Miami or Cancún is a super popular question among “Spring Breakers“. That results in a constant debate where to spend the vacations. It’s the Mexican Riviera vs. the Sunshine State. As the Miami or Cancún battle it out every year for the title of the best beach vacation. Especially – if we disregard the closed borders for a minute – these two tourists magnet places are not so far from each other geographically & in terms of the quality of the services either.
Personally, after having the chance to visit both, I could return to Miami for fun. But in México I would look for other beach destinations. Why? This article will give you the answers.
- 1 Miami, USA
- 1.1 5 reasons why to choose Miami
- 1.2 Best things to do in Miami
- 1.3 More tips for Miami
- 2 Cancún, México
- 2.1 5 reasons why to choose Cancún
- 2.2 Best things to do in Cancún
- 2.3 More tips for Cancún
5 reasons why to choose Miami
The feeling – unforgettable
The overall feeling and vibe in Miami is one in a kind. Starting with a super vivid energy that exists on the streets. Then the living history of the art deco facades everywhere. Moreover the feeling of being alive, the passion for enjoying life & nightlife. Of course, this can go over the top, and some tourists couldn’t care less about their ridiculous or embarrassing behaviours. It’s also true that some visitors to Miami have a reputation for really bending the rules, being what they want to be rather than what they are expected to be.
In Cancún we can find two different worlds. Two different realities. The Zona Hotelera and the old, real Cancún. And these two have nothing to do with each other. The people who work in the service sector in Zona Hotelera (as waiters, maids, chefs, receptionists, life savers, etc) live outside, in the old, real Cancún. Where they can offer the life for themselves out of the limited money that they can earn by working in the luxurious hotels. We cannot find any special vibe or super interesting thing to see in real Cancún. It just feels like a working class neighbourhood, with residential buildings, and basic services for locals.
The same way we cannot find any special vibe in the Zona Hotelera either. It feels like a fake, alternative reality for tourists. Who don’t even need to enter the real Cancún during their superficial vacation as it has a direct exit to the airport highway.
The services – whatever you can or can’t even imagine
Do you follow any special diet? Are you sensitive for certain kind of ingredients? Or due to your beliefs you cannot sleep in certain kind of fabric? Or you just want to buy the first edition of a vintage album or the latest designer crocodile leather bag? A quick plastic surgery during your vacay? Maybe your dog needs a walk during the night at 2am to fight with jet lag? In Miami you can have it all. No kidding, if a brand or a service don’t have a representer in Miami it means that that brand doesn’t exist anymore anywhere. Just take a look on the official city services here and realise how many of them you would never ever consider to be in a need for.
Well, Cancún is rather the opposite. It’s true that you can find certain services. Especially the Zona Hotelera is set up for Americans so they let all U.S. restaurant chains to establish their franchise boutiques here. There are shopping malls, Walmart, and you can find many trustworthy & well-known brands. But it’s incomparable with what Miami can offer.
The luxury – there are no limits
Miami is one of the hottest party destinations in the world. And while there are plenty of nightclubs and bars to get your groove on, it’s not always easy to get in the door. There are many places in Miami to where it’s impossible to enter or even to know about its existence if we are not celebrities, nor very important persons. And obviously these kinds of people are always coming with very high standard requests and ultra safety protocol. Hence the saying, that in Miami there are no limits.
- Such as the Fisher Island. That has no bridges or roads and is only accessible though ferry or private boat. On top of that, they only allow residents and their visitors, hotel guests, and club members on the island.
- Or the Indian Creek Island. It has been touted as the “Billionaire Bunker,” and for good reason. It has just under forty sprawling estates lining the island’s perimeter with unparalleled waterfront access and views of azure Biscayne Bay.
Cancún is another story. Especially if you go out from the Zona Hotelera you won’t notice any luxury, rather low key, authentic & normal local life with cheap prices. Within the Zona Hotelera you can find many high-standard, and luxurious hotels with all kinds of services. Here you can read about the Top 5 most luxurious hotels in Cancún.
The beaches – all are free & open to public
You can enjoy all the great & extra long beaches in Miami, from North to South. On the beaches of Miami, the Atlantic Ocean merges with the Caribbean Sea. The sands turn soft and white and the waters are in shades of light blue to nearly clear aqua. The area offers more than a dozen beaches and all with their own vibe. The best thing about beaches in Miami is that all of them are open to the public. Are you searching for an isolated destination or want to spend a day at a busy tourist beach? Miami caters to all tastes and offers a variety of beaches to choose from.
The same we cannot say about the beaches of Cancún. Where all the beaches are linked to different resorts, hotels or beach bar. And you have to consume at least one cocktail or use their sun-beds in order to use the beach itself. In Riviera Maya, especially in Cancún it is very difficult to find a beach in good condition. Which is not operated by a venue & at the same time also open for public.
The fun – many fun free things to do in Miami
Miami has an extraordinary cultural life. You can find many museums, art exhibitions, centers & cultural events. Very often for free! Many museum offers free admission on the last Sunday of every month. And in many cases the admission is always free, if you book your entry time in advance.
- The Admission is always free at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, (ICA) in the Miami Design District
- Admission is free from 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays to tour the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami
- The Bass contemporary art museum offers free admission on the last Sunday of every month
- You can also use the public transport for free, just choose out of the many free trolleys throughout Greater Miami
In Cancún the overall rule is that regardless what kind of services you want to use, you need to pay. Or whatever program to attend at, you need to pay, for everything. Nothing comes for free. Often you need to bargain or at lest to make sure that they don’t want to cheat you. Watch-out on whatever kind of extra services that you never asked for. Not to mention that in Cancún the complete Zona Hotelera is designed to welcome American tourists. So you can feel nothing from the Mexican culture or reality there, with zero authenticity.
Best things to do in Miami
More tips for Miami
- Read our complete Miami review here!
- Book your trip here!
5 reasons why to choose Cancún
The prices – huge difference
Let’s start with a simple fact, the overall cost of living in Cancún is 61% cheaper than in Miami. When it comes to vacation you might want to compare the followings too:
- You certainly can have a the same kind of hotel room on half or two-third price in Cancún vs. Miami.
- Restaurant prices in Miami are 94.98% higher than in Cancún.
- Groceries prices in Miami are 127.04% higher than in Cancún.
- Rent prices in Miami, FL are 328.48% higher than in Cancún.
Lets face it, price is a major consideration in selecting a vacation spot. You want to be able to do more things there than you do in your regular non-vacationing life but still come back home and not have to keep paying forever for the trip.
Net-net, you will pay 2-3 times as much for a similar hotel as far as beach and amenities in Miami especially when you figure in the cost of food and booze. You may say that quality might be better and services more trustworthy in Miami, but it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the high price diffence.
The surroundings – dare to explore
Cancún has many more interesting sites nearby in many ways. If you had enough of your beach vacation and ready for the adventure. You can choose to explore the interior of Yucatán, with all the Cenotes around, all the Mayan Archeological Sites or go to an island trip to Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox, or down to Tulum. Even though Cancún itself is an over-spoiled tourist spot, it’s probably the least interesting place to visit in all of Mexico for any sense of the real culture of the nation. Net-net: the best things to do during your vacation in Cancún are actually outside of Cancún, while in Miami is the opposite.
Miami Beach and neigh-boring Miami itself is actually more interesting as a city, but the surroundings are not really worth it. The most common is to fly to Miami and spend your vacay just there – inside Miami.
The culture – rich, colourful & vibrant
Cancún & especially Mexico’s culture is rich, colourful and vibrant, influenced by its ancient civilisations such as the Aztec and Maya as well as European colonisation. It is unique and probably one of the most fascinating cultures in the world.
Mexican culture is the fusion of European, African, and Indigenous cultures. Mexican culture as we know it today is a product of centuries of mixing between Indigenous, African, and Spanish populations during the Colonial period.
Miami-Dade County has a diverse, multilingual, and multicultural population. Not to mention that more than half of Miami-Dade’s residents were born outside the U.S.!
Spanish, English and Creole are the most common languages spoken, along with French and Portuguese. And yes, very often it can happen that they won’t understand you if you speak in English. It is nicknamed the “Capital of Latin America” because of its high population of Spanish-speakers — Miami is the second largest U.S. city with a Spanish-speaking population. In fact, it is the largest U.S. city with a Cuban-American plurality. As of 2012, there were 1.2 million Cubans in greater Miami.
The food – one of the tastiest gastronomy of the world
Cancún & Mexico overall is famous to be a street food heaven, great quality and variety for extremely cheap price. Also good to know, that it’s very easy to eat there meat-free. So for vegetarians as well you can find many options, with tasty avocado, corn, frijoles (beans) and spicy salsas. Not to mention the seafood variants of these dishes. In Mexican gastronomy there are 3 ever-present ingredients: chiles, corn and beans.
In Mexican Spanish, the fast foods prepared on the streets and in market stalls are called antojitos (literally “little cravings”) because they are typically foods not eaten at a formal meal, especially not the main meal of the day, comida, which is served in the mid-afternoon. However, there are exceptions. Street foods are easiest to find in the early morning and then the evening. The best street Mexican food is often in and around markets and at public transportation stops. Mexican street foods include – try to remember and taste all: tacos, tamales, gorditas, quesadillas, empalmes, tostadas, chalupa, elote, tlayudas, cemita, pambazo, empanada, nachos, chilaquiles, fajita and tortas, and soups such as menudo, pozole and pancita.
At the same time if you search what kind of food Miami is famous for, the answers are very eye-opening. You will find everything from Argentine empanadas to Cuban sandwiches. You can taste the best Japanese sushi, or try the most overpriced Asian-Indian fusion restaurant. And for sure you will find many Mexican places as well. But besides some classic diners in the outskirts of Miami is hard to find any authentic places. Where actually we could enjoy the local gastronomy. In Miami, as in many tourist destinations in the US, the coolest bars are those alternative ones. That are offering something different, coming from the other part of the world.
To enter the country – always easier
Since the pandemic started México kept its borders open, and Cancún became one of the most visited tourist destination during this period of time. Even before COVID-19 it was always easier to get into México from all over the world vs. to the US.
- Before the pandemic to enter Cancún we didn’t need visa. (Travelling from Spain)
- During the pandemic you could enter the country & you didn’t need a PCR test, no antigen test, no quarantine either
- Only returning to Spain we needed to have an antigen test
Miami – as well as the U.S.A. – was completely closed in front of tourists. The U.S. finally reopened land and air borders after 20 months, in November 2021.
- Before the pandemic to enter the States you needed either a visa or an approved ESTA application
- During the pandemic the States were completely closed for 20 months
Best things to do in Cancún
More tips for Cancún
- Read our complete Cancún review here!
- Read our complete Mexican Food Guide here!
- Book your hotel here!
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