If you have narrowed down your choices for your next vacation to Playa del Carmen vs Cancun, you have two great options. Although Playa del Carmen and Cancun are only about 40 miles apart, the differences between the two locations is significant, and the better vacation destination will depend on what you want to do on your vacation. Here are the main factors to take into consideration when deciding between Playa del Carmen vs Cancun.
Attractions and Activities
Probably the most significant difference between Playa del Carmen and Cancun are the activities and attractions in each city. Cancun is a city that needs no introduction. World famous for its beaches and nightlife, Cancun is a popular destination for spring breakers, honeymooners, and families alike.
The area where Cancun is currently located was almost empty, with only a small fishing village of around 100 people living there in 1970. The Mexican federal government, recognizing the natural beauty of the area and the potential for it to become a major tourist destination, made significant investments into the area throughout the 1970s, funding the construction of the first nine hotels in the area. Today, Cancun is the most popular tourist destination in Mexico, surpassing Mexico City and Acapulco.
Tourists flock to Cancun for its white sand beaches and cool, calm, turquoise Caribbean waters. Aside from relaxing on the beach or swimming in the ocean, popular beachfront activities in Cancun include snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, flyboarding, boating, and paddleboarding.
The nightlife in Cancun is some of the most famous in the world, with hundreds of nightclubs and bars open all night long, and catering to all ages. Live DJs and other entertainment, open air clubs and bars, low price drinks, VIP sections, theme nights, and more, make Cancun’s nightlife extremely popular.
No matter the season or the time of night, the party in Cancun never stops, but if you prefer a quieter vacation, it is not difficult to find a resort located away from the nightclubs and bar scene.
In Playa del Carmen, the atmosphere is much quieter and more relaxed. The beaches are tropical, with soft white sands, just like in Cancun, and generally less crowded. In fact, the city overall is less crowded and has less of a touristy feel than Cancun, and it is much easier to have a slow-paced, laid back vacation.
Located across right on the Cozumel Channel, with the island of Cozumel a 45 minute boat ride off the coast, Playa del Carmen has a wide variety of attractions, that range from taking day trips to Cozumel to snorkel and scuba dive at the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, excursions to the nearby Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, motorboating and yacht chartering, ATV tours through the jungle, sailing, eating at the local restaurants, and more.
Although the nightlife in Playa del Carmen is not its main attraction, there are plenty of great nightclubs and bars in the city. Most of the clubs stay open until 4am, and there are great rooftop bars, theme nights, and more.
When development in Cancun and other surrounding areas like Cozumel and Los Cabos began in the 1970s, Playa del Carmen was only thought of as a port area for tourists to get to and from Cozumel. This perception changed in the 1980s, and since then, the area has seen significant investment and development, and has become a major tourist destination in its own right, rivaling its neighbors.
Because both Playa del Carmen and Cancun were developed largely with the goal of attracting and accommodating tourists, the accommodations in both cities are world class. It goes without saying, of course, that the resorts in Cancun are some of the nicest in the world. The entire “Hotel Zone” in Cancun, which covers a 15 mile strip along the beachfront is full of all-inclusive resorts that have extensive pools with ocean views, world class dining, spas, beachfront access, tour groups and activities, and more.
Although Playa del Carmen is the lower-key destination, there is no shortage of luxury all-inclusive resorts in Playa del Carmen either. In fact, the most popular resorts in Playa del Carmen are easily on par with those in Cancun, with beach access, pools and swim-up bars, lounge areas, spas, excellent dining, and more.
Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen also have plenty of villas, air bnbs and apartments for rent.
In general, Cancun is more expensive than Playa del Carmen, although depending on where you plan to stay and what you plan to do, this difference may not be significant. However, when making a 1:1 comparison, between the all-inclusive resorts in Playa del Carmen vs Cancun, or the cost of partaking in watersports, dining, tours, excursions to historical sites, etc. you will generally pay more in Cancun than you would for a similar experience in Playa del Carmen.
The difference is largely because Cancun is the more popular and much more crowded destination. When comparing Playa del Carmen vs Cancun, it is important to keep in mind that Cancun sees much more traffic from tourists, which drives up prices. Therefore, for the traveller on a budget, it might be a better idea to consider Playa del Carmen for their next vacation.
The Bottom Line
When choosing between Playa del Carmen vs Cancun for your next vacation, there are really no bad choices. What the decision comes down to is the attractions and activities you are interested in, the accommodations you want to stay in, and the cost.
In general, Playa del Carmen is the more laid back, less crowded, and less expensive destination. However, Cancun is the more active and social destination, with more nightlife, a wider variety of things to do, and generally slightly nicer accommodations, although, again, you will pay more for these accommodations as well as for just about everything else in Cancun.
These are the main factors to take into account when deciding on Playa del Carmen vs Cancun for your next vacation.