Cancun Hotel Zone Beaches
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Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Which is Better for Families?

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Best Family Destination

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen? Both are world-class tourist destinations along Mexico’s gorgeous Yucatan Peninsula, and we’ve stayed in both cities several times. Choosing the perfect spot for your family’s next getaway can be challenging as a parent. But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered! We’ll break down the main differences between these two incredible places and help you decide which is better for your family vacation.

Overview: Cancun vs Playa del Carmen at a Glance

Let’s start by taking a bird’s-eye view of these two Mexican hotspots.

Cancun Vs Playa Del Carmen: Which Is Better For Families? Cancun Hotel Zone


  • Located in the northeastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula
  • Famous for its Cancun Hotel Zone, featuring beautiful clear beaches. The area to the south of the Cancun Hotel Zone can be affected by seaweed, leaving the water and beaches less than perfect.
  • Close to Cancun International Airport
  • Known for its large, all-inclusive resorts and bustling nightlife
  • Great for shopping malls and chain restaurants
Playa Del Carmen

Playa del Carmen

  • Located in the heart of the Riviera Maya, about an hour south of Cancun
  • Famous for its Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) and boutique hotels
  • A more relaxed atmosphere with a focus on local culture
  • Known for its charming downtown area and white sandy beaches

Now that you have a basic understanding of each location let’s dive deeper and explore what makes each destination unique.

The Biggest Differences Between Cancun and Playa del Carmen


Cancun has many large, all-inclusive resorts, such as our favorites, the Hyatt Ziva and Moon Palace The Grand, which can be a great option for families. These resorts have all the food and drinks included.

Playa del Carmen, while still having a selection of large, all-inclusive hotels, is known for its boutique hotels and smaller all-inclusive options. If you prefer a more intimate and unique experience, Playa del Carmen might be your better choice.


Beaches: One of the most important parts of booking a trip to Mexico! Cancun and Playa del Carmen boast stunning white-sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters. However, Cancun’s beaches tend to be wider and offer more water sports options, such as jet skis and paddleboarding.

Cancun Hotel Zone: Turquoise Paradise

Cancun Hotel Zone

The Cancun Hotel Zone is famous for its vibrant turquoise waters and pristine white-sand beaches. This area stretches along a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and offers some of Cancun’s most picturesque and iconic beach landscapes. The clear waters are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and various sports.

Playa Del Carmen Beaches

Playa Del Carmen Nice Beach

Playa del Carmen’s beaches are more laid-back and offer a more authentic, less touristy vibe. If you’re looking for calm waters and a relaxed atmosphere, the beaches of Playa del Carmen might be your best bet.

Shopping and Dining

Cancun is home to several large shopping malls and chain restaurants, making it a great destination for shopaholics and foodies. On the other hand, Playa del Carmen offers a more local shopping and dining experience, focusing on small businesses and unique eateries. Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue and downtown area are the way to go if you’re after a taste of Mexican culture.

Exploring Family-Friendly Activities in Cancun and Playa del Carmen

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s dive deeper into the family-friendly activities and attractions in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Make sure to use this comprehensive list to plan the ultimate family vacation!

Day Trips and Excursions

Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer easy access to many exciting day trips and excursions. Here are a few options to consider:


Isla Mujeres Playa Norte

Hop on a ferry to Isla Mujeres and rent a golf cart to explore the island’s beautiful beaches, snorkeling spots, and laid-back atmosphere.

Chichen Itza: Visit one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and explore the impressive Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-visit for history and culture enthusiasts.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Discover the incredible biodiversity of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected natural area home to numerous species of flora and fauna.

Playa del Carmen


Tulum: Explore the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, perched atop a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. This archaeological site perfectly combines history, culture, and stunning beach views.

Xcaret and Xel-Ha: Spend a day at one of the eco-parks, Xcaret or Xel-Ha, which offer a variety of family-friendly activities, such as snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and exploring underground rivers.

Coba: Venture into the jungle and climb the ancient Mayan pyramid at Coba, an archaeological site that provides a unique opportunity to experience the region’s history up close.

Water Activities for the Whole Family


Cancun and Playa del Carmen are located along the stunning Caribbean Sea, making them the perfect destination for water lovers. Here are some water activities you can enjoy with your family:


Mexico Cenote.  Ik-Kil Cenote
Ik-Kil cenote

Playa del Carmen

  • Snorkeling: Discover the beauty of the underwater world by snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters along Playa del Carmen‘s beaches or at nearby locations like Puerto Morelos or Cozumel.
  • Cenote exploration: The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its natural underground rivers and pools, known as cenotes. Visit Cenote Chaak Tun or Cenote Dos Ojos for an unforgettable experience.
  • Sailing: Embark on a sailing adventure and explore the beautiful Caribbean Sea by booking a family-friendly catamaran tour.
  • Water activities: Families can enjoy a variety of water activities in Playa del Carmen, such as paddleboarding, kayaking, and windsurfing.

Accommodation Options for Families

Whether looking for luxury resorts or budget-friendly hotels, Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer various accommodation options to suit your family’s needs.

Cancun’s Best All-Inclusive Resorts

Cancun is famous for its all-inclusive resorts and luxury hotels, catering to families of all sizes and budgets. Some popular family-friendly resorts in Cancun include:

Best overall

Best Choice for Families

This luxurious all-inclusive resort and Moon Palace Grand are our two favorite resorts in Cancun for families. If beautiful beaches are on your priority list, this is the resort for you! The Hyatt Ziva features multiple swimming pools, a kid’s club, and a teen’s club, ensuring entertainment for all ages.

The resort also offers a variety of dining options and recreational activities, such as snorkeling, beach volleyball, and live performances.

Best Large resort

Best Large Resort with Water Park

With its massive water park, waterslides, wave pool, and lazy river, Moon Palace The Grand is a paradise for families and one of our favorites for families.

The negative for this resort: as mentioned above, these newer, larger hotels are being built in an area that doesn’t have the crystal clear beaches of the hotel zone.

So if perfect beaches are a must, look at the Hyatt Ziva instead. However, this resort’s water park and other amenities make up for some of that!

Runner up

Dreams Natura

The surrounding Mayan jungle inspires this family-friendly resort and offers a unique vacation experience.

Guests can enjoy the on-site water park, infinity pools, and various activities for all ages.

Playa del Carmen All-Inclusive Resorts

Best overall

Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Rated 4.8 out of 5, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is an exceptional all-inclusive resort for families. The resort features spacious suites, multiple pools, and a kids’ club to entertain the little ones.

With various dining options and a luxurious spa, this elegant retreat has something for everyone.

Best overall

The Fives Beach Hotel & Residences

Boasting a 4.5-star rating, The Fives Beach Hotel & Residences is a fantastic family-friendly all-inclusive resort.

With well-appointed rooms and residences, various on-site dining options, and several pools, this resort provides the ultimate family vacation experience.

Best overall

Paradisus Playa del Carmen

With a solid 4.5-star rating, Paradisus Playa del Carmen is a top choice for families seeking an all-inclusive experience.

The resort has spacious accommodations, multiple pools, and various dining options to suit all tastes. The resort’s dedicated kids’ zone and various activities and entertainment options ensure a memorable stay for the whole family.

Boutique Playa Del Carmen Hotels

Playa del Carmen is known for its charming boutique hotels, offering a more intimate and personalized experience. Some top choices include Mahekal Beach Resort and La Pasion Hotel Boutique.

Xcaret: A Great Luxury & Fun Option

Luxury & Fun

Hotel Xcaret: A Unique All-Inclusive Experience in Riviera Maya


Hotel Xcaret is a luxurious all-inclusive resort between Cancun and Tulum in the heart of the Riviera Maya.

This eco-friendly resort offers an exceptional vacation experience, seamlessly blending nature, adventure, and relaxation.

Hotel Xcaret: Accommodations and Amenities

Hotel Xcaret features spacious and elegantly designed suites with breathtaking views of the lush surroundings, ocean, and meandering rivers. Each room has modern amenities, including comfortable bedding, Wi-Fi access, and a minibar.

The resort offers a variety of swimming pools, including a dedicated children’s pool, an on-site spa, and a fitness center. The hotel is also committed to sustainability, showcasing eco-integrative architecture that minimizes environmental impact.

Hotel Xcaret Dining Options

Guests can enjoy various dining options at Hotel Xcaret, from international buffets to à la carte restaurants offering Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean cuisines. The resort also features several bars and lounges where visitors can relax and enjoy a refreshing drink.

Hotel Xcaret Unique All-Fun Inclusive® Concept

What sets Hotel Xcaret apart from other resorts is its All-Fun Inclusive® concept, which provides unlimited access to several nearby eco-adventure parks, including Xcaret, Xel-Há, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xavage, Xoximilco, and Xenses, as well as the Xenotes and Xichen tours. This offers exceptional value for families and adventure seekers, making exploring the best attractions in the Riviera Maya easy.

Overall, Hotel Xcaret is an exceptional resort choice for those seeking an all-inclusive experience that combines luxury, adventure, and sustainability in the heart of the Riviera Maya.

Local Culture and Cuisine

Immerse yourself in the local culture and savor the delicious cuisine of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Here’s what you can expect from each destination:


  • Dining options: Cancun offers various options, from international chain restaurants to local, family-owned eateries. Don’t miss the chance to try authentic Yucatecan dishes like cochinita pibil or panuchos.
  • Shopping malls: Cancun is home to several shopping malls, including Plaza Las Americas and La Isla Shopping Village, where you can find a mix of international and local brands.
  • Live music: Enjoy live music and dance performances at venues like Coco Bongo, which offers a unique blend of nightclub and live entertainment show.
Playa Del Carmen

Playa del Carmen

  • Quinta Avenida: Stroll along Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), Playa del Carmen’s main pedestrian street, lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. This bustling thoroughfare is perfect for people-watching and souvenir shopping.
  • Local markets: Visit the local markets, such as DAC Market or El Pueblito Mayakoba, to find fresh produce, handmade crafts, and delicious street food.
  • Art galleries: Explore the vibrant art scene in Playa del Carmen by visiting local art galleries and attending cultural events, like the Riviera Maya Film Festival.

Best Time to Visit Cancun and Playa del Carmen

The best time to visit Cancun and Playa del Carmen depends on your preferences for weather, prices, and crowds. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Weather: The Yucatan Peninsula enjoys a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. The rainy season typically runs from June to November, with September and October being the wettest months. Hurricane season falls between June and November, with the highest risk in September and October.
  • Crowds: Both destinations can get crowded during peak travel times, such as Christmas, New Year’s, and Spring Break. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, consider visiting during the low season (May to early December).
  • Prices: Accommodation and flight prices tend to be lower during the low season, offering a more budget-friendly vacation experience.

Transportation Options in Cancun and Playa del Carmen

Navigating Cancun and Playa del Carmen is relatively easy, with various transportation options for families. We’ve had great experiences with USA Transfers.

USA Transfers is a highly reputable and reliable transportation service specializing in airport-to-hotel transfers and tours in Mexico.

One key factor that sets USA Transfers apart is its consistently high rankings on TripAdvisor and many of our Facebook travel groups.

In addition to airport transfers, USA Transfers also offers a variety of guided tours, allowing you to explore the region’s most iconic attractions easily.

To ensure a hassle-free transportation experience and explore the best tours in the Mexican Caribbean, click here to book directly with USA Transfers.


  • Cancun International Airport: Cancun is served by the Cancun International Airport, with numerous direct flights from the United States and other countries. The airport is approximately 12 miles from the city center and the Hotel Zone.
  • Public transportation: Cancun has an extensive public transportation system, including buses and taxis, making it easy to get around the city and visit nearby attractions.
  • Rental cars: Renting a car is convenient if you plan to explore the surrounding areas or take day trips to nearby destinations.

Playa del Carmen

  • Cancun Airport transfers: Playa del Carmen is located about 34 miles south of Cancun, with the Cancun International Airport being the nearest. Several transportation options are available, such as private transfers, shared shuttles, or rental cars.
  • Public transportation: Playa del Carmen’s downtown area is compact and easily walkable, with most attractions within easy walking distance. For longer distances, taxis and shared vans are readily available.
  • Ferries: Regular ferries connect Playa del Carmen with Cozumel, making visiting this island easy for a day trip or overnight stay.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen have vibrant nightlife scenes, offering a range of entertainment options for parents looking to enjoy a night out.


  • Big city nightlife: Cancun’s Hotel Zone has numerous nightclubs and bars, offering an exciting nightlife experience. In addition to Coco Bongo, other popular spots include Mandala and The City.
  • Puerto Vallarta: If you’re looking for a change of scenery, consider taking a trip to Puerto Vallarta, another popular tourist destination in Mexico known for its nightlife and entertainment options.

Playa del Carmen

  • Playa’s vibe: Playa del Carmen offers a more laid-back nightlife experience, with a mix of local bars, live music venues, and beach clubs. Check out La Santanera for a taste of Playa’s unique vibe.
  • Cold beers: Enjoy a cold beer at one of the many local bars and beach clubs that dot the shoreline, or sip on a refreshing cocktail while enjoying the beautiful sunset views.

Cancun vs Playa del Carmen: Which One Is Right for Your Family?

The decision ultimately comes down to your family’s preferences and priorities. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, large resorts, and easy access to shopping and dining, Cancun might be the better option. If you prefer a more laid-back vibe, boutique accommodations, and a focus on outdoor activities, Playa del Carmen could be the best choice.

To help you make the final decision, let’s look at some frequently asked questions about Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

FAQs: All You Need to Know About Cancun and Playa del Carmen

Are Cancun and Playa del Carmen good places for families with young children?

A: Yes, both Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer plenty of activities and amenities for families with young children, such as kid-friendly resorts, calm waters for swimming, and a variety of attractions suitable for all ages. Each destination has its unique charm, and you can choose the one that best fits your family’s preferences and needs.

Is traveling to Cancun and Playa del Carmen safe with kids?

A: Cancun and Playa del Carmen are generally safe for family traveling with kids. However, it’s essential to follow standard safety precautions, such as keeping an eye on your belongings and not venturing into unfamiliar areas late at night. Additionally, make sure to choose reputable tour operators for excursions and activities.

Are there kid-friendly dining options in Cancun and Playa del Carmen?

A: Absolutely! Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer various dining options catering to various tastes and preferences. Many restaurants serve kid-friendly menus, and you can easily find familiar international cuisine, such as pizza, burgers, and pasta, alongside local dishes.

How can I save money on a family vacation to Cancun or Playa del Carmen?

A: To save money on your family vacation, consider traveling during the low season (May to early December), when accommodation and flight prices are usually lower. Look for deals and discounts on activities, transportation, and dining. Opting for a vacation rental or an all-inclusive resort can also help you save money, as they often include meals and some activities in the price.

What is the best time to visit Cancun or Playa del Carmen?

The best time to visit either destination is between December and April, as the weather is warm and dry. Remember that this is also peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and crowds. The rainy season runs from May to October, with September and October being the most hurricane-prone months. If you don’t mind the risk of rain and want to avoid crowds, consider traveling during the low season.

How is the nightlife in Cancun and Playa del Carmen?

Cancun is known for its vibrant nightlife, with numerous bars, clubs, and live music venues. Playa del Carmen also offers a lively night scene, though it’s generally more laid-back and focused on local bars and restaurants. If you’re traveling with kids, you might prefer the more relaxed atmosphere of Playa del Carmen.

Are there direct flights to Cancun and Playa del Carmen?

Cancun International Airport is one of Mexico’s busiest airports, with direct flights from many major cities in the United States and worldwide. Playa del Carmen has no airport but is easily accessible from Cancun Airport via a 45-minute to 1-hour drive.

Which destination has better public transportation?

Cancun has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses and taxis, making it easy to get around the city. Playa del Carmen’s public transportation is more limited, but the town is smaller, and most attractions are within easy walking distance. Playa del Carmen might be better if you prefer to explore on foot.

What are some must-see attractions in Cancun and Playa del Carmen?

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Cancun Hotel Zone, the Playa Delfines beach, and the Puerto Morelos reef. In Playa del Carmen, check out Quinta Avenida, Mamita’s Beach Club, and the Rio Secreto underground river. Suppose you’re interested in exploring the wider Yucatan Peninsula. Both destinations offer easy access to Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba Mayan ruins and the eco-parks of Xcaret and Xel-Ha.

Are Cancun and Playa del Carmen safe for families?

Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen are generally considered safe for families. As with any tourist destination, taking basic safety precautions, such as not leaving valuables unattended and being aware of your surroundings, is important. Follow US State Department guidelines and recommendations to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation.

Conclusion: Cancun vs Playa del Carmen

Cancun and Playa del Carmen are fantastic destinations for families, offering a mix of relaxation, adventure, and cultural experiences. Cancun is perfect for those seeking a more bustling atmosphere, with large resorts, shopping centers, and a lively nightlife. On the other hand, Playa del Carmen offers a more laid-back vibe, with boutique hotels, charming downtown streets, and a focus on local culture and outdoor activities.

So, whether you choose Cancun’s big city excitement or Playa del Carmen’s tranquil charm, you will surely have an unforgettable family vacation in the stunning Yucatan Peninsula. Whichever destination you choose, happy travels and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Mexico’s Caribbean coast!

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