Deciding between Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun can be difficult. These two locations appear to be both similar and dissimilar, making it difficult to choose between them, especially for first-time visitors to the area.
We’re here to assist you because we want to make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into before you book your hotel, apply sunscreen, order that michelada, and head to the beach.
Both Playa and Cancun (as it’s known among locals) have a healthy party scene, are densely populated with English speakers and visitors, have beautiful beaches, and provide access to nature excursions and day trips.
You can’t go wrong with either destination in its area of travel, but if you have any deal-breakers when choosing your perfect vacation spot, read on to find out which is better for you.
Playa Del Carmen
Playa del Carmen, the third-largest city in Quintana Roo, can brag about its magnificent beaches and stunning waters. The town continues to grow in popularity and fashion with each passing season, owing to the Quinta Avenida (5 Avenue), Europe’s longest street, where many prominent European faces go on shopping sprees.
Additionally, we must not overlook the reefs, which are ideal for diving, swimming, and seeing eels, sea turtles, corals, and a variety of other aquatic wildlife. And, with national parks contributing to the overall experience, it’s a must for everyone heading in that direction.
What is Playa Del Carmen like?
Playa Del Carmen has always been a more compact city, with height restrictions and fewer large resorts. The majority of downtown is walkable, except one major pedestrian street, 5th Avenue.
This pedestrian walkway (locally referred to as Quinta Avenida) is approximately 22 blocks long and is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. This street is the epicentre of activity in Playa Del Carmen.
Additionally, the beach is easily accessible from the majority of Playa Del Carmen’s downtown area. The beach is only a few blocks away in the majority of this area.
There are numerous beach clubs along the beach where you can spend the day with a rented chair and umbrella. You can eat at the beach clubs or one of the Playa Del Carmen’s beachfront restaurants.
Cancun, which borders the Caribbean Sea, is a coastal city with a plethora of exciting attractions. Although it has a reputation as a party town, the stunning resorts, tropical climate, and Mayan ruins suggest otherwise.
You can spend your days lounging on one of the beautiful, sandy beaches or taking a stroll through the inner town. Alternatively, you can visit all monuments, restaurants, and museums.
Whatever you choose, this Riviera Maya city will not disappoint. Only the temperature should be considered, reaching as high as 41.5°C during the summer months.
What is Cancun like?
Cancun has developed as a city primarily to support the resorts in the Hotel Zone and the tourism industry. Cancun is divided into two distinct areas: the Hotel Zone and the downtown.
The majority of tourists stay in large resorts in the Hotel Zone. This section of town is geographically distinct from the downtown.
The majority of Cancun’s Hotel Zone is comprised of large, all-inclusive resorts. The majority of people book these for a stay of 5-8 days and spend their time at the pool, beach, or relaxing at the hotel.
There are a few tourist attractions in the Hotel Zone. There is a museum, Mayan ruins, a water park, the main shopping area, and nightclubs.
Due to the Hotel Zone’s size, getting around usually requires taking the bus, a taxi, or renting a car. The majority of visitors to Cancun will take at least one tour during their stay.
Additionally, if you stay in the Hotel Zone, you will need to arrange transportation from the Cancun International Airport to your hotel.
Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun
Playa del Carmen grew more organically and was originally a fishing village on the coast and the departure point for the ferry to Cozumel. Naturally, when tourists, the majority of whom were staying in Cancun.
Visited the small, charming, bohemian town, they fell in love, and more hotels, restaurants, and tourism services began to open along 5th Avenue, a pedestrian street one block from the ocean.
Cancun is a tourist destination that has been planned. The Mexican government examined the entire country and determined that this small “Island” surrounded by water, on one side by the Nichupte Lagoon and the other by the spectacular Caribbean Sea, was ideal for a vacation destination.
Playa Del Carmen and Cancun have markedly different vibes; Cancun’s Hotel Zone has a more modern city feel, whereas Playa del Carmen retains a townlike feel despite its enormous growth.
Let’s Find Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun in complete depth.
Accommodations (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is divided into several distinct areas, including Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), Downtown, and Playacar. The hotels along Fifth Avenue are typically smaller and more unique.
They’re ideal for those looking to be in the heart of the action and only a few steps from the beach. Specific properties may include a rooftop pool or a small kitchen.
The remainder of Downtown features similar smaller hotels further from the beach and may offer a pool and a little more peace and vacation rentals.
Playacar is a gated community situated just south of Fifth Avenue, including luxury vacation properties, full-service resorts, and exclusive residences.
It’s a lovely area because it’s peaceful while still being close to all the action in downtown Playa del Carmen.
Where to Stay in Cancun
Cancun can be divided into two distinct areas: The Hotel Zone and Downtown, where most of the population resides. Both areas have hotels and vacation rental properties to offer visitors.
In the Hotel Zone, the vast majority of hotels and resorts are all-inclusive, which means that they provide everything, including restaurants and entertainment, on the premises.
The cost of these services is included in the price of your accommodation. On the other hand, many visitors enjoy venturing outside the resort to go on excursions or shop. There will be more on that later.
There are numerous vacation rentals available both downtown and in the Hotel Zone for those who wish to explore the area’s restaurants and beaches on their own time.
Rentals may include a kitchen, a swimming pool, and beach access, depending on the property. There are also hostels available in both the Hotel Zone and downtown, which are excellent options for travellers on a tight budget who want to meet other like-minded travellers while on their trip.
Beaches (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Beaches in Playa del Carmen
If you’re unfamiliar with the area, choosing a beach in Playa can feel like playing Russian roulette. All of Playa del Carmen’s beaches, like those in Cancun, are open to the public.
Unlike the tourist areas of Cancun, however, there are several unequipped stretches of sand in Playa. This means that the beach will be devoid of beds, umbrellas, bars, lifeguards, and restrooms.
Unless you are staying directly on the beach and have access to hotel facilities, you will need to choose a location and most likely pay to be there if you want services.
You should anticipate beach vendors and crowds, as the beaches are public, mainly if you stay in a hotel near the city center.
Following all, the beaches are deserted. There are several beach clubs in and around Playa, each with a different price range, but you can also reserve a beach bed at a bar like Senor Frogs on the southern edge of 5th Avenue.
For reference, the south end of the beach is more expansive and has less seaweed.
Beaches in Cancun
Cancun is known for its warm, clear water. Additionally, the beaches here are broader and more equipped, primarily because they are practically all fronted by a hotel.
Even though the beach is free, you’ll almost certainly need to spend money on food and drink if you want to sit in a chair or under an umbrella.
On the plus side, the sand will almost certainly be maintained (i.e., free of seaweed), and you’ll almost certainly be close to a bar and bathroom.
While the southern side of the Hotel Zone offers the best off-the-shore snorkelling, if you’re looking to see some action, it’s best to book an excursion.
Attractions (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Attractions in Playa del Carmen
Additionally, Playa del Carmen has miles of beaches lined with beach clubs, which are not prevalent in Cancun.
Beach clubs typically provide umbrellas and lounge chairs, as well as food and cocktails, music, and occasionally swimming pools and other unique services, everything you need for the perfect beach day.
One of the best features of Playa del Carmen is the abundance of Cenotes located nearby. Cenotes are magnificent natural sinkholes that can be open, similar to a small lake, or wholly enclosed, similar to a cave.
There is nothing quite like swimming in an incredible cenote and exploring its rock formations on a hot tropical day. Certain cenotes include snorkelling, scuba diving, ziplining, and other activities.
Attractions in Cancun
Cancun’s beaches, many of which are Blue Flag certified, are a significant draw. The Hotel Zone is designed in the shape of the number seven.
The beaches on the upper portion are calmer due to their proximity to Isla Mujeres, whereas the beaches on the lower part face the open ocean and are subject to more giant waves. Several of Cancun’s best beaches include:
- Playa Delfines (Dolphin Beach) or El Mirador (The Lookout) at km 20.
- Playa Forum (behind Plaza Forum in the Party Center).
- Playa Ballenas (at km 14).
Cancun’s Hotel Zone also features a variety of locations for boarding the Isla Mujeres ferry. Visitors can arrive on the island in 20 minutes and visit Playa Norte (North Beach), which is widely regarded as one of the best beaches in the world.
Food (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Food in Playa del Carmen
Food in Playa del Carmen is also heavily tourist-oriented. During your stay, you’ll have no trouble finding chain restaurants, fast food, and westernized versions of international cuisine.
Expect to pay the most expensive prices along 5th Avenue, as well as the least authentic cuisine. The majority of restaurants along this pedestrian strip display extensive menus on their exteriors and employ aggressive salespeople to entice you in.
We recommend venturing a few blocks away from 5th Avenue to discover hidden gems, lower prices, and a less touristy vibe.
Playa del Carmen has an advantage over Cancun when it comes to dining because it offers more variety, fewer chain restaurants, and restaurants within easy walking distance.
Food in Cancun
Outback Steakhouse, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Subway, and Hooters are just a few of the chain restaurants that line the side of the road here.
Expect to find fast-food restaurants such as Carl’s Jr. and Pizza Hut in town, as well as some authentic local fare. La Destileria, La Habichuela Sunset, and Hacienda El Mortero are all authentic establishments.
If you’re looking for a more rustic, no-frills establishment with reasonable prices, make your way to the small area behind the Aloft. Tacos and beer are served here on plastic lawn furniture.
If you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, the majority of properties include complimentary breakfast and lunch buffets. As a result, most local restaurants open for lunch around 2:00 p.m. and remain open until midnight.
Activities (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Things to do in Playa del Carmen
Aquaworld also offers snorkelling and diving in Cozumel, as well as Cenote Diving in Playa del Carmen. The Snorkel in Cozumel tour takes you to three of Cozumel’s best reefs: Palancar, Columbia, and El Cielo.
If you’re an experienced diver, the Dive in Cozumel experience includes a two-tank dive with expert guides and lunch at a traditional Mexican restaurant.
If you’re looking for a true adventure, in that case, the Scuba Dive and Parasailing in Cenote Dos Ojos will provide a once-in-a-lifetime exploration of the Yucatan Peninsula’s underground cave system.
Things to do in Cancun
Aquaworld provides visitors with an abundance of outdoor activities, including the best Cancun snorkeling and Silhouette. On our Jungle Tour, you’ll drive your motorboat to Punta Nizuc, where you’ll snorkel among marine life and coral reefs.
The Isla Mujeres Day Trip is an incredible day at sea and on a tropical island. Discover Scuba in MUSA enables beginning divers to practice in a pool before diving at the Cancun Underwater Art Museum.
If you’re looking to pack a lot of activities into a single day, Aquaworld’s AquaFUNtastic Day Pass allows you to participate in up to ten activities for just USD 129.
Atmosphere (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
The atmosphere in Playa del Carmen
Playa’s vibe is a little more mature and less family-oriented than Cancun’s. Spring breakers have been replaced by adventurous travellers, seasoned ex-pats, and out-of-college couples and singles.
Families that visit frequently have children who are of legal drinking age. However, do not be fooled into believing that this establishment is not social.
Numerous nightclubs and bars, an EDM music festival, and the grid-like layout keep it vibrant. Playa del Carmen, in general, is a destination for travellers looking for more than beaches and alcohol to fill their days.
The atmosphere in Cancun
Cancun attracts diverse visitors, from families with younger children to partygoers looking for a good time. Expect a strange but harmonious mix of family-friendly hotels and restaurants alongside loud bars, nightclubs, and flea markets.
If you want to drink, sunbathe, and party with other spring breakers, visit in March or April and stay in a budget or mid-range hotel.
If that does not appeal to you, consider visiting the area during the school year and staying in more upscale hotels such as the Marriott Cancun Resort or The Ritz-Carlton.
If you’re looking for a taste of local culture, you’ll have to bypass the Hotel Zone entirely and venture into town, but be cautious, as the area can be a little more sketchy.
Nightlife (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Nightlife in Playa del Carmen
As with the city itself, Playa del Carmen’s nightlife is more eclectic, with numerous smaller bars such as Kitxen and La Bodeguita del Medio, some with live music, and both small and more significant nightclubs such as Coco Bongo, Mandala, and Palazzo.
Downtown Playa del Carmen is an excellent location for bar/club hopping, as most nightlife establishments are within walking distance.
As is the case in most cities worldwide, the busiest nights in Cancun and Playa del Carmen are Friday and Saturday.
Nightlife in Cancun
Cancun has long been known for its glamorous nightlife, which features shows and dancing at nightclubs such as Coco Bongo, Dady’O, Palazzo, and The City.
Mandala, La Vaquita, and Congo are all smaller bar-style clubs. There are bar/club hopping tours available, but most visitors stick to one location and spend the night.
Senor Frogs and Carlos & Charlie’s are also popular with families, as they can visit in the late afternoon or early evening before things get too crazy.
Weather in Playa del Carmen vs Cancun
Due to the proximity of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, their climates are similar: hot, humid, and not without a rainy hurricane season. Weather conditions may vary slightly, but this will not last long with the two destinations only about 30 minutes apart.
Storms and weather patterns that pass through both areas are usually harmless, so you can sit back and relax knowing you didn’t pick the wrong beach getaway.
The best time to visit is during the October shoulder season when the weather is still pleasant, hurricane season has passed, and peak season tourists have not yet arrived.
March is also a lovely month to visit weather-wise, but if you’re not in the mood for a spring break-style party, skip this month.
Shopping (Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun)
Shopping in Playa del Carmen
There are a few malls in Playa del Carmen, such as Plaza las Americas and Centro Maya, but open-air malls such as Quinta Alegria, Paseo del Carmen, and Plaza Playacar are more prevalent.
Quinta Avenida is the best shopping street in Playa del Carmen, with chain and independent stores, shops, and boutiques selling clothing and footwear, swimwear, and souvenirs such as art, tequila, and silver.
On Quinta Avenida, shoppers can find anything they desire and then take a break at a funky cafe to people-watch.
This concludes our comparison of Playa Del Carmen and Cancun. In contrast, it is nearly impossible to have a bad vacation in either of these world-famous destinations due to their diverse accommodations, attractions, activities, nightlife, and shopping.
we hope that this insight and information will assist you in choosing the option that best fits your wants and needs. Before travelling, make a reservation for at least one of Aquaworld’s tours in Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
Shopping in Cancun
Cancun has shopping options for every budget. Its upscale malls in the Hotel Zone, Luxury Avenue, and La Isla’s Fashion Harbour to downtown Market 28, which features handicrafts and souvenirs.
Malecon Americas/Plaza Las Americas is the best shopping mall in Cancun because it is indoors and has the most stores, services, and restaurants. Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center is Cancun’s newest mall, an open-air facility near the Hotel Zone entrance.
Coral Negro is located in the Party Zone and is ideal for those who do not wish to venture far from their hotel but still wish to visit a market.
Amazing facts of Playa del Carmen and Cancun)
Here are all the activities, destinations, natural wonders, and jewels in the beautiful Riviera Maya. Roll up your sleeves and prepare for the actual fight. Enjoy!
The Mexican Food
Probably the only point of agreement between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is the excellent Mexican cuisine. Mexican cuisine, one of the best in the world, is a fusion of American and European cooking, specifically Spanish.
You might be wondering what makes it so unique. To be sure, Mexicans frequently use ingredients grown on their plot of land, which makes their cuisine genuinely unique in every way.
From tomatoes, cocoa, and vanilla to avocados, chilli, and mangoes, Mexican cuisine is incredibly hot and spicy while also being delectable. Without a doubt, sample them at one of the numerous restaurants.
Discover Cancun’s History
Put the sun and the sea to one side and put the binoculars around your neck. The first item on the program is to delve into Cancun’s illustrious history and tradition.
As is the case with all other Mexican cities, it is connected to the ancient Maya tribe. Cancun, also known as Nizuc, means ‘tip of grass,’ can demonstrate all it has endured through several locations.
Parks and museums will educate you about the indigenous animals and show you the uncommon Mayan pyramids and way of life of the tribe. You’re sure to fall in love with the culture!
Take a swim in one of the cenotes near Cancun
At one point in time, the region known as Mexico was entirely submerged in water. Many years later, the water level dropped, leaving us with cenotes.
They’re massive underground networks of tunnels and caverns that overlook the skies above while you enjoy the best swim of your life.
Yes, Cancun is famous for these cenotes, a great mood booster and unique to the area. You can dive and snorkel as much as you want while admiring nature’s art.
The fact that this historic site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site speaks for itself. It is one of the sites that its reputation has preceded, and you will not be disappointed when you lay eyes on this stone structure.
As a Maya pyramid, it perfectly depicts Mexico’s history. Additionally, Cancun and Playa del Carmen can brag about this landmark, as Chichen Itza is easily accessible from both locations.
The stone pyramid, which was recently inducted into the group of the New Seven Wonders of the World, will undoubtedly leave you speechless.
Visit Isla Mujeres in the nearby area of Cancun
Cancun vs Playa del Carmen vs Riviera Maya is about to get more complex because when Isla Mujeres enters the picture, the entire situation shifts in Cancun’s favour.
Only 13 kilometres from Cancun, this Caribbean island will keep you occupied with a plethora of activities. Scuba diving, snorkelling, visiting a turtle farm, or simply relaxing in the sun are just a few of them.
Isla Mujeres’ affordability and tranquil atmosphere combine to make it an extraordinary destination that you should not miss.
Akumal is placed near Cancun
This location is an hour’s drive away from Cancun, Akumal, or the turtle capital of the world, Todos Santos. The blue-green sea, snorkelling, and observing the immense and famous loggerhead turtles can be found here.
What sets this location apart from the rest is precisely the turtles. Choosing this underwater activity is almost certainly the best thing you can do in Akumal.
Numerous individuals assert that witnessing these enthralling creatures in person is truly magical. Therefore, why not put this enchantment to the test?
Xcaret is placed near Playa Del Carmen
Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park that combines Mexican nature and tradition. It features over fifty thrilling attractions that wind their way through the Mayan jungle.
They promise a blast with everything from the Mayan Ball Game to the traditional Fiesta Charra to the natural wonders of Jaguar Island and the Butterfly Pavillion.
Xcaret enrols you in a mind-blowing snorkelling tour and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with dolphins.
Avoid These 5 Mistakes ( Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun )
Are you willing to present into a savvy Riviera Maya traveller?
Take out a pen or pull up the notes on your phone to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of visiting Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
You, Will, Require a Car in Playa del Carmen
If you’re considering a trip to Cancun, there’s a 99.9 per cent chance that a vehicle will be required—ADO buses at the airport and downtown Cancun bus station do not pass through the Hotel Zone, which contains the beaches.
That is not to say that you must rent a car in Cancun; however, you will have to rely on taxis or more rickety local buses to get around.
Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, is blissfully the polar opposite.
You can take an ADO bus directly to Playa to arrive at the Cancun airport or the Cancun downtown bus station.
Everything in Cancun is Expensive
Resort prices are typically higher in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. The highest prices that the US experiences and the lowest prices in tourist destinations.
There is no need to spend a lot of money in Cancun.
Lunches and dinners in downtown Cancun cost only $3 each, so you can get enough food to feed yourself and another person. Low-cost snacks and water can be found at various grocery stores.
Another thing to keep in mind is that lodging in the Hotel Zone is relatively inexpensive.
However, staying in the downtown area of Cancun has its limitations.
To put it another way, there is no beach, the safety is uneven, and few attractions for tourists. There is no beach.
Affordable lodging and food just a few blocks from the beach and attractions attract budget travellers to Playa del Carmen.
Conversely, however, if you want to base yourself in Cancun and aren’t concerned with price, know that it is possible.
Cancun is a More Convenient Day Trip Destination
While walking through the Hotel Zone, you will be bombarded by signs and representatives from tour agencies offering day trips from Cancun. Cancun, of course, is an excellent base for day trips.
However, Playa is the same.
Indeed, by reserving a room in Playa del Carmen, you’ll be closer to both famous and lesser-known, but equally beautiful, day trips, such as the following:
- Chichen Itza
WiFi in Playa del Carmen Is Worse
It’s natural to assume that WiFi in Playa del Carmen’s small town will be spotty compared to a modern metropolis like Cancun.
However, when comparing Playa del Carmen to Cancun, the WiFi situation is pretty comparable.
Indeed, Playa serves as a significant hub for remote workers. Much of this is likely due to the year-round warm climate, low cost of living, and smaller town atmosphere than Cancun. However, it’s also a good sign that good WiFi is plentiful.
Both are the critical term here. Typically, a simple router reset resolves the issue.
The same cannot be said for other regions of Mexico, such as Valladolid; the WiFi company will resolve their internet issue once more.
Recommended reading: 29 Best Restaurants in Mexico City
Playa del Carmen Is Abundant with Wildlife
Yes, you’re more likely to hear birds chirping and see trees in Playa del Carmen than you are in Cancun. Nonetheless, Playa is not an ideal destination for those interested in above-ground nature.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy snorkelling or scuba diving, both Playa del Carmen and Cancun are excellent locations for exploring the underwater world.
You’ll be a short boat ride from the Cancun Underwater Museum of Art in Cancun. You’ll have the opportunity to snorkel or dive near approximately 500 sunken sculptures. Indeed, it is the world’s largest underwater museum!
On the other hand, Playa del Carmen is close to Cozumel, home to the Mesoamerican Reef. This is the western hemisphere’s largest reef and the world’s second-largest after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
To summarize, more secluded destinations such as Tulum are preferable for land-based animal viewing. If, on the other hand, your primary objective is to observe marine wildlife, both Playa del Carmen and Cancun are excellent choices.
For Vacations, Compare Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun
Hotels and accommodation
If you vacation in Cancun, you will most likely stay at a large, all-inclusive resort. You’ll be spending the majority of your vacation there. There are more lodging options in Playa Del Carmen.
Playa provides more opportunities for exploration and activity than simply staying at a resort. The locations of hotels and motels can be generic.
Simply because it is listed as a Playa Del Carmen resort does not guarantee that it is within a 20-kilometre radius of the coastline. Before booking, double-check the hotel’s exact location.
The feel of Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun
Cancun is all about the sun, the beaches, and the resort. It is incredibly touristy and is frequently visited by package tourists. Playa Del Carmen is more relaxed and has a slightly European vibe.
People are zipping around on scooters, and the area attracts a more international crowd that is more self-sufficient.
How to get to tours and other locations
Cancun is located on the peninsula’s southwestern tip. As a result, tourist destinations are typically located a little further away. For instance, the ruins of Tulum, Coba, and Xel Ha are all approximately an hour further from Cancun than they are from Playa Del Carmen.
On the other hand, Playa Del Carmen is centrally located in the Riviera Maya, and travel times to most significant destinations are typically about 45 minutes shorter.
Cancun’s beaches are more extensive and typically free of seaweed. Cancun also has more giant waves.
Playa Del Carmen’s shoreline has a little more shallow water, and the water is calmer.
In Cancun, the majority of visitors will eat at their resort. If you do venture out to eat, you will discover that most restaurants in the tourist area are chain establishments.
In Playa Del Carmen, you’ll find a diverse selection of international restaurants, including chain restaurants as well as independent mom-and-pop establishments.
We appreciate you taking the time to read our post comparing Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun for vacations. Kindly notify us if you have any additional comments or questions in the section below. We’d be delighted to hear from you.