Cancun vs Riviera Maya
¿What is the best vacation destination? Differences you need to know before traveling
Choosing between Cancun or Riviera Maya is one of the most common
decisions among travelers who want to visit the Mexican Caribbean, even
though both destinations are only an hour apart, each one has its own
identity with qualities that make them unique and different.
It’s not new that Cancun is surrounded from north to south by the imposing
Caribbean Sea, however, far from being in competition with the Riviera Maya,
Cancun complements itself by offering different experiences to its visitors.
Both places are quite different. It all depends on what you are looking for and
your interests when traveling. Don’t worry, in this article we will explain the differences so that you can choose
your next destination, Let’s start with Cancun:
Where is Cancun located?
Cancun is located northeast of the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico). It’s made up of
two distinct areas:
• The more traditional downtown area
• The Zona Hotelera
Why visit Cancun?
Cancun is one of the most beautiful cities, due to its incredible nature and its
architecture that has become a tourist area over time.
The city has luxury hotels on the beachfront, tall buildings, shopping malls, luxury
fashion stores and entertainment venues that make Cancun a dynamic place
where fun and partying are guaranteed.
Cancun is more about cement than nature. The beaches, despite offering a
splendid contrast between the turquoise color and white sand of the Caribbean
Sea, are characterized by being very crowded.
As you move south towards the Riviera Maya, hotels transform into large resorts
and nature is much more abundant and spectacular.
What to do in Cancun?
Cancun is a city with many activities. It’s a unique opportunity to enjoy the life of
sun and beach at the same time.
In addition to excursions and cultural activities, Cancun stands out for being a
tourist center with shopping malls, restaurant areas and nightlife.
We leave you some of the best activities to do in Cancun or in areas near the city:
• Swim with whale sharks
There is no experience like swimming with whale sharks. In Cancun you can find
this incredible and enigmatic tour.
This tour departs from Puerto Juárez to reach Isla Contoy and thus be able to
enjoy this experience.
• Isla Mujeres
One of the most striking islands in Mexico thanks to coral formations, the variety
of multicolored fish and crystal clear turquoise waters. You can see dolphins and
sharks, you can also snorkel and visit the beautiful reefs.
This excursion can also be done from other areas of Riviera Maya, such as Playa
• Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA)
The Cancun Museum of Underwater Art (MUSA) is one of the most successful
conservation projects in the world, it has quickly become one of the main
attractions in Cancun.
It’s the perfect place to have the best diving or snorkeling experience in Cancun,
the MUSA has more than 450 life-size sculptures that you will be able to see face
to face on your diving or snorkeling tour in Cancun.
• Zona Hotelera
One of the advantages of staying in a hotel within the Hotel Zone is the variety of
places and activities you can visit.
From an infinity of beach options for sunbathing, visiting shopping centers such
as Plaza La Isla, where you will find many department stores, restaurants and
activities such as visiting the aquarium, entering a wax museum, enjoying a
spinning wheel and much more. .
You can also enjoy its famous “Party Center”, an area within the Hotel Zone ideal
for partying. There you can find different places to enjoy the night such as Coco
Bongo, Mandala Beach Club, The City and many others.
Now that you know a little about Cancun and its activities, it’s time to talk about
Where is Riviera Maya located?
The Riviera Maya is a tourist area that extends along the coast of the Caribbean
Sea in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It covers from the town of Isla Blanca
to Punta Allen.
It has around 405 international class hotels. Most of them are complexes with an
“All Inclusive” system.
Why visit Riviera Maya?
The Riviera Maya is the ideal place to relax, enjoy the tranquility on paradisiacal
beaches, discover an impressive nature and drink from the Mayan culture.
The green color has a greater presence due to the large expanses of jungle, as
well as an extensive list of cenotes, underground rivers and exotic landscapes
that complement the beautiful crystalline beaches of the Caribbean Sea.
Like Cancun, you can find restaurants, nightclubs, shopping areas on the
emblematic Fifth Avenue of Playa del Carmen, because it is only 21 minutes
away, you can visit and enjoy these activities. A plus of the Riviera Maya that is worth mentioning are the ecological parks that
are found there, such as the famous Xcaret park and many others.
The Riviera Maya is a set of attractions distributed in a rural and natural tourist
corridor, unlike Cancun and its renowned Hotel Zone.
Both Cancun and the Riviera Maya coincide in having beautiful turquoise blue
beaches and large expanses of white sand, paradisiacal coasts that will allow you
to do endless activities.
What to do in Riviera Maya?
• Chichen Itza
The city of Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan city in the world. It’s located in
the state of Yucatán, 128 km from Mérida in the direction of Cancun, and receives
more than a million tourists each year, making it the second most visited
archaeological zone in Mexico. It’s an activity that you cannot miss.
The Mayan ruins of Tulum consist of a walled city founded in the 6th century on a
cliff. It is currently a great tourist attraction in the Riviera Maya.
Tulum boasts Playa Paraíso or Boca Paila, white sand beaches and hundreds of
shades of turquoise that shine in the sun that will also leave you impressed.
• Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is a Mexican port city on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan
Peninsula. It is located between the tourist centers of Cancun and Playa del
Carmen in the Riviera Maya.
It has crystal clear waters, animal sanctuaries and ecotourism parks. In this small
city you can also do different activities such as snorkeling in the second largest
coral reef in the world, visit the craft market, restaurants, shops and much more.
Xcaret is a park with more than 50 attractions where you can enjoy nature and
culture. In it you will enjoy underground rivers, a beach area, a lagoon and natural
pools of sea water.
It’s only 11 minutes away, so there is no excuse not to visit it.
How to choose between Cancun and the Riviera Maya?
As you may have noticed after reading the entire article, the differences between
Riviera Maya and Cancun are minimal, in fact only 70 kilometers separate the
center of Cancun from Playa de Carmen, the point where all the Riviera hotels are
As mentioned above, from Riviera Maya you can access the most important
tourist spots more quickly, although you can also reach them if you decide to
vacation in Cancun, the only thing that changes is the distances.
We consider that Cancun is perfect for vacationing and having fun, while the
Riviera Maya is the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature quietly, although of
course, you can also have fun if you decide to vacation in this place.
It also has to do a lot about the offers, the options and the travel plan you want.
If you still have doubts about which destination to visit, we suggest that you do
not limit yourself to a single option, since enjoying both sites is possible through
our tours, which will allow you to discover the main tourist attractions of both.
Don’t wait any longer and get to know these incredible places!