Cancun or Playa del Carmen
Cancun and Playa del Carmen are two fabulous vacation spots on the east coast of Mexico with vastly different atmospheres. You may be wondering which is the next spot for your vacation getaway so let me start by telling you a bit about each.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is about a 45 minute drive south of the Cancun airport. Once you leave the greater Cancun area you will find yourself on a nicely maintained freeway which runs parallel to the ocean but without much to see or do. The freeway has been sponsored by most of the resorts who want tourist to come and have an enjoyable experience at their properties. When you exit the freeway for your resort you will find gated and guarded entrances to long winding roads through to your resort.
The resorts you will find in Playa del Carmen are the large sprawling kind with everything you need for a few day getaway. Most will have multiple restaurants, bars and activities on site and there is no need to ever leave the gates of the resort. It is a good thing too because there is nothing close by. Playa del Carmen is not a place where you are going to rent a car or call a taxi to go “into town” for the evening. Once you are at your resort you are there for the trip.
There is an exception to that and that is if you are going on an excursion or visiting a place like Tulum. All of the tourist activities are operated by big outfits who will send a tour bus to each resort picking people up to take them out for the day to an activity. If you are looking to do an excursion like visit Tulum, see the cenotes, or go to a park like Xel Ha and Xcaret you are actually must closer from Playa del Carmen than Cancun. Tulum is 1 hour south of Playa del Carmen and two hours south of Cancun. Xcaret is very close to Playa del Carmen as well as most of the excursions like snorkeling and swimming with dolphins.
There is a reason Cancun is often referred to as the spring break capital of the world. To picture Cancun think of Las Vegas and replace the casinos with a beach. All the hotels, malls, bars and nightclubs are located on one strip which you can walk up and down, have a blast and get into all sorts of trouble. There is nothing particularly Mexican about Cancun, if you skipped passport control at the airport you could easily confuse Cancun for Miami or any beach destination in the US.
Like Playa del Carmen, Cancun also has plenty of high end resorts on the beach with swim up bars, infinity pools and the works. However these resorts are generally smaller with only one or two restaurants on site. As a trade off most resorts are within walking distance to other restaurants and bars. Unlike Playa del Carmen in Cancun you can go out at night, wander around and see the town.
In the center of the hotel zone you will find places like Senor Frogs and Coco Bongo which are massive night clubs with shows, dance floors and open bars. They are not cheap to enter – Coco Bongo costs about $65 to walk in the door but once you enter all the drinks are free. It’s a great deal for someone looking to dance and party the night away but not a good value if you just want to stop in for a drink before dinner. Shopping in Cancun ranges from the cheap tourist flea markets to Luxury Avenue with shops like Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. The restaurants also run the gamut from American chains like Hooters and Chilis to local restaurants available at all price points.
An ideal trip would include a few nights in both Cancun and Playa del Carmen. A weekend on the strip in Cancun is more than enough to satisfy your inner party goer followed by a few days relaxing a bit more off the grid in Playa del Carmen. Whichever location you chose the beaches are unbeatable and you are sure to enjoy getting away.