Cozumel Vs Playa Del Carmen – Everything you need to know
If you are trying to decide between Cozumel or Playa del Carmen for your Mexico vacation, we can help. These are two popular destinations located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
If you prefer snorkeling in the clear turquoise Caribbean ocean, Cozumel might be the ideal location for you during your Mexico trip. On the other hand, if you would like quick access to other parts of Mexico, great nightlife, and delicious restaurants, Playa del Carmen could be an ideal city for you.
We understand visiting both destinations might be challenging, so we’re here to assist you in choosing the optimal location to visit in Mexico. In the following sections, we provide comprehensive information on both destinations in Quintana Roo, and suggest the one that is best suited for your visit.
Playa del Carmen
Ferry or flight
Moderate to poor
Car or scooter
Cozumel In A Nutshell
Cozumel is a stunning tropical island located off the coast of Mexico that, despite being largely undeveloped, still attracts approximately 5 million visitors each year. Many people are intrigued by Cozumel and may wonder why it is so popular. The answer is that there are actually many things that make this island unique and exciting.
Cozumel is famous for its warm and clear tropical Caribbean waters that are ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. The island is home to world-renowned coral reefs, including a section of the Mesoamerican Reef – it is the second largest coral reef marine system in the world. These coral systems are abundant in colorful marine life, from sharks and sea turtles to dolphins and manatees.
I highly recommend the snorkeling excursions for anyone visiting this beautiful island! You can book one right now for your trip. The island has many untouched areas including a remote jungle with white sandy beaches that are easily accessible by scooter. Even novice photographers will be able to take stunning Instagram photos without editing. If you’re looking for great restaurants and hotels, head to the San Miguel area of Cozumel.
How to get to Cozumel
To get to Cozumel, you can take a ferry from Playa del Carmen or fly into Cozumel International Airport. The ferry ride takes around 45 minutes and costs about 220 pesos for one-way or 400 pesos for round trip. You can choose between two ferry companies, Winjet and Ultramar, both of which have a good reputation and operate daily between 5:30 am and 11 pm, with ferries departing every half hour to an hour.
If you plan on driving to Cozumel, you can take a car ferry from the Calica cruise ship port located south of Playa del Carmen. However, if you’re renting a car in Mexico, make sure you check with the rental company first to see if they allow you to take the car to Cozumel. Some rental companies don’t permit their cars to be taken off the mainland.
What to do in Cozumel
Cozumel is popular for its breathtaking tropical Caribbean waters and excellent scuba diving opportunities. The place offers diverse options for scuba diving including drift dives, cave dives, and the Mesoamerican Reef. You can witness vivid and vibrant fish in these waters, which are truly fascinating. Additionally, whale sharks can be spotted in the area during their migratory period from July to August, if swimming with them is on your wish list.
You can book snorkeling tours that will take you to explore the Mesoamerican Reef. Additionally, many beaches in Cozumel are ideal for snorkeling. I brought my own snorkel gear and was able to enjoy it. I saw many fish even when swimming from the beach. However, the best snorkeling spots are away from the crowded tourist areas. Therefore, I suggest booking a tour to reach the best coral areas. Check out our recommended tours below!
Exploring Cozumel by renting a scooter or ATV can be a fun-filled experience. You can rent scooters or ATVs to drive around the entire island and enjoy the endless ocean views from the main highway that acts as a loop around half of the island. Additionally, you can also rent off-road vehicles to explore the undeveloped land, which offers a backwoods adventure.
If you’re interested in learning about Mayan history, there’s a rewarding visit to be had at the San Gervasio mayan archaeological site, which is located inland. On the island, there are also tequila factories and pearl farms to explore. In case you’re deciding which island to visit on your vacation, you may want to check out our comparison of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.
Playa del Carmen In A Nutshell
Playa del Carmen’s central location makes it an ideal destination for travelers as it is situated along the coastline between Cancun and Tulum. Moreover, it serves as the port destination for those who intend to visit Cozumel. Adventure travelers are particularly attracted to Playa del Carmen as it affords them the opportunity to take day trips to neighboring cities like Valladolid.
Compared to other nearby cities, Playa del Carmen offers more affordable accommodations whether you stay in an all-inclusive hotel or a regular one. In Playa del Carmen, the all-inclusive resorts are located along the coastline and away from the downtown core. The main difference between Akumal and Playa del Carmen is that Akumal lacks a “town center.”
One of my favorite Mexican experiences is swimming in cenotes, which can be found in Playa del Carmen. Cenotes are underground caves filled with cool, fresh water, and they hold great significance in Mexican culture as they were considered sacred by the Mayan people. You can choose from a variety of cenotes in the area, each with its own entry fee, and can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive in them.
A must-try activity when in downtown Playa del Carmen is taking a stroll along 5 Avenida Norte, which is also referred to as 5th Avenue. It is the primary and bustling street in Playa where you can enjoy excellent shopping, dining, and nightlife. Situated just a block away from the beach, there are plenty of fascinating activities to keep you and your group entertained in the vicinity.
This area provides a highly stimulating experience filled with live entertainment on the streets. You can enjoy live music, observe break-dancing street performers, and catch a glimpse of restaurants with Cirque de Soleil-style performers.
Additionally, you can dance with a person dressed like Spiderman and witness people playing with baby tigers.
If you want a place to stay and explore nearby attractions, this beach town is perfect. You can take day trips to Tulum, visit Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza, explore cenotes, and other activities. Additionally, there are adventure parks such as Xcaret and Xplor in nearby Playa del Carmen. If you prefer snorkeling to diving, you can also try a snorkel tour.
Akumal Beach, a city nearby, is approximately a 30-minute drive to the south. You can have a wonderful experience swimming with sea turtles and stingrays in the ocean. The turtles are drawn to the place because of the delectable sea grass found on the ocean floor. If you don’t have your own snorkeling gear, it is available for rent or purchase. Remember not to apply sunscreen as it can harm the natural environment.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen
I will outline the features that make Cozumel and Playa del Carmen great for you to decide which one to visit (though visiting both is recommended).
Top Differences Between Cozumel and Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is on the coast of the mainland, while Cozumel is an island.
The two destinations are near each other. You can get to Cozumel Island by taking a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen.
If you want to avoid crowds of cruise passengers, keep in mind that Cozumel is a frequently visited spot on many Caribbean cruise routes.
Staying in Playa Del Carmen provides convenient access to various day trip destinations by either rental car or bus. Rental car agencies are available throughout the city, while the ADO bus station is located in the town center.
Playa del Carmen has a variety of affordable dining options, including some of the best international restaurants that we enjoyed.
When deciding between Cozumel and Playa Del Carmen, keep in mind that Cozumel has a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the busy town of Playa Del Carmen. Consider the type of experience you prefer before making your choice.
Cozumel is a popular destination among divers due to its spectacular underwater scenery.
The coastline of Cozumel is more tropical and stunning than the beaches in Playa del Carmen. The beaches in Playa del Carmen receive a lot of seaweed that washes ashore due to the open ocean currents. If you’re staying at an all-inclusive hotel, the staff typically cleans the seaweed daily to provide a clean beach. However, public beaches usually have a lot of seaweed along the shoreline.
The beaches on the west side of Cozumel, where San Miguel and the all-inclusive are, are well-protected and free from seaweed issues. The calm waters make them ideal for swimming and snorkeling. On the other hand, the eastern beaches of Cozumel are undeveloped and isolated, with seaweed lining them. The waves are also quite big, making it unsafe for swimming.
Accommodation In Each Vacation Destination
Theclusive resorts in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula are impressive in design and offer many amenities. However, if you desire a more authentic Mexican experience, consider staying in hotels or AirBnBs instead of choosing an all-inclusive resort. Cozumel and Playa have a range of accommodations that cater to different interests and budgets.
One of my top travel tips for Playa Del Carmen is to choose accommodations farther away from the beach to save money. When deciding where to stay, keep in mind that prices drop considerably beyond 20 Avenida Norte.
Is Cozumel or Playa del Carmen cheaper?
The cost of accommodations in Cozumel is higher than those in Playa del Carmen, but this may not be a fair comparison as Playa del Carmen is generally known for having cheaper accommodations. If you want to compare prices between Cozumel and Tulum, they are more similar.
For those visiting Playa del Carmen, it’s best to book a hotel near 5th Avenue. This is conveniently located near shopping, restaurants, beaches, and nightlife in Quinta Avenida. To ensure a peaceful night’s sleep, it’s recommended to read hotel reviews beforehand and consider booking a hotel one street away from the main street.
For those staying in Cozumel, hotels are mostly situated in San Miguel.
Hotels in Cozumel are more isolated and less luxurious compared to other hotels in Mexico. You may find a decent hotel, but keep in mind that the rooms will be more basic for the same price you would pay elsewhere in Mexico.
Both Cozumel and Playa del Carmen offer excellent all-inclusive resorts. Cozumel’s resorts have a more tropical atmosphere, although they may be more expensive. Some resorts in Cozumel have beaches suitable for snorkeling. In both destinations, the all-inclusive resorts are located on the beaches outside of downtown. Keep in mind that you will need to budget for taxi fares if you want to visit either city.
Is staying in Cozumel or Cancun better?
Cozumel is a smaller city compared to Cancun. However, Cancun is more of a modern metropolis with international influence and less of an authentic Mexican feel. The all-inclusive resorts in Cancun are located on a beach strip that’s packed with nightclubs and large shopping centers. Cancun’s hotel zone resembles the Las Vegas strip more than Cozumel.
On the contrary, Cozumel is an island with mostly natural surroundings such as dense jungles and clean tropical waters.
The all-inclusive resorts operate at a slow pace, providing a relaxing environment. Although Cozumel is perfect for a tropical vacation, it lacks shopping malls and nightlife that are available in Cancun. To better understand the differences between these two vacation spots, you can read our article on Cozumel vs. Cancun.
Food That Cozumel And Playa Del Carmen Offer
As a foodie heading to Mexico, your decision on where to go will likely be based on which place has the best food. In my opinion, Playa del Carmen is the clear winner in this regard. While both areas are known for fresh seafood, be aware that restaurant prices in Cozumel may be higher than in other parts of Mexico due to an “island tax.” The selection of restaurants on Cozumel is also limited and prices are generally more expensive, although the food is tasty.
In contrast to Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a great destination for food lovers. The restaurants along 5th Ave offer a wide range of options, from small family-run eateries to fancy 5-star establishments with live entertainment. Additionally, Playa del Carmen has more street food choices that you can enjoy, and they are my personal favorite. Who wouldn’t want to taste delicious and affordable tacos served from a food truck and cold Mexican beer?
Fun Nightlife Scene Compared
If you’re looking to experience the vibrant nightlife in Playa del Carmen with different parties every night, we recommend waiting until the afternoon and heading to 5th Avenue for a beautiful sunset. You’ll find white sand beaches just a block or two away, perfect for relaxing and dipping your feet into the ocean after a night out. In this area, you can find everything from live entertainment, dancing nightclubs like Coco Bongo, to laid-back hookah bars.
The nightlife in Cozumel is limited due to its smaller size compared to Playa. While there are many restaurants, some with open mics, the nightlife scene is mostly comprised of laid-back beach clubs that resemble late-night bars rather than wild nightclubs.
Overall Travel Costs To Value
If you’re planning a budget-friendly trip to Mexico, Playa del Carmen is an ideal destination. It offers a perfect combination of adventure and amenities that would suit budget travelers. Opt for Playa Del Carmen if you want to have a range of options that fit your budget.
Although the cost is higher, the value you get from visiting Cozumel is definitely worth it. You’ll have an authentic experience in a mostly untouched jungle with crystal clear waters near the world’s second-largest coral reef. Playa del Carmen is actually less expensive than Cozumel, but we think the extra money for Cozumel is worth it. Since Cozumel is just a short ferry ride away, we suggest adding both locations to your Mexican itinerary.
Which is better for Digital Nomads?
If you can work from anywhere with just a laptop and internet connection, you may understand the challenges of finding reliable WiFi and electrical outlets in a developing country.
If you’re a digital nomad and need to choose between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, it’s better to choose Playa del Carmen due to its better infrastructure. Moreover, it’s a hub for digital nomads as it has plenty of low-cost living options in the form of apartments, suitable for those staying for several months.
I had a smooth work experience in Playa del Carmen whether I used Selina’s coworking space or stayed in an Airbnb. Even when a hurricane arrived, the electricity and WiFi remained stable, although the storm was almost classified as a tropical storm. However, you can still expect to have WiFi in Cozumel, but if you’re working remotely in Mexico, Playa del Carmen is a more secure option.
Which is Safer?
s has more reliable WiFi, but Cozumel is considered safer overall. However, it’s worth noting that both destinations are classified as Level 2 by the Department of State due to being within Quintana Roo state, where travelers are advised to exercise caution. For more information on safety in Quintana Roo, you can refer to my guide.
There is a clear difference in safety between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. In Playa, it is difficult to walk down 5th Avenue without being offered drugs, which is concerning given that drug dealers in Mexico typically have connections to cartels. While I didn’t personally feel unsafe in Playa, I have always felt that Cozumel is a safer destination.
Although there are still drugs and other negative occurrences in Cozumel, the island is relatively safer due to better regulation. This also limits the potential for rival cartel groups to come to the island and cause trouble. Additionally, Numbeo data supports this claim, showing that Cozumel’s crime index is only 33.54, while Playa del Carmen’s is 48.98 out of 100.
Do you Need a car?
If you plan on visiting Cozumel, it’s recommended that you use a scooter, car, or taxi to get around. Walking and biking are not the most efficient ways to explore the island because it’s quite large. During my first visit to Cozumel, I made the mistake of trying to bike around, and it was a shame because it just wasn’t practical.
Compared to Cozumel, Playa is a better choice for tourists who prefer walking to their destination. Although there are only a few tourist spots in the central part of Playa, you can easily reach them by walking through 5th Avenue. The beach is the main attraction of Playa. If you are hesitant about driving or using a taxi in Mexico and trying to decide between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, go for Playa. Remember there is no Uber in Playa del Carmen. But keep in mind that rideshare apps do not work in either Cozumel or Playa del Carmen. To ensure safety, never take a taxi from a random taxi driver on the street in Playa; always get a ride from a reputable taxi company.
Best for Day Trips?
Playa del Carmen, located on the Yucatan Peninsula’s mainland, provides more opportunities for day trips than Cozumel. Some of the most fantastic day trip options from Playa del Carmen include:
Cozumel (how can I not put this one first?)
You can visit popular theme parks like Xcaret and Xel-Ha Parks in the Riviera Maya, which are just a short drive away. If you’re in Cozumel and looking for a day trip, Playa del Carmen is the best option. The ferry departs frequently throughout the day and when you arrive at the port in Playa, you’ll find yourself in the heart of all the tourist attractions.
It theoretically possible to take a day trip to other destinations I listed for Playa by using the ferry, as it runs early and late, but it would make for a long day and there is a risk of bad weather affecting your ability to get on or off the island. For more information, please refer to my article about the Best Time To Visit Cozumel. However, in reality, many tourists opt to take full-day tours around Cozumel, either as a group or by driving on their own, instead of leaving the island.
There are several excellent activities to enjoy around Cozumel, such as going diving or snorkeling, visiting the San Gervasio ruins, exploring the Punta Sur Ecological Park, and checking out the Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park. Whether you are in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen, you will have plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. The key is to decide how far you want to travel and how many Yucatan destinations you want to visit.
Best for Mayan Ruins?
If you’re trying to decide between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, it’s important to know that Playa is a more modern city. You can confirm this by visiting one of its upscale shopping malls. Cozumel, on the other hand, has a long history dating back to the Mayan era, and you can explore the San Gervasio ruins while you’re there.
Although Playa del Carmen itself does not have any significant ruins, except for a small and unknown ruin in Playacar which is free to visit, you can easily access larger ruins by taking a day trip. Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is the most popular option. Moreover, you can also plan a visit to other historical sites such as the Tulum ruins, Coba, Muyil and Ek Balam while staying in Playa.
Cozumel vs Playa Del Carmen for Snorkeling?
Cozumel is renowned worldwide for its unrivaled snorkeling opportunities. The reefs and abundant marine life are truly exceptional, making it a popular destination for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts from around the globe. Even if you don’t plan on staying in Cozumel, it’s worth taking a day trip to see its beauty for yourself.
Near Playa, there are nearby places such as Akumal where you can go snorkeling. If you’re fortunate, you may spot a sea turtle.
Advantages of choosing Playa del Carmen:
– Centrally located
– Easy to get around on foot
– More affordable
– Abundance of options for shopping, dining and entertainment
Cons of Playa del Carmen:
Not as safe
Snorkeling is good but not as stunning as in Cozumel
Beaches are more crowded
Pros of Cozumel
Stunning snorkeling and scuba diving
Quiet secluded beaches
Cons of Cozumel
More secluded and quiet
Harder to get to
Slightly morr expensive
Not as much nightlife
How much does the ferry ride to Cozumel cost?
The cost of a one-way trip on the ferry is between 135 and 167 pesos. Children ages of 2 – 12 receive a 50% discount.
Which Riviera Maya Destination Will You Choose?
Have you visited the Yucatan Peninsula before? If so, which area did you find the most enjoyable? If you are considering or planning a trip to the Mexican Caribbean, I highly recommend these wonderful places. Use the comments section to discuss it with me and feel free to ask any questions about what I may have missed.
Traveling to 🇲🇽 Mexico soon?
I recommend these travel resources for Mexico that I personally use:
🏨 Hotels: I have found that Expedia and Booking.com consistently have the best deals on hotels and resorts in Mexico. If you prefer to stay at a vacation rental, check VRBO that is usually cheaper than AirBnB’s added fees!
✈️ Flights: To find the best flight deals to Mexico, I always use Kayak. Remember to subscribe to their price alerts for the travel dates you want. Another great alternative for flight deals is Expedia.
🚗 Rental Cars: I always use and highly recommend Discover Cars because it allows me to compare several car rental companies and view ratings on various factors such as overall value, pick-up procedure, agent efficiency, car condition, and total time taken.
🚙 CancunAirport Transportation: For the fastest and easiest way to travel, I suggest arranging a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation. Honestly, no better way to travel from the airport to your hotel or resort.
🤿 Tours & Activities: For tours and activities in Mexico, I highly recommend using either Viator or GetYourGuide. These websites offer a full refund if you cancel your booking 24 hours before the start of the tour, and they also provide excellent customer service in case of any issues.
🚨 Travel Insurance: I always suggest purchasing travel insurance as a precaution before traveling, especially after a recent accident in a taxi in Mexico. For short trips, I recommend Travel Insurance Master, whereas for digital nomads, Safety Wing is a better option.
📷 Best Camera for your trip: I always carry with me a GoPro, It’s light, compact, takes great video and pictures, and most importantly, it’s waterproof! You just can’t go wrong with one. If you are interested in higher quality video and photography, I always carry with me on my trips and highly recommend the Sony A7IV which I think is the best travel DSLR Camera out there.
☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Remember to include a good sunscreen to protect yourself from the summer sun. I always use and suggest Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is vegan, reef-friendly, and cruelty-free.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
3rd Party Cookies
This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site, and the most popular pages.
Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!