If you are like most Americans and Canadians, you have a pretty good idea of where Cancun is, but you might never have heard of the Riviera Maya. There’s a good reason for this, since “Riviera Maya” (sometimes called the Mayan Riviera) is a relatively new name for a large resort area, of which Cancun is part.
So here’s the thing, you might have heard that Cancun is now very crowded and commercialized and not in any way authentic, so you might be thinking of going elsewhere on vacation. Well, the good news is that Cancun is only one part of that area, and you can reach many nearby areas in about an hour from the airport, so you have far more choices than you realize.
Riveria Maya explained
Cancun itself is a purpose-built resort area that didn’t even exist in 1970, and it’s located at the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Just south of that you enter the Riviera Maya, which has Playa del Carmen near its center, and the historic city of Tulum near the south, and the island of Cozumel just across the water from Playa del Carmen.
Aside from Cancun itself, each of these other areas is built upon a historic Mexican village, so you can’t help but add some culture to your vacation, assuming you venture outside the walls of the resort at least once. Cancun is really a wonderful place for a holiday, but some people feel that it’s a bit shallow and lacks history, so you really do have many options in the same area that are better.
Cheap resorts and cheap flights
If you fly into Cancun Airport you can be at your resort in maybe 20 minutes from the time you get your luggage. But if you are staying in Playa del Carmen it will take closer to an hour, and Tulum and Cozumel a bit more. The best part out of this is that flights into Cancun are the cheapest to the entire Caribbean from just about anywhere, so more of your money can go to a nicer resort for the same price.
For example, if you are flying from Chicago you might find a hotel plus air package for US$1,000 per person for a week at a particular resort in St. Thomas. Half of that money (or more) will go to the flight itself, so you are getting an expensive flight and a $500 per person resort.
On the other hand, if you get a $1,000 per week resort in Playa del Carmen, the flight might only be $250 or $300 of that, so you are getting a much nicer hotel as part of the package. Obviously you can find an even cheaper hotel in or near Cancun if you like, but isn’t it nice to upgrade yourself “for free” when you can afford to?