Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Which is better in 2023?

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Planning a trip to Mexico and can’t decide between Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen? You’ve come to the right guide!

As a travel blogger that lives in Playa del Carmen, I know all about these two popular beach destinations and I’m here to share what each one is really like!

While both make amazing destinations for a beach vacation, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen have some key differences, and are suited for different types of travelers.

In this ultimate Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen comparison guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about how the two travel destinations compare when it comes to hotels, beaches, nightlife, safety, costs, and more.

Plus, you’ll learn more about the pros and cons of each one!

Ready to find out which of these Mexican beach destinations is best for you? Let’s get started!

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Overview

Let’s start with a quick overview of each destination:

About Isla Mujeres

Meaning β€œIsland of Women,” Isla Mujeres is a beautiful Caribbean island located just 15 minutes off the coast of Cancun, Mexico.

Isla Mujeres was named by the Spanish when they first arrived to the island and found many images of goddesses dating back to the time when the island was sacred to the Mayan goddess of childbirth and medicine.

At less than 5 miles long, Isla Mujeres is a small island but still offers plenty of restaurants, shopping, and accommodations. And the most popular way to get around is by golf cart!

Isla Mujeres Mexico

The island is known for its stunning beaches, snorkeling excursions, catamaran sails, private yacht charters, and many adventurous Isla Mujeres activities and water sports.

The best beaches on Isla Mujeres can be found on the northwestern side of the island, most notably Playa Norte (North Beach).

On Playa Norte, you’ll find the most stunning turquoise water and white sand beaches–it definitely makes for a jaw-dropping first impression!

I personally love getting to escape to Isla Mujeres on a day trip or for an overnight stay–it’s a true island paradise!

Playa Norte Beach Isla Mujeres Mexico

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.

But 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 shopping in Playa del Carmen–all within short walking distance of the beach, making it a great place to explore and relax.

I love living in Playa del Carmen as it places you in the heart of the action but you still have easy access to beaches, cenotes, and other natural wonders of the region.

Playa del Carmen Parque Fundadores

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Location

Below is a map of both Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen to give you a better idea of their location in relation to each other.

You’ll fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) for both destinations but getting to both Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen requires a bit of travel time.

To get to Isla Mujeres from the Cancun Airport, you’ll need to take ground transportation to the Isla Mujeres ferry terminal in Cancun (either the Ultramar Ferry or Xcaret Xailing), then take a 15-minute ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres.

Xcaret Xailing Ferry to Isla Mujeres

Alternatively, to get to Playa del Carmen, you’ll need to book a Cancun airport private transfer and drive approximately 1 hour south to Playa del Carmen.

While Isla Mujeres is closer to the Cancun Airport, its island location makes it a much more remote destination.

Playa del Carmen is much more accessible and gives you easy access to all the activities and attractions on the mainland.

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Who are they best suited for?

Here’s an overview of the types of travelers each beach town is best suited for:

Who is Isla Mujeres best suited for?

Isla Mujeres is a popular tourist destination for people who are looking for a quiet and relaxing getaway.

The beautiful island has incredible beaches, crystal-clear water, and there are plenty of things to do in Isla Mujeres to keep visitors busy.

Isla Mujeres is perfect for couples or families who are looking for a relaxing vacation.

The island has plenty of activities, but it’s also small enough that you can easily find a quiet spot to relax.

And with its small size and golf cart transportation, it definitely has more of a remote island vibe.

If you’re looking for a party scene, Isla Mujeres is probably not the best place for you as the island is more quiet and laid-back with limited nightlife.

Green Demon Beach Club Isla Mujeres

Who is Playa del Carmen best suited for?

Playa del Carmen is best suited for travelers who are looking for a livelier destination and want to be closer to the action.

With its vibrant 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.

And 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.

5th Avenue Playa del Carmen

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Pros & Cons

Next, let’s take a look at some of the Isla Mujeres Playa del Carmen pros and cons that I’ll discuss further in this post:

Pros of Isla Mujeres

  • Small island vibe
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Closer to Cancun Airport

Cons of Isla Mujeres

  • Less attractions
  • Fewer restaurants
  • Minimal nightlife
Isla Mujeres Letters

Pros of Playa del Carmen

  • Well-located central hub
  • Very walkable
  • More restaurants, shopping, and nightlife

Cons of Playa del Carmen

  • Less safe
  • Can be more expensive
  • Less beautiful beaches
Playa del Carmen Sign

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Safety

Now let’s take a look at how Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres compare when it comes to safety:

U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory

The official U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for both Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen is currently β€œLevel 2 – Exercise Increased Caution” due to the high levels of crime and violence in the overall state of Quintana Roo.

The United States Mexico travel advisory mentions that criminal activity and violent crime may occur in popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, but does not specifically list Isla Mujeres as an area of risk.

Crime and Safety Index Comparison

Numbeo reports the following crime and safety indices for Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen. Basically you want the crime index to be low and the safety index to be high.

  • Crime Index: Isla Mujeres: 14.71 (Very Low) | Playa del Carmen: 47.32 (Moderate)
  • Safety Index: Isla Mujeres: 85.29 (Very High) | Playa del Carmen: 52.68 (Moderate)
Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen Safety

Is Isla Mujeres safer than Playa del Carmen?

Yes, Isla Mujeres is generally safer than Playa del Carmen. Isla Mujeres has a much lower crime rate and higher safety index than Playa del Carmen, making it the safer choice for travelers.

When it comes to staying safe in Isla Mujeres, you’ll still need to be mindful of your surroundings, but you should feel much safer than in Playa del Carmen.

Since Isla Mujeres is more remote and less populated, it is very peaceful and quiet with limited nightlife.

Playa del Carmen has a much more robust nightlife scene, which makes it more prone to crime and illegal activity.

I don’t feel unsafe living in Playa del Carmen but I’ve learned to live very cautiously by following these Playa del Carmen safety tips and avoiding the drug scene.

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Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Cost

A vacation to Isla Mujeres might be a bit cheaper than Playa del Carmen, but both destinations are pretty comparable when it comes to cost.

In terms of lodging, you’ll find that Isla Mujeres is generally cheaper than Playa del Carmen, mainly because the island doesn’t have many all-inclusive resorts.

Casa del Jaguar Beach Hotel Isla Mujeres

And while Isla Mujeres is closer to Cancun Airport, it will probably cost the same amount as an airport transfer to Playa del Carmen, considering you’ll need to book a transfer to the ferry, plus ferry tickets, and then a taxi to your hotel.

But if you rent a golf cart once you get there, you can use that as your main form of transportation and save money on transportation costs.

Ultramar Isla Mujeres Ferry
Isla Mujeres Golf Cart Rental

Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, has many all-inclusive resorts that can be much more expensive. But there’s also plenty of more budget-friendly options as well.

And in both destinations, you’ll find a wide selection of restaurants, bars, and activities to choose from that will fit all budgets.

πŸ’³ One important thing to know is that credit cards are not widely accepted in Isla Mujeres (especially at restaurants and beach clubs) so you should make sure to bring enough cash with you to avoid added credit card fees.

Mahekal Beach Resort Playa del Carmen

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Beaches

When it comes to comparing the beaches in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres is the clear winner!

Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres has been voted as one of the best beaches in the world and offers powder white sand and very calm and shallow turquoise water–it is unbelievably beautiful!

Plus, what makes Playa Norte so popular is that it rarely gets hit with the seaweed that can commonly plague other beaches in Riviera Maya.

Now Isla Mujeres beaches on the west side of the island have rocky coastlines and aren’t really suitable for swimming, but the east side has plenty of white-sand beaches perfect for swimming and soaking up the sun.

Isla Mujeres Playa Norte

On the other hand, the beaches in Playa del Carmen are still very nice, but the ones in the downtown area can be very crowded and congested.

And the beach clubs in Playa del Carmen can have a bit more of a party vibe, and aren’t as laid back as the ones in Isla Mujeres.

Plus, depending on the time of year, there can sometimes be large amounts of seaweed on Playa del Carmen beaches.

Playa del Carmen Mamitas Beach

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Hotels

Another important thing to consider when choosing between Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen is the types of hotels and accommodations available.

Isla Mujeres is much more compact and mainly has smaller boutique hotels and vacation rentals–both in the town center and on the beach.

Aside from Mia Reef Isla Mujeres, the island doesn’t really have any large all-inclusive resorts and it’s easier to find budget hotels.

Mia Reef Beach Hotel Isla Mujeres

The hotels in Isla Mujeres provide more affordability as you won’t be paying for an all inclusive plan but can be more limiting when it comes to amenities and services.

And the hotels on Playa Norte are located in a livelier area while hotels on the southern part of the island (like Hotel Belo Isla Mujeres) offer a more relaxed and quiet experience.

↳ Check rates and availability for hotels in Isla Mujeres

Hotel Belo Isla Mujeres

On the other hand, Playa del Carmen has a much wider range of accommodations with luxury all inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, and condos for rent.

So if you want to spend your vacation at a sprawling Playa del Carmen all inclusive resort with lots of amenities and activities, Playa del Carmen is the better choice.

Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort

But at the same time, if you’re looking for a smaller hotel or vacation rental within walking distance of the beach and town center, you’ll find that in Playa del Carmen too.

Overall, the hotels in Playa del Carmen provide more variety but can also be a bit pricier than Isla Mujeres depending on the type of accommodation you choose.

↳ Check rates and availability for hotels in Playa del Carmen

Hotel HM Playa del Carmen

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Activities

Both Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen offer a ton of fun activities from snorkeling and scuba diving to exploring Mayan ruins.

But Playa del Carmen’s mainland location makes it much easier to explore all the fun things to do in Riviera Maya and the surrounding YucatΓ‘n peninsula.

So if you’re someone that wants to get out and explore, Playa del Carmen is the better choice.

Here’s an overview of some of the activity highlights in each destination:

Things to Do in Isla Mujeres

These are some of the best things to do in Isla Mujeres:

  • MUSA: Located near Isla Mujeres, the MUSA Underwater Museum of Art offers visitors the chance to snorkel and scuba dive at a man-made underwater museum and sculpture park designed to promote the growth of coral reefs.
Isla Mujeres MUSA Underwater Museum of Art
  • Swimming with Whale Sharks: During the months of May-September, whale sharks arrive to the island of Isla Mujeres to feed in the plankton-rich waters off the coast of the island, offering visitors the chance to swim alongside these gentle giants for an unforgettable whale shark snorkeling experience.
Whale Shark on an Isla Mujeres Whale Shark Snorkeling Tour
  • Playa Norte: The most popular beach on the island, Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, or relaxing at a beach club. With clear turquoise water and powder white sand, it’s your quintessential Mexican Caribbean beach experience.
Isla Mujeres Playa Norte
  • Punta Sur: Punta Sur is the southernmost tip of Isla Mujeres, and is home to a beautiful lighthouse, sculpture park, restaurants and shops, and breathtaking views. With a small entrance fee, it is essentially an island landmark and one of the top places to visit in Isla Mujeres.
Isla Mujeres Punta Sur

Things to Do in Playa del Carmen

These are some of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen:

Xel Ha Water Park
  • Cenotes: There are many incredible cenotes near Playa del Carmen, which are freshwater swimming holes that are unique to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. These natural wonders offer visitors the chance to swim, snorkel, and explore the incredible underground caves formed over thousands of years.
Cenote Taak Bi Ha
  • Mayan Ruins: The Tulum Ruins site is located less than an hour south of Playa del Carmen and are the only beachfront Mayan Ruins in the state of Quintana Roo. Additionally, Chichen Itza is one of the largest archeological sites in the Yucatan peninsula and located about 2 hours from Playa del Carmen so it’s easiest to visit on a Chichen Itza Ruins tour.
Chichen Itza Pyramid
  • 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.
Akumal Sea Turtle

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Restaurants

If you are a foodie and want to have some great meals during your vacation, then Playa del Carmen is definitely the place to be.

There are many great restaurants in Playa del Carmen ranging from casual taquerias serving up Playa del Carmen’s best tacos to high-end fine dining restaurants, offering a variety of delicious cuisines.

In fact, most of my favorite restaurants in Playa del Carmen are actually Italian or pizza restaurants! But what’s great is that there is a wide variety of cuisine to choose from.

Restaurant in Playa del Carmen

In Isla Mujeres, there is still good food to be found but the range is a bit more limited, and outside of hotels, the majority of restaurants are located in the town center along Avenida Miguel Hidalgo.

During the day, you’ll probably be sticking to standard beach club fare like tacos, burgers, and sandwiches. And there are some cute breakfast spots too.

But overall, the local restaurants in Isla Mujeres tend to be more casual and less adventurous than those in Playa del Carmen.

If you’re looking for more variety and more options to choose from, Playa del Carmen is the place to go!

Restaurants in Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen: Nightlife

When it comes to nightlife, Playa del Carmen definitely has the edge over Isla Mujeres.

Overall, Isla Mujeres is a very quiet and laid back beach destination with limited nightlife.

You’ll still find bars and restaurants open at night in the town center but it’s nothing too crazy, and most people just prefer to hang out and day drink at the beach clubs.

On the other hand, Playa del Carmen has a vibrant nightlife scene with tons of bars and nightclubs open late into the evening.

Plus, you can also see the famous Coco Bongo show–an all-you-can-drink pop culture show that’s actually a lot of fun!

Coco Bongo Playa del Carmen

And for those that don’t like to party, you can also consider booking tickets to the Joya Cirque du Soleil show or the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular at Xcaret Park.

So if you’re someone that likes to go out and party, Playa del Carmen is definitely the better destination for nightlife.

Joya Cirque du Soleil

Playa del Carmen vs Isla Mujeres: FAQs

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres:

Which one is better Playa del Carmen or Isla Mujeres?

It really depends on what you’re looking for! If you’re looking for a relaxed vacation destination with some incredible beaches, then Isla Mujeres is a great choice.

But if you’re looking for a more lively destination with restaurants and nightlife, then Playa del Carmen might be the better choice.

Is it worth going to Isla Mujeres?

Absolutely! Isla Mujeres is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico and is a great place for a laid-back getaway.

Plus, the island offers some amazing activities like snorkeling with whale sharks, catamaran sails, or visiting the Punta Sur Sculpture Park at the southern tip of the island.

Why is Isla Mujeres so popular?

Isla Mujeres is a popular destination mainly because of its incredible beaches and bright turquoise water.

Playa Norte is the island’s most popular beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.

And this beach rarely gets hit with seaweed that can sometimes plague other beaches in Riviera Maya, attracting many visitors looking for a perfect beach day.

Can you swim on Isla Mujeres?

Yes, the beaches on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres have calm waters, and are suitable for swimming.

However, the beaches on the western side of the island are mainly rocky and unsafe for swimming.

Is Isla Mujeres one of the best beaches in the world?

Yes, Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres has been voted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

With its soft white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters, it is easy to see why this beach has been deemed one of the best beaches in the world!

Why is there no seaweed in Isla Mujeres?

There is typically no seaweed on the beaches on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres because the island’s western side blocks the seaweed from coming in.

Punta Sur Isla Mujeres

Final Thoughts: Isla Mujeres vs Playa del Carmen

I hope this article has helped you decide whether to visit Isla Mujeres or Playa del Carmen for your next trip!

Both destinations offer their own unique experiences and are definitely worth visiting.

If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway with some incredible beaches, then Isla Mujeres is the best choice.

Its small island vibe and golf cart transportation make it a great spot to unwind and relax.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a livelier destination with beaches, nightlife, restaurants, and easy access to activities, then Playa del Carmen is definitely the better option.

And if you do choose Playa del Carmen, you can still considering visiting Isla Mujeres on a day trip or taking a tour to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen.

But no matter which destination you choose, you really can’t go wrong and are sure to have an amazing time!

πŸ‡²πŸ‡½ Traveling to Mexico soon?

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β˜€οΈ 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.