Where to stay in Cancun and the Riviera Maya?

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Map: where to stay in Cancun and Riviera Maya
Cancun map cover

Cancun hotel zone

• Basics: Beautiful white sand beaches and plenty of entertainment options, but not the place to go if you want to experence the real Mexico. Excellent

• Atmosphere: Relaxing on the beaches and around the resort pools, but the main street through the hotel zone is congested.

• Beach: Cancun has excellent beaches, but a few areas are rocky or have seaweed.

• Evening strolls: Our favorite place for an evening stroll is La Isla Shopping Plaza, an open-air mall built around a Venetian-style canal.

• Attractions: Snorkeling, catamaran tours to Isla Mujeres, dolphin swims waterpark, fishing, shopping, and a cultural museum.

• Nightlife: World famous for nightlife.

• Resorts: Most hotels are not as large as the sprawling properties in the Riviera Maya.


Do we recommend
staying in Cancun?

YES. This is a great vacation destination, especially if this is your first foreign trip. Cancun is often compared to Miami beach or Las Vegas, so most American's easily adust to the surroundings.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Cancun?

No. If we were staying elsewhere along the coast, we probably would not make a special trip to visit Cancun.


More information

See our Cancun map and travel guide.

Isla Mujeres map cover

Isla Mujeres

• Basics: Small island located within a 20-minute ferry ride of Cancun Most hotels—and a beautiful beach—are in the downtown area at the north end.

To the south of downtown is a city where most local residents live (there are also a lot of rental homes here).

• Atmosphere: Laid-back and relaxing.

• Beach: North beach is among our favorite places in the entire Yucatan.

• Evening strolls: The island is very safe. Evening strolls are a major form of entertainment.

• Attractions: Snorkeling, Contoy island tour, golf cart tour around the island, turtle farm, and Pirate Lafitte home.

• Nightlife: Several restaurants offer live music at night, but the only nightclubs are small and cater mainly to local kids.

• Resorts: There are several all-inclusives and elegant resorts, but most hotels are smaller, family-run properties. Condominium units and private homes are also available.


Do we recommend
staying in Isla Mujeres?

Yes. This is among our favorite vacation destinations.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to isla Mujeres?

Yes. Visiting the island is a popular day-trip from Cancun.


More information

See our Isla Mujeres map and travel guide.

Playa del Carmen

• Basics: Playa is a major resort destination that rivals Cancun. It is easy to get around; you can walk between nearly every hotel, attractions, restaurant, and the beach.

• Atmosphere: Playa is much trendier than other destinations, and has a large European influence. There's plenty to see and do, but If you are looking for secluded areas, it may not be a great choice.

• Beach: Excellent, wide beach that stretches for several miles, with great beach clubs.

• Evening strolls: The main pedestrian-only street—lined with shops, restaurants, and bars—is packed with people each night.

• Attractions: The beach, shopping, restaurants, nightlife, snorkeling, and golf.

• Nightlife: This is an excellent place for nightlife. Second only to Cancun.

• Resorts: Something for every budget. You'll find all-inclusive resorts, small hotels, and inexpensive hostels.


Do we recommend staying
in Playa del Carmen?

Yes. Playa is a fantastic destination.


Do we recommend a day-trip
to Playa del Carmen?

Yes. It's fun to stroll the beach and explore the different beach clubs (all with their own atmosphere). At night, a walk along 5th avenue is a must.


More information

See our Playa del Carmen map and travel guide.

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Cozumel

• Basics: This island is famous for scuba diving and as a major cruise ship port.

• Atmosphere: By day, cruise ships dock and the main tourist area swells with visitors. At night the town is quiet with a more relaxed crowd strolling the streets.

• Beach: One of Cozumel's main drawbacks is that the best beaches are to the south of downtown or on the other side of the island from downtown and the cruise ship docks.

• Evening strolls: Yes, Cozumel's downtown area is made from strolling.

• Attractions: Scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, and shopping.

• Nightlife: There are no large nightclubs.

• Resorts: All-inclusive resorts are located on the best beaches to the north and south of downtown. There are also several small hotels, condominiums, and private homes for rent along the beach; plus budget hotels in the downtown area.


Do we recommend
staying in Cozumel?

Yes, but getting around Cozumel by taxi is expensive. Most small hotels and downtown rental homes are not near a beach.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Cozumel?

No. It's a long ferry ride from the mainland and requires a rental car or expensive taxis to visit the best beaches and snorkeling areas.


More information

See our Cozumel map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Akumal

• Basics: Akumal consists of seven different areas: Half Moon bay, Akumal bay, Jade Beach, South Akumal, Punta Sur, Aventuras Akumal, and the pueblo (town).
The largest tourism areas are Half Moon bay and Akumal Bay.

• Atmosphere: Quiet and laid back. Most activity is centered around a few restaurants at the entrance to Akumal Bay.

• Beach: Akumal Bay—lined with towering palm trees—is the most beautiful stretch of beach in the area.

• Evening strolls: The streets and beach are dark and deserted at night. The main shopping/tourist area is small, so there isn't a big area to stroll.

• Attractions: Scuba diving and snorkeling.

• Nightlife: No nightclubs. Several restaurants have live music during high-season.

• Resorts: Mostly rental homes and condominium units, but there are several small hotels and even a few larger resorts to the south.


Do we recommend
staying in Akumal?

Yes. This is a quiet, laid-back area. Perhaps one drawback is the long distance from many rentals to the main shopping/restaurant area.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Akumal?

Yes. Mainly for the excellent snorkeling.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Tulum (beachfront)

• Basics: This is .

• Atmosphere: Quiet and laid back, with some rustic areas and a growing number of trendy, boutique hotels. Popular among European travelers.

• Beach: One of the most beautiful beaches in the Yucatan.

• Evening strolls: Most areas are dark and deserted at night. We walk the main road, but are always wary of our surroundings.

• Attractions: The beach, Mayan ruins, snorkeling, and kiteboarding.

• Nightlife: Limited to restaurants and lounges offering live music.

• Resorts: Most accomodations are eco-chic cabañas. They are typically overpriced, but we never hear complaints because the area is worth the cost. There are a few boutique hotels and also some camping areas and rustic cabañas.


Do we recommend
staying in Tulum?

Yes,but this area is for those seeking total relaxation with little—or no—nightlife. Hotels and cabañas are typically expensive.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Tulum?

Yes. If you visit the Tulum Mayan ruins, you can easily walk to the beaches of Tulum. We also recommend a snorkeling tour where you can see the ruins from the water.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Cancun map cover

Cancun city

(also called downtown Cancun)

• Basics: Located on the mainland, across a bridge from the Cancun hotel zone.

• Atmosphere: This is a major city with large malls, office buildings, shopping, great restaurants, hotels, and lots of traffic.

• Beach: No beaches in downtown, but buses travel to the hotel zone.

• Evening strolls: Only in the central downtown area around Palapas Park. Like all big cities, we use caution when walking at night.

• Attractions: Restaurants, lounges, public markets, and major stores
(Walmart, CostCo, Home Depot, grocery stores).

• Nightlife: Most downtown nightclubs are intended more for locals than tourists. There are dozens of small lounges that cater to tourists and locals.

• Resorts: Downtown is filled with small hotels and hostels. If you are on a budget, this is a great place to stay.


Do we recommend
staying in Cancun city?

Yes. To save money, this is where we stay when researching Cancun.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Cancun city?

If you are staying in the hotel zone, then definitely, yes. For those staying farther away, perhaps only for shopping.


More information

See our Cancun map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Bahia Petempich

• Basics: Remote area lined with all-inclusive resorts. The beach is nice, but there is a lot of seaweed just offshore.

• Atmosphere: Wide beaches allow for plenty of space per person. There is one nudist resort in the area that families will want to avoid when out for a walk along the beach.

• Beach: Very nice stretches of wide beach that you can stroll for miles.

• Evening strolls: No. This remote area is dark and deserted at night. Visit nearby Puerto Morelos for an evening away from the resort.

• Attractions: Beautiful resorts and nice beaches.

• Nightlife: Only if offered at your resort.

• Resorts: Most accomodations are arge, all-inclusive hotels.


Do we recommend
staying in Bahia Petempich?

Beautiful resors, but not our favorite beaches due to seaweed just offshore in most areas.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Bahia Petempich?

No. There is a beautiful beach club here, but it is difficult to reach unless you have a rental car (getting here by taxi can be expensive).


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide

Riviera Maya map cover

Puerto Morelos

• Basics: Quiet town filled with private homes (many for rent) and a few small hotels.

• Atmosphere: Relaxed, slow-paced, and peaceful.

• Beach: Very nice stretch of wide beach that runs for miles. It gets busy on weekends and holidays when residents of Cancun visit.

• Evening strolls: Definitely, in fact, a stroll around the small plaza is the main entertainment option each evening.

• Attractions: Snorkeling, fishing, relaxing.

• Nightlife: No nightclubs. Several bars offer live music during high-season.

• Resorts: Within town you'll mostly find small hotels, condominiums, and private homes for rent. To the north and south are large, all-inclusive resorts.


Do we recommend
staying in Puerto Morelos?

Yes, but it's best for the laid-back traveler who isn't concerned about nightlife options.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Puerto Morelos?

We enjoy the area, but it is not a shopping destination. The main attraction is the tranquility of the town. Inland is an area named "Ruta de Cenotes," where you'll find beautiful natural pools of water and underground rivers.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Punta Maroma

• Basics: Remote area with no public access (access is only through resorts or a private beach club).

• Atmosphere: Relaxed and peaceful, but beaches are often crowded in front of major resorts.

• Beach: One of the most beautiful stretched of beach in the Yucatan.

• Evening strolls: No, this remote area is dark at night.

• Attractions: Maroma Adventures beach club offers ATV tours, horseback riding, and snorkeling.

• Nightlife: Only when offered by the resort.

• Resorts: Large all-inclusive resorts and a few smaller, boutique hotels.


Do we recommend
staying in Punta Maroma?

Yes, if the hotels are within your budget.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Punta Maroma?

Yes, but you'll have to enter through Maroma Adventures beach club.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Punta Bete

• Basics: Remote area with a beautiful stretch of beach to the north of Playa del Carmen.

• Atmosphere: Relaxed and laid-back.

• Beach: Very nice stretch of wide beach. The ocean floor is rocky in areas near shore.

• Evening strolls: No, this remote area is dark and deserted at night.

• Attractions: Tranquility and the Caribbean.

• Nightlife: Only if offered by the resort.

p class="lineSpace">• Resorts: Our favorite place to stay is Coco's Cabañas, operated by a family. There's also a nice medium-sized resort and several upscale resorts.


Do we recommend
staying in Punta Bete?

Yes. The cabañas are charming. Most other hotels are upscale and elegant.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Punta Bete?

No. There is really nothing to see, although the food at Coco's Cabañas is wonderful.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Playa del Carmen map cover

Playacar

• Basics: An area of all-inclusive resorts and private homes, built around a golf course at the south edge of Playa del Carmen.

• Atmosphere: All-inclusive resorts line the beachfront. Quiet neighborhoods of private homes and condominiums surround the golf course.

• Beach: Excellent, wide beach that stretches in front of the all-inclusive resorts.

• Evening strolls: Easy access to Playa del Carmen—the best area for evening strolls in the Yucatan.

• Attractions: Golfing, an aviary, and nearby Playa del Carmen.

• Nightlife: Playa del Carmen offers a variety of nightlife, second only to Cancun.

• Resorts: All-inclusive resorts, condominiums, and private homes for rent.


Do we recommend
staying in Playacar?

Yes,you can enjoy the amenities of a large resort and still explore Playa del Carmen in the evening.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Playacar?

No. We visit Playa del Carmen (next door) instead.


More information

See our Playa del Carmen map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Paamul

• Basics: A recreational vehicle park nestled in a beautiful, sandy cove. There is also a small hotel and several cabañas.

• Atmosphere: Extremely laid-back and quiet. Many residents of the R.V.s that line the beach are retired.

• Beach: A beautiful cove with white sand that stretches into the distance. There are areas of rock just offshore, but it is pristine and beautiful here.

• Evening strolls: The area is small, and there are always people walking to, or from, the restaurant.

• Attractions: Scuba diving, snorkeling, and relaxation. There is also a nice restaurant with swimming pool.

• Nightlife: Neighbors and tourists gather at the restaurant for conversation.

• Resorts: There is a small hotel, a grouping of quaint cabañas, and a camping area. Most residents live in the RV park.


Do we recommend
staying in Paamul?

For those who want to get away from it all, Paamul is an excellent choice. The cabañas are cute, with modern ammenities; the hotel is basic, but clean.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Paamul?

No. Although a beautiful area, there is little to do here.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Puerto Aventuras

• Basics: Gated community with a marina and golf course. Restaurants surround a part of the marina now transformed into dolphin pens.

• Atmosphere: Busy during the day when visitors arrive for the dolphin swims. Quiet and laid back after they leave. At night the restaurant area is beautiful and relaxing.

• Beach: Most of Puerto Aventuras is rocky shoreline. There are a few pockets of nice beach but access is difficult.

• Evening strolls: Yes. The restaurant area around the marina is a beautiful place for a stroll. This is a gated community for added safety.

• Attractions: Scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, golf, and dolphin swims.

• Nightlife: No nightclubs, but a few restaurants offer live music.

• Resorts: Medium-sized hotels and private homes for rent. There are sprawling resorts located both to the north and south.


Do we recommend
staying in Puerto Aventuras?

If you stay in one of the hotels you'll have access to a beach, but most private homes are either located on a rocky shore or inland.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Puerto Aventuras?

No, unless you visit for the dolphin swim or one of the many restaurants.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Xpu-Ha

• Basics: Remote stretch of beach with only a few hotels and private homes, along with two small beach clubs.

• Atmosphere: Mostly quiet and laid back except for an area directly in front of one resort.

• Beach: A beautiful, wide stretch of sand runs for 1.6 kilometers (1 mile). The beach is excellent, however there are rocky areas in the water that can be rough on the feet.

• Evening strolls: No. The area is dark and remote at night.

• Attractions: Scuba diving and nearby cenotes (natural pools of water fed by underground rivers.)

• Nightlife: None, unless offered by resort.

• Resorts: A large all-inclusive, a small boutique hotel, another small hotel, and an exclusive resort nestled among the lagoons at the north end.


Do we recommend
staying in Xpu-Ha?

Yes, but we personally would prefer an area closer to a major city, or that has larger resorts with more entertainment options.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Xpu-Ha?

There are only two access points, and both are driveways owned by beach clubs. It's a relaxing place to visit, but there are other options that are easier to access.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Tankah

• Basics: There are two main parts to Tankah, Soliman Bay and Tankah Bay. The area is mostly private homes and small hotels, with a few restaurants.

• Atmosphere: Quiet and laid back. This is an area where you'll see few other people on the beach.

• Beach: Nice and isolated. Many areas are lined with palm trees.

• Evening strolls: No. This area is dark and deserted at night ( although we would feel comfortable walking to a nearby restaurant).

• Attractions: Scuba diving and a cenote (cenotes are natural pools of water fed by underground rivers).

• Nightlife: None.

• Resorts: Small hotels and private homes for rent.


Do we recommend
staying in Tankah?

If you want to get away from everything, this is an excellent choice, but you'll need a car to get around.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Tankah?

No. The only beach access is though several of the restaurants. We feel other areas are better for a visit.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Cancun map cover

Isla Blanca

• Basics: Remote area located north of downtown Cancun. You'll need a rental car or taxi service to get around.

• Atmosphere: Upscale resorts with marina and golf course. There are also a few rustic cabañas farther north.

• Beach: Beautiful, remote beaches that stretch for miles.

• Evening strolls: We are not comfortable walking this remote area at night.

• Attractions: Golf course, marina, and excellent fly-fishing on a nearby lagoon.

• Nightlife: Resort activities only.

• Resorts: Most in the area are upscale and expensive. Rustic cabañas to the north.


Do we recommend
staying in Isla Blanca?

Not for the average tourist. The beautiful resorts are expensive and located quite a long distance from the shopping, nightlife, and attractions of Cancun.

For those willing to rough it, the cabañas offer a tranquil escape.


Do we recommend
a day-trip to Isla Blanca?

Yes, We highly recommend visiting Pirata Morgan beach club for an afternoon.


More information

See our Cancun map and travel guide.

Riviera Maya map cover

Tulum City

• Basics: This small town is located about 3 kilometers (1/2 mile) inland from the beach. It's often visited for shopping after a tour of the Tulum Mayan ruins, but it's also a great place to stay (especially for the traveler on a budget).

• Atmosphere: European backpackers give the town an interesting culture.

• Beach: Some of the best beaches in the Yucatan are nearby.

• Evening strolls: Yes, strolling is popular along the main street. We feel comfortable walking nearly everywhere, except perhaps the outskirts of town.

• Attractions: Great restaurants, shopping, Mayan ruins, and nearby cenotes.

• Nightlife: Several restaurants and lounges offer live music.

• Resorts: Small hotels and hostels that are perfect for the budget traveler.


Do we recommend
staying in Tulum city?

We stay in Tulum city often, but getting to the beach is a hassle. We use bicycles, but it is a long ride; using taxis can get expensive.


Do we recommend
a day-tripto Tulum city?

No, unless you want to do some shopping, there's really not much to see. We'd prefer to visit the beachfront area.


More information

See our Riviera Maya map and travel guide.

Although Cancun is the most recognizable name among Mexico's Caribbean vacation destinations, there are dozens of areas along the coast, each with its own atmosphere. Click on the names at left to find additional information on what each area has to offer, and hopefully you'll be able to find the area perfect for you.


What are our favorite areas?

Laura says: I prefer quaint areas over the sprawling resorts. My favorite destination is Isla Mujeres. It's a laid-back paradise where you can walk nearly anywhere in the main downtown zone, or explore the island by golf cart.

Second on my list is Tulum beachfront. Actually, hotels here aren't within our budget, but I'd love to spend a week relaxing along this stretch of incredible beach.


Perry says: Although I love Isla Mujeres, I'm also a fan of Puerto Morelos and the Tulum area (we stay downtown where prices are cheaper, but it's a long distance to the beach.).

If I'm looking for a little more excitement (especially in the evenings, when smaller cities are sleepy), I'll choose Playa del Carmen (sometimes I can even enjoy the hussle-and-bustle of Cancun.

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Major cities/destinations
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The entire coastline
south of Cancun
is known as the
Riviera Maya.
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