Is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations?

Is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations?

Is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations?

If you are planning a trip to Mexico, and more specifically, the Riviera Maya area? You will see a lot of resorts and even destinations to choose from. The biggest and most commonly known place is Cancun. Playa Del Carmen is the second largest area to choose from in the Riviera Maya area. Since these two areas have so much to offer tourists, what is better for your vacation? How is Cancun different from Playa Del Carmen? We will explain the difference here in our article and some recommendations for you.

What makes Cancun and Playa Del Carmen different?

Cancun was a development project for tourist that started in the 1970’s. Resorts we built along the stunning turquoise waters as an attraction for tourists from around the world. Up until the 1990’s, Playa Del Carmen was more of a small fishing village further down the coast. Nowadays, both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen have been developed into major tourists destinations but with a different feel.

What is Cancun like?

Cancun has grown as a city, mainly as support to for all the people working at the resorts in the Hotel Zone and tourist industry. There are two main parts of Cancun, the Hotel Zone and the downtown. Most tourists stay in the Hotel Zone at large resorts. This area is geographically separated from the downtown.

Is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations?
The Hotel Zone in Cancun Mexico. This part of the city is separated from the downtown area as you can see.

Most of the Hotel Zone in Cancun is large all-inclusive resorts. Most people book these for 5-8 days for a stay and enjoy time art the pool, beach and relaxing at the hotel. There are a few attractions in the Hotel Zone for tourist. These include a museum, Mayan ruins, a water park, main shopping area and nightclubs. Because the Hotel Zone is so large, it usually does mean taking the bus, a taxi or renting a car to get around.

Most people staying in Cancun will go out for a tour or two during their stay. See our article on the best excursions from Cancun for your trip. Also, if you are staying in the Hotel Zone you will need to get from the Cancun Airport to your hotel. The best way is a private transfer, you can see our recommendations here for the best company.

What is Playa Del Carmen like?

Playa Del Carmen has always been a smaller city with height restrictions and less large resorts. Most of the downtown is walkable with one main pedestrian street called 5th Avenue. This pedestrian way (called Quinta Avenida by the locals) is about 22 blocks long and has lots of shopping, restaurants and bars. Most of the action in Playa Del Carmen centers around this street.

Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun
Year round you can walk on 5th Avenue in Playa Del Carmen.

The beach is also very accessible from most of the downtown area of Playa Del Carmen. It is only a few blocks in most of this area to reach the beach. Along the beach there are a lot of beach clubs where you can spend the day with a rental chair and umbrella. You can have food at the beach clubs, or you can select from one of the beachfront restaurants in Playa Del Carmen.

Hotels in Playa Del Carmen ranges from a few all-inclusive resorts to guesthouses, rentals and hotels. See our guide on where to stay in Playa Del Carmen.


Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun for vacation

So what are the big difference between Playa Del Carman and Cancun? Here is a breakdown for you:

  • Hotels and accommodation. If you go to Cancun for vacation, you will mainly stay at a large all-inclusive resort. You will spend most of your vacation there. In Playa Del Carmen you have more options for staying. Playa opens more opportunity for exploration and doing more things than just staying at a resort. Hotel and resort locations can be generic. Just because it is listed as a Playa Del Carmen resort, this might mean it is in a 20 km range of the coastline. Be sure to check exactly where the hotel is before booking.
  • The feel of Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen. Cancun is sunny, beaches and all about the resort. It is very touristy and normally for package tourist. Playa Del Carmen is a little more laid back and has a slightly European feel to it. There are people zipping around on scooters and gets a more international crowd that are more independent travelers.
  • Getting to tours and other destinations. Cancun is at the corner of the peninsula. So, tourists destinations tend to be a little further away. For example: Tulum ruins, Coba ruins, and Xel Ha are all about an hour more from Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen. On the other hand, Playa Del Carmen is centrally located in the center of the Riviera Maya and travel times are generally about 45 minutes less to most major destinations.
  • Best beaches? Cancun has larger beaches and are normally freer of seaweed. There are larger waves in Cancun as well. Playa Del Carmen has a little shallower water off its shore and the water is calmer.
  • Dinning out. In Cancun most people will eat at their resort most of the time. If you do go out to eat, you will find most of the restaurants in the tourist area are chain restaurants. In Playa Del Carmen you will find a wide range of international restaurants including chains but also small mom and pop restaurants.
Cancun vs Playa Del Carmne
One of the beaches in Cancun. Is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations?

Tips for vacationing in either Cancun or Playa Del Carmen

We will say that when it comes to hotels and especially resorts in the Riviera Maya, you get what you pay for. Most are priced accordingly, and you won’t get some steal if a resort is $100 USD less than another one, you will likely be getting an older resort with less amenities and less quality.

For tours, there are some that are good to book in advance. You not only can save up to 15% off, you get a guaranteed spot. See our article on the most popular tours from Playa Del Carmen (these can also be booked if you are staying in Cancun).

For what the weather is normally like during the year, see our articles about the weather in Cancun and weather in Playa Del Carmen articles.

Thank you for reading our article discussing is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations. Let us know if you have further comments or questions in the section below. We would love to hear from you. 

Is Playa Del Carmen better than Cancun for vacations?
A whole other view of Playa Del Carmen from this rooftop pool.

About The Author


    • Hello

      We are glad you are interested in coming. We feature articles, photos, and video of the area on our website. The best is to use the search button for things you are looking for. We done use brochures nor represent the official tourism page of the city.

      • I am 76 & right now, I live in MICHIGAN.
        I was Born in Mexico but have been a Naturalized USA Citizen for Tons of years & I am now Retired.
        I have DUAL Citizenship (Mexico & USA).
        I am interested in BUYING a so so Sort of So So HOUSE.
        (Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta or Xtapa or Mazatlan or Guadalajara etc.)

        • Are you looking for a fixer upper? These do not really exist except older colonial houses in older cities. Many locals prefer the more modern houses and don’t have enough to restore the colonial houses.

    • Both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen can be a good place for families. Cancun is more about just being at the resort in the Hotel Zone and not really going places. Playa has both resorts and downtown hotels with access to a lot of things. It also depends if you want to go to a park like Xcaret, Xplor, or Xenses. These parks are all close to Playa. They are about an hour away from Cancun and involves more transportation. It really comes down to the hotel and what you like. Also the ages of your children and what type of hotel you want.

  1. We were in Playa Del Carmen last week (July 4-9) at the Aldea Thai. We got robbed by two motorcycle policemen right in front of our hotel. No alcohol, no drugs, no loud or offensive behavior. They told us to give them all of our money, took $300+ cash, then demanded $300 more. Threatened to arrest us and plant drugs if they needed to if we didn’t go to an ATM and get them $300 more. When we would not they demanded our passports (not on us, thankfully in our room). Eventually we told them, in spanish, that this was all them money we had and all that we were going to give them and they went away. The Aldea Thai “observed” but did nothing. I will never be back to Playa, even though I have never had anything like this happen before and I love the place and the people. I will tell everyone I know not to even consider going there on vacation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.