Ready for a Mayan Riviera vacation? Although there are plenty of places to get a foothold, two candidates stand out: Playa del Carmen vs. Cancun. While the drive from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is less than an hour, the two cities are so different and each have their own unique advantages that it can be difficult to choose between the two.
Each city has its own perks, but I've lived here long enough to find that there's often one city that suits each vacationer better than the other. Read on to find out the pros and cons of each destination; from who has the best beaches to finding the best taco places the locals eat.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun:Place
Carmen beachCancún International Airport is a 45-minute drive away. It is located almost in the center of the Riviera Maya, one hour south of Tulum and only 40 minutes by ferry from the coast of Cozumel Island.
CancunLocated north of the airport and within 20 minutes of most hotels and resorts. Cancun is divided into two main zones: The Hotel Zone (or Zona Hotelera) is where you will find most of the beaches, restaurants, shops and nightlife. El Centro is the more traditional downtown area. the islandIsle of WomenMany sailing trips depart from the hotel zone right outside the door.
When comparing Playa del Carmen and Cancun, the main difference is that when you live in Cancun, you are at the northernmost point of the peninsula, while "Playa" (or Playa del Carmen as the locals call it) is more central. It takes about an hour to drive from Cancun to Playa del Carmen. So you have to travel further to get toattractionsThe state of Quintana Roo in southern Mexico, including Akumal, Tulum, and Bacalar.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun:strand
In Playa del Carmen's battle against Cancun, Cancun undisputedly took the beach title. With endless stretches of wide, white sand, it's easy to find a spot to recline with a beach towel without worrying about getting too close to the next sunbather.
The beaches of Playa del Carmen also have their moments. The water is just as clear and inviting, but the downtown shoreline has eroded so much that there may be only a few meters between your hotel and the water where you can relax on a sun lounger, especially at high tide. However, if you're staying at an out-of-town resort, this is usually not a problem and you can expect the same quality of beach when comparing Playa del Carmen to Cancun.
As a personal preference, I like to stay at resorts along the long coastline from Cancun to Playa del Carmen because you can experience mangroves and beaches blending together in a more natural setting. Animal lovers can even spot raccoons, agoutis and even monkeys the further you get from the city center.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun:atmosphere
CancunThink the design for holiday fun. The hotel zone has miles of shops, restaurants and beach bars, all created to help you make the most of your holiday. You can expect all kinds of visitors here, from families with small children to spring breakers ready to have a good time.
Since the hotel district is separated from the city center where most locals live and spend time, you're more likely to rub shoulders with Americans, Canadians and Europeans on vacation.
Cancun is a big city, much bigger than Playa del Carmen and Tulum combined, so you can expect a lot more traffic and hustle and bustle. To get around, take a taxi or catch a local bus, which can take up to half an hour from the hotel zone to the city center. This is one of the biggest differences from Cancun to Playa del Carmen.
Carmen beachThere are legendary experiences, big name restaurants and lively bars, but when you think of Playa del Carmen vs. Cancun, what stands out to me as a local is the ease with which you can escape all this noise. With locals like me and expats living next to the hotel, you're more likely to hear Spanish when you go out to eat.
The ambiance of the Playa is a bit old fashioned, perhaps appealing to more adventurous travelers who have already been to Cancun and want to see other attractions in the area. The biggest comparison from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is that you'll find vacationers staying in Cancun for a week or two, while Playa del Carmen sees more long-term travelers.
Hanging out in Playa is a much more relaxed experience. Most people choose to walk, as it takes no more than half an hour to get from the north end of the city to the south end. Locals usually choose to travel by bike and there is even a shared bike rental in the city, with stations all over the city centre. But when the sun is at its hottest, there are plenty of taxis that will happily take you anywhere you need for the equivalent of $2.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun:Activity
The trip from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is only an hour away and the activities to choose from are pretty much the same. tourist baseshort journeyFully equipped to take you to all the delights of the Mayan Riviera, and best of all, with transport available so you can sit back, relax and focus on the fun.
- you can reach large ruinsChichen itza, the relaxed Isle of Holbox or the colorful Bacalar Lagoon are all possible day trips. For those who want to stay close to a resort and avoid long drives, you'll start to see the difference when you compare Playa del Carmen vs. Cancun.
Cancun's Isla Mujeres is within easy reach, as is Praia's Cozumel Island. Tulum, Akumal and their splendornatural wellPlaya del Carmen is even closer, and Cancun has some of the best shopping in the area. With so many great things to offer in both places, it really is a difficult choice! If you're looking for two days of great things to do from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, visit Chichen Itza on one day and visit Isla Mujeres on a catamaran on the other.Best holiday packageAt a super discounted price.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun:dormitory
Cancun's hotel zone is full of resorts, ranging from family-friendly all-inclusive hotels to more exclusive adults-only properties. Reasonably priced resorts run from mid-range to ultra-luxury. If you're looking for a more economical option, book between June and October, or walk from the beach into the city center.
Accommodation styles in Playa del Carmen range from a few all-inclusive resorts in the city center and on the outskirts to small boutique hotels and apartment or home rentals. Most accommodation options are within ten minutes' walk of the beach. When I compare Cancun and Playa del Carmen, I say PlayatypeThe choice is one of the biggest differences.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun: Mad
There are generally better dining options in Cancun, especially if you're willing to go outside the hotel zone. Although I choose to live in Playa del Carmen, I must admit that I often travel to Cancun for special occasions or when I feel like doing something special.
Cancun has the big chain restaurants you probably frequent at home, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Outback Steakhouse, and even a few Subways. But maybe you're on vacation and want to try some new, authentic food. You'll also find a range of culinary options, with several Michelin-starred chefs showcasing their cooking methods.
Playa del Carmen is also home to several chain restaurants that offer a wide variety of options when you want something more familiar, and because of all the expat populations, there is a good selection of international cuisine to choose from. There are some fine dining options here, but nowhere near the quantity and quality of Cancun or Tulum to the south.
Playa's highlight on the big question of Playa del Carmen vs. Cancun is the local hotspots and the chance to enjoy authentic Mexican food with Mexican locals. Start your day with your feet in the sand munching on "chilaquiles con pollo" at your local beach club, then end the night with a taco or three at one of the many fast food restaurants dotted around town. If eating out is important to you, this is one big difference between Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun: Nightlife
For a big night out, Cancun is definitely ideal. It's not called Spring Break Central for nothing. World-class DJs play to large audiences, and you can enjoy pool parties by the beach in the evenings and during the day. Some pubs are even family-friendly, so you can have fun with the kids in the late afternoon and early evening.
The only slight downside is that many clubs in Cancun tend to have very long lines and prefer an open bar policy where you pay a fixed price in advance. This means that bar-hopping is not a good option, you have to choose your place for the evening and settle in. That said, there are some well organized pub crawls that allow you to skip the queues and visit several clubs for a night.
On the way from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, there are still plenty of opportunities to relax, and you'll find some of the same great nightclubs as Cancun, including Coco Bongo, Mandala and Señor Frog's. The main difference between Playa del Carmen's nightlife and Cancun's is that Playa has a more relaxed bar selection that complements its relaxed vibe.
In Playa you will find trendy cocktail bars, lounge bars, quirky karaoke bars and many bars with live music. As a local I love going to Zenzi for live salsa music on the beach or La Verbena where you'll find reggae and cumbia bands playing late into the night.
Playa del Carmen vs Cancun: which is better?
In the match between Playa del Carmen and Cancun both sides are winners. You really can't go wrong. Both are world-class beach destinations with beautiful sandy beaches, hundreds of activities and the chance to experience Mexico's unique culture.
If you are looking for a beach holiday with lots of flairWater activities, abundant dining options and picturesque beaches, Cancun has it all. Playa del Carmen is less touristy but more touristyadventurous, and provides easier access to attractions in the area. Regardless of which one you choose, you are guaranteed a good holiday.
Plus, since you're only an hour from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, you can easily stay in one and visit the other to see if the meadows fit your next trip.