In a hurry? Here’s a quick summary to help you decide:
Playa del Carmen is proudly known for its nightlife scene. This beach town is king when it comes to after-dark activities. Regardless, Playa del Carmen’s mornings have a few attractions worth doing. From swimming in cenotes and admiring Mayan architecture to quick shopping sprees and exciting food trips.
If Playa del Carmen is a party beach town, Riviera Maya’s atmosphere is more varied and diverse. Nightlife, excursions, accommodations, food choices, you name it. Riviera Maya has x2 of what Playa del Carmen offers. It’s known for its variety of cultural experiences, great beaches, and a broad selection of things to do.
So, is Riviera Maya the better destination? Not necessarily. Based on experience and hearing what others have had to say, there are several who prefer the Playa over Riviera Maya.
That said, this guide will put all those worries, doubts, and concerns you have to rest.
Playa del Carmen
Before Playa del Carmen became famous for its epic parties, it started out as a small fishing village. And if you took away all the bars and clubs around town, life would be pretty chill in this resort town.
If there’s one thing to love about Playa del Carmen, it’s how easily accessible everything is. Restaurants, supermarkets, shops, street food stands, and even the Cancun International Airport. All of these are within close reach.
But is that all there is to Playa del Carmen? Partying, beaches, and accessibility?
Far from it.
Take the time to explore the town. You’ll find a ton of interesting finds.
For instance, did you know Playa del Carmen is home to some of the best cenotes for swimming? What’s even more interesting is being able to drive a buggy around a Mayan village.
Stroll through La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), and it’s highly likely you’ll leave buying one or two things.
For families, Playa del Carmen has much to offer too. You can go bull shark diving. Or snorkeling with sea turtles as a warm-up activity.
Xcaret and Xplor are the best parks in town. They both offer inland and water adventure. From zip-lining and rafting to dolphin/sting ray encounters and aquatic parks for the little ones to enjoy.
Even the Mexican food is superb. Not to mention, local street food stands sometimes serve the best tacos and quesadillas.
Lastly, there’s always time for beach lounging and relaxing. But the Mexican way is to always have a frozen margarita on hand or cold beer to pair. After all, drinking on the beach is just pregame for the real action in the clubs.
Speaking of beaches, the islands of Cozumel and Xpu Ha offer a better beach experience than those you’ll find in Playa del Carmen. In addition, both are quick ferry rides away and are suitable if you’re after a quieter beach break.
Overall, Playa del Carmen is mostly a party town, but it also has a few aces up its sleeves that charms visitors. Curious as to what those are? Read on below for the full details.
What Makes Playa del Carmen Unique?
Playa del Carmen Can Be Fun for Everyone
For most beach destinations, finding things that make your trip worthwhile is easy enough. But in Playa del Carmen, it pays to do a little bit of research ahead of time. Luckily, you’ll find all you need to know in this guide.
And most people think that Playa del Carmen is an adults-only playground. But that’s not exactly true. At the same time, it’s not super kid-friendly to the extent it’s like Disney World for kids.
What it does have is a balance of everything to cater to a wide range of travelers. There are things to do for families with kids and young adults. The same goes for partiers, middle-aged travelers, couples, seniors, beach lovers, and so on.
To start, partiers will find an overwhelming stretch of bars & clubs. Coco Bongo is the best option if you want to party hard. While Lido’s Beach Club is more of a casual but still entertaining beach nightlife experience.
Couples visiting Playa del Carmen will enjoy the Rooftop Pool at Be Playa. It’s one of the most relaxing activities you can do together. The bonus is you both get a stellar sunset view and amazing alcoholic drinks to pair.
If you prefer something more romantic and laid-back, you can have dinner at the Alux Cave Restaurant. Or, swing by the poolside seats at the Coralina Daylight Club if chilling by a pool bar is what you’re after. On that note, it’s better to visit this beach bar during the day. At night, party-hungry travelers flood the area.
For families and all travelers, Playa del Carmen has ancient Mayan tours, water parks, museums, and more. In fact, the Cirque du Soleil JOYA show is a theater performance no traveler should miss.
Xcaret is an outdoor eco-park/water park full of activities to keep you in the loop of having a good time. Here, you’ll also find Mayan pyramids, an aviary, an aquatic park, a dolphin aquarium, and tons more. Think of Xcaret as the Disneyland of the Yucatan Peninsula.
And if you’re still craving for more adventure, there’s also Xplor Adventure Park. This all-inclusive outdoor playground has spelunking activities, zip-lining, cavern explorations, and river rafting. You can even do underground river swimming and ride a hammock that leads to a cenote.
Lastly, beach lovers will enjoy Cozumel and Xpu Ha if they want pristine beaches. Playacar Beach, Mamitas Beach, and Parque Fundadores Beach are also fantastic options.
Everything Is Within Close Reach
Where Playa del Carmen stands out against other resort towns is that everything’s in one place. Take Tulum, for example. From the hotel, it’s at least an hour away to get to the beach. This includes other restaurants, both budget-friendly and high-end options.
In Playa del Carmen, it’s so easy to get from one place to the other. So much so that you don’t even need to take any public transport. The entire town is a compact strip lined with bars, shops, restaurants, attractions, and beaches. All of which are all walking distance apart.
As a matter of fact, the main strip of La Quinta Avenida is a pedestrian walkway for all. Plus, most of the areas around Playa del Carmen have minimal traffic. That means it is comfortable to walk around Playa del Carmen.
Party Till You Drop
If your idea of a vacation means endless nightlife entertainment, Playa del Carmen’s the place to be. Beach bars, rooftop bars, clubs, and even theater shows are all part of the resort town’s best offerings.
In Coco Bongo, it’s not just excessive clubbing and strobing lights. The most popular bar in town is part nightclub, part Cirque de Soleil, and part theatric performances.
For an electrifying party vibe in the day, no one does it better than Mamitas Beach Club. This is the most raved-about beach club in all of Playa del Carmen. Some even say it was Mamitas Beach Club that got Playa del Carmen’s party scene up and running.
Zenzi Beach Bar is perfect if you’re looking to stay away from EDM or loud pumping music. At Zenzi, the theme is live music. For those that love to dance, you should consider signing up for free salsa dance lessons.
If you want more live music bars, be sure to check out La Bodeguita del Medio and Caiman Turgurio.
There are also bars that have earned the title of being the best if you want to dance the night away. Clan Destino is one of those bars. And rather than just dress to impress the crowd, it’s your dance moves that make a long-lasting impression. You can also show off your dance moves in trendy bars like Santino and Mandala.
Not a cocktail fan? Prefer beer? Or better yet, unique beer? Well, Las Helodias Bar should be right up your alley. In fact, it’s only a block away from Mamitas Beach Club. If you’d rather stick to good ol’ craft beer or IPAs and lagers, don’t leave town without visiting Chela de Playa.
The best part? It’s an easy pub to find. Chela de Playa is in La Quinta Avenida or 5th avenue. For wine lovers, Off the Vine is a cozy spot to have a glass of red. Plus, their tapas are excellent.
Lastly, partiers and couples will love Coralina Daylight Club. This beach club is well-known for its Ibiza-themed parties. Think Las Vegas vibes, several indoor-sized pools, and an upscale aesthetic. Not to mention, great gourmet food and a pool bar ready to serve you any drink to stir up the party in you.
A Fine Selection of Cheap Eats and Upscale Restaurants
Street food is a way of life in Playa del Carmen. The same holds true in all of Mexico. Whether you’re in Cancun or any part of the Yucatan Peninsula, cheap eats are like soul food. However, you’ll also be surprised to find a good variety of high-end restaurants around town too.
For cheap eats, and if you consider yourself a foodie adventurist, feel free to try what entices you. In Playa del Carmen, street food is well…just about everywhere. There are tacos, elote, cochinita pibil, tortas, empanadas, and more. Just take extra precautions of course, and don’t eat past your limit.
One of the best places to get cheap eats is simply at the beach. There are dozens of beach vendors serving tasty and flavorful options. If you’re not at the beach, head to 5th avenue. It’s a tourist hub for dining, entertainment, and shopping.
Another option is to sign up for a food tour, which you can easily book online. Two of the best food stalls you’ll find around town are La Cochi-Loka and El Fogon. If you prefer seafood, Las Hijas de la Tostada will surely change your perspective on a seafood tostada.
Now, don’t spend the entire time chowing down on street food. Because Playa del Carmen is also home to a pleasing range of upscale dining options.
For starters, Oh La La is a fantastic dining establishment. It was even rated as the #1 Traveler’s Favorite Fine Dining Restaurant in Mexico. For a divine palate experience, Plank serves USDA fillet mignon, lobster tails, and Chilean sea bass.
Catch is a rooftop restaurant that serves one of the best seafood in town. From appetizers like tuna with caviar to main entrees like Alaskan King crab, salmon, or the fresh catch of the day. Other great options for upscale dining in Playa del Carmen include:
- Le Chique
- Casa Del Lago
- The Grill at 1-26
- The Traveler’s Table
Riviera Maya, also known as the Cancun-Tulum corridor, is a magnet for all travelers. Snow-white sand, ancient ruins, jungle adventures, and top-notch dive sites. Not to mention, it’s home to the second-largest coral reef in the world.
Beyond Riviera Maya’s expansive coastline, even more adventure awaits. Mayan canals, cenotes, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and a magical lake known as Laguna Bacalar. In other words, you simply won’t run out of things to do.
Just from these examples alone, one might say Riviera Maya is a place reserved for active travelers. And yet, even sunseekers, nature lovers, and honeymooners gravitate toward the city.
Riviera Maya is full of unique experiences. Along with rich cultural excursions, thrilling treetop adventures, and breathtaking beach spaces. Even the cuisine is excellent.
And when it comes to accommodations, it’s as if the city offers limitless options. Be it an opulent all-inclusive resort, cozy hostel, beach cabana/vacation rental, or private boutique hotel.
With all that said, it may seem like a challenge to know where to start when in Riviera Maya. After all, you also have other towns/islands to explore like Tulum, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen. You even have world-class spas to choose from. And various selections for those looking to unwind.
So, here’s a handpicked selection of the best reasons to love Riviera Maya. And more importantly, why it’s worth visiting.
What Makes Riviera Maya Unique?
Experience Mayan Culture in Several Ways
The Riviera Maya features an astounding lineup of Mayan architecture, ruins, sites, and even caves. And one of the most prominent in all of Mexico is the Tulum ruins. Perched atop rocky cliffs, the ancient Maya city dates as far back as 564 CE.
But historical significance aside, the view of Tulum ruins is incredible. Additionally, the tour ends in a refreshing bath at a cenote beneath the ruins.
Ancient Maya canals are also one of the most interesting sights in Riviera Maya. But it’s only one out of the many beloved Maya treasures. At the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, there are Maya canals, cenotes, lagoons, and waterways. Some of which even lead to ancient Maya chambers. While in others, you can take a dip at one of the cenotes, a portal believed by the Mayans to communicate with gods.
For an even better ancient Mayan cavern experience, head to Cenote Dos Ojos. As if the narrow passages weren’t thrilling enough, there are also stalactites & stalagmites along the path.
Then, you’ll also get the chance to bask and bathe in the lagoon of seven colors. Known as Laguna Bacalar, this is an off-the-beaten-path lake. Laguna Bacalar is said to have magical healing properties. In fact, the color alternates between indigo and light turquoise.
Mysterious, right? Well, there’s a lot about Mayan culture and their civilization that leaves so many questions. And an experience at any of their ancient sites just might give you a glimpse as to how and why these sites hold so much value today.
If you want to make the most out of your Mayan cultural experience, book a guided tour. There are several tours online that take you from Tulum ruins to Sian Ka’an and other hidden Mayan gems.
Escape the City Life and Venture Into a World of Jungles & Cenotes
The Ruta de Cenotes is Riviera Maya’s adventure wonderland. The tropical forest is home to many eco-adventure parks. For families, kids, couples, and solo travelers in need of adventure, this jungle has it all.
Selvatica is the largest eco-park within Ruta de Cenotes. The park features ATV rides, a 12-circuit zipline adventure, flying fox circuits, and bungee swings. If you want to do everything that Selvatica offers, you’ll need to set aside at least 5 hours of your day to take it all in.
Scattered around Ruta de Cenotes are also five different cenotes. All of which have their own unique features, structure, and type. According to ancient Mayan culture, there are four types of cenotes—
Jug or pit cenotes are those that have a huge opening to the sky. Imagine a large cave swimming pool with an open ceiling. Basin cenotes are cenotes with the most stunning aquatic qualities, featuring a crystalline aqua color.
Cylinder cenotes are characterized by their vertical walls and trees/roots that extend down. Cave cenotes are exactly how you picture them out to be from the name itself. Except most often have stalactites and some with underwater pillars and stalagmites.
In Ruta de Cenotes, visiting each cenote is the main highlight of the jungle tour. You don’t necessarily have to visit all of them if you don’t want to. But it’s encouraged that you do since each cenote offers a varied and unique experience.
Around the expansive jungle of Ruta de Cenotes, these are the five cenotes you’ll find:
- Cenote Kin Ha
- Cenote Zapote
- Cenote Siete Bocas
- Cenote Chilam Balam
- Cenotes Las Mojarras
Spend Time on Several of the Best Beaches in the World
There’s no question that Riviera Maya is one of the best places for beach lovers. Beaches like Akumal, Playa Maroma, and Playa Paraiso boast white sand, calm waters, and sparkling views.
You also have other resort towns to visit for more beach options. However, Riviera Maya offers plenty enough to choose from. And this doesn’t just mean the beaches that are part of its coastline.
Beyond the shores of Riviera Maya are several islands. After all, in the Yucatan peninsula, you’re spoiled when it comes to beaches.
Not sure where to start? Here are islands and beaches worth visiting:
- Punta Bete
- Punta Allen
- Xcacel Beach
- Maroma Beach
- Puerto Morelos
Most recommend doing a tour so you can visit all in a span of 2 to 3 days. However, you’re also free to rent your own car and explore these beaches at your own pace. Discovery Cars is the best if you’re looking for a reliable rental service.
If you want you can truly unwind in peace, there’s no better beach than Isla Mujeres. This beach is a must-visit for those in need of serious downtime or anyone craving a secluded retreat.
A Wealth of Unique Experiences
You’ve explored jungles, swam in cenotes, visited Mayan ruins & sites, and even explored islands. What else is left to do in Riviera Maya?
So much more.
Not to mention, the city boasts a wide range of unique experiences you won’t find just about anywhere. And one of those experiences is being able to climb the tallest pyramid in the city, Ixmoja. Located in the Coma ruins, Ixmoja is also close to one of Riviera Maya’s most popular attractions, the Chichen Itza.
If climbing sounds worrisome, you can do a 5-hour bike tour around one of Riviera Maya’s beach towns, Tulum. The tour includes everything from visiting ruins and swimming in cenotes to eating local food.
Speaking of food, did you know Riviera Maya offers a broad range of food tours? You can do a Mayan Taco Tour, Taco & Margarita Tour, and a Gastronomic Experience in Playa del Carmen. What’s more, tourists can also attend a cocktail-making class or learn how to cook authentic Mexican meals.
But if you prefer unique beach activities, there’s one popular activity so many rave about. And it’s being able to explore Isla Cozumel riding a jeep or renting a buggy. The island is full of empty beaches, tropical rainforests, and nature reserves.
If that’s not enough for you, take the 20-minute ferry to Isla Holbox. Although not exactly adventurous, this is an island meant for those that want an escape from the hustle and bustle.
Highlights of visiting the island include the following:
- Seeing pink flamingos
- Kayaking in mangroves
- Relaxing on beautiful, white-sand beaches
- Amazing food and the oh-so-popular lobster pizza
Finally, and if you want to try something you’ve never done before, go for a Temazcal ceremony. This ancient Mayan ritual is a purification ceremony used to cleanse your soul. Along with aiding physical relief and ridding the body of illnesses. At the end of this ceremony, you’ll feel absolutely relaxed, relieved, and rejuvenated.
Riviera Maya or Playa Del Carmen – Which Is Better?
Riviera Maya wins by a landslide if you’re after a diverse selection of activities and unique experiences. In addition, it has more beach choices and various towns to explore. However, Playa del Carmen is the undisputed champion for nightlife and budget-friendly options.
Playa del Carmen is best for budget-conscious travelers. Be it food, accommodations, excursions, or even exploring the city. It’s uber cheap. Plus, you hardly need to use any transport to get around.
Most of all, it lives up to its reputation for being a party town. This isn’t to be mistaken as loud parties all day. The nightlife is varied in Playa del Carmen. So, whether you’ve come to party hard, chill out, or simply hang back with a beer, this town is the place for you.
Riviera Maya, on the other hand, is an all-around destination. It packs a whopping number of activities for families, couples, and solo travelers. The cultural experiences here are also astounding. Even nature lovers will be more than pleased just spending a day in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Want to escape from it all? There are several islands that easily cater to your liking. It’s safe to say Riviera Maya suits all travelers because it’s so rich with experiences you won’t find in just about any other place.
Most of all, Riviera Maya offers a more diverse range of basic vacation needs. Food, places to stay, shopping areas, and more. For serious beach lovers and sunseekers, there’s also no doubt you’ll enjoy Riviera Maya more.
Playa Del Carmen vs. Riviera Maya Hotels
For backpackers and budget-conscious travelers, Playa del Carmen is your best bet. The resort town is packed with affordable hotels, hostels, bars, and a ton of street food. In Riviera Maya, hotels range from 3-star to 5-star accommodations.
Undoubtedly, you’re paying more in Riviera Maya. However, you also have a wider selection and more upper-class options. You can still find a lot of price-friendly deals in Riviera Maya, by the way.
But if you want to reduce accommodation costs to the fullest, Playa del Carmen is an excellent choice. In contrast, if the price isn’t a concern, you’ll enjoy the hotels more in Riviera Maya. Hotel Esencia, for example, is popularly hailed as a beach getaway for the Hollywood elite.
For those that thrive on quiet luxury, Hotel Esencia is worth every penny. And the indoor bathtub is only one of the many reasons why it’s a verified luxury experience.
Playa Del Carmen vs. Riviera Maya Resorts
Riviera Maya has more family-oriented resorts than Playa del Carmen. Additionally, there’s a wider stretch of luxury and opulent choices in Riviera Maya too.
In Playa del Carmen, most of the resorts are found away from the heart of the city. This means it’s more suitable for vacationers who want a quieter stay or away from the party crowd. To be specific, the majority of upper-class resorts in Playa del Carmen are located in the Playacar area. Here, you still have access to several shops, restaurants, and bars. However, it’s nowhere near the accessibility you have if you stayed in a hostel or hotel in the heart of the town.
Price-wise, Riviera Maya will have a few that are more expensive than those in Playa del Carmen. That being said, expect the price difference between the two to have a large gap.
The Fives Azul Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen, for example, costs ~ 5,740 MXN (USD 287 at 20 MXN a dollar) a night. Whereas Dreams Riviera Resort & Spa costs 9,720 MXN (USD 486) a night.
Despite this price difference, Riviera Maya’s resorts also offer more amenities overall. From swimming pools and kiddie parks to spa services and dining choices.
Playa Del Carmen vs. Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resorts
Playa del Carmen has a number of noteworthy all-inclusive resorts. All of these boast outstanding amenities and can truly fit your vacation needs. But if you’re after more options and diversity, Riviera Maya still takes the lead on this one.
Because in Riviera Maya, you aren’t limited to just beachfront options. There are a lot that are situated close to the jungle and surrounded by nature.
The Banyan Tree Mayakoba resort is an idyllic posh getaway surrounded by natural beauty and jungles. Pool villas have their own private full-sized pool, a garden, a rain shower, and even a deep soaking tub. A more lavish quarter has its own courtyard. Combined with a heated swimming pool, jet pool, and views that overlook the Caribbean Sea.
At Viceroy Riviera Maya, all rooms have an outdoor area for those looking to recharge & reconnect. These include a hammock, two beach lounge beds, and a plunge pool you can use to your heart’s desire.
Even the bathroom screams luxury. The freestanding white tub is oversized, good enough to fit even three. Plus, it already comes complete with a box of bath salts to make your bath all the more relaxing.
Is Riviera Maya and Playa Del Carmen the Same?
Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen aren’t the same. Although both are part of the Caribbean coastline, both are different in many ways.
Playa del Carmen is mostly thought of as a party town. While in Riviera Maya, beach getaways and jungle explorations are a more befitting description.
The sheer number of cultural experiences in Riviera Maya also outclass those in Playa del Carmen. However, when it comes to cheaper deals, Playa del Carmen offers tourists more options.
There are a few ways that both destinations are similar, though. For digital nomads, both are popular and highly suitable options. They also both feature a wide array of Mexican cuisine.
When it comes to beaches, even Riviera Maya is different from Playa del Carmen. Some even say the beaches are better in Riviera Maya. But overall, you have more choices than in Playa del Carmen.
Where Is Playa Del Carmen and Riviera Maya?
Riviera Maya is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, while Playa del Carmen is a town located within Riviera Maya.
This means that if you visit Riviera Maya, you won’t necessarily see Playa del Carmen. But if you visit Playa del Carmen, it’s inevitable that you’d also be visiting Riviera Maya.
This is one of the reasons why many choose Playa del Carmen as the ideal Riviera Maya base. Along the Caribbean coastline, think of Playa del Carmen as a town that sits in the middle of it. This means from Playa del Carmen, you can easily travel around Riviera Maya and back.
Playa Del Carmen to Riviera Maya Distance
The distance from Playa del Carmen to Riviera Maya depends on where in the Riviera Maya you’re coming from. Since Riviera Maya is a town within Riviera Maya, it’s helpful to understand this from a specific endpoint.
At the furthest south end of Riviera Maya lies Tulum, and to the north, Puerto Morelos. From the south end, the distance to Playa del Carmen is around 40 miles (65 km). From the north end, the distance is 21.7 miles (35 km).
How to Get to Playa Del Carmen From Riviera Maya
There are several ways to get from Playa del Carmen to Riviera Maya. The two most popular options are via car or bus. A taxi is also a good option but costs more than riding a bus. Last but not least, colectivos are a popular choice for daily commutes within the city.
Renting a car is a good option if you want to explore at your own pace. Prices for car rentals in Riviera Maya aren’t expensive either. If you’re renting for the day, the average price costs around 100 to 200 MXN (USD 5 to 10).
Taking a bus is the most economical option. In Riviera Maya, ADO buses are the main choice for tourists and locals. They’re cheap, comfortable, and easy to find.
Mainly because ADO bus stations are practically everywhere, be it the main city or even in Playa del Carmen. Bus ticket prices usually run between 120 to 260 MXN (USD 6 to 13), depending on how far the travel distance is.
If you’re traveling as a large group, you can book/rent a shuttle online. This also provides more privacy, although pricier than most transportation methods.
Taxi From Riviera Maya to Playa Del Carmen
Taking a taxi from Riviera Maya to Playa del Carmen is an easy way to get from Riviera Maya to Playa del Carmen.
However, the rates are much higher than taking a colectivo, bus, or even renting a car. The travel time from Riviera Maya to Playa del Carmen is about 20 to 30 minutes.
How Much Is a Taxi From Riviera Maya to Playa Del Carmen?
In Riviera Maya, the entire region is divided into zones and each has a predetermined price. So from Zone 1 to Zone 2, for example, your taxi fare should be a fixed rate. That said, there are cases where you might be quoted higher-than-normal rates.
Thankfully, most of the predetermined rates are posted at major tourist stops. For example, at the airport, ruins at Tulum, Akumal, Xcaret, and so on.
From Riviera Maya to Playa del Carmen, the average rate is about 380 MXN (USD 19). Take note that taxi rates are subject to change and depend on the government’s regulation of fixed prices.
Make sure to always confirm your taxi fare before hopping in. Do research ahead of time. If you find that the taxi rates are considerably high, consider renting a shuttle or private van. For large groups, booking a taxi is expensive.