Punta Cana is the most prized resort city in the eastern Dominican Republic. It is an all-inclusive resort capital, equipped with the perfect activities for the sun-loving crowd. Riviera Maya on the other hand is the iconic Mexican region that helped defined the line “vacation in the tropics”.
Everything south of fun Cancun is the spectacular Riviera Maya. The Mayan Riviera is still one of the most popular travel destinations in all of Mexico. It has serene beach towns, trendy boutique hotels, and delectable regional food. Not to mention, ancient ruins, and secret jungle attractions.
The tourist corridor draws tourists with its renowned ruins, second-largest coral reef, and white-sand beaches. In addition to its stunning beaches, it also boasts fun swimmable sinkholes called cenotes.
Visitors are enticed to hit the Riviera Maya mostly thanks to its incredible variety of ancient draws. It boasts well-preserved Mayan ruins and world-class dive locations.
You’ll never run out of things to marvel upon here.
What Makes Riviera Maya Unique?
Riviera Maya has some of the best insular features. It has lovely shoreline lengths coupled with the eternally stunning Caribbean waters. But the Riviera’s interior and coasts are littered with strips and centers that catapulted the region to fame. Thanks to its indigenous culture and Mayan traditions and various other quirks.
You can never run out of locations to marvel at, from the boho-chic streets and shores of Playa del Carmen to rustic and charming Akumal. Here are the icons of the great Riviera Maya:
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen, the central city of the Riviera Maya, is the ideal starting point from which to see the surrounding area. This popular village nevertheless retains part of its native charm. All while being saturated with tourism.
It is home to exciting nightlife, all-inclusive resorts, and gorgeous beaches. The bulk of tourists set up base camp in this city while conquering all of the Riviera.
The main avenue of Playa del Carmen is La Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, the main artery of the city. Thanks to its concentration of diverse charms, Quinta Avenida is the beating heart of the Playa, lovingly shortened by the locals. The restaurants and stores that line both ends of this 24-hour street are continuously bustling with activity.
Along the avenue, you can find numerous bars and souvenir shops allowing for a much more interesting time along the pedestrian street. But if you go a few streets further back, you’ll find shops with fresh supplies and street vendors. They mostly sell delicious tacos, giving the area a more local feel.
In contrast to Cancun, the Playa is also renowned for having a more laid-back nightlife. If you’re looking for nightlife but don’t want to experience Cancun’s extremes, Playa del Carmen is the best place to be. All of the city’s attractions are situated in a respectably convenient area.
Playa is home to some of the most sought-after resorts in the Riviera Maya and has a wide, scenic beach. In addition to the entertainment and diversions of La Quinta Avenida. It also has some of the best rooftop views, especially if you like rooftop pools and sunsets.
One of the most well-known communities on the Riviera Maya is Tulum, which was formerly the site of an important Mayan city. It has grown into a distinctive beach community that serves as an excellent launching point for exploring the Riviera Maya.
Its amazing restaurant scene and fashionable parties are balanced with a focus on well-being. It also offers includes a wealth of yoga, meditation, and healing treatments. Tulum’s laid-back vibe allows even for a slower pace of travel.
Tulum town, also called Tulum Pueblo, is a destination in and of itself. Thanks to its exquisite boutique hotels, renowned restaurants, and opulent ambiance. But what gave the town its name were the eponymous ruins, which have been present here for centuries.
The image of this location will be immediately conjured up by its recognizable El Castillo stone tower. A ruin perched on top of a cliff overlooking the beautiful Caribbean.
While you’re in town, you must visit the ruins of the former Mayan city that once stood in Tulum. This characteristic feature of a bygone period is perched on top of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
The Mayan empire’s wealth was dependent on the walled port city of Tulum. It is today one of Mexico’s most important archaeological sites and brings in thousands of visitors annually.
Playa Del Carmen on the Riviera Maya is only a short ferry ride away from the tranquil Caribbean island of Cozumel. Beautiful white-sand beaches can be found towards the west of the island, and snorkeling and scuba diving are well-known there.
Cozumel is by far Mexico’s most famous island, with good reason. Cozumel is downright gorgeous. It is mostly thanks to having one of the major cruise ports in the country. It is also one of the country’s largest islands, so expect to have quite the landscape.
The majority of the island has been declared a protected area by the national government. Due to this, much of the island is still undeveloped and covered by nature, evoking a more rustic and authentic appeal.
Due to its location atop the Mesoamerican Reef, one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. Cozumel is one of the world’s premier diving destinations. The trailblazing French explorer, Jacques Costeau even admires the area.
The peaceful beach village of Akumal is a picture-perfect Riviera Maya resort. It is located midway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Visitors to the Riviera Maya frequently take a day excursion to Akumal, commonly known as the “Place of the Turtles”.
Due to its gorgeous lagoon and 3 miles (5 kilometers) of beautiful beach, Akumal is the best place to go swimming. Plus, the lush and untouched vegetation around allows you to even see animals.
The unique features of Akumal include stunning white-sand beaches, mild Caribbean waters, and a coral reef with resident turtles. Additionally, there are five distinct bays in this region. Each with crystal clear waters, shady palm trees, and a plethora of top-notch bars and restaurants at night.
The lush jungles of the Riviera Maya stand on top of a system of tunnels and caverns that have been hollowed out over time by a web of underground rivers. In certain places, the ground has caved in, forming tunnels for people to go through and access freshwater rivers.
In Mexico, these openings or sinkholes are referred to as “cenotes.” And there are plenty of them all around the Yucatan and Mayan Riviera.
There are hundreds of cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, many of which are near the Riviera Maya. Gran Cenote is perhaps one of the most well-known cenotes, if not the most. It is an open-air cenote situated amid a subterranean network of tunnels and caverns. The Cenote Dos Ojos, near Tulum, is also another charm. It is a twin sinkhole that also attracts swimmers and divers.
Cenote Azul, one of Playa del Carmen’s most beautiful cenotes, is perfect for families as it features shallow water and an open swimming area. Cenote Zacil, Cenote Carwash, and Casa Cenote are some of the most beautiful open-air cenotes near Tulum.
Since cenotes are regarded by the Mayans as entrances to the underworld, they play an important part in their culture. Whatever you believe in, this adds to the mystical and otherworldly allure of these natural features. Mexico still has a lot of these breathtaking natural wonders that you can see and swim in.
You can expect to discover quite a treasure trove of fascinating remains from the Yucatan’s history. The region was the birthplace of the enigmatic Mayan civilization and its primary center. The famous Riviera is littered with historic ruins that add to its charm on its coastlines and in its interior.
You can find several tour companies offering packages that will take you through many of the area’s historic landmarks. Regardless of where you stay in any town or city along the Riviera Maya, these ruins are accessible.
The ruins of Tulum are one of the area’s most well-known and distinctive draws. Your journey of the Riviera Maya should start at Tulum, one of Mexico’s most famous ruins. The Tulum ruins are perched on top of steep cliffs, high above the turquoise seas of the Caribbean Sea.
Further inland from the ruins at Tulum is another stunning collection of ruins that were important to the Mayan Empire. The ruins at Coba depict an ancient Mayan city with the largest network of stone causeways in the Mayan world.
You can also reach the renowned Chichen Itza if you have three hours to spare to go deep inside the Yucatan. Chichen Itza, one of the seven official modern wonders of the world, is home to the most magnificently carved Mayan Pyramid. It is also the most expensive and crowded of them all.
Expect to find a lovely roster of beaches along the stunning coastline south of Cancun all the way to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. Additionally, the famed beautiful Caribbean Sea is right in front of these gorgeous white-sand beaches.
Here are some of the top beaches in Riviera Maya, from Playa del Carmen’s miles of white sand to Punta Allen:
Playa Pescadores is well known for its calming warmth, plush beaches, and inviting waves. It is the perfect place for unwinding or having fun on the beach. In addition to volleyball and other beach games, there are various water sports available here.
But snorkeling is especially popular there due to the calm, beautiful waters. Experience it all for yourself to the east of Tulum.
The lovely Playa Akumal beach is found near the town of the same name and is renowned for its serene sands and accessibility to watersports. Plus, its stunning native turtle population is one of its most unique draws. Given that Akumal means “land of turtles,” the presence of numerous turtles shouldn’t be surprising.
It offers activities for everyone, including snorkeling in calm coastal waters with sea turtles. You can also dine and drink at a variety of beachside pubs, shop at opulent stores, and stay in historic hotels. For beach lovers, Playa Akumal is a destination in itself.
Playa Ruinas, as its name suggests, sits beside several notable Mayan ruins right at the beach. Here you may learn about the history and the soft sands of the Caribbean coast. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico for history buffs is Tulum, which was once an important Mayan territory.
Several well-preserved ruins that date back to the 13th century can be seen over the Playa Ruinas beach. More pyramids and ruins can be seen lining the grassy walks just above the sand. The Castillo, perched on a clifftop, offers views of the broad ocean.
The ruins are beautiful, but you don’t have to spend the whole day looking at them. Make your way to the base of the cliff and join the other beachgoers there. Because the waters are calm, you can even swim far and see the whole perspective of the charming Playa.
On the Dominican Republic’s east coast, Punta Cana is well known for its miles of white-sand beaches. It is surrounded by coconut palms and clear waters. The majority of the resort city’s accommodations are big, all-inclusive resorts. Most of which welcome both families and couples.
The best activities in Punta Cana include visiting some of the top beaches along the Coconut Coast. You can find secret lagoons tucked away in dense vegetation as well. Despite its being a resort city, it’s worthwhile to leave the grounds of your all-inclusive resort and see more of what the area has to offer.
What Makes Punta Cana Unique?
The town of Bávaro was once built as a community for resort employees. Punta Cana, on the other hand, was built as a tourist destination. Over time, Bavaro developed into a popular travel destination as hotels began to spring up along the east coast, north of Punta Cana.
Bavaro Beach is the most developed region of Punta Cana’s resort district and is complemented by first-rate amenities. You can find restaurants and beach clubs where you can eat and have a drink while taking in the scenery.
Although there are many hotels in Bavaro, the Barcelo is the oldest and most prestigious. Additionally, there is a mall and several other amenities. This includes a White Sands golf course, gift shops, bars, restaurants, the Mangu and Areito discothèques, and pubs and lounges.
Reserva Ecologica Ojos Indigenas
The 1,500-acre (607 ha) Reserva Ecologica Ojos Indigenas is a protected area owned and managed by the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. It is also called Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve. There are twelve freshwater lakes in the lowland subtropical forest. The entire location is devoted to scientific research and conservation in addition to recreation.
You can take a leisurely Segway tour or go on a trek in the park to find them on your own. It also has 12 natural pools, three of which namely Guama, Cacibajagua, and Yauya, are safe and suitable for swimming. Most of the other areas, referred to as “eyes,” are rocky, small, and unsuitable for swimming. The 8-meter-deep Guama lagoon is the highlight of the group; here, you may swim with healthy schools of black tilapia and even turtles.
All visitors can learn about the cultural and environmental history of the island at the park’s numerous exhibits. They can go to a petting zoo with a variety of animals that are prevalent in the Dominican Republic, an exhibit on sugarcane, or an iguana habitat.
The greatest way to appreciate Punta Cana’s splendor may be to travel across its unspoiled surroundings. The Hoyo Azul or Blue Hole is one of the most amazing sites to explore. It is a natural sinkhole with water that is exceptionally transparent.
It is situated in Cap Cana’s Scape Park. Visitors to the natural theme park can cool down in the pristine waters of the cenote. You can then zip-line and hike through the neighborhood rainforest.
The clear blue watering hole is tucked away at the base of a sheer cliff and pops out nicely against the craggy rocks and lush vegetation all around. Because of how transparent the water is, you can clearly see the bottom of the 120-foot-deep pool (37 m). It is just as stunning as the limestone cavern above with its rising jagged walls.
Two eco-friendly trips can take you there and allow you to take in the scenery while unwinding in the cool water. The transportation to and from any hotel in Punta Cana is included in the cost of the tours, which are led by knowledgeable tour operators. The Hoyo Azul Cave Explorer or Hoyo Azul Zip Line trip are the two packages available to visitors.
Dolphin Island Park
The beautiful Dolphin Island Park is the place to go if you’re looking for yet another spectacular underwater adventure. Manati Park includes Dolphin Island Park, which was established in 2004.
It is the first park in the Dominican Republic to allow for in-water interactions and close encounters with dolphins. Visitors can swim with the magnificent animals in their native habitat at the offshore location. You can also witness sharks, stingrays, and sea lions.
The Dolphin Action Program, Dolphin Royal Swim, and Dolphin Family Experience are just a few of the programs on offer. Each has unique advantages and alternatives.
Between the Bavaro beach and the area’s coral barrier, this small group of floating platforms and sea pens is only reachable by boat. Here, you can witness trained dolphins do stunts, swim and snorkel with them, and even snap amusing underwater pictures with them.
However, pregnant women are not permitted to participate in this activity. There are also some height restrictions due to safety concerns.
Which Is Nicer – Riviera Maya or Punta Cana?
If you’re looking for a more jam-packed and varied experience, Riviera Maya is the better option. You don’t only have one seaside city to enjoy but a whole roster of them. Plus, the interiors are even more interesting.
Punta Cana is a resort city in the Dominican Republic, known for offering true R&R across its pristine nature. However, it is exactly that. A resort city, with not many diverse experiences, and not much authenticity.
Riviera Maya or Punta Cana for Honeymoon?
If you’re looking for a jam-packed honeymoon over the Caribbean coasts, the best option would be Riviera Maya. It evokes both the romance of the clear blue seas and the quirks of Mexican culture.
Riviera Maya, unlike Punta Cana, is an entire region in itself, not a resort city. From the rustic charms of Playa del Carmen down to the simple and quiet Akumal, you’ll have a diversity of experiences and unmatched mysticism.
Resorts lined up across pueblo streets and white-sand beaches make the Riviera Maya more honeymoon-perfect. Punta Cana, despite its roster of all-inclusive resorts, doesn’t.
Punta Cana vs. Riviera Maya for All Inclusive
When it comes to cheaper costs, the all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana are more affordable than all of Riviera Maya. The uber-touristy spots in Riviera Maya like Playa del Carmen and Tulum often have more expensive packages. But when it comes to the number of options and for a wider range of accommodation, Riviera Maya has over a hundred all-inclusive resorts.
Punta Cana vs. Riviera Maya Beaches
Both Punta Cana and Riviera Maya have stunning beaches, with white-sand stretches and crystal clear blue waters. Many previous visitors argued that Punta Cana is better thanks to a more pristine landscape and picturesque views.
However, Punta Cana’s beaches are dwarfed by the sheer number of all of the beaches in the entire Riviera Maya region. The Mexican gem’s beaches have dramatic landscapes with the variety that Punta Cana lacks. This puts the riviera a step up against Punta Cana.
Punta Cana vs. Riviera Maya in December
Punta Cana and Riviera Maya have fairly similar conditions during December. Punta Cana hits the lowest around 71.6 to 84.2 F (22 to 29 C) making it mild for swimming. But Riviera Maya on the other hand is noticeably slightly colder around 70 to 82.4 F (21 to 28 C) with more rainy days. In this case, Punta Cana is the better option if you’re planning to have a sunny holiday in December.