Cozumel and Playa del Carmen are two of the most popular travel destinations in Mexico. Both offer beautiful beaches, amazing food, and plenty of activities to keep you busy. But which one is right for you?
That’s where I’m here to help! As a Playa del Carmen resident and local travel blogger, I’ve lived in Playa del Carmen since 2018 and have visited Cozumel numerous times.
In this Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen comparison guide, I’ll help you decide which Mexican beach destination is best for you!
Read on to learn about each destination’s pros and cons, hotels and resorts, activities, restaurants, nightlife, and safety.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Overview
Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are just a short ferry ride apart, yet they have very distinct vibes.
If you’re limited on time and are trying to decide where to spend your vacation days, here’s a quick overview of each destination:
Located about 7 miles to the east of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island at 30 miles long and 9.9 miles wide.
The town of San Miguel de Cozumel is the island’s largest town and main city center on the island’s more developed western side.
Cozumel is a popular tourist destination thanks to its stunning Caribbean beaches, incredible coral reefs, and jungle landscapes.
It is also one of the most visited cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean and is expected to welcome over 2 million cruise ship visitors in 2022.
The incredible coral reefs surrounding the island are part of the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the second-longest barrier reef system in the world, only second to the Great Barrier reef in Australia.
Its abundant snorkeling and scuba diving sites attract tourists and diving enthusiasts from all over the world.
About Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a laid-back beach destination located on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula just 1 hour south of Cancun.
Originally a small fishing village, the town has grown rapidly to a population of about 300,000 people with a large expat and digital nomad community.
Even with its growing population and busy touristy areas, Playa del Carmen (known simply as “Playa” to locals) still feels like a small Mexican beach town.
It’s known for its stunning turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and lively main street known as Fifth Avenue (“La Quinta Avenida” in Spanish).
There are also many restaurants, bars, and shops located in downtown Playa del Carmen and within short walking distance of the beach, making it a great place to explore and relax.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Who are they suited for?
Here’s an overview of the types of travelers each beach town is best suited for:
Who is Cozumel suited for?
Cozumel is a great destination for those looking for a relaxing beach getaway. The island tends to attract families, couples, and older individuals to its beachfront all-inclusive resorts and is not considered a party destination.
You’ll still find plenty of adventurous things to do in Cozumel, but it is best suited for those who truly want to get away and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Most of the restaurants, bars, and attractions in Cozumel tend to be more low-key than places you would find in a city.
With its incredible coral reefs, Cozumel is also a popular spot for scuba diving enthusiasts, as there are many dive sites around the island.
Who is Playa del Carmen suited for?
Playa del Carmen is best suited for travelers who want to be closer to the action.
With its lively 5th Avenue and many options for restaurants, shopping, and nightlife, it’s perfect for travelers who are seeking a beach destination but still enjoy being out and about.
In Playa del Carmen, you’ll still get Caribbean beach access but with much more walkability, as pretty much everything in the downtown area is within walking distance of the beach.
With its wide range of accommodations, Playa del Carmen appeals to many different types of travelers whether you’re on a budget, looking for something luxurious, or anywhere in between.
Playa del Carmen is also a great central hub for exploring other parts of Mexico, which makes it a great destination for solo travelers and digital nomads.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Pros and Cons
Next, let’s take a look at some of the Cozumel Playa del Carmen pros and cons that I’ll discuss further in this post:
Pros of Cozumel
- Impressive snorkeling and scuba diving
- Tranquil beaches
- More safe
Cons of Cozumel
- More remote, harder to get to
- More expensive
- Not as much nightlife
Pros of Playa del Carmen
- Well-located central hub
- Less expensive
- More restaurants, shopping, and nightlife
Cons of Playa del Carmen
- Less safe
- Less impressive snorkeling
- Crowded beaches
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Safety Comparison
How do these two destinations compare when it comes to keeping visitors safe?
Overall, Cozumel is considered much safer than Playa del Carmen. Locals and business owners understand the value of tourism dollars, which is why keeping the island safe for visitors has always been a top priority and the crime level has remained low.
In addition, Cozumel’s beautiful all inclusive resorts and cruise ships typically attract families and older individuals so it’s not really known as a party destination, which means Cozumel safety and security incidents are less common.
In contrast, Playa del Carmen has experienced an increase in drug crime in recent years, making it a less safe destination for travelers. I don’t feel unsafe living in Playa del Carmen but it’s important to know that drug violence does exist.
I live pretty cautiously because I’ve learned what to avoid and how to stay safe in Playa del Carmen.
Safety is never guaranteed, but if you take proper precautions, avoid illegal drug activity, and keep an eye on your belongings at all times, you will more than likely have no safety issues when visiting Playa del Carmen.
Of course, no place is completely safe from crime. But if you’re looking for a safer option, Cozumel is probably the better choice.
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Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Cost Comparison
Here’s a look at how travel costs compare between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen:
Cozumel is generally more expensive than Playa del Carmen, especially when it comes to accommodation and activities.
As primarily a vacation and cruise destination, Cozumel has attracted affluent tourists, which has contributed to higher prices on the island.
In addition, the majority of the resorts in Cozumel are all-inclusive, meaning you will pay more upfront for having all of your food and drinks included. And since Cozumel is an island, transportation and import costs can be higher.
Playa del Carmen is a bit cheaper overall than Cozumel, making it a great option for budget travelers.
With a wide variety of hotels and resorts in Playa del Carmen, accommodation is typically more affordable as you can choose whether you want a luxury all-inclusive resort, a budget-friendly hotel, or a vacation rental.
If you’re looking to save money on your trip, Playa del Carmen may be the better destination for you.
But if you’re willing to spend a bit more money, Cozumel offers an unforgettable experience with its stunning beaches, all inclusive resorts, and amazing snorkeling.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Beaches Comparison
Both Cozumel and Playa del Carmen boast beautiful beaches with turquoise waters and white sand beaches. However, there are some differences between the two.
The beaches in Cozumel are generally more tranquil and relaxed. The best beaches can be found on the west side of the island, where the waves are calmer and there is usually little seaweed.
However, Cozumel’s many coral reefs make some of the beaches rocky and unswimmable–though they still offer stunning ocean views!
On the other hand, the beaches in Playa del Carmen are still nice but tend to be livelier and more party-oriented.
Playa del Carmen has a much more bustling beach scene with many beach clubs and vendors, and they can be very crowded especially during peak season.
If you’re looking to truly escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Cozumel is the better choice. However, if you’re looking for a more lively beach vacation, Playa del Carmen may be a better option.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Hotels Comparison
There are many hotels and resorts to choose from when visiting Cozumel or Playa del Carmen. Both destinations offer a wide range of accommodations, from budget-friendly options to luxury properties.
Cozumel is known for its large, all-inclusive resorts. The resorts in Cozumel usually offer a wide range of amenities, including multiple restaurants, bars, pools, and activities.
They are often located on the beach, making them ideal for those who want to spend their days relaxing in the sun.
On the other hand, Playa del Carmen is home to a mix of hotel types. All-inclusive resorts are still available, but there are also smaller boutique hotels and even apartments and villas for rent.
This variety means that there are Playa del Carmen hotels to suit every budget and preference.
The location of hotels in Playa del Carmen is also more varied, with some hotels located in the heart of the action near 5th Avenue, some hotels on the beach, and others in more residential areas.
When deciding where to stay, it is important to consider what type of vacation you are looking for.
If you want a relaxing beach vacation, Cozumel is a great choice. However, if you are looking for more liveliness, Playa del Carmen may be a better option.
Playa del Carmen vs. Cozumel: Activities Comparison
Both Cozumel and Playa del Carmen offer a wide range of activities and you’ll be able to find snorkeling excursions, catamaran sails, ziplining, ATVs, and numerous adventure activities in both destinations.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are definitely Cozumel’s main draws as the island is home to some of the best coral reefs in the world with much marine life to be seen.
However, Playa del Carmen is more centrally located to be able to experience all the Riviera Maya activities such as freshwater cenotes, adventure parks, and Mayan Ruins.
Here are some activity highlights exclusive to each destination:
Cozumel Activity Highlights
- El Cielo: A popular snorkeling spot, El Cielo is a shallow sandbar known for its abundance of giant starfish. On the El Cielo tour, you’ll get to visit El Cielo, as well as snorkel at the famous Palancar and Columbia Reefs.
- Punta Sur Eco Park: Marking the southern point of Cozumel, the Punta Sur Ecological Park spans a whopping 247 acres of pristine beaches, natural lagoons, coral reefs, and low forest eco-systems. With activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and even a small history museum, there’s plenty to do and see at this park.
- Cozumel Submarine Expedition: The Cozumel Submarine Expedition is Mexico’s only submarine dedicated to tourism, diving up to 100 feet beneath the sea. While on the 2-hour submarine expedition, you’ll see the Felipe Xicotencatl sunken ship and pass near “La Pared”, a vertical drop that plummets to more than 2,000 feet deep at the edge of the island.
- San Gervasio Mayan Ruins: The San Gervasio Mayan Ruins are some of the most well-preserved and extensive ruins on the island and one of the top things to do in Cozumel. Visitors can explore the main plaza, temples, and other structures, which were originally used by the Mayans as a sanctuary to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. While not as grand as the Tulum Ruins or Chichen Itza, they are still worth a visit.
Playa del Carmen Activity Highlights
- Xcaret Parks: Many of the Xcaret adventure parks can be found just south of Playa del Carmen including Xcaret, Xplor, Xel-Ha, and Xenses, offering a variety of adventure and water activities.
- Cenotes: While some small cenotes (natural swimming holes) can be found in Cozumel, there are much more impressive cenotes near Playa del Carmen and Tulum that are worth visiting.
- Tulum Ruins: Located about 1 hour south of Playa del Carmen, the Tulum Ruins are the only beachfront Mayan Ruins in the state of Quintana Roo, offering visitors a glimpse into the region’s ancient history and spectacular seaside views.
- Akumal: Located halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Akumal is a small coastal town where you can swim with sea turtles in their natural habitat directly off the beach.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Food and Restaurant Comparison
Both destinations offer a wide variety of dining options, from casual beach clubs to upscale seafood restaurants. However, Cozumel’s restaurants tend to be a bit more expensive than those in Playa del Carmen.
Cozumel caters to American tourists and you’ll find a lot of traditional American food on many of the beach club menus.
However, the restaurant scene in Cozumel has definitely improved and you’ll find trendy and upscale restaurants popping up around San Miguel de Cozumel.
Since Playa del Carmen is larger and more developed, there are many more restaurants in Playa del Carmen to choose from.
Overall, Playa del Carmen has a more international flavor with a variety of restaurants from cheap taco joints to authentic Mexican food to upscale international cuisine.
If you’re looking for an assortment of dining options within easy walking distance, Playa del Carmen is the place to go.
Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen: Nightlife Comparison
Probably one of the biggest differences between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel is the nightlife scene.
Cozumel is a sleepier destination that tends to attract families, couples, and older individuals. As most of the resorts in Cozumel are all-inclusive, many tourists will not leave the resort after dark.
You’ll still find cocktail bars, fun tiki bars, and lively restaurants around San Miguel de Cozumel; however, there are far fewer options.
If you’re looking for a place to party, then you’ll definitely want to choose Playa del Carmen.
There are plenty of bars and nightclubs in Playa del Carmen, all located on or near the lively 5th Avenue, making it a safe and popular place to stay out late and dance the night away.
If nightclubs aren’t your scene, there are also many rooftop bars, wine bars, cervecerías (breweries), and laid-back beach bars in Playa del Carmen, for a more low-key spot to have a drink or meet new people.
Or you can opt for the famous all-you-can-drink Coco Bongo Show–it’s actually a lot of fun!
FAQs about Playa del Carmen vs Cozumel
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Playa del Carmen vs Cozumel:
It depends on what you’re looking for! Cozumel is better for diving and for a relaxing getaway.
On the other hand, Playa del Carmen is a much more bustling town with plenty of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.
Cozumel is one of the most popular diving destinations in the world and offers far better dive sites than Playa del Carmen.
The waters around Cozumel are clearer and more pristine, which makes for better visibility underwater.
With its abundance of coral reefs, Cozumel also has a greater variety of dive sites to choose from. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, you’ll find plenty of options to suit your skill level.
Yes, Cozumel is generally more expensive than Playa del Carmen. This is because Cozumel is primarily a cruise and vacation destination, attracting affluent tourists.
Additionally, since Cozumel is an island, transportation and import costs can be higher.
The Playa del Carmen-Cozumel ferry is the most popular way to get to the island of Cozumel from Playa del Carmen.
The Cozumel to Playa del Carmen ferry ride takes less than 45 minutes and departs every hour on the hour from both locations. The cost is around $12 USD for a one-way ticket.
Final Thoughts: Playa del Carmen vs Cozumel
So, Playa del Carmen or Cozumel-which is better? It really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation.
If you want to relax on beautiful beaches, snorkel or scuba dive, and don’t mind spending a bit more money, Cozumel is a great option for a beach getaway.
But if you’re looking for a more affordable destination with plenty of nightlife, restaurants, and shopping all within walking distance, Playa del Carmen is your best bet.
Plus, you’ll be centrally located to reach all the best Riviera Maya activities and attractions.
But no matter which destination you choose, you’ll still be treated to beautiful beaches, tons of activities, a vibrant culture, and incredible cuisine.
And since Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are just a short ferry ride apart, it’s quick and easy to visit them on day trips to get to see for yourself what each destination is really like.
Traveling to Mexico soon?
These are the Mexico travel resources I use and recommend:
✈️ Flights: I recommend using Skyscanner for the best Mexico flight deals. Be sure to sign up for their price alerts for your preferred travel dates.
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☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Don’t forget to add biodegradable sunscreen to your Mexico packing list! Regular sunscreen is prohibited when swimming in the ocean and cenotes in Mexico, so you’ll need to pack some biodegradable sunscreen for sun protection. I recommend Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is reef-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free.