Why is Playa del Carmen better than Cancun
Even those who do not know anything about Mexico, they have heard of the fact that Cancun, together with Acapulco and Los Cabos are the most famous holiday destinations in Mexico. All three of them are lovely even though in a very different way.
Anyway, I spent 3 days in Cancun and while there are many things to really love about it, I am still a little bit confused about Cancun.
But then I went to Playa del Carmen (as well in Quintana Roo, one of the 32 states of Mexico) which is only 45 minutes from Cancun in the area called the Mayan Riviera and I spent almost 2 weeks there. So 3 days in Cancun and 2 weeks in Playa del Carmen, it says something, right?
The truth is that if I had to choose again between Cancun and some other place close by, I’d prefer Playa del Carmen. I don’t say you should not visit Cancun. On the contrary, Cancun has a lot to offer, too. And I would not recommend you not to pay a visit to Cancun, as you really should to see the difference by yourself.
Tourists and Americanisation
Cancun is probably the most Americanised place in Mexico – everywhere you go, you will find the US people. Absolutely everywhere around you there’s the American English accent. Not that I don’t like it because I really do, but if you go on holidays to Mexico, I guess you would like to hear some funny Mexican Spanish instead. If you want to feel like in the US, then go and visit. And please, if I come to Cancun and I talk to you in Spanish, do not answer me in English if you are Mexican! What’s the point?!
Playa del Carmen is a bit Americanised too in comparison with most of the Mexican towns, but still less than Cancun. Many nationalities come to Playa del Carmen so it looks more multicultural. At least you hear more languages around. However, both Cancun and Playa del Carmen are extremely touristic so don’t expect a quiet forgotten place, not even in Playa del Carmen which is quickly becoming more touristy.
The Americanisation causes the prices are higher in these two towns than in the rest of Mexico. Easily you can pay both in the US dollars and Mexican pesos. Obviously, Playa del Carmen being smaller and less touristic, is a bit cheaper than Cancun – cheaper food, accommodation, taxis, just everything.
I find the atmosphere nicer in Playa del Carmen than in Cancun. I’d say more friendly in Playa and a bit more snobbish in Cancun. Cancun is visited mostly by the US families and groups of young people – Spring breakers going there just to party, drink, party, drink and once again the same. However, Playa del Carmen is full of different kinds of people, including many young travelers/backpackers like us. But how many solo/budget backpackers would get an all inclusive holidays in one of the top hotels in Cancun?
Playa del Carmen with its 150,000 inhabitants in 2010 is much smaller than Cancun (more than 600,000 in 2010) so it is easier to move through Playa. The streets are all numbered in an easy way to remember. You can walk whole Playa del Carmen and get to know it well very easily.
The main street is the 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida in Spanish) and it is parallel to the sea shore and full of small hotels, shops, souvenirs, rentals, travel agencies, banks, restaurants (Mexican, Italian, Japanese etc), simply said with anything a tourist/traveler needs. More hotels are situated between the 5a Avenida and the beach. And the main bus station is just a few minutes walking from the beach, too.
If you want to see the life of the locals, in Playa del Carmen you can just head off to 30th North Avenue (Treinta Avenida Norte) which is just 5 streets from the 5th (10, 15, 20, 25, 30) but not crowded with tourists. And It has a Walmart shopping centre and the best restaurants with healthy food as well. I was there every day at least once.
But in Cancun, if you’d like to dig deeper into the local life, you would have to take a bus or an expensive taxi to the town centre which can be up to even 30 km from the hotel zone (Kukulcan Avenue) at the beach.
I heard almost no tourists go there, and I have to say that during my 3 days in Cancun, the only non-Mexicans in the Cancun centre was me and my friend. But the souvenirs in there are so much cheaper than closer to the beach and easily you can run into a local fiesta.
No need to find the public entrances/exits to and from the beach in Playa del Carmen as you can choose any of the streets going to the beach – numbered 2,4,6,8,10 etc.
In Cancun there is just nine public exits with no other possibility to get to the beach, unless you stay in a hotel at the beach. In Playa del Carmen, the hotels are not next to each other so between the hotels you can just pass to the beach without any problems. And if you get hungry at the beach in Playa, within 5 minutes walking you can find restaurants to order a meal. But in Cancun it’s more difficult.
Are you a lover of snorkel and scuba diving? Then Playa del Carmen is better than Cancun as it is closer to the 2nd biggest coral reef in the world – Cozumel island. You can take a ferry at Avenida Juarez (actually the street number 1) to get to Cozumel on your own and there for example try snorkel/scuba diving in Chankanaab National Park. Watching the underwater statues will be definitely an experience to remember.
Playa del Carmen is a lovely place to visit and enjoy. In my humble opinion, and in the opinion of many Mexicans I talked to, Playa del Carmen is better than Cancun in many ways, it’s cheaper, less snobbish, more friendly, easy walkable and close to some great interesting places, such as the biggest world aquarium Xel-ha, really hot Tulum ruins at the beach or Coba ruins in the jungle.