Playa del Carmen or Cozumel in Mexico – Which is Better?

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  • Post last modified:03/07/2024
Two plam trees on a white sand beach with blue sea and sky in the background.

We spent about five months living, working and travelling in Mexico, much of it in the Yucatan. Whilst we were there a question we heard time and again was “Which is better for a holiday (vacation to all of you from the USA) – Playa del Carmen or Cozumel”? So, we decided to write this blog post to answer that question. (Spoiler Alert: We selected Playa Del Carmen as the best).

Tanya and I have spent over a year travelling around Mexico and Central America. Our five months of slowly making our way through Mexico was a truly special time for us. It’s difficult to pinpoint our favourite place in Mexico but we loved our 2-month exploration of the Yucatan Peninsular including Quintana Roo.

We stayed for several weeks in Puerto Morelos and used it as a hub to investigate the surrounding towns, epic beaches, and amazing countryside. With Playa Del Carmen less than a 25-minute drive away, it became our go-to place for all things fun. (Note: nearer Cancun is overrated in our opinion and okay for a package resort holiday but little else).

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Playa del Carmen Vs Cozumel

Two plam trees on a white sand beach with blue sea and sky in the background.

Luckily, during our time in Quintana Roo, we had plenty of time to experience all that Playa del Carmen and the nearby Cozumel has to offer. The local public transport including the ferries made it very easy to travel from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel, and then back from Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen.

So, Playa del Carmen Vs Cozumel – let’s do a quick rundown of what each destination has to offer and compare the worth of each as a destination for a typical week or two holiday.

Playa Del Carmen

First up is Playa del Carmen – the most accessible of the two destinations.

Where is Playa del Carmen?

Colourful Playa del Carmen sign with two palm trees, white sand beach and blue sea behind it.

Playa del Carmen is located about an hour south of Cancun on the east coast of the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s close to Tulum, Merida, Holbox, Valladolid and of course the island of Cozumel.

General Description of Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen is slap bang in the middle of the Yucatan Riviera Maya. A coastal resort town that boasts palm-lined beaches and coral reefs, it is also the local centre for food, drinks bars and clubs. It also serves as a somewhat administrative centre for the local populous and a major shopping destination. You can find almost everything you need or want in Playa Del Carmen.

Top 5 Things to Do in Playa Del Carmen

Playa del Carmen Statue

1. Fifth Avenue (La Quinta Avenida): Just off the beach, the pedestrianised main road offers everything from morning yoga through lunchtime top brand shopping to quality evening meals. You then have the option to push on through to sunrise at some of the best bars and clubs this side of Merida. In high season it is packed and has a semi-carnival feel to it.

2. Beach Clubs: You are here for the beach, right? Playa Beach is home to some of the best beach clubs around. Check out Mamitas for lively loud fun times or chill out at the holistic INTI Bar and Grill for food, drink, peace and quiet, a massage and even yoga!

3. Xcaret Park: Not Jurassic Park but, well, almost; it’s advertised as an eco-archaeological water theme amusement park. It’s hidden in the middle of the jungle, next to the sea and includes underground rivers, cenotes, and all manner of Indiana Jones-style history, traditions and folklore. Tanya went here on her very first trip to Mexico before we were a couple. She says it’s crazy especially if you have kids. It offers a safe (as it gets) place for all things underwater. You can swim with rays, dolphins, nurse sharks and more.

You can either stay there overnight – there are several hotel options ranging from the high-end all inclusives Casa de La Playa by Excaret and Hotel Xcaret Mexico All Parks All Fun to the slightly more budget-friendly Hacienda Excaret and Terasu Riviera Maya Hotel & Spa. Xcaret Evenings can be filled with dancing, music, horses, shows, shows of horses dancing to music, people dancing with horses, hang on, I’m getting carried away now. It’s good. Let’s leave it there. Oh, and Xcaret gets very busy at peak times so book a ticket in advance.

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4. Cenotes: For those like me who had no idea of what a Cenote is, it’s a massive cave that has collapsed and created a sinkhole in the ground that is filled with water. The water is normally freshwater and home to extraordinary animals and fish. We went on a group tour and snorkelled in a cenote. This is a strange experience and is totally different to snorkelling in the sea. To be honest, it wasn’t for me (it felt a little claustrophobic), but I can completely see the attraction to it. Check out Cenote Dos Ojos and Cenote Azul, they offer great snorkelling and diving experiences.

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5. Cozumel Ferry: Why on earth would you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Playa Del Carmen and jump on a boat to a dreamy sun-drenched sandy beached island to relax and unwind? Oh… I see your point, more like, why wouldn’t you want to? Well, luckily there is a whole next section dedicated to why you should go to Cozumel so stick around and read on.

Playa Del Carmen
Pros Cons

Close to Cancun Airport

It’s busy in peak season (and expensive)

Excellent lively nightlife

It’s a bit of a party place

Self-contained – everything in one place

Quite a few hustlers

English is widely spoken

The beaches are not the best around and are prone to sargassum (seaweed) at certain times of year

Easy public access to beaches

Can’t drink tap water – use a Water-to-Go bottle

Cozumel

Now let’s take a look at our island destination, Cozumel.

Where is Cozumel?

Colourful Cozumel sign with palm trees and the ferry port in the background

Cozumel is an island about 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, near Playa Del Carmen. The ferry takes about 30 to 45 minutes depending on which one you get, and this makes the island excellent for day trips or longer holidays/vacations.

General Description of Cozumel

Cozumel removes you from the Americanised Mexico of tacos, tequila and tourists of Playa Del Carmen. It plunges you into a more authentic (although still thoroughly modernised) Mexico that continues to echo its ancient Mayan historical culture. Okay, the trappings of mass tourism are slowly invading but you can still find the charms of the local markets, excellent street food and hidden ancient ruins.

Top 5 Things to Do in Cozumel

Cozumel Fountain Statue

1. Scuba Diving and Snorkelling: Cozumel is a diving and snorkelling destination. People travel for thousands of miles to jump in the sea and flap around looking in amazement at the local flora and fauna. You get to see a broad assortment of fish, lobsters, turtles, stingrays, eels, dolphins, and nurse sharks. Plus, some amazing coral reefs. If you love the sea and love crazy colourful sea animals, then check out Palancar Reef and Colombia Reef in the southwest of the island. Both offer easy to intermediate diving down to between 40 and 100 feet. We did a snorkelling trip off Cozumel and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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2. Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park: It’s a bit like the Xcaret Park in Playa Del Carmen, it’s packed with exciting things for the family to do. There are too many to list in any detail so I’m just going to throw some words out there and you can get the idea: Swimming pool, zipline, shopping, scuba, snorkelling, tequila, sea lions, crocodiles, Mayan ruins, spa, massage, dolphins, manatees and of course the beach. It gets really busy in cruise season so think about booking a ticket in advance.

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3. San Gervasio Archaeological Zone: Deep in the tropical forest of the central north of the island you can find the temple complex of San Gervasio. So if you like playing Indiana Jones or Lara Croft (and who doesn’t), then book your trip and get out there and explore these Mayan ruins. Dedicated to the goddess Ix Chel, an aged deity of childbirth, fertility, medicine, and weaving, it is a great place to explore Mayan ruins and learn about the island’s rich history and culture.

4. Punta Sur Eco Beach Park: Right down at the southern tip of the island are a couple of lagoons that form the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park. It’s home to an absolute mass of wildlife and includes ancient Mayan ruins, a brilliant beach and a lighthouse you can climb to get some amazing views. It’s a little more rough and wild than the other more touristy attractions on the island. It’s a bit of a drive but well worth it. If you are pressed for time, then booking a tour might be a good idea.

5. Cozumel’s Downtown: There is only one main settlement on Cozumel, San Miguel de Cozumel, the rest of the island is dedicated to the appreciation of nature. But you will be pleased to know that the downtown part of San Miguel is well worth a visit. It is easy to walk around the miles of restaurants, bars, cafes, and other foodie outlets. You can also find some good art, local produce and unique shopping items. The town is very safe (of course follow standard personal safety precautions), clean and friendly. You can get a feel for it in an afternoon exploring but probably won’t discover all about it even in a whole lifetime there.

Cozumel
Pros Cons

More chilled out than mainland resorts

Not so exciting if you don’t like the sea!

Cheap diving and snorkelling

Limited to one main town

Less touristy than Playa Del Carmen and Cancun

Needs a flight or ferry to get there

Ideal for nature lovers

Not the best beaches in the area

Ideal for outdoor adventure lovers

Can’t drink tap water – use a Water-to-Go bottle

Why We Think Playa Del Carmen is Better Than Cozumel For a Holiday

We think Playa Del Carmen is better than Cozumel for a holiday for several reasons:

  • It is easy to get to. You can just jump on a bus from Puerto Morelos (or Cancun) and in less than an hour, you are in the centre of Carmen.
  • You have more options for entertainment and nightlife.
  • You can easily use it as a base to explore the surrounding Yucatan peninsula without getting a ferry each trip.
  • You can easily day trip to Cozumel to escape the hustle and bustle.
  • You can equally escape by just driving out of town in any direction.
  • Puerto Morelos is just up the road (we love PM)
  • You are not trapped on an island during bad weather (ferries and flights might not run in stormy weather)
  • You can see the same wildlife on the mainland if you search for it.
  • Tanya is addicted to ceviche and they sell incredible ceviche in Playa Del Carmen.

Of course, you might want to select your hotel carefully if you don’t like the loud club scene, You also need to be prepared for slightly higher costs but then you save on ferries and tours because you can use the local public transport or hire a car. Also, check the Sargasso Seaweed Updates Facebook Group to see what the Sargassum situation is likely to be for when you want to go.


So get yourselves down to Playa Del Carmen. Have a party, explore the Yucatan, eat good food, get the ferry to Cozumel, get the bus to Puerto Morelos, jump into a Cenote, swim in the sea and generally have a great time.

Have you been to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel or both? Which do you think is best for a holiday? Please do tell us in the comments below.  


Planning Your Trip to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel?

Planning your trip to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel in Mexico? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you have the best time possible.

TRAVEL INSURANCE IS AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION! World Nomads offers cover for travellers in over 100 countries and True Traveller is a great option if you’re from the UK or EU.

SafetyWing is another solution, particularly for digital nomads and long-term travellers.

● Use Wise (formerly Transferwise) for sending or receiving money internationally. It’s cheap, easy and transparent.

● Find amazing flight deals on Skyscanner and Kayak.

● Compare rental car prices on Rentalcars.com.

Book other ground transportation with 12Go and  Bookaway.

● Compare charter yacht hire prices on Click&Boat.

● Booking.com usually have the best hotel prices.

● Our go-to for self-catering accommodation is Vrbo.

● Discover fantastic trips and activities with Viator and GetYourGuide.

● Check out Bookmundi, G Adventures, and  Intrepid Travel for group holidays and tours.

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Andy Korteling

Andy is photographer and content creator for Can Travel Will Travel. He combines online English teaching and freelance YouTube and SEO consultancy with exploring the world. Passionate about sustainable and responsible travel, adventure and food, he incorporates these in his travels as much as possible. He also loves immersing himself in new cultures. He's visited hundreds of destinations in 34 countries and lived in 5 countries. Andy worked as a Project Manager in the Construction and Environmental sectors before leaving the UK in 2016 with his wife Tanya, to travel, live and work abroad indefinitely. Together they share their experiences and useful information to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

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