If you’ve never been to Los Cabos before, you may have some questions about the difference between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Or maybe you just want to know which of these towns will make for a better vacation spot.
This article will answer both of those questions and several more.
I have been living in this region of Mexico for several months now and I’ve made it my job to get to know as much as I possibly can about Los Cabos, Todos Santos, La Paz, and even all the way up to Loreto and Mulege (I even wrote a book about it!).
What is Los Cabos?
Cabo in Spanish, means Cape (like Cape Cod or Cape Canaveral). Los Cabos means the capes, of which there are several at the tip of the state of Baja California Sur.
However, when we refer to Los Cabos in general, we are talking about a specific region of the state of Baja California Sur.
Los Cabos is the name of a municipality or county in the state of Baja California Sur. Inside this county, there are several cities and towns including San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, Cabo Pulmo, and Santiago, just to name a few.
Where is Los Cabos?
As you can see from the zoomed-out image below, Los Cabos is at the very southern tip of the state of Baja California Sur. There are two states in the Baja Peninsula, Baja California, where you find cities like Ensenada and Tijuana, and the state of Baja California Sur, where you find Todos Santos, La Paz, and Cabo San Lucas.
If we zoom into the state of Baja California Sur further, we can see that Los Cabos is actually quite a large municipality and encompasses a large part of the southern area of the state.
To the southwest, you have Cabo San Lucas. Cabo San Lucas is the furthest south you can get.
Head east along the Tourist Corridor Highway to get to San Jose del Cabo. Most of the beaches in Cabo San Lucas face the Pacific Ocean, while the beaches around San Jose del Cabo face the Sea of Cortez (also referred to as the Gulf of California).
Difference Between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo
Both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo have their merits. It depends hugely on what sort of vacation you want to take (or what sort of lifestyle you’re looking for if you plan to move to Mexico).
Let’s talk about the positives and negatives of each one.
Why You Should Choose Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas has some of the most beautiful beach views that you’ll ever see in your life. Book a stay at the ultra-glamorous (and ultra-expensive) Grand Solmar at Land’s End Resort and Spa to take in the best of the views in town.
Cabo San Lucas is the place to come for the top end of the luxury spectrum. Besides the above-mentioned Grand Solmar, there are boutique resorts like Bahia Hotel & Beach House, which will make you feel like you’ve just stepped out of the pages of Conde Naste Traveler. It’s chic, modern, has stylish decor in the rooms, at the spa, in the restaurants, at the beach club, and around the pool area.
It’s not all about the luxury, though.
Cabo San Lucas is the place where people of all ages, college spring breakers all the way up to retired singles, come to party.
There are bars where you can hang upside down by your ankles and take a shot (Giggling Marlin), bars where you can join in on a beer pong tournament (Happy Ending Cantina), and bars where you can enjoy some seriously good live music (Cabo Wabo).
To read all about the best things to do in Cabo San Lucas, including whale watching, yacht hopping, beaches to visit, and the best tours to take while you’re there, be sure to read my full guide to Cabo San Lucas here.
You can also see all the restaurants I recommend in this list of the best restaurants in Cabo San Lucas.
So to recap:
- Amazing views (don’t miss a trip out to the arch!)
- Stunning luxury hotels
- Top-class party spots
- Tons of great restaurants and bars
- More activities than you’ll know what to do with
Why You Should NOT Choose Cabo San Lucas
Well, if the above-mentioned expensive hotels and party-all-night atmosphere haven’t put you off a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, then it is probably exactly the sort of vacation you’re looking for.
However, if you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a group of friends in search of culture and history, a family who wants local restaurants and perhaps fewer drunk people around, then it may not be the place you want to spend your vacation time.
Cabo San Lucas is a resort town that is packed with tourists and the prices reflect that around every corner. Restaurants along the main street, restaurants inside all of the hotels, restaurants and bars along the marina, are all significantly more expensive than restaurants of arguably better quality in most any other city in Mexico.
With lots of tourists also comes lots of hawkers. Walk past any hotel, restaurant, tour vendor, along the main strip of the marina, or on the popular Medano Beach and there will be at least 10 people trying to sell you something. You will hear people calling out to you, trying to stop you as you walk, upselling you for timeshares at local restaurants and it’s nearly impossible to avoid this if you’re staying around the tourist zone.
So just to recap:
- It’s a big party spot
- Very touristy and full of hawkers
- Not the best quality or price when it comes to the restaurant scene
Why You Should Choose San Jose del Cabo
I’ll admit, I’m biased when it comes to Cabo San Lucas vs San Jose del Cabo.
I’ve been living in San Jose del Cabo for several months now after a month of living in Todos Santos, and I have completely fallen in love with it here.
San Jose del Cabo is the more sophisticated older sister to the rowdy Cabo San Lucas (who I imagine to be a younger brother).
San Jose del Cabo is the seat of the municipal government, so in the main plaza you’ll find a town hall. The plaza is more than that, though. It’s the center of community here in San Jose and where you should come in the evening to enjoy an ice cream or some tamales from the stand that sells them in front of the church.
There’s a mission church here and a history that is quite interesting to learn more about (I recommend taking a tour with Cabo City Tours to hear all about it).
There is a beautiful long beach where you can see whales breaching just off the shore. Hop in your rental car or take the local bus to the nearby beach of Playa Palmilla or go surfing at Playa Acapulquito.
There is a wonderful organic market on Saturdays, street vendors in the plaza selling delicious cheap eats, food halls where you can enjoy cold craft beers and tacos, and upscale restaurants where you can sip artisanal mezcal alongside food that has been locally sourced and cooked to perfection.
In general, San Jose del Cabo is more laid back, quieter, and attracts a slightly older crowd, but that’s changing as it has begun getting on the radar of yuppies across North America.
In the downtown area, you’ll find boutique stores run by local designers and artists. There are art galleries, souvenir shops with jewelry, pottery, and textiles that have been sourced from across Mexico. Even if you are spending your week in Cabo San Lucas, you should consider doing your souvenir shopping in San Jose del Cabo.
For tons more information about what there is to do in San Jose del Cabo and around that region, be sure to check out my YouTube videos about the area and see what it’s really like. Watch all of the San Jose del Cabo videos here.
So let’s recap all the reasons to love San Jose del Cabo:
- The best restaurants in the region are here and great food is available at every price point
- There is a sense of community and care that you don’t get in Cabo San Lucas
- There are great beaches for all types of activities
- It has a history and culture to learn more about
- The central plaza is the perfect place to relax after a day out
- There is a plethora of hotel, resort, and Airbnb options to choose from for every budget
Why You Should NOT Choose San Jose del Cabo
As a 33-year-old woman who loves great food, beautiful scenery, fun but casual nightlife, and a slower pace (especially when I’m on vacation), I can’t imagine not loving San Jose del Cabo.
However, (thankfully) not everyone thinks like me or has the same wants and needs for their vacation to Los Cabos.
If you are looking for a younger crowd of 20-somethings, you’re not going to find them in San Jose del Cabo. If you want bars with great DJs that are playing music into the early hours, you’re not going to find that in San Jose del Cabo. In general, this is not the spring break of your dreams.
San Jose is a little bit more spread out than Cabo San Lucas. There are great hotels along the beach, but it’s about a 20-minute walk to the downtown area. There are chic and stylish boutique hotels, but you aren’t very close to the best beaches. San Jose del Cabo is best explored by renting a car (from Cactus Car Rentals of course!).
So just to recap:
- It’s not the best place for party-seeking 20-somethings
- It’s not the most accessible place if you want to walk everywhere (unless you enjoy walking, in which case it’s actually very easy to walk with excellent sidewalks and safe crossings everywhere).
Distance Between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas
Whichever city you choose to have your vacation, getting between the two is actually very easy. They are only 30 minutes away from each other if you take the free tourist corridor road. If you opt for the toll road, it’s even quicker.
You can take a taxi between the two for about $20-30 USD (which I do not recommend). You can sometimes get an Uber between the two for about $15-20 USD. This is also somewhat expensive since you will then have to pay the same to get back to whichever town you started in.
The most affordable way to get between the two Cabos (if you don’t have a rental car) is to take the bus. The Ruta del Desierto is a purple and yellow bus. It runs from the hotel zone in San Jose del Cabo to the downtown area of Cabo San Lucas. The cost to go from one to the other is 38 Pesos (just under $2 USD).
The bus runs every 8-10 minutes. This is also the best and cheapest way to get to the different beaches along the tourist corridor. To go from Cabo San Lucas to Playa Chileno only costs 13 Pesos (about 50 cents). It’s the same price to go from San Jose del Cabo to Playa Palmilla. Just be sure to tell the driver where you plan to get off so they don’t charge you the full amount.
How to Get to Los Cabos
Whether you decide to book a place in Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo, there’s really only one airport option.
It’s officially called the Aeropuerto Internacional de Los Cabos or the Los Cabos International Airport. The airport code is SJD. It is also sometimes referred to as San Jose del Cabo Airport (because that is where it is located). Confusingly, when you are at the airport, you will likely see it called Cabo San Lucas on the arrival and departure boards.
However, there is also a smaller airport located in Cabo San Lucas which is mostly reserved for private charters (Jeff Besos’ plane lands here). This airport is called the Cabo San Lucas International Airport and is being considered for future growth plans in the city.
For now, be sure to book your flights to the SJD airport. From here you can pick up a rental car and head on your way. Just be sure to avoid all of the vendors trying to sell you timeshares. They offer to take you out for a tour of the town. Some offer to take you for dinner or drinks, all “on us.” This is one of the most annoying things about flying into the Los Cabos Airport.