side by side comparisons of the beaches in Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen

8 Things to Consider: Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen

Are you trying to decide between visiting Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

These are 8 differences between the two famous neighbouring beach cites to help you decide!

Overall, the discussion and debate between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen is widespread. Both are popular destinations in the region and are only one hour away from one another.

Cancun and Playa Del Carmen share many similarities, both offer many things to do, nearby islands to visit, a wide variety of hotels and plenty of restaurants to consider.

However, there are apparent differences between the two beach cities one should know when deciding which to visit!

stunning shades of turquoise waters at the main beach in Playa Del Carmen, comparison to Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen

Airport Arrival

First and foremost, the first known difference between both places is regarding your arrival and how to get to either place. Cancun is nearby, while Playa Del Carmen is slightly further away.

Cancun has its airport, Cancun International Airport, the main airport for this region of Mexico, with flights coming in from all over the world.

Most visitors to Cancun stay in the famous Hotel Zone, where Cancun’s beautiful beaches are. From the airport in Cancun to the Hotel Zone, it’s around 25 minutes, a short ride.

For visitors arriving at Cancun Airport and going to Playa Del Carmen, you must make your way around 1 hour to Playa Del Carmen from Cancun Airport. It’s not too bad but is further than the Hotel Zone in Cancun.

Whether you’re going to the Hotel Zone in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, you can use the following transportation methods. If you choose to take a taxi at the airport, make sure you negotiate the price, overcharging tourist for a trip is typical at Cancun Airport.

This shouldn’t be a deciding factor whether you should visit either place, but depending on the type of traveller you’re and who’re you’re coming with, it may matter to you.

beach lounge chairs under a palapa on a beautiful beach with clear skies and various shades of turquoise waters in Cancun Mexico

Beaches & Beachclubs

Most if not all of us are visiting Cancun or Playa Del Carmen for a holiday and looking to take full of advantage of many relaxing day by the beach. So, let’s compare the beaches between both beach towns.

Both beach towns offer several stunning beaches where you can relax, experience water activities, and much more. Some large resorts in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen have private beach shorelines.

However, regarding the beach shorelines, the water, sand, and nature. Cancun has far better beaches than Playa Del Carmen. Cancun’s turquoise blue waters along the Hotel Zone strip can’t be competed with. There’s a reason the shorelines here along with the many resorts has resulted in a top beach tourist destination.

Playa Del Carmen also has beautiful beaches, but the shoreline in the main city area is smaller and can get quite busy some days. The better beaches in Playa Del Carmen are slightly north of the town but can be easily reached with a 10-15 minute taxi, Playa Punta Esmeralda and Playa Xcalacoco.

Spending time on the beach is relaxing, but what’s even better? Going to a beach club where you’ve got great food and drinks to pair with your beach day, or perhaps a lively day party atmosphere.

Playa Del Carmen has far better beach clubs than Cancun. While Cancun has a few, most beach clubs here are part of a resort, taking away from the overall atmosphere of an authentic beach club. If spending the day at beach clubs during your visit is essential, you may want to consider Playa Del Carmen over Cancun.

Playa Del Carmen Beach Clubs:

  • Mamita’s Beach Club
  • Martina Beach Club
  • Lido Beach Club
  • Encanto Beach Club
calm waters with a sunset beginning in the distance at Playa Del Carmen main beach


An apparent difference between Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun is each beach city’s atmosphere. While both destinations are regarded as touristy, there’s a difference.

Cancun is regarded as the most famous all-inclusive beach destination in North America, on average, tourists come here for a week of sun, entertainment and relaxation at the resort of their choice.

Walking around the Hotel Zone in Cancun, this becomes apparent: Cancun is one big vacation tourist party. Even when you go into downtown Cancun, some of it is the same, though there are a few more local parts of the city. It doesn’t get more touristy than Cancun.

Playa Del Carmen is different from Cancun, while it is touristy here, you can be among locals in second, there are nearby local restaurants in town near the city centre to check out and the place offers a more mix of atmosphere. Playa Del Carmen is far less touristy than Cancun in all ways.

Overall Cancun feels like a beach resort town, while Playa Del Carmen offers a better mix of both worlds, it still feels like an authentic beach town, despite the many hotels and tourists.

several tourists swimming in the beautiful turquoise beaches of Cancun, Mexico

Things to Do

Besides the beaches I’ve covered earlier and the many activities you can do there, let’s discuss the many activities in both beach cities. I’ll cover day trips and excursions afterward.

Cancun offers plenty of things to do: spend the day exploring different beaches or go shopping at the famous La Isla Shopping Village, the perfect place to buy souvenirs, also nearby is the Cancun Wax Museum.

For those looking to spend the day on the water, have a boat day on a catamaran with friends, or head into Downtown Cancun, where you’ll find the best taquerias in the city.

A downside to Cancun is that there are no cenotes here, swimming and experiencing a cenote in Mexico should be high on your must-do list. If you’re unfamiliar, cenotes are fresh spring water sinkholes naturally formed. Playa Del Carmen, on the other hand, does have cenotes!

Playa Del Carmen too offers many activities: stroll 5th Avenue, the town’s popular walking street full of shops, restaurants, or visit one of the few cenotes in town, Cenote Chaak Tun and Cenote Xca-ha for a perfect way to cool off.

Foodies, visiting Playa Del Carmen, you’ll love it here, the beach town is home to the beach taquerias, visit them on your own or consider taking a fun foodie taco tour!

aerial view photo of the famous Cenote Suytun in Mexico

Nearby Day Trips & Excursions

Whether you visit Playa Del Carmen or Cancun, there are several exciting day trips and excursions to experience from each place. Mentioned below are only a few of the best, the list can go on and on!

If day trips and excursions aren’t your thing, you can explore by yourself using local transport, bus, ferry, or taxi.

For those fascinated by history and visiting Mexico’s most famous attraction, consider a trip to Chichen Itza tour!

If you’re staying in Cancun, you must make a trip out to Isla Mujeres. The stunning island is only 20 minutes by ferry from Cancun. In Isla Mujeres, you’ll find beautiful beaches, excellent beach clubs, and a nature island rich with stunning coastlines.

As mentioned earlier, Cancun doesn’t have any cenotes, and believe me, visiting a cenote in Mexico is a must-do. Consider the Casa Tortuga Cenote tour from Cancun, where you’ll visit four cenotes and spend the day cooling off.

Playa Del Carmen too offers plenty of day trips and excursions to experience. Similar to Cancun, Playa Del Carmen has it’s neighbouring island across from it 40 minutes away, Cozumel. The island is one of Mexico’s best snorkeling and diving destinations. Furthermore, you’ll find plenty of beachclubs to visit there, shopping and more.

Playa Del Carmen has a few cenotes, but they’re nothing compared to the ones at Casa Tortuga Cenote park, visitors to Playa Del Carmen should also consider taking the same tour mentioned above!

Hotels & Resorts

Being the two famous beach tourist destination they’re, both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen offer many hotels, resorts, hostels and rentals throughout.

However, each place is distinctly known for its accommodation type. This is an important aspect, especially if you’re considering an all-inclusive resort-type hotel.

Cancun is most famous for its many large resorts along the Hotel Zone, providing beachfront access to visitors. Resorts large in size, with many amenities, beach access, and minutes away from the Hotel Zone downtown area, staying here has its many advantages.

Downtown Cancun is outside of the Hotel Zone. Tourists don’t usually stay there, after all, visitors come to Cancun to be by the beach, as much as possible.

Playa Del Carmen offers a better variety of hotel types, in Playa Del Carmen you will also find resorts, but far less than what’s in Cancun. Playa Del Carmen has many boutique-style hotels, apartment rentals, and several budget-friendly hostels throughout the town.

The best part about the hotels in Playa Del Carmen is that no matter where you stay, you’re in the heart of town. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, the beach, everything is within walking distance.

Consider the accommodation type you’d prefer, for resorts, Cancun is more famous and offers a larger selection. For all other hotel types, Playa Del Carmen has the advantage.

views from a the Thompson rooftop in Playa Del Camren showing a sunset setting in and palm trees in the background


Cancun and Playa Del Carmen are famous for their nightlife atmosphere, both places offer a many nightclubs, bars, CoCo Bongo, and much more. Regarding the nightlife, you could say the two places are tied.

Cancun’s nightlife consists mainly in the Hotel Zone where you’ll find several nightclubs next to one another, many bars around and restaurants open till the early morning hours. There’s even a casino for those looking to test their luck.

Besides that, many of the resorts in Cancun offer nightlife activities for guests to enjoy.

Playa Del Carmen also has a lively nightlife, with many nightclubs located next to 5th Avenue Road, the main street in town. There are also many cocktail and rooftop bars around town to check out.

You’ll also find many restaurants along the beach serving food, sometimes with vibrant fire shows along the beach. Also, by the ferry you’ll find Parque Los Fundadores, some nights there are traditional Mayan performances. It’s neat to check out, and it’s free.

Regardless of where you stay, you can buy some ice cream and walk along the beach if you’re not up for a long night out.

For those visiting and celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary, I highly recommend you experience Cirque Du Solei Experience. Experience the mesmerizing acrobatics, enjoy some champagne and a delicious dinner. Service includes roundtrip transportation from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen.

popular area for nightclubs, several tourist coming in and out of nightclubs in Playa del carmen

Getting Around

Another crucial difference is the walkability in each place. Playa Del Carmen is a very walkable town, no matter where you stay, you should be able to walk to most places within 10 to 20 minutes.

This is very convenient about Playa Del Carmen, within an hour you can be out for lunch, then go shopping and return to your hotel.

You can visit Playa Del Carmen and not have to take one single taxi while you’re there unless maybe you’d like to go to some of the beaches north of the town. However, there are taxis in town offering tourists to take them around town.

While Cancun is different, you will have to take a taxi in Cancun to most places, the distance to get to different places, restaurants, is much further. Overall, the Hotel Zone is large, also if you’d like to venture into downtown Cancun, you’ll need a taxi.

This may not matter if you’re visiting and spending your whole time in the resort. Also, some resorts offer a free shuttle service to areas along the Hotel Zone.

a busy street in Playa Del Carmen named 5th avenue, most popular street in the city

Best Time to Visit Cancun or Playa Del Carmen

Both places share the same weather pattern, making sense, since it’s only a one hour drive between them.

The best time to visit Cancun and Playa Del Carmen is during the dry season from November through April. Visitors can expect lots of sunshine, low humidity, and minimal rain.

During these months also during the high season, Cancun and Playa Del Carmen see it’s highest tourist numbers as they visit to enjoy the ideal temperatures. The busiest months are December and March.

Dry Season: November to April 

From May through October is the monsoon season, also known as the rainy season. During this time of year, temperatures are scorching hot, humidity level are pretty high and rain is more common than the dry season. However, when it does rain, it tends to pass by quickly due to the tropical weather conditions.

Along with the rainy season is the low season, when both places see fewer tourists visiting. Many tourists avoid Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, as they offer warm temperatures and higher humidity levels.

Rainy Season: May to October 

TIP: Those looking to find deals in both destinations during an ideal time to visit, consider the shoulder season times, these are season transitional periods. The second half of November or the first half of May are the shoulder season periods!

sunset on the main beach shore in Playa del carmen with a ferry parked in the distance

Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen – Final Thoughts

That sums up the beach destination showdown between Playa Del Carmen vs Cancun. Have you decided which of these two places you’ll be visiting?

Whatever you choose, both are excellent places to consider for a fun, relaxing, and adventurous holiday. Both destinations accommodate all travelers, couples, solo travelers, families, or groups of friends.

If you’ve never been to Mexico, you may want to consider Cancun due to its many conveniences. It’s closer to the airport and finding accommodation to enjoy beaches along the Hotel Zone will be easy. However, if you’d prefer somewhere less touristy, Playa Del Carmen would be better for your first visit to Mexico than Cancun.

Playa Del Carmen is in a much better location than Cancun for those who’d like to explore more places in this region of Mexico. Not too far from Playa Del Carmen is Akumal, Tulum and, of course Cozumel, the island directly across the water from Playa Del Carmen.

Cancun doesn’t offer anywhere to explore besides Isla Mujeres, the island across from it.

Having visited both places a few times, I prefer Playa Del Carmen. The beach town offers a more local atmosphere, and I enjoy how walkable it is, with access to many things to do nearby.

walkway full of palm trees towards Playa Del Carmen main beach, a must visit on your Riviera Maya itinerary / Cancun to Playa Del Carmen

Which is better Cancun or Playa Del Carmen?

Cancun is better for resort type holidays along it’s stunning beaches in the Hotel Zone. Playa Del Carmen is better for those looking for a good mix of holiday and adventure.

Is Cancun more expensive than Playa Del Carmen?

Both places are relatively close in cost, however Playa Del Carmen is cheaper than Cancun regarding eating out, hotels and transportation.

Playa Del Carmen is famous for its beautiful beaches, high walkability score in town, diverse restaurant options, and excellent location along the Rivieria Maya.

Is Cancun just for partying?

Not at all, only a tiny part of Cancun along the Hotel Zone is where all the parties take place. Besides that, Cancun is known for its large resorts where visitors can enjoy its stunning beach shoreline.

Happy & Safe Travels

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