Cozumel Vs Playa Del Carmen – What You Should Know When Deciding

Playa Del Carmen - PLayacar Beach

If you’re planning your Mexico vacation and are wondering if Cozumel or Playa del Carmen is better we’ve got you covered.

These are two of the most famous, and visited, places in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

If snorkeling through the clear turquoise Caribbean ocean sounds like your ideal Mexico trip then Cozumel may be the place for you.

If having quick access to other parts of Mexico, great nightlife and delicious eats is more your thing, then Playa del Carmen could be a great city for you. 

If you have the time, our top recommendation is to visit BOTH!

Since you will have to visit Playa del Carmen to cross the ferry into Cozumel, it’s worth spending a night or two here before continuing on your way. 

I would consider both Cozumel and Playa del Carmen safe.

While visiting the two destinations is preferred, we know that isn’t always realistic. Let us help you narrow down the best area to visit in Mexico.

Below we dive into everything you need to know about these Mexico destinations including which one you should visit in Quintana Roo.

Cozumel In A Nutshell

Cozumel is a small island off the coast of Mexico. Despite being largely undeveloped, this tropical island welcomes about 5 million visitors every year.

There’s a lot of hype around the city, you may be wondering “What’s so special about Cozumel?”

The answer is A LOT.

Cozumel is most known for its warm clear tropical Caribbean waters. This Mexican island has world famous scuba diving sites (coral reefs) and snorkeling.

The waters around Cozumel house a section of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second biggest coral reef in the world.

Coral systems in this area are bright and colorful and full of marine life. You can expect to see a ton of aquatic life in this area ranging from sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees. 

On land, look for spider monkeys, coatis, and a variety of bird species in the lush jungle.

Similar to wildlife in Cancun, Cozumel is a great place to spot diverse species!

I have tried the snorkeling excursions and would recommend them to anyone!

There are large parts of this beautiful island that have been left untouched. There is a remote jungle with stunning white sandy beaches that are quite accessible by scooter.

Even a novice photographer will easily snap Instagram photos that don’t even need to be edited.

If you’re looking more for great restaurants and hotels you’ll want to head into the San Miguel area of Cozumel.

Playa del Carmen beach

How To Get To Cozumel

Getting to Cozumel can be done either by ferry departing from Playa del Carmen or through Cozumel International Airport. 

The ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel takes about 45 minutes and costs around 220 pesos one-way or 400 pesos round trip. 

There are two ferry companies that you can choose from Winjet and Ultramar.

Both companies are reputable and will get you to the island easily. The ferries run every half hour to hour, daily, between 5:30 am and 11 pm. 

If you are traveling by car, there is a car ferry located just south of Playa del Carmen at the Calica cruise ship port.

Renting a car in Mexico? Be sure to check with your rental company to see if they allow you to take your car to Cozumel.

Some companies do not allow your rental car to be taken off the mainland.

What To Do In Cozumel

One of the biggest draws to Cozumel is the stunning tropical Caribbean waters. Cozumel offers some of the best scuba diving in the world.

Whether you are looking to do drift dives, cave dives, or just want to dive into the Mesoamerican Reef, Cozumel has it all. 

The fish are bright and colorful in these tropical waters making for some stunning sights.

Cozumel is also along a whale shark migratory path. If you’re wanting to swim with whale sharks, July and August is the best time of year. 

You can book snorkel tours which will take you to snorkel on the Mesoamerican Reef too. Some of the beaches in Cozumel are even great for snorkeling.

I had my own snorkel so was able to take advantage. Even swimming from the beach, I was able to see so many fish. 

While this was definitely cool, the best snorkeling is away from tourist areas so I always recommend booking a tour to get to the better coral areas.

Renting a scooter to drive around the island can be a lot of fun. Cozumel is a great area to rent scooters or ATVs to explore the entire island.

The main highway acts as a loop around half of the island and delivers endless ocean views.

The undeveloped land is a backwoods adventure. You can rent ATVs or off-road vehicles to explore the area.

If you are wanting to learn about Mayan history, there are ruins located inland called the San Gervasio archeological site that is worth the visit.

There are also Tequila factories and Pearl Farms to be explored on the island. 

Playa Del Carmen In A Nutshell

Playa del Carmen is great for its central location. You’ll find it nestled along the coastline between Cancun and Tulum. It is also the port destination if you’re looking to visit Cozumel.

If we compare Tulum to Playa del Carmen, it offers a more relaxed and bohemian atmosphere compared to the bustling energy of Playa Del Carmen.

The central location of Playa Del Carmen in the Yucatan peninsula attracts adventure travelers who are looking to take day trips to neighboring cities like Valladolid. 

Whether you are staying in an all-inclusive hotel or just a regular one, Playa del Carmen offers cheaper accommodations than many of the nearby cities.

The all-inclusive resorts in Playa del Carmen are spread out along the coastline and are away from the downtown core. 

If you are comparing Akumal and Playa Del Carmen, you would notice that the big difference is the lack of a “town center” in Akumal.

Therefore, Akumal offers a more relaxed and tranquil setting, perfect for those seeking a peaceful beach experience.

How To Get To Playa Del Carmen

The best way to get into Playa del Carmen is through the closest airport: Cancun International Airport.

From there you will have a 35-mile/56km trip, which takes about an hour, south to Playa del Carmen.

If you are coming from the hotel zone in Cancun the 45-mile/73km commute south takes about an hour and 15 minutes. 

In terms of differences between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, Cancun is known for its lively nightlife and luxurious resorts, while Playa Del Carmen offers a more laid-back and authentic Mexican experience.

Playa del Carmen street art

What To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is home to one of my favorite Mexican experiences: swimming in cenotes.

A cenote is an underground cave that is full of cool fresh water. Cenotes were sacred to the Mayan people and hold a lot of importance to the Mexican culture.

You can swim, snorkel or scuba dive through many of the cenotes. There are many cenotes in the area that you can choose from that all charge varying entry fees. 

One of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen is to walk down the lively 5 Avenida Norte, also known as 5th Avenue.

This is a long street that acts as the main drag in Playa. Here you will find great shopping, restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Located a block away from the beach, there is a ton to do in the area. With live entertainment lining the streets, this area is certainly a stimulating experience.

You will hear live music, see break-dancing street performers, peek into restaurants with Cirque de Soleil style performers, dance with a guy dressed like Spiderman, and watch people play with baby tigers. 

This beach town is a great place to stay if you want a base area and do a lot of excursions as well.

There is plenty to do in the surrounding area including day trips to Tulum, cenotes, visiting Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza, and more.

When visiting Chichen Itza from Playa Del Carmen, the best way is to take a guided tour.

These tours typically include transportation, entry fees, and a knowledgeable guide to provide historical context.

This makes for a hassle-free and informative experience, allowing you to fully appreciate the site.

Near Playa del Carmen is where you will also find a lot of great adventure parks like Xcaret and Xplor. Try a snorkel tour if diving isn’t your thing.

Neighboring city Akumal Beach is about a 30-minute drive south and is a great spot you can swim with sea turtles and sting rays in the ocean.

The turtles are attracted to the area due to the tasty sea grass that lines the ocean floor. If you don’t have your own snorkel gear, you can rent or buy some while there.

Be sure to skip sunscreen as it’s harmful to the natural habitat. 

If you are staying in Playa del Carmen, you can always take a day trip to Cozumel as well as to other islands near Playa del Carmen.

A popular choice is Isla Mujeres, known for its stunning beaches and vibrant underwater museum. Cozumel vs. Isla Mujeres can offer contrasting Caribbean island experiences.

Cozumel Vs Playa Del Carmen 

To help you make your decision on whether you should visit Cozumel or Playa del Carmen (hint: the answer is BOTH), I’m diving into the nitty gritty of what makes each of these places great. 

Top Differences Between Cozumel And Playa Del Carmen:

  1. Cozumel is an island and Playa Del Carmen is located on the coast of the mainland.
  2. The two destinations are in close proximity. The island of Cozumel is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen.
  3. Cozumel is a popular cruise ship stop on a lot of Caribbean cruise itineraries. This is something to consider if you don’t want to have to get bombarded by a load of cruise passengers during your visit.
  4. Visiting and staying in Playa Del Carmen gives you easy and quick access to places for day trips either by car or bus. There are rental car agencies throughout the city and the ADO bus is in the heart of town.
  5. There are more options for cheaper dining in Playa del Carmen. We experienced some of the top international restaurants here.
  6. Cozumel is a little more low-key when compared to the bustling town of Playa Del Carmen. So keep in mind the kind of vibe you are looking for when deciding between the two.
  7. Divers love Cozumel for the stunning underwater world that the island offers.
fifth avenue Playa del Carmen

1. Playa Del Carmen Beaches Compared To Cozumel

The beautiful beaches in Playa del Carmen are not as tropical as the stunning coastline of Cozumel.

Given the open ocean currents, the beaches in Playa del Carmen are covered daily with seaweed washed ashore.

If you are staying in an all-inclusive hotel, the hotel staff will often clean the seaweed daily to provide a clean beach. Public beaches typically have a lot of seaweed along the shoreline. 

The stunning beaches on the west side of Cozumel, where San Miguel and the all-inclusive lie, are quite protected and do not have the same problem with seaweed. These beaches boast calm waters that are great for swimming and snorkeling.

The beaches along the east side of Cozumel are remote and undeveloped and lined with seaweed. The waves in this area are quite large as well and it is not safe for swimming. 

2. Accommodation In Each Vacation Destination

Generally speaking, the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula are stunning and incredibly grandeur in design and offer a lot of amenities. 

If you are looking to skip the all-inclusive for a more authentic Mexican experience, staying in hotels or AirBnBs is a great way to go. Both Cozumel and Playa offer plenty of selections for accommodations ranging in luxury. 

If you want to save on acommodations, one of my top travel tips for Playa Del Carmen is to stay farther away from the beach.

When deciding where to stay in Playa Del Carmen, keep in mind that the prices drop considerably when you go past 20 Avenida Norte.

driving in Playa Del Carmen

Is It Better To Stay In Cozumel Or Playa Del Carmen? 

Accommodations on Cozumel are going to cost more than those in Playa del Carmen.

This isn’t a hugely fair comparison as Playa is known to be a fairly cheap area for accommodations.

If you are comparing the cost of Cozumel and Tulum, the prices are much more comparable. 

If you are going to Playa del Carmen, we recommend getting a hotel close to 5th Avenue. This will have you within easy walking distance to the shopping, restaurants, beaches, and nightlife of Quinta Avenida.

Be sure to read the reviews of the hotel before booking as this area can get quite loud. Booking a street or so off of the main street can do wonders to ensure a good night’s sleep. 

If you are going to stay in Cozumel, most of the hotels are in San Miguel.

While it is possible to get a nice hotel, you can expect a much more basic room than what you’d get for the same price elsewhere in Mexico.

The all-inclusive resorts in both Cozumel and Playa del Carmen are great. While Cozumel’s all-inclusive will be more expensive, they come with a tropical feel.

Some resorts have beaches that you can snorkel at. In both Playa and Cozumel, the all-inclusive resorts line the beaches away from the downtown core.

You will have to factor in taxi costs if you’re wanting to get to either city. 

Playa del Carmen playground for kids

Is It Better To Stay In Cozumel Or Cancun?

Cancun is a much bigger city than Cozumel. In Cancun, you will find a bustling urban city with lots of international influence and virtually no authentic Mexican charm

The all-inclusive in this area are in a lined area on a beach area with nightclubs and large shopping malls. Cancun’s hotel zone is more similar to the Las Vegas strip than Cozumel. 

Cozumel on the other hand is a largely undeveloped island full of lush jungles, pristine tropical waters, and lazy all-inclusives running on island time.

While you will get a tropical getaway experience in Cozumel, you will not have access to shopping malls and nightlife like you would in Cancun. 

To summarize the comparison between Cozumel and Cancun, while Cozumel lacks lively nightlife of Cancun, it offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere.

3. Food That Cozumel And Playa Del Carmen Offer

If you’re a foodie headed to Mexico, a big part of your decision will be based on where has the best eats.

For this one, I’d have to say Playa del Carmen is the obvious winner.

Both areas are known for delicious fresh seafood. You can expect to pay an island tax in Cozumel with restaurant prices higher than in most other places in Mexico.

Restaurants on Cozumel, while delicious, are limited in selection and expensive in prices. 

Playa del Carmen on the other hand is a foodies heaven. Restaurants along 5th Ave range from small family-run businesses to impressive 5-star live entertainment experiences.

You will also find more options for street food in this area – my favorite! Who doesn’t want cheap tacos served out of a food truck? 

Food in Playa del Carmen

4. Fun Nightlife Scene Compared

The nightlife in Playa del Carmen is vibrant with a different party every night. We suggest waiting for the afternoon and heading to 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen for the sunset.

There are white sand beaches within a block or two of which are awesome for dipping your feet into the ocean after a night out.

Whether you’re looking for some great live entertainment, dancing nightclubs, or chilled-out hookah bars, this area has it all. 

As Cozumel is a much smaller island, the nightlife here is pretty limited. While there are a lot of restaurants, some even offering open mics, the nightlife is minimal compared to Playa.

Cozumel nightlife is mostly found in the form of relaxing beach clubs. These will be more along the lines of late-night bars than wild nightclubs. 

5. Overall Travel Costs To Value 

If you’re traveling to Mexico on a budget, then Playa del Carmen is a great option for you.

It is a great area to travel to for budget travelers who are looking to have a perfect mix of adventure and amenities. 

Choose Playa Del Carmen if you want to have more options for the budget you want to spend.

While the cost is certainly higher, the cost to value is well worth it for a visit to Cozumel.

You will have an authentic experience staying in a largely untouched jungle with pristine waters along the world’s second-largest coral reef. 

So, is Cozumel cheaper than Playa del Carmen? Well, no. But is the premium dollar worth it, absolutely! 

As Cozumel is only a short ferry ride away, we recommend including both in your Mexico itinerary. 

Which Riviera Maya Destination Will You Choose?

Have you ever been to the Yucatan Peninsula? What was your favorite area? If you plan to visit the Mexican Caribbean, don’t skip out on these amazing destinations.

Chat with me about it in the comments below and let me know if you have any questions about anything I missed.

Travel Planning Guide:

Playa Del Carmen Vs Cozumel Vacation

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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