So, it’s a toss-up between Cancun and Riviera Maya. First and foremost, don’t be too concerned about the option you choose. Both entice people to the warm seas of the Mexican Caribbean, where palms sway in the trade breezes and the waters are azure blue.
They all provide R&R and tequila-soaked parties, as well as some very beautiful hotels and resort stays on the water’s edge. You just can’t go wrong in these places.
However, if you only have enough vacation time to visit one, be sure to read this guide. Cancun will compete with the Riviera Maya in this category.
We’ll tell you all you need to know about these two stunning destinations, with a focus on their beaches, major attractions, buzzy nightlife scenes, and top hotels.
Let’s get started and discover which one best suits YOU.
Riviera Maya Vs. Cancun: Pros & Cons
Cancun vs Riviera Maya: General vibe
First and foremost, we must distinguish between Cancun and the Riviera Maya. One is a significant city with a resort sector on the Yucatan Peninsula’s northern tip. That’s Cancun for you. The other is a whole stretch of Mexican Caribbean shoreline that stretches for 85 miles from tip to tail. This is the Riviera Maya.
So, if you choose to stay in Cancun, you are choosing to remain in a single town. However, you may select between distinct areas – such as Centro and the South Hotel Zone. If you choose the Riviera, you will have an option of approximately ten separate villages, not to mention the entire island of Cozumel.
Furthermore, each site on the Riviera Maya has its own personality. Tulum, for example, is ultra-chic and flashy these days, yet Puerto Morelos retains the allure of a laid-back Mexicana fishing community.
Basically, Cancun will always be Cancun. It’s a spring break resort full of hotels, pubs, and spring break clubs.
That’s what you get, whether you like it or not. Riviera Maya, on the other hand, has a variety of resorts, some of which are quiet, some of which are active. And some are even quirky or luxurious. You can switch between them or stick to one that provides the feel you want.
Verdict: Riviera Maya is the clear winner since there is so much to see and do there.
Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Accommodation
Booking.com has a staggering 921 hotels available in Cancun. The majority of them may be found in the designated Hotel Zone. That’s the city’s most popular district, and it’s the one you’ll want to keep an eye on when it comes to booking. It is shaped like a 7 and travels east and then south from the center.
Punta Cancun is the nightlife nerve hub. Further south, you’ll find calmer, more opulent all-inclusive resorts. For budget-conscious travelers, we recommend the Celuisma Imperial Laguna. However, nothing beats The Ritz-luxury Carlton — imagine a private beach, seven restaurants, and a private spa.
Booking.com has almost 2,000 hotels along the Riviera Maya’s entire length. There’s a little more variation in this section. Yes, in the big tourist cities of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, you may find the typical all-inclusive resort with enormous infinity pools.
There’s even room for offbeat eco-hotels like the rustic-chic Papaya Playa Project or the Scandi-chic Copal Tulum Hotel, which has lush jungle gardens and a breezy rooftop.
There are also hostels for genuine budget travelers and Mexican homestays that place you in the more residential portions of towns like Tulum, although seldom close to the best beaches.
Verdict: Riviera Maya came out on top. Again, it’s all about diversity.
Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Nightlife
Spring break in Cancun…it reads like a bucket list item! Seriously, this one ranks among Ibiza, Cabo, and all the other major worldwide party places. It’s usually boisterous and chaotic. Coco Bongo is unquestionably the leader of the charge.
It’s a club unlike any other, with projected movies, balloons, soap bubbles, and confetti barely scratching the surface of what goes on inside on a typical night. Oh, and it’s also owned by Jim Carrey!
Other amazing venues include The City and Mandala, although there are plenty of pubs and other entertainment options to keep you entertained late at night.
The Riviera Maya features numerous hot locations as well as other laid-back beach communities. In cold Puerto Morelos, for example, you won’t be glugging tequilas to sunup. That is, however, entirely doable if you are able to secure a spot on the Playa Crawl in Playa del Carmen.
Alternatively, there’s a more low-key nightlife in places like Kitxen, where dancing, mezcal drinks, and mingling with the locals are the order of the day.
Verdict: Cancun is the winner. It’s one of the world’s most famous party cities.
Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Attractions
Cancun is primarily a resort town, and it excels at it. The Cancun Aquarium is a good example of a low-cost attraction. It’s inside the La Isla Shopping Village and provides a look at some wonderful local aquatic life. Furthermore, Cancun is an excellent starting point for treks deeper into the Yucatan. Day visits to the cenotes or even the UNESCO-listed Chichen Itza are therefore possible. Most packages include hotel pickup and drop-off. Easy!
The Riviera Maya likewise boasts a terrific choice of family attractions, but it is complemented with a lot of nature. The most important thing to do is visit Xel-Ha Park. With zip lines, swimming cenotes, and lagoons teeming with tropical fish, it’s the ideal blend of the wild and the pleasure.
We’d also add that the Tulum Mayan ruins are breathtaking. They face the Caribbean Sea from the Tulum Archeological Zone and are unlike anything else in the world, even with a constant stream of Instagrammers!
Verdict: Because Cancun is more of a self-contained resort, the winner is Riviera Maya.
Cancun vs Riviera Maya: For families
Are you planning a trip to Mexico with your family? The reality is that both of these locations are excellent choices. They have a plethora of hotels, including some of the greatest family hotels in the country, located on the Caribbean Sea.
Cancun’s entire Hotel Zone includes accommodations suitable for the entire group, although we recommend avoiding the uber-lively section of Punta Cancun, which may become overwhelmed with spring break revelers throughout February and March.
The beaches on the north side of the Hotel Zone, as well as the condos in Puerto Cancun, are better options.
However, we believe that the Riviera Maya is a superior overall choice for families. It has roughly ten distinct places to choose from, each with differing levels of vitality but none with the same hedonistic overdose that spring break in Cancun brings.
In these locations, we think cool Puerto Morelos, Punta Maroma, and the more expensive gated town of Playacar are ideal for family tourists (for villas).
Verdict: Because it is calmer during spring break, Riviera Maya is the most family-friendly alternative.