Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Discover Your Dream Beach Destination - Tofu Travelers (2023)

When choosing between Cancun or Playa del Carmen for your next trip to Mexico, the decision can be difficult. Lucky for you, I live in Playa del Carmen and go to Cancun a lot!

Both destinations have stunning beaches, vibrant nightlife and a range of activities to suit any traveller. In this guide, I'll dig into the differences between these two popular attractions to make it easier for you to decide where to book your next vacation. Get ready to explore everything from accommodations and attractions to the best spots for solo travelers, couples, and families!

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Where

Firstly, the location! Cancun and Playa del Carmen are relatively close to each other, but each has its advantages.

Cancun: Gateway

Cancun is close to the airport, making it a convenient option for travelers. Cancun Airport is the main international gateway to the entire region, so you can easily find direct flights from many cities.

Cancun's hotel zone is 23 kilometers (15 miles) from the airport. Depending on where you are staying, you can collect your luggage and arrive at your hotel within half an hour.

Another advantage of Cancun's location is its proximity to some of the best attractions on the Yucatan Peninsula. From Cancun you can travel to the famousChichen Itza Maya ruinsOr the beautiful Isle of Mujeres.

Playa del Carmen: Central Hub

Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, is in the center of the Riviera Maya. Although it is a bit farFrom Cancun airport, the drive from Cancun to Playa del Carmen takes about an hour.

What makes Playa del Carmen's location so special is its easy access to so many attractions. Take advantage of its central location to easily explore amazing cenotes,Tulum ancient ruins, and the charming town of Akumal.

important tip:If you are considering whether to choose Playa del Carmen or Cancun, remember that Playa del Carmen offers a more strategic location from which to explore the attractions of the Riviera Maya, while if you plan to spend most of your time on the beach, Cancun is ideal.

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: The atmosphere

Cancun: Party Central

Known for its lively atmosphere, Cancun is much larger than Playa del Carmen. This popular destination is best for those who enjoy non-stop activity, from luxury resorts to lively nightlife.

During the day, Cancun has a variety of restaurants and shopping centers. The beach scene is more crowded, but you'll find some laid-back beach bars serving specialty drinks to help quench your thirst in the hot Mexican sun.

Playa del Carmen: The cold land

Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, has a more relaxed and intimate vibe. Its pedestrian streets are perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping. I found it easier to assimilate into the local culture in Playa del Carmen as the town is less touristy.

Playa del Carmen also has a more relaxed beach scene. Fewer crowds make it the perfect place to relax. In addition, it is an ideal base for exploring nearby attractions such astulumand amazing cenotes.

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Strande

When I compare Cancun and Playa del Carmen, one of the biggest factors for me is always the beach. After all, what's a Riviera Maya vacation without a beautiful beach to relax on? So let me give you an overview of Cancun and Playa del Carmen to help you choose the perfect beach destination.

cancun strand

Cancun is located on the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, next to the beautiful beaches of the Mexican Caribbean. Its famous hotel district is home to many hotels and resorts, some of which are all-inclusive. I remember being amazed by the white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters the first time I visited Cancun.

One of the best beaches in Cancun is Playa Delfines, where I spent hours soaking up the sun and drinking fresh coconut water. Another popular beach is Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, just a short ferry ride from Cancun. This beach is great for families with calm shallow waters and plenty of beach bars to keep you refreshed throughout the day.

Playa del Carmen strand

Playa is located in the southern part of Cancun, about 45 minutes drive from Cancun International Airport. Part of the stunning Riviera Maya, this beach town is known for its laid-back vibe, a marked departure from the hustle and bustle of Cancun. When I compare Playa del Carmen to Cancun, I always find that Playa del Carmen offers a more intimate and relaxed beach experience.

Playa del Carmen's beach is also public and is full of beach clubs where you can rent chairs and umbrellas for the day. Playa del Carmen's beaches are much narrower than those in Cancun, which means it can get crowded during busy times. If you're looking for more space, head north to quieter Cocoa Beach or south to Playaca's sprawling coastline.

If you are going to spend the day, one of my favorite places is Mamita Beach Club. It is located on the beach in the center of Playa del Carmen. It's the perfect place to spend a day at the beach with casual beach service, drink specials and music that's upbeat but not loud.

I also love visiting less populated beaches in Playa del Carmen, such as Playa Xcalacoco, which is just a short drive from downtown Playa del Carmen. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also visit the nearby beach town of Playa del Carmen,tulumKnown for its stunning white sand beaches and ancient Mayan ruins.

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Stranddom

When it comes to choosing between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, it really comes down to what kind of beach experience you want. Cancun offers a more developed resort style with plenty of activities and nightlife, while Playa del Carmen is a smaller beach town with a more relaxed vibe.

I have always loved the laid back vibe of Playa del Carmen and prefer the beach clubs to the all inclusive resorts in Cancun. But if you're looking for the perfect beach picture and a vacation with plenty to do, then Cancun might be a better choice for you.

I live in Playa del Carmen, so I'm probably a little biased on most things, but even I have to admit that Cancun's beaches are more in line with what you'd expect from a typical Mexican beach vacation. But whatever destination you choose, you are sure to find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

important tip:If you're traveling with a group or family and can't choose between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, why not split your time between the two? It's easy to travel between them, so you can experience the best of both worlds!

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Nightlife

Cancun nightlife

When it comes to nightlife, Cancun is an excellent choice for those who like to party. Mexico is known for having the best nightlife and I have had many memorable nights in this crazy city. One thing that has always bothered me is the variety of nightlife that Cancun has to offer. From hip beach bars to lively clubs, there's something for everyone.

No trip to Cancun is complete without experiencing the legendary Coco Bongo. This club is unlike any I've ever seen, with acrobats, live acts and non-stop music. If you live in Cancun and want a wild night out, this is the place to be.

I also love exploring the different bars and clubs in Cancun's hotel zone. Some of my favorite places include Mandala Beach Club and one of the biggest clubs in Latin America, The City.

Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is known for having a more relaxed and intimate nightlife compared to Cancun. It is perfect for those who like to spend the evening relaxing, sipping cocktails and listening to live music at the beach bar. That said, Playa del Carmen also has its fair share of clubs and late-night hotspots.

One of my favorite places to start the night is a rooftop bar like The Fives, where you can enjoy a refreshing margarita while taking in the amazing views of the city. From there you can easily explore the many bars and clubs in downtown Playa del Carmen.

If dancing is your thing, you can't go wrong with Mandala Playa del Carmen, sister club to the popular Mandala in Cancun. For a more offbeat scene, I recommend La Embajada, where you can dance reggae with the locals.

Nightlife in Cancun and Playa del Carmen: Conclusion

Choosing between nightlife in Cancun and Playa del Carmen really depends on your personal preferences. If you are looking for a wild party scene with big clubs and international DJs, Cancun is the destination for you. On the other hand, if you prefer a more relaxed and intimate atmosphere, you will love Playa del Carmen's nightlife.

In my experience, both destinations offer memorable evenings, so you can't go wrong with either. Personally, I love the relaxed vibe of Playa del Carmen, but I also love the occasional wild night in Cancun.

important tip:If you have time and want the best of both worlds, consider staying in Playa del Carmen and taking a day trip to Cancun to explore the nightlife. Just a short drive from Playa del Carmen, you have the chance to experience both Cancun's vibrant party scene and Playa del Carmen's more relaxed nightlife.

Playa del Carmen vs Cancun: Things to See and Do

Things to do and see in Cancun

Cancun is paradise for thrill seekers and adventure lovers like me. During your stay, there is no shortage of activities to keep you entertained. One of my favorite things to do in Cancun is visit Xavage, which isXcaret Adventure Park. Imagine challenging rope courses, ziplines and monster trucks (my personal favorite). If you're looking for a wild adventure, this is definitely my top pick, and it's right on Cancun's doorstep.

Another popular activity in Cancun is snorkeling. With its crystal clear waters and vibrant marine life, it's no surprise that people from all over the world come here to explore the underwater world. I had the pleasure of snorkeling in the beautiful waters off the coast of Isla Mujeres and diving at the famous underwater museum MUSA. It was an experience I will never forget.

Cancun also offers easy day trips to nearby destinations such as Isla Mujeres andValladolid. I highly recommend that you take the time to explore these beautiful places. Valladolid is close to Chichen Itza for a more traditional Mexican experience, while Isla Mujeres is a perfectly sized island with a stunning North Playa (Playa Norte).

Things to do and see in Playa del Carmen

Like Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a hub for adventure and the outdoors. one of the most popularthings to do hereIt's time to visit the Cenotes - natural sinkholes filled with crystal clear water. I had the opportunity to snorkel and dive in these unique formations and it was an experience not to be missed.

ATV toweris another popular activity in Playa del Carmen and I must say that riding through the jungle and discovering hidden cenotes is an unforgettable adventure. In addition, Playa del Carmen has various ecological parks such as Xcaret andSherha, where you can spend a whole day with water activities,encounter with wild animalsand cultural experience.

for those who lovesnorkeling and diving, Playa del Carmen is a great place to explorenearby Cozumel Island. The island is known for its pristine coral reefs and diverse marine life, making it a must-see for underwater enthusiasts.

Playa del Carmen or Cancun: what has the best things to do and see?

Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer visitors a wide variety of activities and attractions. Although they share some similarities, each destination has its own unique charm and experiences.

Cancun is more developed and has more attractions to choose from, such as the underwater museum and the nearby Isla Mujeres Island playground. If you're looking for a destination with an abundance of activities, Cancun might just be the place for you.

Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, has a more laid-back vibe and is known for itsbeautiful cenoteand ecological parks. If you prefer a more intimate and nature-focused experience, you might prefer Playa del Carmen.

important tip:When considering a vacation to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, think about how many activities or attractions you are likely to participate in. The distance from Playa del Carmen to Cancun is about an hour, so you can technically get anywhere from either. However, Playa is more central, so if you are looking for a more active location, I would recommend making Playa del Carmen your base.

Playa del Carmen or Cancun: accommodation options

Where to stay in Cancun

When it comes to accommodation, Cancun has something for everyone. From all-inclusive resorts to cozy boutique hotels, you're sure to find the perfect place to stay. On my last trip to Cancun, I stayed in the Hotel Zone, where most of the hotels and resorts are located. There are so many options in the area and I love being close to the beach and having access to all the amenities.

One thing I have noticed is that there are more all-inclusive resorts to choose from in Cancun than in Playa del Carmen. If you are looking for a hassle-free vacation where everything is taken care of for you, Cancun is an excellent choice. Plus, many resorts are located right on the beach, so you can enjoy great views and easy access to the ocean.

Cancun also has a number of affordable options. On my first trip, I stayed in downtown Cancun, a short drive from the hotel zone. The area has more affordable hotels and is close to local restaurants and shops for a more authentic experience. But getting to the beach is a bit of a trek, so if you're only planning a beach day or two, and spend most of your time on activities and day trips, I'd recommend staying in the city center.

Where to stay in Playa del Carmen

Accommodation in Playa del Carmen has a more intimate feel. The city is smaller than Cancun, so there are fewer large resorts and more boutique hotels and vacation homes. The last time my family visited Playa del Carmen they stayed atPalm Beach, a charming boutique hotel close to the beach, loved the personal service and cozy atmosphere.

If you're looking for all-inclusive options, Playa del Carmen has some options, but not as many as Cancun. However, you will find many hotels and holiday homes with kitchen facilities, which are perfect if you prefer to cook your own meals or enjoy the local cuisine at nearby restaurants. If you would rather live a little outside the city, you will find several options within a radius of 10-20 minutes.

Another thing I love about Playa del Carmen is that many of the accommodations are within walking distance of the beach, restaurants, and shops. This allows you to easily explore the city and enjoy all it has to offer without having to drive.

Cancun or Playa del Carmen: which has the best accommodation?

When considering a vacation to Cancun or Playa del Carmen, it is important to consider what type of accommodation you prefer. If you are looking for more options includingAll Inclusive ResortAnd budget hotels, Cancun may be your best choice.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more intimate and relaxed atmosphere, Playa del Carmen might be a better fit. With its boutique hotels and holiday homes, you get a more personal experience in this charming beach town.

important tip:When choosing between Cancun or Playa del Carmen, consider your travel style and preferences. If you like everything taken care of and resort-style accommodations, Cancun is an excellent choice. If you are more of a local experience and enjoy exploring on foot, Playa del Carmen may be the ideal destination.

Cancun and Playa del Carmen are for different types of travelers


When couples are considering a trip to Playa del Carmen or Cancun, it's important to consider the vibe you're looking for. Playa del Carmen has a more intimate feel with romantic beachside restaurants and boutique hotels, perfect for a couples getaway. I love long walks on the beach with my partner, but mostly the chances to get away from it all are much easier in Playa.

Cancun, on the other hand, is known for its lively atmosphere and lively nightlife. If you and your partner like to party and explore a wider variety of dining and entertainment options, Cancun might be a better choice. All inclusive resorts in Cancun also offer the carefree vacation experience that many couples love.

solo traveller

For solo travelers, both Cancun and Playa del Carmen have their offers. Cancun's lively atmosphere makes it easy to meet new people and join groups. During my solo trip to Cancun, I made new friends at the beach bar, offered drink deals, and networked with other travelers on my Cancun day trip.

Playa del Carmen is a smaller town that offers a more relaxed experience for solo travelers. The pedestrian-friendly layout makes it easy to explore on foot and meet locals and fellow travelers. On my first solo visit to Playa del Carmen, I like to drink coffee in a cozy cafe and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.


When it comes to family holidays, both destinations have their advantages. For families, the choice between Playa del Carmen and Cancun usually depends on the age of the children and the desired vacation experience. All-inclusive resorts in Cancun are family-friendly and offer a variety of amenities and activities for children, such as kids' clubs and water parks. The convenience of having everything in one place made my family's trip to Cancun a breeze. There's even a new Nickelodeon resort that's getting rave reviewsGood reviews on TripAdvisor.

Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, offers families a quieter environment with more opportunities to explore local culture and nature. Playa del Carmen's beaches are less crowded than Cancun, making it a more relaxing option for families with young children.

I recommend if you are looking for a family friendly all inclusive resort in PlayaSantos Caracol Eco Resort. My family loved it so much that my sister got married there. There is a water park, beautiful beaches and endless opportunities to see animals. You will eventually get used to monkeys and raccoons hanging around.


For backpackers, Playa del Carmen is definitely the better option. The city has a wide range of affordable accommodation and is well connected to other destinations in Mexico such as Tulum andCozumel. Backpacking before I officially moved here, I found Playa del Carmen to be a convenient base for exploring the surrounding area.


Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen have more and morevegetarian-friendly restaurant. However, Playa del Carmen's smaller size and cultural focus make it easier to find unique plant-based dining options. I keep discovering new wondersVegan restaurants in PlayaServes great Mexican inspired dishes so I don't feel like I'm missing out.

animal lover

For animal lovers, both destinations offer opportunities to interact with the local wildlife. what cancun is famous for is the opportunity Swim with whale sharksHigh season (usually June to September). Playa del Carmen is close to ecological parks such as Xcaret and Xel-Há, where you can see a variety of animals, or close to Akumal.Snorkel with turtles.

If you live in Praia, check it out Punta Laguna Nature ReserveThere you will have the chance to see monkeys in the wild. Xi'an Ka'an Biosphere ReserveWell worth a day trip, you can spend the day seeing wildlife such as dolphins, sea turtles and a variety of birds in their natural habitat. I have only beenSian KaanOnce, but I definitely plan to visit again.

How to get from Playa del Carmen to Cancun

When planning a trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, it is important to know how far Playa del Carmen is from Cancun. Really not that much! These two populardestination i mexicoThe two are about 42 miles (68 kilometers) apart, so you can easily visit both places during your vacation.

take the bus

One of the most convenient and affordable ways to travel from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is by bus. Usually I takeADO bus from Cancun airportGo straight to Playa del Carmen. The buses are comfortable, air-conditioned and often run all day. The drive takes about an hour and I found it a hassle-free way to travel between the two destinations.

of collective

Another option to consider when traveling between Playa del Carmen and Cancun is to take a colectivo, a shared van that runs along major highways. Colectivos are popular with locals and tourists alike because they are cheap and relatively fast.

For Isla Mujeres recently, I took a colectivo in Playa del Carmen and arrived in Cancun in just over an hour. Keep in mind that group buses can be crowded, so be prepared that the tour may not be as comfortable as a bus tour. I would not recommend it for older travelers or if you prefer creature comforts.

with car

If you want more flexibility and control over your schedule, renting a car may be the best option. The drive is approximately one hour and the highway is well maintained and easy to navigate. Owning a car will allow you to explore other nearby attractions such as Chichen Itza and the various cenotes located around the Riviera Maya.

By taxi or private transfer

For those who prefer a more comfortable and private travel experience, hiring a taxi or booking a private transfer is another option. Taxis can be found at both Cancun airport and Playa del Carmen, but be sure to negotiate a price before you travel. Private transfers can be pre-booked online and offer a more personalized service, often with English-speaking drivers.

Frequently asked questions about Cancun vs Playa del Carmen

Is Playa del Carmen better than Cancun?

It comes down to personal preference. Playa del Carmen has a more relaxed vibe, while Cancun has a more lively vacation vibe.

Should I choose Playa del Carmen or Cancun for couples?

Both destinations are great for couples. Playa del Carmen has a more intimate feel, while Cancun offers luxury resorts and a lively nightlife.

Should I choose Playa del Carmen or Cancun for singles?

Cancun is known for its vibrant nightlife and party scene, making it an ideal destination for singles looking to mingle and have fun. Playa del Carmen also offers nightlife options, but with a more relaxed atmosphere. I recommend Playa for backpackers.

How far is Playa del Carmen from Cancun?

Playa del Carmen is about 68 kilometers (42 miles) south of Cancun, and the drive between the two destinations is about an hour.

Where is it from Cancún to Playa del Carmen?

Playa del Carmen is located south of Cancun, on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Is Playa del Carmen less touristy than Cancun?

Yes, Playa del Carmen is generally considered less touristy than Cancun, and offers a more relaxed and authentic vibe. Why is Playa del Carmen cheaper than Cancun? Playa del Carmen is generally less expensive than Cancun due to its smaller size, less touristy vibe, and greater variety of affordable lodging and dining options.

Why is Playa del Carmen so popular?

Playa del Carmen is known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant local culture and charming atmosphere. It is also an ideal base for exploring nearby attractions such as cenotes, Mayan ruins and eco-parks.

Is it possible to swim in the sea in Playa del Carmen?

Yes, the sea in Playa del Carmen is suitable for swimming, the water is warm and generally calm. However, always be careful with electricity and follow local safety advice.

Why is the water in Playa del Carmen brown?

At times the water in Playa del Carmen can appear brown due to:Tang (Sargassum). This is seasonal and the local government works hard to clean up the beach and the water usually returns to its typical turquoise color.

How many days do I need in Playa del Carmen?

The ideal length isstay in playa del carmenDepends on your interests and travel plans. Generally, 3-5 days are enough to explore the city and nearby attractions. But if you wanttake a day tripOr just relax on the beach, consider extending your stay.

Final decision: Cancun vs Playa del Carmen

Cancun and Playa del Carmen each have their own charms that appeal to different types of travelers. Consider your priorities and preferences when choosing between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, whether it's partying the night away, exploring ancient ruins, or relaxing on pristine beaches.

Whichever destination you choose, you are sure to make unforgettable memories in the Mexican Caribbean. Ready to start planning your dream vacation? See more of my contentMexico guide herLet me know in the comments section below if you have any questions

Looking for more? See other Mexico guides:

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