Bahamas Beaches vs. Cancun Beaches

Harbour Island in the Bahamas has a beach with pink sand.
Harbour Island in the Bahamas has a beach with pink sand. (Image: Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Both Cancun and the Bahamas trade on postcard-worthy stretches of sand, plenty of sun, and water that come in multiple shades of blue. But both destinations are unique enough to influence your beach experience. Which one appeals to you depends on what your ideal beach postcard looks like.

White Sands of Cancun

Shaped like the number "7," Cancun’s beach zone is best broken into two distinct styles of beaches. With 22 miles of beaches, there’s plenty of room to roam along unbroken stretches no matter where you decide to spread your towel. You’re free to explore the entire stretch and even access them through the many mega-resorts that line the eastern hotel zone. The beaches on the eastern hotel zone face the wide-open Caribbean and are characterized by active surf and deep turquoise waters. You’ll find a backdrop with a smattering of palm trees dominated by towering resorts. Activities such as parasailing, wave running and riding banana boats are common and crowds can be thick at times, but there also are ample places to experience a little solitude. Swimming safety varies with the waves. The brilliant white-sand beaches employ a colored flag system to broadcast surf conditions. On the smaller northern edge of Cancun’s beach zone are calmer waters as the nearby island of Isla Mujeres helps keep the waves at bay. You’ll also typically find thinner crowds. The water isn’t as strikingly blue as the eastern shore, and there’s no lack of water sports. Some favorite Cancun beaches include Playa Linda, Playa Las Perlas, Playa Tortugas, Playa Caracol and Playa Chac Mool.

Find Your Own Beach in the Bahamas

With more than 2,000 islands and cays comprising the sun-soaked Bahamas, there are a variety of beaches. The beaches in the Bahamas are characterized by brilliant white sands -- and sometimes pink -- and vibrant turquoise hues that vary according to the water’s depth. A perimeter of shallow sandy flats that gradually deepen before plunging to depths of up to 6,000 feet off underwater cliffs surround the Bahamas. But the majority of beaches in the Bahamas gently slope with calm waters and smooth, sandy bottoms. The sheer volume of beaches means you’ll have the opportunity to find secluded and remote stretches you’ll be able to claim as your own. Because of the many islands, the surf typically is mellow, and the clarity of the water is unobstructed by wave turbidity. Keep in mind that not all beaches in the Bahamas are open to the public. Many resorts and private residents can secure their sandy stretches for guest-only or private use. Some of the most acclaimed beaches in the Bahamas include Treasure Cay Beach, Gold Rock Beach, Cape Santa Maria Beach, and Harbour Island Beach with its distinctive pink sands.

Find the Perfect Beach

Cancun beaches straddle the boundaries of nonstop parties and quiet relaxation. Depending on what you seek, both are readily available. Cancun is one of the most common vacation destinations in Mexico, and cruise ships often spurt out passengers who flood the beaches while their ships are in port. The hotel zone is lined with mega-resorts, yet you still can find solitude with a little stroll. If snorkeling or swimming is your preference, your best bets lie on the northern edge of Cancun’s beach zone as the unpredictable surf on the eastern edge can hinder enjoyment of the water.

In the Bahamas, choose from beaches with nonstop activity in the main tourist areas, or venture to the more secluded outer islands. For snorkeling, the beaches of the Bahamas are riddled with shallow coral gardens and a wide variety of marine life. If you’re an explorer by nature, there are more than enough beaches in the Bahamas to satisfy your need to roam. As in Cancun, beaches on the eastern shores of the islands typically have higher surf, so take care when entering the water if conditions are rough. The western shores of the islands typically feature shallow turquoise lagoons, little to no surf and clear water surrounding a bounty of coral gardens.

Cruising vs. Airports

Cruise ships regularly dock in Cancun as well as Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas. The Cancun airport serves as the main gateway to Mexico’s beaches that line the Yucatan Peninsula, and is an active entry point. In the Bahamas, Freeport and Nassau also serve as the main airline destinations, but a number of other islands have smaller airports for inter-island travel. A valid passport is required for entry into both Mexico and the Bahamas. If you are traveling to the Bahamas, proof of a return or onward travel ticket also needs to be shown to customs officials upon entry. Cancun is navigated by taxis, buses and resort shuttles. In the Bahamas, taxi service on the main tourist islands is plentiful. Water taxis and charter boats take you to many of the surrounding islands.

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