Tulum Beach
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Cancun vs Riviera Maya Mexico: What are the Differences?

Choosing between Cancun vs Riviera Maya for your next family vacation, or wondering what the difference is? Here’s a quick summary. We’ll also look at some of the best areas for vacations.

What’s the difference?

The difference between Cancun & Riviera Maya:

Cancun is a city on the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo. Cancun includes the famous Hotel Zone, a popular tourist resort area.

Riviera Maya is an area or region stretching along the Caribbean coastline of Quintana Roo, beginning just south of Cancun and extending down to the town of Tulum.

Riviera Maya isn’t a single city but a collection of small towns, villages, and tourist destinations with a common geographical location and similar natural and cultural features.

Riviera Maya is characterized by its diverse ecosystems, archaeological sites, and a more laid-back atmosphere than Cancun.

A Tale of Two Paradises: Cancun vs Riviera Maya

Cancun: A Hub of Entertainment and Adventure

Located on the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun is a large city and a major tourist hotspot in Mexico. Known for its beautiful white-sand beaches and high-rise hotels, it’s no wonder that Cancun is a favorite destination for travelers worldwide.

Cancun is also one of our favorite family vacation destinations, especially when you’re on a budget. You can often fly to Cancun and stay at a 5 star all inclusive resort, and have it cost less than going to Florida!

One of our favorite resorts in Cancun is the Hyatt Ziva Cancun. Check out our review from our recent week-long stay.

Riviera Maya: Natural Wonders and Relaxation

Stretching south from Cancun along the Caribbean Sea, the Riviera Maya region encompasses several small towns, boutique hotels, and stunning natural attractions.

Known for its more laid-back atmosphere, it’s the perfect place for families who want to unwind and reconnect with nature.

Playa del Carmen

With its famous Quinta Avenida, Downtown Playa del Carmen is a bustling hub of shopping, dining, and entertainment. The pedestrian-friendly street is lined with restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops, making it a great place to spend an evening with your loved ones.


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.

Riviera Maya’s Beaches

Playa Maroma

Riviera Maya’s beaches are often less crowded, with gorgeous beaches like Playa Maroma and Playa Xpu-Ha offering a more serene environment. Families can also explore the region’s stunning coral reefs and sea turtles through snorkeling and diving excursions.

Family Attractions and Activities

Both Cancun and Riviera Maya offer a wide range of family-friendly activities and attractions. From water parks to ancient ruins, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


  • Chichen Itza, one of the most famous Mayan ruins and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is easily accessible from Cancun as a day trip.
  • Isla Mujeres, a beautiful island just off the coast of Cancun, offers pristine beaches and family-friendly attractions like the Garrafon Natural Reef Park.
  • Interactive Aquarium Cancun, located in the Hotel Zone, provides a fun and educational experience for kids of all ages.

Riviera Maya

Cancun Vs Riviera Maya: Mexico Cenote Underground Cenote

  • Xcaret Park, a popular eco-archaeological park, features underground rivers, wildlife exhibits, and cultural performances for the whole family to enjoy. Xel-Ha is another awesome thing to do!
  • Cenotes, natural sinkholes filled with crystal-clear water, offer a unique and refreshing swimming experience. Some popular cenotes in the Riviera Maya region include Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, and Cenote Azul. We went Cenote snorkeling on our first trip to Mexico in 2010, and it’s still one of the coolest excursions we have done!
  • Puerto Aventuras, a small resort town in Riviera Maya, boasts a dolphin discovery center and a picturesque marina, perfect for a relaxing family day out.

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.

Best Riviera Maya Resorts

Here are the best family-friendly resorts in the Riviera Maya area, including Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos.

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.

Best Family-Friendly Resorts in Tulum

Tulum, in contrast, is known for its boutique hotels and eco-friendly lodgings. While Tulum has some all-inclusive resorts, they don’t quite compare to the size and quantity of the Cancun area resorts. Here are some of the best family-friendly resorts in Tulum:

Best new resort

Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya

Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort is a luxurious and family-friendly resort situated on the stunning coastline of Tulum.

With its high-quality amenities, exceptional service, and a wide array of activities, this resort is perfect for families seeking a memorable vacation experience.

Other top choice

Grand Bahia Principe Tulum

Grand Bahia Principe Tulum is a family-oriented resort with spacious accommodations, multiple pools, and a children’s water park.

With various dining options and a dedicated kid’s club, this resort is perfect for families seeking an enjoyable vacation in Tulum.

runner up

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive resort that provides many amenities and activities for families.

While not getting as high of reviews as the other top choices, Dreams offers a kid’s club, a teen’s club, and various on-site dining options.

See other top Dreams resort here.

Both destinations offer many options, from fine dining to casual beachfront eateries. Cancun is known for its international cuisine, while Riviera Maya offers a more diverse selection of local and fusion dishes.

Transportation and Accessibility

Cancun and Riviera Maya are both easily accessible from major airports worldwide. Cancun International Airport is the main hub for the region, with direct flights from North America, Europe, and Latin America.

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.


  • The Cancun Hotel Zone is just a short drive from Cancun International Airport, making it an easy and convenient destination for families.
  • Public buses and taxis are readily available for transportation within the city and to nearby attractions.

Riviera Maya

  • Riviera Maya’s towns and attractions are easily accessible from Cancun International Airport via the main highway, with most destinations less than a two-hour drive away.
  • Car rentals and organized tours are popular options for exploring the region, allowing families to visit multiple attractions at their own pace.
Tulum Beach

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Cancun and Riviera Maya depends on your preferences and priorities. The peak season in both destinations runs from December to April when the weather is warm and dry. However, this is also the busiest time, with larger crowds and higher prices.


  • Spring breakers flock to Cancun during March and April, so if you’re looking for a more family-friendly atmosphere, consider visiting another time.
  • Hurricane season runs from June to November, with the highest risk of storms occurring in September and October. While the weather can be unpredictable, you can often find the best deals during this time.

Riviera Maya

  • The summer months in Riviera Maya tend to be hot and humid, with the chance of occasional rain showers. This can be a good time to visit if you want a more relaxed atmosphere and lower prices.
  • Like Cancun, Riviera Maya’s hurricane season runs from June to November. While there is a higher risk of storms during this time, it can also provide an opportunity to find some of the best deals on accommodations and activities.

Safety and Travel Insurance

Both Cancun and Riviera Maya are considered safe destinations for family travel. However, taking precautions and staying informed about local safety conditions is always important. Follow travel advisories from your home country and exercise caution in crowded tourist areas.

Travel insurance is highly recommended for any trip to Mexico. It’s essential to ensure that your policy covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen events. Investing in a comprehensive travel insurance plan can provide peace of mind and financial protection for your family vacation.

Travel Insurance

Planning a family vacation? Don’t forget to protect your loved ones and your investment with travel insurance from Insubuy.com. Here are some key reasons to choose Insubuy.com for your travel insurance needs:

  1. Comprehensive Coverage: Insubuy.com offers tailored policies for various needs, including medical emergencies and trip cancellations.
  2. Competitive Pricing: Find the perfect balance between coverage and affordability with Insubuy.com’s range of plans.
  3. Easy Online Process: Get a quote, compare plans, and purchase a policy effortlessly through their user-friendly website.
  4. Trusted Reputation: Rely on Insubuy.com’s years of experience and exceptional service in the travel insurance industry.

Secure peace of mind for your family vacation by choosing travel insurance from Insubuy.com today.


Cancun and Riviera Maya are excellent family vacations, offering beautiful beaches, diverse attractions, and a range of accommodation options. Ultimately, the best destination for your family depends on your preferences and priorities. Whether you choose the lively atmosphere of Cancun or the more laid-back vibes of Riviera Maya, you’re sure to have an unforgettable family adventure in Mexico’s stunning Caribbean coast.

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