Playa del Carmen vs. Cancún – Choosing Your Vacation
Playa del Carmen and Cancun are two major tourist destinations in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Located on the east side, these two cities are both in the state of Quinatana Roo, and a part of the Riviera Maya. When comparing Playa del Carmen vs. Cancún, there are many things to consider. Perhaps the most important question in choosing your vacation spot is what you are looking for. Neither Cancún nor Playa del Carmen is better or worse. It all depends on what you want in a vacation.
Difference Between Cancún and Playa del Carmen
First, Playa del Carmen and Cancún are simply different places. The population of Cancún is about 725,000, while Playa del Carmen comes in at about 175,000. Cancún has been a hot spot and growing since the 1980’s, while Playa del Carmen’s growth has been much more recent, beginning in the late 90’s and booming in the early 2000’s.
Because these are two different places, you’ll find different food, activities, people, and general energies. Although Cancún is often thought of as a party spot, there is a lot more to do there than you may think. On the other hand, Playa del Carmen is much quieter and calmer than Cancún. Less of a city, Playa is just beginning to become the hot tourist destination that can be found in Cancún. Both places make our list of the best places to visit in Mexico, but let’s look at the differences between Playa del Carmen and Cancún.
Playa del Carmen vs. Cancún Nightlife
Cancún is known as a popular party destination. When looking at Playa del Carmen vs. Cancún, this is a great place to start. Cancún certainly has a bigger nightlife scene, as it is a bigger city with a more established community of partygoers. If you are looking to party all day and night and go hard, Cancún certainly has the hot places to be and things to do.
However, because of the recent growth of tourism in Playa del Carmen, there’s a pretty solid club scene. Especially in the tourist neighborhoods of the city, you can find clubs open all night, music bumping, and people out enjoying the warm evenings. You won’t find quite the scene that may be found in Cancún, but you certainly won’t be bored at night in Playa.
If you are looking specifically to go to Mexico to party, Cancún definitely wins in this category. If you want to have some fun but want a mellower party scene, try spending a few days in Playa del Carmen.
Shopping in Playa and Cancún
Both Cancún and Playa del Carmen have areas of town dedicated to shopping. In Playa del Carmen, you will find the hot tourist street of 5th Avenue. If you’re in town, you absolutely have to visit this area of town. It’s one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen, and you probably won’t be able to avoid the street if you try.
In Cancún, you can find La Isla, a fairly large shopping center in town. It’s much bigger than 5th Avenue, and you will find more chain stores and name brands. The shopping in Cancún is simply different. You can’t really compare it cleanly and talk about the shopping in Cancún vs. Playa del Carmen. While Cancún has many more options and much bigger malls with designers and name brands, Playa del Carmen offers a mellower shopping experience with more local artists and authentic goods from Mexico.
In either of these cities, the beaches are a huge factor. On the Caribbean waters, these beaches offer beautiful white sand, incredible weather, and some of the best snorkeling in Mexico. Some of the best beaches in Cancún are super crowded. Other beaches, like Playa Delfines, are a bit quieter. If you’re in Cancún or just outside of town, you’re likely to find beaches packed with tourists, locals, or both. The photos can be overwhelming, but it really isn’t as bad as it seems. When you’re there and in your zone, the people around you are the least of your concern.
Playa del Carmen likewise has a few pretty busy beaches. The main beach in town is often scattered with tourists, locals, and vendors. It definitely is not a quiet beach. However, it is easier to hop out of town and find a quiet beach near Playa del Carmen. You can head down to Playacar, up to Puerto Morelos, or all the way down to Akumal for some real peace and quiet. If you simply walk away from the center of town in Playa, you can find a quiet spot on the beach. You can also take the ferry over to the island of Cozumel, where there are more activities like water parks, wave runners, and more! Check out our post at https://therivieramaya.org/playa-del-carmen-beaches/ to learn about some of our favorite beaches in Playa del Carmen.
Comparing the beaches in Playa del Carmen and Cancún, we have to give the cake to Playa del Carmen. However, it’s important to note that the beaches in Cancún are still awesome!
The Food and Restaurants
One place you’ll see a big difference when comparing Playa del Carmen vs. Cancún is the food. If you want to eat American food or at chain restaurants, you’ll have to go to Cancún. Because Cancún is so big, you’ll find almost anything you’re looking for. Whether you want an American chain restaurant, a fine French dinner, or premier Italian coffee, you will absolutely be able to find it in Cancún. As a huge tourist hot spot, restaurants and businesses are catering to their international visitors. The food in Cancún is cheaper than you’re likely to find in many cities in the United States, but it definitely is one of the more expensive places in Mexico.
Playa del Carmen has grown rapidly, and seen a huge increase in international settlers. You will likewise find a wonderful French bakery, delicious Italian restaurants, and more international food. However, Playa offers many more opportunities for cheap, authentic, and/or street meals. The cost of food in Playa is noticeably less than Cancún, and you can find local food much more easily. Playa del Carmen is smaller, and a walk for a few blocks out of the center of town will lead you to some local food spots.
This is not an easy call to make, as everyone wants something different. If you’re looking to eat real Mexican food and fresh fish, Playa may be best. If you want the comfort of the food you know at home, Cancún will definitely provide better.
The Vibe in Playa del Carmen vs. Cancún
An important thing to know before going to Cancún or Playa del Carmen is that these are two completely different places. Playa is bustling and up and coming, but it’s much more of an artsy and eco-friendly crowd. Although there are clubs and bars open all night, the overall vibe in Playa del Carmen is signficantly more relaxed than you’ll find in Cancún. This doesn’t mean it is boring, but you are definitely going to be moving a bit slower in Playa than Cancún.
Cancún, on the other hand, is a major city. Although it’s known as a spring break spot, there are many things to do in Cancún other than partying. Playa feels like an up and coming little city, while Cancún feels more like an established tourist destination. This doesn’t make one place better than the other, but does mean that you should probably go on vacation where you are going to find the community and environment you’re looking for!
Looking for a place to stay in Mexico? Check out our list of the Best Hotels in Mexico! If you need help getting to Playa del Carmen from Cancún, check out our post Getting from Cancún to Playa del Carmen.
Staying in Playa del Carmen? Be sure to check out our favorite hotels in Playa!