingeniously crafted with traditional Mexican ingredients, then head to Pujol. It has been named as one of the best restaurants in North America several times by 50 Best, and will not disappoint. 

There is some fantastic authentic Mexican food in Cancun too, but you may have to venture out from your hotel buffet and beachside restaurants to get it! Downtown Cancun is the place to head to, you’ll find the most delicious food on street stalls, no cutlery provided, so be prepared to get those hands dirty chowing down on some insanely tasty tamales! Look for the stalls surrounded by locals as these will no doubt be the best of the bunch. Parque las Palapas is a popular place to go downtown and has everything from crepes filled with “cajeta” to quesadillas. 

Winner: Mexico City – Don’t get us wrong, Cancun has great food, but it’s just TOO tempting to stick around the Hotel Zone or to enjoy the hotel buffet poolside day in and day out. 

Mexico City vs Cancun: Price

Mexican Pesos
Photo by Envato Elements

The matter of price really comes down to you and how much you’re going to spend! A night in a five-star hotel with a three-course meal will clearly be more expensive than a night in a two-star joint and some street-side tacos. However, since Cancun is a resort city, that generally means it will be more expensive. Of course, you can do things on the cheap, but you’ll have to work harder to save money in Cancun vs Mexico City. 

For example, a night over the summer in a JW Marriott five-star hotel will set you back around 118 USD in Mexico City but in Cancun, this will be closer to 335 USD! Let’s just call that the beach-front tax… There is also less budget accommodation available in Cancun, but plenty to choose from in Mexico City.

Now, when it comes to food and drinks, street food will always be cheap and fancy restaurants will always be expensive. The real disadvantage of Cancun (as we mentioned earlier), is that you may have to travel farther from your hotel for cheaper eats, and therefore are less likely to make the journey! As we said, you have to work harder to save money in Cancun!

Winner: Mexico City – Mexico is definitely more budget-friendly, and if you want to live it up a little, it’s possible and will probably be kinder on your wallet. 

Mexico City vs Cancun: Weather

Sunset in Mexico city
Photo by Envato Elements

What do we want when we go on vacation?? We want SUNSHINE, we want HEAT, and we want ZERO rain (please). So will it be Mexico City or Cancun delivering on the great weather? Well, both cities have fantastic weather and remain hot year-round. The hottest month is in May with temperatures reaching a maximum of 80°F in Mexico City and 90°F in Cancun. Wow, that’s hot! The coldest month is January with lows of 44°F and 62°F for Mexico City and Cancun respectively.

Even though their hottest and coldest months are the same, the best time of the year to visit these cities differs due to their slightly different rainy seasons. The Mexico City rainy season lasts from May to October with July being the wettest month. Cancun on the other hand has some rain pretty much year-round, but the wettest months are from June to October, with the most rain in September. Cancun is also at risk of hurricanes, particularly from August to November. Given this, the best time to visit Mexico City is between late March and May or late October to November, whereas for Cancun between late November and mid-March is best. 

Winner: Draw – the winner really depends on which time of the year you want to go on vacation.

Mexico City vs Cancun: The vibe

beautiful morning in Mexico
Photo by Envato Elements

Both of these places are great, but their “vibes” are distinctly different. Think of Mexico City as a place that has a cosmopolitan feel, whilst also being steeped with colonial history and remnants of the Aztec civilization. There are a lot of places to go off the beaten path, discover hidden gems, and immerse yourself fully in Mexican culture. Cancun on the other hand is heralded as THE place to go party with a distinct pattern of holidaymakers lounging around the beach by day and hitting the clubs at night. 

Whichever you prefer really depends on why you’re going away. If you wanna get wild and blow off some steam in the clubs or rewind in a luxury spa before watching a beach sunset, then Cancun is the one for you. If you’re looking to explore the unique Mexican culture, hit up some museums, and discover the wonders of the local cuisine, then definitely head over to Mexico City. 

Winner: Draw – who are we to decide which is one better? Mexico City or Cancun? That’s up to you!

Mexico City vs Cancun: Things to do

riding horses in Mexico
Photo by Envato Elements

There are plenty of things to do both in and around these cities so you’ll never have a dull day! Mexico City has a tonne of cultural and historical sites to visit such as its historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage site) which contains the Templo Mayor, a remnant from the old Aztec capital Tenochtitlan which Mexico City was built on. There are also several amazing museums to visit like the Frida Kahlo museum, the National Art Museum, and Galleria OMR. 

Thankfully, there’s a lot more to Cancun than relaxing on the pristine white sand beaches (not that we’d turn that down). If you’re an avid scuba diver, or if you want to learn, Cancun has some incredible dive sites and even has the Cancun Underwater Museum (known as MUSA), which has over 500 life-sized sculptures. There are snorkel and glass-bottom boat tours for non-divers too!

For a fabulous day trip, you can go to one of the many Mayan ruins nearby, Chichén Itzá being the most iconic, and the Tulum Ruins being the most beautiful with the ocean as a backdrop. Overall, Cancun seems to have some more hands-on activities, whereas Mexico City seems to be more centered around history and sightseeing. 

Winner: Cancun – It was a close one, but for us Cancun strikes the perfect balance of lazing on the beach, visiting historical sites, and (literally) diving head-first into adventure!

Mexico City vs Cancun: The Final Verdict

We’ve looked very closely at the information and we have to say that while it was almost a draw, but when it comes to Mexico City or Cancun… we have to say Mexico City is our overall winner.

When we go somewhere new, we want to feel fully immersed in the culture. That means authentic food, learning about the history and traditions, and not being surrounded by too many tourists! That being said Cancun IS an incredible place, and well worth a visit if you have time! For anyone feeling a little concerned about safety in Cancun given recent incidents, you can check out our take here. Happy travels!


For more than 11 years, Joe has worked as a freelance travel writer. His writing and explorations have brought him to various locations, including the colonial towns of Mexico, the bustling chowks of Mumbai, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not crafting his next epic blog post on the top Greek islands or French ski resorts, he can often be found engaging in his top two hobbies of surfing and hiking.

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