Three attractive places, all with luxurious and welcoming resorts, and bordered by one of the prettiest coasts on the continent; in Mexico, it’s a challenge to choose where to lay down your bags for a week’s holiday. In short, here are the quirks, advantages and disadvantages of each of these seaside resort areas, in case you're having trouble deciding.
Located only a few minutes by taxi from the international airport, the Cancun Hotel Zone is ideal for holidaymakers wishing to be at the heart of the action. Here, there are plenty of nightclubs on offer – to the delight of low-budget party-goers.
Indeed, the hotels that punctuate the Cancun peninsula are aimed at a young, trendy crowd who want to party like there’s no tomorrow (although not exclusively; there are also some luxury and family hotels). Many hotels host DJs, dancers and large-scale shows to appeal to this particular clientele.
In addition, Cancun has been the cash cow of Mexico’s tourism industry for more than 40 years, and makes no apology for encouraging tourists to part with their pesos for Americanized experiences. Temptations such as shops, restaurants, clubs and casinos are numerous throughout the hotel zone.
- Good to know: If you want to travel around Cancun’s hotel zone, but don’t wish to shell out on a taxi or Uber, getting around by bus is a convenient and inexpensive option. City buses operate regularly, are available for around 10 pesos (under CDN $1) per ride, and most are air-conditioned.
- Pros: impossible to become bored; a lot of activity; close to the large shops and nightclubs; varied restaurant offerings.
- Cons: little authenticity; often-imposing crowds, especially on the beach.
Located near Playa del Carmen is a vast island of 477 sq. km. called Cozumel (‘island of swallows’ in Maya Yucatec) where travellers can spend their time – ideally with both feet in the crystal-clear water. The secluded region’s atmosphere is relaxed, especially since the hotels are smaller than elsewhere in the state of Quintana Roo; it’s therefore an ideal destination for vacationers preferring resorts and crowds on an unobtrusive scale.
The paradise of Cozumel was even officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 as a biosphere reserve. No wonder, then, that it proudly bears the title of ‘best place for scuba diving in the world,’ with Jacques Cousteau having set foot there in 1961. It’s an ideal location for scuba diving mainly because of its current, which is more peaceful than elsewhere on the mainland coast, and the presence of the second largest barrier reef on the planet.
- Good to know: Cozumel hotels are all, with a few exceptions, on the island’s west coast facing the Riviera Maya, making it one of the only places in the region where visitors can admire the sunsets.
- Pros: Detached from large tourist areas; sublime beaches; numerous scuba diving sites.
- Cons: Access to the island can sometimes be difficult; often old-fashioned hotel infrastructure; a lot of tourist marketing for cruise passengers due to the port.
Recognized throughout the world for its long stretches of white sand, turquoise waters and the exclusivity of its establishments, Riviera Maya is intended for vacationers demanding the very best in terms of catering, facilities and service amenities. It features world-renowned spas, children’s centres with specialized educators, 5 Diamond restaurants, and suites even larger than the homes of many travellers.
One of the main advantages enjoyed by the Riviera Maya over Cancun and Cozumel is undoubtedly the range of options offered to travellers. It includes Mayan ruins like Tulum, many cenotes, and spectacular dive sites; long periods of relaxation are offered even in just one or two days in the heart of Mexican culture.
- Good to know: There’s plenty to see and do in Riviera Maya, but for travellers who are keen on a day trip, Chichén Itzá offers a great option. Symbolized by its imposing El Castillo pyramid, the ancient city is located around two hours from Riviera Maya, with pickups and sightseeing tours offered from many hotels and resorts.
- Positives: Ultra-safe hotels; cutting-edge technology and design; quiet and spacious beaches
- Negatives: Higher rates; larger resorts that are sometimes difficult to navigate; difficult access to shops and restaurants outside the resort