Side-by-Side Decision Guide: Cancun vs. Puerto Rico

We get a lot of comments and emails from you asking where to go for your next golf vacation.

Often, you've narrowed the choices down to "A" or "B."

We see all kinds of combinations of popular golf destinations from these inquiries, but certain pairs get a lot more attention than others.

So, we started a new series of "Side-by-Side Decision Guides" with our take on some of the most common golf trip toss-ups.

Here is our first matchup: Cancun vs. Puerto Rico.

Cancún vs. Puerto Rico: These two destinations enjoy spectacular year-round weather, given their locations on opposite sides of the Caribbean Sea. Both host a PGA Tour event each year—The OHL Classic at Mayakoba just concluded (congrats to Charley Hoffman on his victory) and in March, the Puerto Rico Open returns to Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande.

But which of these tropical locales should you choose?

El Camaleon is unquestionable tops in golf in the Cancún area, and PGA Tour pros also enjoy the shortish (by Tour standards) but challenging Greg Norman-designed course. Puerto Rico’s Tour venue is Trump International Golf Club’s Tom Kite-designed track is good, but largely lacks El Camaleon’s scenery or drama.

Unlike Cancún, the PGA Tour venue in Puerto Rico is not its best course. That honor goes to the two-year old Royal Isabela course at the small, exclusive resort of the same name; in fact, it may be the best single course in either region. The recently renovated East Course at Dorado Beach is solid as well, with the Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club nipping at its heels; both courses are Robert Trent Jones/Robert Trent Jones Jr., efforts. After these tracks, there is a bit of a drop-off in quality.

On the other hand, Cancún’s second tier of courses is solid and includes Playa Mujeres Golf Club, TPC Cancún, Iberostar Golf Club Playa Paraiso and Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort. These modern tracks are newer than their Puerto Rican rivals, and there are a few more of them to satisfy a wandering golf spirit.

Advantage: CANCÚN

Both destinations feature phenomenal accommodations for the most discerning golf traveler. In Cancún, we recommend Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita for a quiet, luxurious seaside getaway while Puerto Rico’s Royal Isabela fills that particular bill farther east. Puerto Rico also boasts a Ritz-Carlton outpost at Dorado Beach and a St. Regis at Bahia Beach, for fans of those two chains.

At the more affordable levels, Cancún boasts the lovely Fairmont Mayakoba, and fans of the all-inclusive experience will enjoy Iberostar Paraiso Beach. Puerto Rico’s Wyndham Rio Mar Resort and the Gran Melia Puerto Rico serve thousands of visitors each year.

Advantage: TIE

Cancún’s complete orientation towards tourists ensures that there is plenty of choice in terms of cuisines, and plenty of quality-boosting competition between entrenched restaurants. Puerto Rico is no slouch, either, especially since the presence of a city in San Juan means a larger assortment of more local eateries to discover. Anthony Bourdain has filmed episodes of his shows in both places over the years, though, which is a good sign no matter what.

Advantage: PUERTO RICO

In both of these locations, the beach is certainly the top non-golf attraction. Both places benefit from warm waters, bright sands and plenty to do, from surfing to boating to people-watching.

Lovers of history will find different but equally enticing possibilities in Cancún and Puerto Rico. In the former, ruins of Mayan sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza attract thousands of visitors each year who wish to ponder the once-great civilization. In Puerto Rico, the old city of San Juan dates back all the way to 1521. This means diversity of architecture, art and history. Many believe it resembles the old cities of Europe more than any other large “American” city. Puerto Rico also boasts the El Yunque rainforest, which many people say is a "must see" when visiting.

Advantage: TIE

Both of these are sought-after destinations, meaning that at the high end, deep-discount deals can be pretty hard to come by. That said, both areas have a few all-inclusive resorts to choose from. The best of these, for golfers, is Iberostar Playa Paraiso.

Advantage: CANCÚN

By this we mean how well the destinations serve different audiences: buddies, couples, families, etc. Given the presence of the beach and the preponderance of large resorts with pools and other amenities, we like both Puerto Rico and Cancún more for family and romantic getaways than for the classic buddy trip, though a group of friends could certainly have fun in either place. Cancun gets a slight edge for buddy trips due to its well documented abundance of nightlife.

Advantage: TIE

If hassle-free travel is important to you, Puerto Rico is your clear winner. From the USA, you don't need a passport (nor a trip through long customs lines) and you don't need to exchange your money for foreign currency. However, if we simply look at nonstop flights, there are more (from more cities) into Cancun than Puerto Rico.

Advantage: CANCÚN

Have experience with either or both of these destinations? Think they stack up differently?

Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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Commented on

I'd very much like to see a write up/comparison between Dominican Republic and Cancun. i am making arrangements to go to the DR in January 2015. Any tips and or other information about the golf there would be appreciated.

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Would love to see a comparison of Los Cabos vs Domenican Republic if possible.

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Scottie, I don't doubt you saw some sketchy stuff in downtown San Juan (like you would in any city). I didn't experience any of that in the Rio Grande area east of the airport. Stayed at a resort but ventured 'off campus' many times at night for dinner and found getting around very easy and safe.

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Puerto Rico. I like ... seems more challenging

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Can you send all exclusive pricing in both destination

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I have been to both. One big advantage to PR is you can rent a car and drive as easy as being on the mainland. In Cancun, driving is available, but watch out for the bad roads and dirt roads to some locations, and if you get stopped by police, it can be a bad experience.

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Word of caution, things work differently in Mexico. In 30 years of golf travel my worst experience was at Mayakoba. Teed off at noon very slow play, when we reached the par 3 by the ocean there were 4 groups on the hole. Played 15 holes in 5 hours, all our group had to quit to catch a shuttle. Driving in we found a group of 8 people playing the 17, never saw a marshall all day. Inquired about a refund to no satisfaction.

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I have been to both, and frankly Puerto Rico was a tad more intimidating in terms of just walking around. I did not feel as safe.Despite the drug cartel talk in Mexico its largely just that "talk" and little substance if you avoid certain spots. PR on the other hand, once inside San Juan, is a bit harder to judge where one is safe vs wandering into a less desirable locale. I find an all inclusive with golf built in the best value (Mexico) and you can also easily play others a few times. PR not so much, and more $$ I think. I'd vote Mexico/Cancun but perhaps the best golf in Mexico for a reasonable buck is actually Los Cabos on the Pacific side? Perhaps do a later review on that vs another. All told, side by side comparasons are perhaps a waste of time. Just review the best one by one and why they should be considered. These comparisons do little to influence me...

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Side-by-Side Decision Guide: Cancun vs. Puerto Rico
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