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Mexico’s most popular beach destinations, Cabo and Cancun, have totally different vibes.

Your just-married friends adored the desert-meets-sea ambience of Cabo. Your guy has dreamed of going back to anything-goes Cancun ever since he spent Spring Break there (at least what he can remember of it). If you’re facing a split decision over Mexico’s two best-known honeymoon destinations, we’re here to help you choose which is right for you. Why? Because Cabo and Cancun couldn’t be more different — aside from the sunshine, tequila and fact that they both begin with the letter “C” that is. Read on for details on their alluring yet unique personalities.

The Dish on Cabo

sailing in caboThere’s a reason celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney jet down again and again to Cabo, located at the tip of the Baja peninsula: It’s scenic, sunny (an average of 350 days a year), manicured and upscale. With nonstop flights from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas and Houston, Cabo (also referred to as Los Cabos and formally known as Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo) draws frequent visitors from the West Coast, although plenty of couples from the rest of the country are discovering its charms. These include the aforementioned almost perfect weather, glorious sunsets, cabo hotelsuper-fresh seafood, sublime spas, world-class golf courses, whale watching, horseback riding and loads of other land and sea activities.

What’s not to like? Well, swimmers and snorkelers may be disappointed to know that the deep blue waters of the Pacific are prone to larger waves and more dangerous undertows than the more placid turquoise Caribbean. (Scuba fans however, will find much to love as Los Cabos Bay and the Sea of Cortés have some cool dive sites.) While Cabo’s top resorts may los cabbos churchtempt you with pretty, yet unswimmable, beaches, they also have spectacular pools that are the safest spots to take a refreshing dip.

Dining and nightlife are centered in Cabo San Lucas, the larger of the two adjacent towns (the other is San Jose del Cabo) linked by a resort-lined coast. Cabo San Lucas, set around a marina, has its share of lively bars (Cabo Wabo and El Squid Roe, for example) for drinking, dancing and people watching, but the crowd is a little older and a bit less bawdy than in Cancun. Cabo’s real draw for romantics is its postcard-perfect scenery — especially at sunset. Be sure to book a cruise to picturesque Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach), which culminates with a sail by El Arco, a landmark stone arch.

Cabo is widely known for its simple yet satisfying fish tacos, but you’ll also find a great selection of more sophisticated eateries.

Heavenly Hotels

To be a bit removed from the hubbub, consider Esperanza, An Auberge Resort, a tranquil 57-room property featuring thatched-roof casitas (with private plunge pools) as well as villas overlooking lovely cliffs and sandy coves.

Larger and easier on the wallet, yet still offering an inviting Mexican ambience, the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort offers 375 spacious rooms, all with a balcony, plus two pools with swim-up bars.

Delicious Bites

Cabo is widely known for its simple yet satisfying fish tacos, but you’ll also find a great selection of more sophisticated eateries. For colorful ambience and flavorful Baja specialties, head to open-air Edith’s in Cabo San Lucas, where the mesquite grilled shrimp and steaks are the specialty. At Mi Cocina at Casa Natalia Hotel in San Jose del Cabo, dine amid flickering candles on local ingredients transformed with Mediterranean flair. Get your sushi fix by booking a table at popular Nick-San, in Cabo San Lucas.

Active Options

Those who want to tee off will be wowed by their choices: Cabo has nine courses, including the Jack Nicklaus-designed Palmilla. For a wilder ride, book a sand-buggy excursion through the cacti-studded landscape with Sierra Buggies or a zipline adventure with Flying Tortuga Ziplines.

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The Scoop on Cancun

spa at ritz carltonDespite its singles-gone-wild, party zone image (which, in some respects, is well-deserved), Cancun has plenty to offer in the romance department – you just need to know where to find it. The calling cards for honeymooners jetting to this island city on the Yucatan peninsula are the sea (the warm, translucent Caribbean) and the sand (super soft and talcum white). Adventure junkies and culture lovers get a bonus: Just to Cancun’s south, along the Riviera Maya, lies a jungle playground filled with freshwater-filled limestone cenotes (sink holes) ideal for rappelling and snorkeling, colorful reefs perfect for diving and casitas restaurantphotogenic Mayan ruins begging to be climbed. And the Mayan-influenced Yucatecan cuisine (grilled corn tortillas, chaya soup and chicken pibil) makes for an edgy dining scene.

Easily accessed from the Eastern U.S. (flying time is four hours from New York, under two from Miami and about two-and-a-half hours from Houston), Cancun also offers tremendous value — whether you’re looking for all-inclusive ease or luxury for less. But unlike Cabo, which has few high-rise hotels, Cancun offers large, modern resorts lined shoulder- to-shoulder along its zoetrywide, gorgeous sands. If you’re the type of couple who craves nightlife, you’ll be happy here — even the resorts’ bars and lounges tend to be lively well before nightfall.

While usually balmy, the seasons are a bit more distinct here, with the best time to visit being December to April. High temperatures and humidity are typical May through July (but the inviting Caribbean Sea is just steps away), while in the late summer and early fall you risk encountering hurricanes.

Hot Hotels

Located in Cancun’s beachfront Hotel Zone, but offering the elegance of a Mediterranean palazzo, the Ritz-Carlton Cancun delivers classic luxury in 365 rooms, plus a wonderful spa and a fun culinary center.

To chill out away from the bustling Hotel Zone, consider Excellence Playa Mujeres, a sophisticated, adults-only all-inclusive featuring 450 suites, all with private Jacuzzis, set around a free-form pool with dreamy daybeds facing a quiet, beach.

Appetizing Cuisine

For a romantic splurge, enjoy locally inspired appetizers and fresh grilled fish and steak at Casitas, the beachfront cabana dining experience at The Ritz-Carlton Cancun. At La Destileria sample tequila (there are more than 100 varieties on offer) paired with seafood or steak. You can also take a tour of the on-site tequila distillery. If you’ve rented a car to explore the attractions of Riviera Maya, stop for lunch or dinner along the way at Yaxche, an eatery in Playa Del Carmen featuring authentic Mayan cuisine.

Adventurous Excursions

Cancun’s mangrove-lined lagoon is a watery playground as you rev the engine of your two-person Thunder outboard and zip through the water on a Jungle Tour with Aquafun. The half-day excursion includes snorkeling in the National Marine Park. Head south on a full-day Coba Mayan Encounter Adventure to 1,500-year-old ruins followed by ziplining overcenotes and rappelling into them with Alltournative Offtrack Adventures. Then slow things down a bit with a visit to a spa for a Temazcal ancient Mayan steam ritual at the posh Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita.

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