Hawaii vs. Cancun

If you ask people for a list of their dream vacation destinations, chances are, they'll include Hawaii and Cancun. Both are the tropical pride of their countries, with plenty of world-renowned beaches. But away from their sandy shorelines are two distinct experiences that await you.
Hawaii vs. Cancun

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If you’re craving a beach getaway, you can never go wrong with Hawaii or Cancun. Both have some of the clearest turquoise waters in the world along a long stretch of soft sandy shorelines. But because of their similarities, it’s hard to decide which to go for first.

Thus, the deciding factors that you should consider lie within their differences. Are you seeking a lively vacation, or are you in for an active one? Answering this alone will help you lean towards one over the other.

But to get a full picture of both, below is a glimpse of what awaits you in the tropical paradises of Hawaii and Cancun.

Hawaii

The allure of Hawaii is truly otherworldly, and the recurring tourists can attest to this. Even Mark Twain called Hawaii “the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean”.

The pristine and cerulean blues, with various colored sands, are enough of a reason to visit. But the smoking volcanoes, lush jungles, and thriving marine life add more to that. There’s a lot to explore and discover in Hawaii, attracting people from all walks of life!

What Makes Hawaii Unique?

Stunning Colored-Sand Beaches

Hawaii is home to some of the most spectacular beaches in the world. The Aloha State has over 400 named beaches, all public access, for you to plunge into the warm, inviting waters. Some of its beach stars are Waikiki Beach on Oahu, Poipu Beach on Kauai, and Kaanapali Beach on Maui.

But apart from these beauties, did you know that Hawaii’s coastlines also have some unique beaches? The state’s beaches are colorful, and not only in the sense that they are lively. Hawaii has some hidden-gem beaches where the color of the sand is out of the ordinary.

Of course, the face of Hawaiian beaches is its soft, ivory sands. But the islands also have orange, black, red, and even green beaches!

If you’re on a mission to visit some unique beaches, here’s a list to guide you below.

Black-Sand Beaches

Hawaii has several active volcanoes, thus, lava from these flows into the ocean. This creates charcoal-like black sand on some of its beaches, creating a haunting vibe. Some black beaches that are worth a visit are Punaluu Beach, Waianapanapa Beach, and Awahua Beach.

Punaluu Beach is the most popular of all. It sits between Naalehu and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, thus, is accessible. It’s also a haven for green sea turtles, so you can soak up the sun with some company!

Meanwhile, Awahua Beach is the least accessible of the three. To get there, you need to hike or take a mule through a group tour. You can have this secluded beach all to yourself, but the waves are too strong for a dip.

Red-Sand Beach

Head to Kaihalulu Beach on Maui if you’re looking for one of the only red-sand beaches in the world. Surrounding the beach are cinder hills that erode constantly. These iron-rich hills are what give the coastline such a mystical deep red hue.

The cerulean waters are a unique contrast to the red shore. This is enough motivation for many to seek this secluded gem. But keep in mind that Kaihalulu is extremely isolated, and you’d need to take a short yet risky hike to get there.

Orange-Sand Beach

Some may call it gold, while some may call it yellow, but when the sun shines on the soft, sandy shore of Papohaku Beach, you’ll find that it’s orange.

While not as exciting as the others on the list, Papohaku’s charm lies within its serene ambiance. It’s another hidden beach that only a few individuals visit. Thus, you can sunbathe on this long stretch of shore away from the busy crowds.

Green-Sand Beach

On the southern tip of the Big Island lies Papakolea Beach, one of the only four beaches in the world with green sand. Its mossy green sands are due to olivine, a mineral from Hawaiian lava. This accumulates on the shore naturally, a unique view that you will find few of on Earth.

Like others on the list, you need to work for the picturesque views of Papakolea Beach. You’ll have to hike three miles (4.8 km) across lava fields to get here.

World-Class Surfing Destination

Hawaii is the epitome of surf culture, with an exciting and thriving surfing scene. Surfers from all around the world flock to Hawaii to ride its towering waves. And while this is a common activity in the entire state, it’s the island of Oahu that surfers are after.

The north shore of Oahu is home to the Seven Mile Miracle, a seven-mile (11.27 km) stretch of sandy shore with world-celebrated surf breaks. It’s the sacred ground for the world’s most passionate surfers, with plenty of spots to choose from

The Seven Mile Miracle spans from Haleiwa Beach Park in the south to Sunset Beach in the North. It’s also home to the renowned Banzai Pipeline, one of the top surfing spots for barreling waves on Earth. Some other popular spots here are Waimea Bay, Rocky Point, and Pupukea, to name a few.

The best time to visit Oahu for surfing is between late October to March, as this is the Winter Surf Season. The low-pressure systems send massive waves toward the coastline during this season.

On average, large waves in Hawaii are around 6 to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.7 meters). But the waves can grow as tall as 30 to 50 feet (9.1 to 15.2 meters) during Winter Surf Season!

While these waves are only for expert surfers to conquer, beginners can also have fun too. The Summer Surf Season has smaller waves and calmer waters, which is perfect for surf lessons.

There is a plethora of experienced local instructors in Hawaii for everyone. They can teach beginners how to ride the waves, and help hone the skills of expert surfers.

Exciting Volcanic Escapades

Hawaii emerged from the water through the power of volcanoes millions of years ago. These volcanoes have created some of the state’s most fascinating landscapes today. And here is where you can tick off one item on your bucket list: coming face-to-face with an active volcano.

There are plenty of thrilling outdoor activities you can do in many of Hawaii’s volcanoes. You can go on a helicopter tour into the crater of the great Mt. Waialeale in Kauai. Or, you can hike for scenic views on the summit of Diamond Head, an extinct volcano in Oahu.

Even more exciting is a visit to Mt. Haleakala in Maui. You can go on a tour there at dawn to witness the breathtaking sunrise at the summit. After that, you can bike down the volcano on a 30- to 38-mile-long (48.3 to 61.2 km) winding road.

You can either go on a guided downhill biking tour if you’re in for a narrated tour of the Haleakala National Park. Or you can go on a self-guided one, where you’re free to spend the day as you like as long as you reach the meet-up point by 4 PM.

But a once in a lifetime experience you can get in The Aloha State is in Hawaii National Volcanoes Park. This park has two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Kilauea is the most popular of the two, and it’s one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano in surface area and volume.

In this park, you can walk the rim of an active volcano, something that only a few can do. You can also wander through Thurston Lava Tube, where lava once flowed through. Hiking on a solidified lava lake is also a popular activity, on the floor of the Kilauea Iki crater.

But these are only a few of the wonders that await you in the Hawaii Volcano National Park.

Fascinating Marine Life

Some of the best views of Hawaii are not on land, but underwater. And the best way to marvel at Hawaii’s marine life is by snorkeling or scuba diving!

Swim with manta rays and colorful fish through the thriving coral reefs under the blue seas. You can even catch a glimpse of sting rays, sea lions, and giant sea turtles in the clear waters of Hawaii.

If you want to stay mostly dry though, you also have options to see the beauty of Hawaii’s marine life.

You can go on sailing tours, zodiac raft tours, sunset or dinner cruises, and more. Dolphins are a popular sight on sunset cruises. Some even come right up to boats so that you can meet them face to face!

Humpback whales are arguably the star of marine wildlife spotting in Hawaii. And Maui is one of the world’s best spots for this! From November to May, these whales migrate from Alaska, and they get so close to the Hawaiian shores.

The Hawaiian Culture

Hawaii is a culturally rich paradise, a fascinating melting pot of cultures around the globe. And each group of people has brought their culture to Hawaii too. This shaped modern Hawaii which many know and love today.

This translates to Hawaiian cuisine: a mix of ethnic and diverse Hawaiian flavors from cultures around the world. This includes Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino influences, to name a few.

For an authentic experience, you can also head toward the less touristy areas of Hawaii. A small village nestled in a private valley is a great place to start. This allows you to get immersed in the traditional Hawaiian lifestyle.

You can lend a hand to the community’s sustainability efforts. This includes fish pond restoration and taro farming.

But if you want to get to know more about Hawaii’s Polynesian roots, you have several sites to explore.

One is the Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the country that was home to the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Near this is the Bishop Museum which houses the largest collection of ancient Hawaiian artifacts.

The Polynesian Culture Center is also a must-visit, just an hour away from Honolulu. This is where you can immerse in the Polynesian cultures of other distant areas. This includes Fiji, Tahiti, and Samoa, to name a few.

Cancun

Cancun is arguably the most popular destination to soak up the beauty of the Mexican Caribbean. It’s synonymous with stunning beaches, luxurious accommodations, and hard partying. But outside of the main drag, you’ll find that the city is full of character. From the delicious cuisine to the friendly people to the rich culture, Cancun is much more than meets the eye.

What Makes Cancun Unique?

A Blue Flag Beach Paradise

A Blue Flag is a prestigious distinction that not a lot of countries could boast of. This coveted label is only given to those who could meet and maintain stringent criteria. And because Cancun is strict with how its locals and visitors treat their environment, Blue Flag Beaches dot the map.

Due to their efforts, Cancun truly has breathtaking beaches. The pictures you see on the internet aren’t edited to add to the glamour of their beaches.

You’d have 13 miles (21 km) of soft, powdery ivory sands to relax on. And you’d have the view of the clean turquoise waters glittering under the bright sun.

Some Cancun beaches with the Blue Flag Certification are the following:

  • Las Perlas
  • Playa del Niño
  • Playa Coral
  • Playa Ballenas
  • Playa Marlín

But even with their highly recognized beauty, some Cancun beaches still shine brighter. Here are some of the most visited beaches that tourists flock to.

Playa Chac Mool

Chac Mool is one of the most sought-after beaches in Cancun. It’s situated in the Hotel Zone, which is likely why it’s such a lively beach.

In Chac Mool, you’ll find various amenities that will complement your beach trip. Restaurants, various bars, and even beach clubs are all within your reach. These clubs are also geared with pools, jacuzzies, lounge chairs, and cloakroom services.

Playa Delfines

If you’re looking for more scenic views, Delfines beach is for you. It’s situated at the far end of the hotel zone, where you can get a stunning panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea. This viewpoint beach has the best view of the sunrise and has the highest blue flag recognition of all Cancun beaches.

The Hedonistic Night Scene

The liveliness of Cancun doesn’t wither away in the dark of the night. With a plethora of bars that pepper its coast and downtown area, the good vibes keep going in the after-hours. The roaring nightlife of Cancun lights up the hotel zone and the streets with color and large crowds of night lovers.

The epicenter of Cancun’s nightlife lies within the Hotel Zone. This area has the highest concentration of clubs, just near the stunning beaches! You’ll find plenty of world-famous DJs here making regular appearances.

It’s not all about hard partying in Cancun too, as there’s a wide variety of establishments to choose from. From laid-back bamboo pads to chic cocktail spots to celebrated super clubs, Cancun has them all. There’s always a place for you no matter how you want to enjoy your night!

Among all these night clubs though, Coco Bongo is the most famous of all. Found within the heart of the hotel zone, the club has nightly discos for your entertainment. Dady’O is also another night lover magnet, with laser parties and acrobatic shows to light up your night.

Exciting Gastronomic Ventures

Cancun’s food scene is just as exciting as its vibrant nightlife. Their wide array of food options will cater to any tourist’s taste. Cancun has international cuisine, Mexican specialties, and even exciting fusions.

From Italian pasta to Spanish paellas to American burgers to Japanese sushi, you’ll have the best mix of cuisines from all around the world. Whatever you’re craving, Cancun has it and it does not disappoint. Cancun has attracted the best chefs from everywhere, so you’re bound to have a delicious meal.

But no trip to Cancun is complete without trying savory Mexican cuisine. Some must-try dishes are Tikin Xic Fish, Papadzules, Cochintia pibil, and Lime soup. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a bite of grasshopper tacos!

One of the best parts of Cancun’s rich food scene is its accessibility. You’ll find a tasty meal on every corner of Cancun, from high-end restaurants to quaint food stalls by the street.

Tacos are arguably one of the highlights of traveling to Mexico. If you’re a serious foodie, Cancun Food Tours may be up your alley.

This is a 3.5- to 4.5-hour tour throughout downtown Cancun to get a taste of the finest tacos! To add to the thrill, you also get to make your own creation too. And you also don’t have to worry if you’re a vegetarian as they have alternatives for you as well.

Water Escapades

The golden beaches of Cancun are not only for you to marvel at but also for you to have fun in! In Cancun, you can learn to paddle board, windsurf, parasail, and kite surf almost anywhere.

You can even go on a jungle tour via speedboat through the Mexico Lagoon. Drop by Punta Nizac if you’re planning to go on this trip. Punta Nizac has the second-largest coral reef in the world, a sight to behold.

While these activities sound exciting, Cancun takes it up a notch. Here are some water activities that’ll make your Cancun trip more worthwhile.

Night Snorkeling

Sure, you can snorkel during the day to swim with sea turtles or through fascinating shipwrecks. But snorkeling through glowing waters at night is a more unique experience!

Cancun has bioluminescent beaches that light up the dark sea. You have the glowing seas and the light of the moon to guide you as you swim through the Great Mayan Reef. Swim with fishes, turtles, octopuses, and more as you enjoy marine life!

Cancun Underwater Museum

Cancun’s Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA) is a unique visit that deserves a spot on your bucket list. With over 500 art installations on the sea floor, you have a ton to discover under the blue waters of Cancun. These sculptures even serve as an attachment to many marine species, adding a mystic touch to the art.

You can view the sculptures on a glass-bottomed boat. But snorkeling or scuba diving is the best option to get up close and personal with these sculptures. Make sure to bring a camera with you to spruce up your social media!

Surfing

It may be unusual to have Cancun as a surfing destination, as pictures make it seem like the waters are too serene. But some spots in the area have tidal waves perfect for surfing. It only gets better during the hurricane season, between June to November, as the waves get even bigger.

What makes surfing in Cancun so delightful is the clean, crystalline waters. This gives you an awesome view as you conquer the roaring waves of the sea. Another bonus is that you don’t need a wetsuit, so you have more flexibility to do so!

So while the waves in Cancun may not be as large as you want them to be, the scenic views are the top selling point.

If you’re looking for the best surfing spot in Cancun, head over to the north of the Hotel Zone. Specifically, on the right side facing the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Some of the surfing beaches here are Playa Ballenas, Playa Delfines, and Playa Chac Mool.

The Fascinating Mayan Culture

Cancun is truly where beauty meets culture. So it’s not only for beach lovers and party animals but also for the culture vultures. A lovely trip to Cancun is an opportunity to get to know Mayan culture first-hand.

In the distant past, the Yucatan Peninsula was crucial for trade, culture, and religious purposes. Today, you can still see many of these well-preserved cultural sites and artifacts. From Mayan temples to museums and galleries, all are within your reach in Cancun.

It’s also easy to soak in the culture of Cancun, as some cultural sights are within close reach of the Hotel Zone.

Just 7.3 miles (11.7 km) from the Hotel Zone is El Rey, an archeological site of the pre-Columbian Mayan culture. It has up to 47 structures of enchanting ruins, used for maritime trade and fishing.

Also only 4.7 miles (7.6 km) away from the Hotel Zone is the Mayan Museum of Cancun. A guide will give you a historical tour, showing important pieces of Mayan culture. This is where you’ll also find the San Miguelito ruins, which are in their area.

Other archeological sites are further away from Cancun. But they’re worthy of adding to your itinerary!

One of these is the famous Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. You’ll find the Sacred Cenote here, where the Mayans performed sacred rituals, offerings, and sacrifices. While you’re at it, give Cobá and Xaman-Ha a visit too.

Is Hawaii or Cancun Better?

Both are a slice of tropical haven in their own right, with distinct offerings to tourists. So if you’re deciding on which one is better for your vacation, it’ll depend on what you want.

If you’re looking for a lively and virtually frictionless vacation, go for Cancun. It’s bold, energetic, and busy. The Cancun nightlife is much more lively if you’re looking for a night out.

The beaches of Cancun are also better than Hawaii if you’re seeking a laid-back beach day. Its many white-sand beaches are softer, and the waves are calmer. So Cancun is better for swimming no matter when you want to.

Cancun is also highly developed, which can be a pro or a con for you. Sometimes it feels like a concrete jungle, with its city being so Americanized. But this means more options for a luxurious trip, and their amenities and tourist services are better.

But if you’re looking for an active vacation, Hawaii is an outdoor lover’s wonderland. Hawaii prides itself on giving tourists an authentic experience, and it does the job well.

You’ll get powerful waves to surf on, active volcanoes to conquer, and lush jungles that are begging to get explored. Swim with marine wildlife, discover waterfalls, and venture off to secluded beaches. The adventure possibilities in Hawaii are endless.

FAQ

Which Is Cheaper – Hawaii or Cancun?

Cancun trumps Hawaii in being the more pocket-friendly holiday destination. This applies to accommodation, flights, and even food. But prices can hike in Cancun during peak season, so it’s best to avoid spring break.

Cancun or Hawaii for Family Vacation?

Cancun is great for your family vacation if you’re on a tight budget and spend most of your time on the beach. It’s cheaper across the board, from motivation to food, so you have more spending power for your family. Other than that, the beaches of Cancun are also calmer than most of Hawaii’s.

It’s also easier to get around Cancun since most of its attractions are along the Hotel Zone. Other than that, there are several family-friendly activities you can do in Cancun. This includes glass-bottom boat rides, snorkeling, and swimming in a cenote.

But most of Cancun’s activities are on its beaches. This may get your kids bored, which is a nightmare for most parents.

In Hawaii, there is plenty more for your family to do. Visiting volcanoes, whale-watching, and swimming are only a few of these. You can also take them to explore Hawaii’s lush jungles, discovering the state’s natural beauty.

While Hawaii’s waves can be overbearing, there are calmer spots for you to choose from too. Laniakea and Waikiki Beach gave gentle waves almost throughout the year. And if you have teens who want to surf, head to the south or west of Maui for beginner-friendly waves.

The downside to traveling to Hawaii is that its attractions are so spread apart. But you can always rent a car or take public transportation for this.

Hawaii or Cancun for Honeymoon?

If your budget is one of your main concerns, Cancun is, without a doubt, a better option than Hawaii. It’s a much more vibrant city, with smoother powdery white sands than those of Hawaii. Hotels are generally better in Cancun, as they are more extravagant and have better facilities.

But Cancun feels too limited to the Hotel Zone area, and there is little left to explore. The Yucatan Peninsula, while it has stunning beaches, is also quite flat. Thus, your only view would be the bright turquoise sea.

Other than that, Cancun is more of a tourist hotspot. It feels like a concrete jungle most of the time, which isn’t very romantic.

If you can splurge a little more, go for the more romantic Hawaii. Its gorgeous landscape and lush greeneries add to the surreal vibe of your honeymoon.

You’re also not tied to the beaches in Hawaii. You have plenty to explore in The Aloha State. From volcanoes to waterfalls to even the deep sea, Hawaii has you covered. Other than that, you’re getting a more authentic experience in Hawaii, as its natural beauty is still very much preserved.

Is the Water Warmer in Cancun or Hawaii?

If you’re seeking warmer and more inviting waters, Cancun takes the cake. No surprise here, as Cancun’s climate is hotter than Hawaii’s. This allows you to spend more time dipped in Cancun’s waters to make the most out of your vacation.

Is Hawaii or Cancun Closer to the Equator?

Hawaii is closer to the equator. Its distance from the equator is 1374.9 miles (2212.6 km). Meanwhile, Cancun’s distance from the equator is 1461.1 miles (2371.5 km).

Is Cancun Close to Hawaii?

Cancun is quite far from Hawaii. The straight line distance between the two is 4516 miles (7268 km). The distance can be shorter or longer depending on your inbound or outbound destination.

How Long Is It From Hawaii to Cancun?

The flight duration between the two can take you between 8 to 17 hours. Your travel time may take longer too, as most flights have one stopover.

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