Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Which Holiday Destination is Better?

By Anna

Jetting off to sunny Mexico is probably what most people want to do right now, and we don’t blame them. With Mexico being such a big country with many amazing cities and towns to explore, you may be wondering what locations to go and visit? Well there’s no need to worry as we’ve got you covered in our Cancun vs Riviera Maya battle!

Cancun and Riviera Maya are tourist hotspots and they both offer great activities to do and famous landmarks to see, but which one is better? In this article, Cancun will be battling it out with Riviera Maya in our vs battle and revealing everything needed to know about these two gorgeous locations’ accommodation, food, nightlife, attractions plus much more before we reveal which one is best.

So, let’s get straight into our Cancun vs Riviera Maya battle, shall we?

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Accommodation:

Cancun is just over an hour’s drive from Riviera Maya and both of these locations lie along the beautiful Caribbean Sea on the Yucatan Peninsula. With hundreds of hotels and hostels in both Cancun and Riviera Maya, let’s take a look at some budget friendly options and all out luxury hotels.

Places to Stay in Cancun:

Celuisma Imperial Laguna: This two-star hotel might be a budget option, but it has everything that’s needed from a hotel including close proximity the beach, an outdoor pool and a golf club on the doorstep! Choose from either a twin room with kitchen facilities, double rooms and suites.

The Ritz-Carlton: For a luxury stay how about The Ritz located in hotel zone? Yes, this is the luxury option but trust us when we say that it’s not unaffordable and ridiculously priced. At this hotel you’ll get access to the hotels own beach, over 7 restaurants, a spa and three pools! The rooms are spectacular too with a choice of up to five different rooms! The only downside? It’s not an inclusive resort!

cancun hotel
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Places to Stay in Riviera Maya:

Las Golondrinas Hotel: Situated in Playa Del Carmen, this three-star hotel has everything that a hotel room needs. There are two clean outdoor pools, a spa and it sits close to the Caribbean Sea. The rooms have their own kitchens in so if on a budget this will also save you money by not having to eat out.

Hard Rock: The Hard Rock Hotel In Tulum is one of a few inclusive resorts in Tulum. This four-star hotel is cheaper than you might think, especially for being an inclusive resort! Choose from over 9 restaurants, two spas, shops, a golf course, its own private beach and four swimming pools! There’s also a choice of 11 rooms – good luck picking one!

Riviera Maya hotel
Image by VViktor from Pixabay

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Prices

With both of these places being major tourist destinations for people all over the world, you may expect one place to be more expensive than the other. But the matter of fact is that Cancun can be cheaper than Riviera Maya for some things and Riviera Maya can be cheaper than Cancun for others.

So, let’s take a closer look at where your Mexican Pesos can stretch further!

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Restaurants: Prices for food in Playa Del Carmen are very reasonable. Beachfront and 5th Avenue will be the more touristy and slightly more expensive places. In general places from 10th Avenue to 30th Avenue give you more local prices. Food in Cancun is more expensive than Riviera Maya in its central locations. If you like fast food, then this will be cheaper to buy in Cancun rather than a sit-down meal.

Transport: Depending on how far out you’re going, taxis generally tend to be more expensive in Riviera Maya than Cancun but that’s not to say that these taxi’s overcharge compared to other areas in the world. If the taxi price is unaffordable then a bus is the next best option. This bus is around the same price in both areas. This bus is around the same price in both areas and many drivers are speakers of English.

Hotels: Of course, like anywhere, the price of the hotel depends on which location you’re staying in. There are more budget hotels in Cancun than Riviera Maya and this is because most hotels in Riviera Maya will be close to beach or the hotel will have private access to the beach, whereas in Cancun it’s a bit more urbanised than Riviera Maya meaning that the hotels might not be as close to the beach. However, luxury resorts in Cancun will be more expensive than Riviera Maya as they’re situated right in hotel zone.

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pesos mexico
Image by Emilio Meza from Pixabay

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Food

Food glorious food, something that most people will look forward to on holiday, especially trying out local cuisine, and trust us when we say that once you’ve taken a bite of a fajita in Mexico, it will never quite taste the same when back at home!

So, let’s take a look at the best three restaurants in both Cancun and Riviera Maya.

Cancun Food:

Hacienda El Mortero: This yummy Mexican restaurant is just an eight-minute drive from hotel zone, and if hungry then we suggest having a starter, main and dessert? There’s so much authentic food on this menu including tortilla soup, guacamole basket, fajitas, enchiladas, tacos and a three-milk cake, plus so much more – our stomachs are rumbling just thinking about it.

Lorenzillo’s: Just a two-minute walk from hotel zone, Lorenzillo’s has something for everyone. From starters, mains and desserts to hot food, cold food and specials. If fish and meat is what you like, then get a table booked now! Choose from crab cakes, calamari rings, deep fried shrimp, lobster linguine, steak, chicken, ice cream and chocolate cake, plus lots more.

cancun food
Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Riviera Maya Food:

Azul: Who doesn’t love a buffet dinner? Fill up your plates, go and get more and then enjoy the stunning view at the Azul restaurant which overlooks the beautiful beach. The buffet is a global cuisine so if there’s any fussy eaters, take them here! The food served is grilled hamburgers, sushi, pasta and pizza to croissant sandwiches, fresh fish, burritos and tacos, plus much more.

Cocina de Autor: For a more sophisticated dining experience, Cocina de Autor will serve up a delicious fine dining menu! This menu isn’t as big as the others and it’s more to do about tasting the flavours than filling your belly with food but still, not a restaurant to be missed. On the menu is prawn, smoked cream and honeydew mole, pork, cactus and chamomile, catch of the day, white recado and Yucatán lime, basil, coconut and grapefruit – plus a few more.

buffet food
Photo by Ulysse Pointcheval on Unsplash

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Beaches

With an average yearly temperature in both Cancun and Riviera Maya reaching 29 degrees, this makes going to the beach any month of the year enjoyable. With both locations situated on the Caribbean coastline, deciding which place is better in our vs battle is going to be a difficult one judging it on beaches.

Let’s take a closer look at the two best beaches in Cancun.

Cancun Beaches:

Gaviota Azul: Located in hotel zone and situated just behind the Coco Bongo nightclub, this beach really is picturesque and beautiful. The long wide strip of beach has soft white sand and turquoise clear water that’s perfect for taking out a kayak, bodyboard or even just chilling on a lilo over the calm sea waves. Behind the beach is a shopping mall and restaurants, so when hunger kicks in, it’s just a short walk to get some food.

Playa Marlin: This beach is just a nine-minute drive from hotel zone and just like the Gaviota Azul beach, this one also has white sand and stunning blue water. This beach is friendly for families and it also has toilet and shower facilities, so there’s no need to get back to the hotel room to wash all of the sand and salt away.

Cancun beach
Photo credit: Mariamichelle via Pixabay

Riviera Maya Beaches:

Playa Akumal: A stunning beach that’s popular with locals and tourists. The Playa Akumal beach has crystal-clear water and white sugar sand that’s surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants. This beach is great for snorkelling where you’ll most likely see a wide variety of fish, star fish and maybe even turtles!

Playa Paraiso: This beach is located in Tulum and just like the others, it really is beautiful. Another beach with white sand, palm trees and water which is five shades of blue. There are restaurants situated around this area and the beach has sun beds to use, unfortunately these are only available to hire out for a small fee.

mexico beach
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Attractions

Mexico has a whole variety of different things to see and do, even if there’s a budget involved, there’s always something to do. If the budget is just under the price of the activity, then it’s always worth trying to haggle the price down a few Pesos.

Cancun Attractions:

Cancun aquarium: Our budget friendly option is the aquarium, which is located inside the La Isla shopping village, so after all the shopping is done you can then go to the aquarium. The aquarium offers different packages depending on what the budget can stretch to, but we would recommend buying the interactive ticket which will allow time to learn about aquatic species and get to see the different aquatic species too.

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Dolphin Discovery: For anyone with a bit more of a budget to splash, the dolphin discovery activity is must-do! This attraction isn’t overly expensive but it’s not super cheaper either. There are a range of different packages varying in price. On this day out, you’ll get to swim with dolphins, touch them and learn more about them!

Image by Simon H. from Pixabay

Riviera Maya Attractions:

Tulum Mayan ruins: Our budget option for Riviera Maya are the Tulum Mayan ruins, also known as the Archeological Zone of Tulum which are situated in the east of Quintana Roo. These ruins face the Caribbean Sea, so this trip is like having two days out in one! Tickets for this attraction are extremely cheap for such a cultural trip but prices may rise with a tour guide.

Xel-Há Park: This attraction is for anyone out there that loves water! The Xel-Há Park is the biggest aquatic theme park and ecotourism development in the world. In this park you’re able to snorkel and see tropical fish and rocks, zip wire into the water, go down a lazy river and go down a 131 feet winding slide! The entry ticket also includes use of bikes, free refillable soft drinks all day and a free buffet lunch that’s available to use all day too!

Tulum ruin
Photo credit: Sebastian Gómez via Unsplash

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Nightlife

Going out for a night on the town is always a fun one, especially when it’s not your hometown and don’t know what to expect. Mexico can be cheap for alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks depending on location but to ensure that Mexico stands high in the best nightlife list, we’ve got the best places to get your dancing shoes on!

Cancun Nightlife:

Coco Bongo: If you haven’t heard of Coco Bongo then get straight to Google as this club takes the traditional meaning to crazy new levels! Coco Bongo isn’t a traditional dancing nightclub, instead inside projected videos, balloons, soap bubbles and confetti can be found as well as dancers and performers! Fun Fact – this club is also owned by Jim Carrey!

Hunter bar: A lively bar with a great atmosphere situated near hotel zone. This bar is popular with travellers due to its friendly and welcoming atmosphere from locals. Get the party started by having a couple of beverages whilst listening to music and playing ping pong! After dark there will be a DJ to keep the party going.

nightclub Cancun
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Riviera Maya Nightlife:

Playa crawl: This nightclub is situated in Playa Del Carmen and is open seven day a week! The entrance fee to this club will include 5 hours of unlimited drinks as well as unlimited bottle service which will incur an extra charge. This is a great place to go out with friends and have a good night. As Playa crawl offer unlimited drinks for five hours, please remember to drink responsibly!

Kitxen: Kitxen is a bar and a live music venue which is popular with locals. This is a great place to come for a couple of drinks whilst sitting back and enjoying the live music entertainment. The bar has indoor and outdoor seating and serves a wide variety of alcoholic drinks such as cocktails, beer, shots, spirts and wine as well as non-alcoholic drinks including coke, lemonade and juice drinks.

Photo credit: rubyriojano via Pixabay

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: Where is Better?

So, as you’ve read, both of these locations have a lot of pros and not that many cons about them which makes both places great to visit, however as we have to choose one we would say that Cancun is better if being in a busy city is what you like as Cancun has a bigger population than Riviera Maya by almost double.

Cancun is home to some super impressive hotels and beaches and being in a big city means you’re closer to more of the action with more things to see and do. Just because we’ve picked Cancun that doesn’t mean that Riviera Maya isn’t a good place to visit!

If the quiet life is more for you then Riviera Maya is the better place! Nestled away out of the hustle and bustle of city life, Riviera Maya is a great place to relax on the beach and take it easy.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article then please a comment in the box below. If Mexico seems like a good destination for your next holiday then how about going to Cozumel?

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James Ardimento has spent the last 12 years journeying around the globe ! With its precious experiences and tips he gained around Asia, South America, Europe and the US he is a precious asset for this blog and for its readers