Map: Cancun and Riviera Maya activities

MapChick's famous maps & travel guides

Nightlife

#1: Cancun

There are four large nightclubs plus dozens of party bars and lounges within a quick bus ride of Cancun's hotels. There are also dozens of nightclubs and lounges in the downtown area, but these are intended more for local residents.

The main Cancun nightclubs are:

Coco Bongo

The City

Palazzio

Dady'O


#2: Playa del Carmen

(Including nearby Playacar resorts)

Playa has one large nightclub (Coco Bongo), plus several smaller clubs, plus dozens of party bars, and lounges.

Other options:

Nightlife in other areas is much more laid-back—mainly small lounges that offer live music at night.
Cancun
hotel zone
Playa del Carmen
& Playacar

Evening strolls

#1: Playa del Carmen

(Including nearby Playacar resorts)

A pedestrian-only street— lined with boutique shops, restaurants, and lounges—runs runs parallel to the beach for nearly two miles.

Each evening it's lined with tourists out for a beautiful evening stroll.


#2: Isla Mujeres

A pedestrian-only street runs five blocks through the heart of the downtown area. It is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, and lounges. But, this isn't the only place for a stroll. The entire downtown area has very little vehicle traffic and is perfect for an evening walk.

#3: Cancun and Cancun city

The best area for a stroll is La Isla Shopping Village, an open-air plaza built around a Venitian-style canal. The entire plaza is lined with shops, restaurants, and lounges.

Another option is a tour through the Punta Cancun party zone. It's loud, with bright lights, and a nearly endless parade of partyers heading to the clubs.

Downtown Cancun offers Palapas Park. An area popular with local families on weekends. This is a stroll we really enjoy. (More information on our Cancun map and travel guide.)


#4: Cozumel

Downtown Cozumel (named San Miguel) is a great place for a stroll, but many of the shops close when the cruise ships depart. Restaurants and lounges within a few blocks of the main plaza remain open late.

Other options:

Some of the more remote destinations are too dark, and/or deserted, for a comfortable evening stroll. Destinations like Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras, and Tulum city have small areas where you can enjoy an evening walk.
Cancun
hotel zone
Downtown
Cancun city
Playa del Carmen
& Playacar
Cozumel

Shopping

#1: Playa del Carmen

(also includes nearby Playacar)
Playa has a pedestrian-only street that runs parallel to the beachfront for nearly two miles. The entire stretch is lined with boutique shops.

Along avenue 30 you'll find WalMart and an upscale Mexican chain, MEGA.

There are also two small malls and a Sam's Club located a short taxi ride into town.


#2: Cancun

Plaza La Isla is the main shopping (and strolling) area. It is crowded with tourists each evening. There are four malls in the Cancun hotel zone, but none of them are overly impressive (Plaza Kukulcan is the nicest among these). Cancun's largest mall, Plaza Las Americas, is located downtown. It is a modern, sprawling shopping and entertainment center like you'd find in most major cities.

For souvenir shopping, there are several flea markets filled with booths in the heart of the hotel zone, but again, the best shopping can be found downtown (at Mercado 23).

Also located downtown are Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Home Depot, Office Max, Office Depot, several large grocery stores, and an incredible wine/liquor store named La Europea.


#3: Cozumel (by day)

By day, the downtown oceanfront is buzzing with shoppers searching the jewelry stores and souvenir shops. Most of these stores close in the evening, after the cruise ships have departed.

We enjoy strolling through the local market, located a few blocks inland from the tourist zone. There is also a new Sam's Club located a taxi ride from the tourist area.


Other options:

All but the most remote destinations have souvenir shops and at least a small grocery store nearby.
Cancun
hotel zone
Downtown
Cancun city
Playa del Carmen
& Playacar
Cozumel

Scuba Diving

#1: Cozumel

Some of the world's most incredible reefs are found along the western shore of the island.

Columbia reef—famous for towering columns of reef that rise from the ocean floor like skyscrapers—is located at the southern end of the island, accessible only by boat.

If you are not a certified diver, you can still explore under the sea on a Discover Scuba tour—a closely supervised, shallow dive, offered by most dive shops.


#2: Playa del Carmen

Most dive sites are spread out along the coastline to the north and south of Playa and are accessable mainly by boat.

Many of the reefs around Playa del Carmen are at depths that make it perfect for beginner and intermediate divers.


#3: Cancun

Cancun's best reefs are farther from shore than those of Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. Among the reefs are several shipwrecks.

One highlight for divers is the man-made MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte). This project consists of hundreds of sculptures placed on the ocean floor to slowly be covered in corals and become part of the reef system.

Silencio Evolution (Silent Evolution) is an army of over 400 human statues that rest silently at the bottom of the sea.


Other options:

Every destination along the Yucatan coast has access to beautiful diving reefs.

The main difference you'll find is the number of dive shop options available in smaller cities as opposed to Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.

Cancun
hotel zone
Playa del Carmen
& Playacar
Cozumel
Akumal

Snorkeling

#1: Akumal

Akumal bay is famous for the sea turtles that graze the sandy bottom looking for patches of sea grass to nibble on. You can snorkel this area from shore on your own (complete instructions can be found in our Riviera Maya map and travel guide), or hire one of the guides that walk the beach.

Yal-Ku lagoon is a natural ocean inlet with easy access into the water. You'll enjoy a variety of colorful fish in the clear, calm, water.

Note: Some areas in Yal-Ku lagoon will have an oily appearance. This is called a haloclyne and occurs where cold, fresh water meets warm, salt water.


#2: Isla Mujeres

Boats depart for El Farito (The Lighthouse) throughout the day. The reef is only a few hundred feet from shore, and tours typically cost less than $25us per person.

Another snorkeling spot is Garrafón de Castillo, where you can snorkel from shore for a small admission fee. Purchase fish food and you'll be swarmed by a colorful assortment of marine life.

You can also visit the MUSA underwater statue park, a short boat ride from the island (more information in the Scuba diving section of this page); or visit the pristine reefs located north of the island—often included as part of a Contoy island day-trip.


#3: Puerto Morelos

Several tours from Cancun actually take you by bus to Puerto Morelos where you'll board a boat to visit the shallow reefs. You can also catch a smaller, more personal tour from the main dock in Puerto Morelos, where snorkel boat captains wait for tourists to randomly show up throughout the day.

Other options:

Nearly every destination along the coast will have boat tours to a nice snorkeling reef.
Isla Mujeres
Puerto Morelos
Akumal

Laid-back

#1: Tulum

The beaches of Tulum are lined with small hotels and cabañas. Because there are no large resorts, you'll have the sand almost to yourself in most areas.

Most hotels do not have electricity and are powered by generators; some turn off the power after a certain time at night. There are no streetlights in the area, so you'll definitely want to bring along a good flashlight.


#2: Isla Mujeres

A totally different experience from Tulum (shown above). Isla Mujeres is more modern and developed, but it still has that laid-back charm that makes the island totally relaxing.

#3: Akumal

Modern facilities in an extremely laid-back atmosphere. In fact, there are only a few things to do in Akumal. Among them: Snorkeling, dining, and relaxing.

#4: Puerto Morelos

Modern ammenities, but very laid-back and quiet. Most restaurants and attractions are within one-block of the town square.

Note: The beach at Puerto Morelos are crowded on weekends and holidays, when families from Cancun visit to enjoy their day off work.


Other options:

The following areas are also laid-back, but a little too remote for our preferences (we prefer to have some entertainment options within walking distance).

• Bahia Petempich

• Punta Maroma

• Punta Bete

• Paamul

• Xpu-Ha

• Tankah

Isla Mujeres
Bahia Petempich
Puerto Morelos
Punta Maroma
Punta Bete
Paamul
Puerto Aventuras
XpuHa
Akumal
Tankah
Tulum
Tulum City

Trendy

#1: Playa del Carmen

Popular with European tourists, many of whom stay in Playa to open restaurants, boutique shops, and beach clubs. The result is an entire area (often called Little Italy) lined with trendy restaurants and lounges. The influence has also spread onto the beach, where lounging beds have replaced plastic lounge chairs at many beach clubs.

#2: Tulum

The beachfront area is trendy in a most unique manner. Many of the hotels are billed as"eco-cabañas," which are nothing more than rustic, thatched-roof huts with a few modern touches. You'll pay a lot of money for the experience, but everyone we've spoken with has loved their stay in these small huts on what we consider the most beautiful stretch of beach.

A lot of wealthy Europeans visit this area. Most beach area restaurants are trendy, upscale, and expensive.

For a more Mexican experience, you'll need to visit nearby Tulum city.

Other options:

There are dozens of trendy resorts along the coast, including some in Cancun.
Playa del Carmen
& Playacar
Tulum

Budget areas

#1: Playa del Carmen

With over 100 hotels, Playa has an option for every budget. At the low end are the youth hostels, available for $10 to $15us per person (look before you pay. Most are clean, but a few are real dumps).

Private rooms are available starting at about $40us; we prefer rooms in the $60 to $70us price range. Of course, the farther you are from the beach (we're talking several blocks, not several miles) the better the bargains.

There are plenty of inexpensive dining options away from the beach and main tourist street.


#2: Cancun city

A lot of hotel options, but all of them will require a bus ride to the beach.

Accomodations available: Youth hostels that charge $10 to $15us per person; private rooms in the $40 to $60us range; and upscale hotels in the $100us plus range.

Budget dining options are excellent, with plenty of inexpensive taco shops and fast-food style restaurants.


#3: Isla Mujeres

The island has one hostel and dozens of inexpensive hotels. Expect to pay $40 to $60 for a hotel room located in downtown within a few blocks of the beach.

Dining options for those on a budget are also available (many of them are among our favorite places to eat).


Other options:

Puerto Morelos has a few budget hotels, however they fill up quickly in high season.

Tulum city and Cozumel also have budget offerings, but at both locations, you are quite a distance from the beach.

Paamul offers camping spots near the beach for those willing to rough it.

Isla Mujeres
Downtown
Cancun city
Puerto Morelos
Playa del Carmen
& Playacar
Cozumel
Paamul
Tulum City

Remote areas

We have no absolute favorites in this category, mainly because each destination is rather unique.

Isla Blanca

Most resorts in this remote area are elegant and high-priced. There are some remote rental properties north of this area, and also some cute, rustic cabañas for rent.

Taxi rides into Cancun are expensive, but readily available.


Punta Bete

This area is remote, with several all-inclusive resorts, a small hotel, and some cute cabañas just off the beach. Playa del Carmen is a short distance to the south. The drive takes about 30-minutes by taxi, but we have walked the distance during daylight hours.

Paamul

This is mainly a recreational vehicle park where residents live year-around. On the beach is a small hotel and several cute, cabañas. Camping sites are also available. The nearest city is Puerto Aventuras, but you'll have to phone for a taxi.

Tankah

Two remote coves. There are several small hotels, dozens of rental homes, and a few excellent restaurants. When staying in Tankah, we feel that a rental car is almost a necessity, although you can phone for taxis from the nearby city of Tulum.
Isla Blanca &
Playa Mujeres
Punta Maroma
Paamul
Bahia Petempich
Punta Bete
Tankah
Isla Blanca/
Playa Mujeres
Isla Mujeres
Cancun
hotel zone
Cancun city
Bahia Petempich
Puerto Morelos
Punta Maroma
Punta Bete
Playa del Carmen & Playacar
Cozumel
Paamul
Puerto Aventuras
XpuHa
Akumal
Tankah
Tulum
Tulum City
Some activities on this list are more important than others in regard to choosing a resort area. For example, our recommendations for snorkeling show what we consider to be the ultimate experiences, but the novice snorkeler will find a great tour available regardless of where they stay.

Other activities could be more important to you. The ability to go for an evening stroll is near the top of our list. It's the reason we don't stay in remote areas.

If nightlife is an important option, there are only two areas where you'll find a selection of nightclubs to make your evenings complete.

Dining is not shown on this list. You'll find excellent food nearby, no matter where you stay.

Click on an activity to see the best locations for:
MapChick's Can-Do maps & travel guides

Don't leave
for vacation
without your
MapChick
maps &
travel guide(s)

MapChick's Can-Do maps & travel guides

Don't
leave
without
your MapChick
travel
guide(s)

MapChick's Maps: facebook  MapChick's Maps: twitter  MapChick's Maps: youtube  MapChick's Maps: email