Hi guys! Looking for a Caribbean beach holiday and not sure, where to go, Cuba or Mexico? Where are better beaches, in Varadero or Cancun and Riviera Maya? I just recently returned from Varadero and can’t wait to share with you our experience and impressions from beaches in Cuba vs beaches in Mexico!
I must say that these two destinations aren’t mutually exclusive and visiting one doesn’t prevent you from visiting another later. However, if you looking for the best beach destination right now and would like to choose between Mexico and Cuba, I’ll try to help you decide (based on my personal experience).
Despite being close to each other, Mexico and Cuba couldn’t be more different. They only share the language and beautiful Caribbean beaches. However, Mexico is way bigger and there are also amazing beaches on the Pacific side of the country.
Let’s compare these two destinations in multiple categories: best beaches, value, food, sightseeing and honeymoon opportunities.
Cuba vs Mexico: the best beaches
Cancun / Riviera Maya undoubtedly have the best beaches in Mexico, while for Cuba it’s definitely Varadero. Cancun is a bit similar to Varadero in a sense that it’s mainly a long stretch of white sandy beach with resorts sitting close to each other.
Both Cancun and Varadero have airports nearby, so getting there is easy. However, you can also drive to Varadero from Havana (2.5 hours and $100 by taxi).
Riviera Maya, however, is different from Cancun – it’s a jungle with virgin beaches and palm trees growing right on the beach. You need to drive for 1-2 hours to get there from Cancun airport. The resorts are usually huge, but consist of bungalows spread around enormous resort territory. Beaches are often rocky and very beautiful.
If you want to learn a bit more about Cancun and Riviera Maya, head to my post about the differences between these two destinations in Mexico.
In my personal opinion, Varadero and Cancun were very similar and had equally great beaches, so either of them would be an amazing option for a holiday. Riviera Maya is slightly different, but it would be also a marvellous option.
However, Cuba and Mexico are very different when it comes to resorts and their value, so let’s compare Varadero and Cancun /Riviera Maya in these categories as well.
Resorts in Cuba vs Mexico
The main difference between Cancun and Varadero lies in the resorts. While Cancun (and Riviera Maya) have all the world chains represented there, Varadero resort options are way more limited. There are only 3 or 4 well-rated resorts in Varadero including Iberostar, Melia and Blau. Everything else has a very low rating and a lot of complaints from guests. The resorts in Varadero are usually large monumental buildings with a lot of rooms in them and a relatively small territory.
There are some budget-friendly hotel options in Varadero, however, most of these places have a low review rating.
In Varadero, we stayed at the adults-only resort, Blau. It wasn’t bad at all, however, like most of the resorts in Cuba it was quite basic.
Hotels in Cancun vary a lot. There are huge resorts and small hostels. There are plenty of options for any budget. In Cancun, we stayed at Hyatt Ziva and it was one of the best stays of our travel life.
In Riviera Maya, there are plenty of accommodation options ranging from vacation rentals to huge 5* resorts. We stayed at two hotels in Riviera Maya: Grand Palladium and Bahia Principe and while I liked the first one way more, the second one was also a good option.
Overall, Cancun and Riviera Maya provide a way better value than Varadero and there are way more options to stay.
Mexico vs Cuba: where is the best food? All-inclusive in Varadero and Cancun
Before coming to Cuba, I’ve heard that food in resorts in Varadero is horrible. While it’s not the most diverse and tastiest food, it’s not horrible at all!
I’m sure you are aware of the economic situation in Cuba and how hard it is to get food to the country. Almost everything served in the resorts is imported. Sometimes food just doesn’t arrive on time, so there are situations, when resorts run out of, let’s say, tomatoes. Food options in most resorts are very basic, however, there is everything: meat, fish and poultry, salads, bread and enough fruits and desserts.
Food in Cuba wasn’t bad at all, however, it’s not a foodie destination. If you’re looking for amazing food, choose Mexico instead.
Varadero vs Cancun: attractions and things to do
There are plenty of things to do in both, Varadero and Cancun. The highlight of a trip to Varadero is probably a day or weekend trip to Havana. Havana is a very unique city and definitely deserves your visit. Read my post about the most Instagrammable places in Havana to learn about the best photo spots in the Capital. There are also some tours available for purchase: snorkelling, diving and visiting nearby cities.
You won’t be able to do much in Varadero on your own – you will have to buy a tour. They are generally sold in the resorts.
However, visiting Cuba is already a very unique experience, as the country isn’t like anything else in the world. I’m very happy that we had an opportunity to explore Cuba, even though it wasn’t always a perfect and painless experience.
In Cancun, there are so many things you can do, ranging from visiting cenotes (unique sinkholes and caves), amusement parks like Xcaret, Xplore and others, landmarks and ruins like Chichen-Itza and Tulum and shows like Coco Bongo. Overall, there are way more things to do in Cancun and Riviera Maya, so you won’t be bored.
Cancun or Varadero: the best honeymoon destination
If you’re planning your honeymoon and deciding between Cancun vs Varadero, I wouldn’t probably recommend Cancun or Riviera Maya in any case. While a holiday in Varadero is a great beach holiday, it’s a bit too basic to be a honeymoon. Hotel territory (of any hotel) is just too small to hide from crowds of people and have a special unforgettable experience.
I might be a bit biased because we had our honeymoon in Mexico spending 4 days in Cancun and 4 days in Riviera Maya (you can read more about our experience here) and it was amazing!
Summary of Cuba or Mexico: Varadero vs Cancun
To sum up, I would say that Cancun (and Riviera Maya) is a better destination in terms of hotels, food, attractions and value. However, Cuba is a very special country and visiting Havana (2.5 hours driving from Varadero) is a unique experience. It’s worth going there already because of that. It’s hard to pick between these two because they are very different, but you need to decide, what you’re looking for. Alternatively, why not visit them both in one trip? There are cheap flights from Cancun to Havana and it’s less than 1-hour flying!