loaderWit
14 minutes

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

Riviera Maya for families: is Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum the best place to stay?

The Yucatán Peninsula is a popular tourist gateway to Mexico and as a result a very tourist friendly area. When you start planning your Yucatán Peninsula family road trip, you should know that it consists of 3 states. Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo.

The most popular region for families in Quintana Roo is the Riviera Maya. Most families start their trip here and tend to stay for at least a week. In the Riviera Maya you’ll find sun-soaked beaches, ancient wonders and a vibrant culture. So, where to stay in the Riviera Maya with kids? Is Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum the best place for you to use as a base?

Read more >> Ultimate Yucatán Peninsula Family Road Trip Guide

Before heading out to the Riviera Maya with kids, you’ve got a decision to make. Where will you base yourselves? Of course you can opt to stay in multiple places instead of using a base to explore Quintana Roo from. But if you’re not into staying somewhere else every other night you have 3 great options in the Riviera Maya to choose from. Cancún, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. All very different and with their own pros and cons. This blog post is aimed to help you decide which one of these destinations fits your family’s wants and needs best!

A toddler walks up to his mom who's shooting a picture of someone taking a picture of them. In the background the Tulum Ruins can be seen, surrounded by palm trees and lush green bushes.
Strolling through Playa Del Carmen - Mexico

Pros and cons of Cancun for families

Cancun is a party paradise. Famous for its energetic atmosphere, endless entertainment options, and a skyline dominated by luxurious resorts. This makes Cancun the go-to destination for families seeking a lively vacation. Great when traveling with older teens. But if you’re traveling with young kids, then the loud music and open bars might not be what you’re looking for.

Let’s start with the pros of basing yourselves in Cancun with kids.

Cancun is great for adventurous families

The city caters to people who like a bit of adventure, with heaps of family-friendly activities. From thrilling water parks like Xel-Ha to the interactive aquarium experiences at Interactive Aquarium Cancun, it’s hard to be bored. But do know that at most of these places you’re also confronted with activities involving animals and if you’re anything like us then that is something you might want to avoid.

A guy rides a jet ski off the coast in Cancun. He wears a life vest while splashing around in azure blue waters

Hotel Zone

If you crave the ultimate beachfront experience, the Hotel Zone is your haven. Immerse yourself in luxurious accommodations, fun in the sun and on the beach and lots of amazing (and family friendly) restaurants. Your family will be spoiled for choice, whether lounging by the pool or indulging in authentic Mexican cuisine.

Organised tours from Cancun

Lots of tours start and end in Cancún. If your family loves to join tours than Cancún is the place to be. Multi-day tours to islands like Cozumel and Isla Holbox, a day trip to Chichen Itza, tickets to adventure parks in the region including transportation and cenote day tours: there’s lots to book and oftentimes you’ll be picked up at your hotel.

But there are also cons to mention.

Cancun is crowded

Cancun is a popular destination. It’s filled with all kinds of travelers. People who come to party, spring breakers, couples and families that come to get pampered in one of the many luxury resorts and international and local visitors that come here to shop. 

Let’s start with the partying. The hotel zone is not only filled with hotels, but also bars and restaurants. While everyone knows that hubs like this tend to be busy and noisy, Cancún is on another level. Eating out in the hotel zone means that you will enjoy dinner while not only listening to the music played in the restaurant of your choice. You will definitely also hear the music from the neighbours. And let’s just say that it’s not easy listening.

We were once treated to a mix of techno (neighbouring restaurant) and 80s rock (our restaurant). The result? A crying teen who was begging to leave and a toddler who started dancing and singing like a mad man at a rave. Needless to say… we paid, excused ourselves and ran! If one or more family members are sensitive to sounds, you should definitely avoid having drinks or a meal here. But if your family enjoys a lively environment, then Cancún is the place to be.

Cancun can be expensive

All-inclusive luxury resorts can be found in Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and Cancún, there’s no difference there. But activities, shopping (including groceries) and dining out is far from cheap here. It’s actually the most expensive place we visited during our 5 week Yucatán Peninsula family road trip. In Tulum and Playa Del Carmen it’s easier to budget. You can eat and shop as expensive or as cheap as you like, every price range can be found. 

What can help is to shop and dine outside of Cancún’s bustling center and the hotel zone. But you do need to take a taxi, colectivo or your own rental car to get there.

Best places to stay in Cancun for families

Where to stay in Cancun with kids? Here are some highly rated family friendly accommodations in Cancún.

Luxury Cancun Resorts

Hyatt Ziva Cancun

Moon Palace The Grand Cancun

Mid-range Cancun Resorts

Royalton Splash Riviera Cancun

La Amada Residences

Budget Cancun Hotels

El Rey Del Caribe

Casa Tortugas Boutique Hotel

Rental villas

Villas Marlin Ocean View – located at Marlin Beach with a pool (sleeps 6)

Laguna Beach House – located near Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center with a pool (sleeps 6)

Beach Front Residence – located at Las Perlas Beach with pool (sleeps multiple families, max 14)

Top tours in Cancún with kids

Pros and cons of Playa Del Carmen for families

Whether you’re staying here or not, visiting Playa Del Carmen with kids is a must when you’re in Quintana Roo. Playa is a laid back beach town where you’ll find many adventurous as well as relaxing activities. The food is amazing, the nature stunning and the people friendly. In Playa Del Carmen you’ll find a mix of backpackers, influencers and families with kids.

Read more >> 10 Things to Do In Playa Del Carmen with Kids

How to pick the best base in Quintana Roo with kids? Let’s list the pros and cons of Playa del Carmen with kids.

Diversity

When visiting Playa Del Carmen with kids you can enjoy yourselves by eating the local cuisine, swimming, diving and snorkeling in the sea or in cenotes, visit amusement (water) parks, shop til you drop at 5th Avenue and take day trips to Cozumel Island, the Coba Ruins, Tulum and Chichén Itzá. 

The area has it all since it’s located in between Tulum and Cancún. The vibe is also a mix between those two. Playa is bigger and more of a mix between local and international when it comes to food, accommodation and shopping. On the other hand Playa is also more laid back than Cancun, with a more intimate nightlife scene. While Americans tend to opt for Cancún, Playa del Carmen has a more European influx.

Shopping at Fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen - Mexico
Shopping at Avenida Quenta in Playa Del Carmen - Mexico

Public beaches

In Tulum and Cancun it can be quite a search when it comes to visiting a beach that’s not just for hotel guests. In Playa there’s a great mix between private and public beaches. The fun thing about visiting a public beach is the amount of locals hanging out here. We didn’t see that as much in Tulum and Cancun. We travel to learn more about a culture, so that’s why this is a big pro for us.

So what are the cons?

Busy beaches

The beaches in Tulum and Cancun are significantly longer and also wider as the ones in Playa. If you’re planning on lounging at the beach you should arrive early or an hour before sunset to claim a spot. And while I named the presence of more locals as a pro, the con is that the beaches are way more crowded on the weekends and it’s hard to grab a spot.

Strolling through Playa Del Carmen - Mexico
Chilling in the sand on a beach in Playa Del Carmen - Mexico

Best places to stay in Playa Del Carmen for families

Where to stay in Playa Del Carmen with kids? Here are some highly rated family friendly accommodations in Playa Del Carmen.

Luxury Playa Del Carmen Hotels

The Reef Playacar Resort

Ocean Riviera Paradise All-Inclusive

Mid-range Playa Del Carmen Hotels

Meliora by Bunik

Fiesta Inn Playa Del Carmen

Budget Playa Del Carmen Hotels

Palmarena by Nah Hotels

Hotel 12 BEES by Kavia

Rental villas

3 Bedroom Luxury Villa – located in Playacar in gated community with communal pool (sleeps 6)

Elegant 4 Bedroom Villa On The Beach – located on Playacar Beach with pool and bikes (sleeps 8)

Luxury Villa Exotic Surroundings – located on Paradise Beach with staff, chef, 224h security and a pool (sleeps 6)

Top tours in Playa Del Carmen with kids

Pros and cons of Tulum for families

Tulum is the perfect place for traveling families to explore. Everything that makes a trip to Mexico to special can be found in and around Tulum. The food is amazing, the beaches tropical and adventurous families will have no trouble finding thrilling things to do. Last, but not least, the Tulum ruins are located right on the coast, above a pearly white beach and surrounded by steep limestone cliffs. 

Read more >> 13 Things to Do In Tulum with Kids

13 things to do in Tulum with kids - blog post
A father and his two sons are sitting in an undeep part of a cenote in Tulum Mexico

Let’s list the most important pros and cons of Tulum with kids.

Tulum ruins

One of the highlights in Tulum are the Mayan ruins. No Tulum family trip is complete without a visit to the beautiful Mayan Ruins. The remains of Castillo (castle) are located on the edge of a 12 meter limestone cliff. It’s surrounded by lush green trees and plants and the entire area is filled with what remains of the Mayan city of Tulum.

The Ruinas de Tulum are one of the three most visited places in Mexico. That means that you should visit the site early or late in the day, to avoid most of the crowds. That’s easier when Tulum is your base while staying in the Riviera Maya. Most tours start in Cancún and Playa Del Carmen, so if you’re based in Tulum you avoid having to join the tours and a visit with 100s of others.

Picture perfect

It’s hard to find a destination in the Yucatán Peninsula that is more picturesque than Tulum. Instagrammable locations are everywhere! So if getting that perfect social media picture is a thing for one or more family members, Tulum is the place for you!

Follow That Dream sign in Tulum - Mexico
View of the sea at a beach club in Tulum - Mexico

Eco-friendly

Tulum prioritizes sustainability making it a great destination for eco-conscious travelers. Many boutique hotels are eco-friendly, you can find more second hand shops here and vegan and vegetarian options in most restaurants. But, beware for greenwashing and do your research before booking eco-friendly accommodation.

Like the others, basing yourself in Tulum with kids also has its cons.

Expensive

Both in terms of accommodation and dining Tulum is more expensive than Playa Del Carmen. There’s not much difference between the prices in Tulum and Cancun.

Accessibility

If you don’t have a car or bike at your disposal it can be hard to get from the center to the beach zone and the other way around. In between the two are lots of apartment buildings and local shops, so if you want to get from one zone to another it will require a long walk.

Accommodation with a plunge pool in Tulum - Mexico

Best places to stay in Tulum for families

Where to stay in Tulum with kids? Here are some highly rated family friendly accommodations in Tulum.

Luxury Tulum Resorts

Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort

Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya

Mid-range Tulum Resorts

The Waves Tulum

Copal Tulum Hotel

Budget Tulum Hotels

MIO Tulum Hotel Boutique

Hotel Stella Maris Tulum

Rental villas

Villa Marusya Elegante Y Hermosa – located in Tulum Centro with a gym and a pool (sleeps 7)

Casa Esmeralda – located in Tulum Centro with a pool (sleeps 5)

Villa Wayak Tulum – located in La Veleta with a pool (sleeps 7)

Top tours in Tulum with kids

Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum

Now that we summed up the pros and cons of each destination, let us compare the three.

Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen

While Cancun and Playa Del Carmen are an hour drive apart, the vibe is completely different. Family resorts can be found in both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, with lots of family friendly all inclusive resorts. The same can be said about eating out, Cancun and Playa Del Carmen have lots of family friendly restaurants. 

So what are the differences? Cancun is a city with about 1 million inhabitants and is filled with modern shopping malls, resorts and high rise buildings. The nightlife is what Cancun’s Hotel Zone is known for. It’s loud and touristy and in my honest opinion not the most relaxing with (small) kids. During the day we ran into lots of drunk tourists and it wasn’t even spring break. We never experienced that in the rest of the Yucatán Peninsula. If the party vibe and all inclusive resorts aren’t your thing, I’d pick Playa Del Carmen over Cancun any day.

Getting a delicious Marquesita in Playa Del Carmen - Mexico

Walkability

The beaches are beautiful in both places, but the difference is the walkability. Playa Del Carmen is growing rapidly, but is still much smaller than Cancun. About 300.000 people live in Playa, as locals call it. If you stay in or around the center you can walk everywhere, which is very convenient and saves transportation budget.

If you’re staying in Cancún’s Hotel Zone everything is walkable, if not you have to use public transport, cabs or a rental car. Because Cancun is a big city, the driving distances are long and you should save some budget for transportation during your stay in Cancun.

Accommodation

If you’re looking to stay at an apartment with a communal pool, you should opt for Playa Del Carmen. Here they are used to digital nomads looking for short term rental homes. You’ll have more problems finding an apartment in Cancun in the family friendly areas. If your looking for an apartment or rental home you should settle for the suburbs.

If you’re planning on staying at a luxury resort, there are way more options in Cancún than in Playa Del Carmen. The bigger ones are located in Cancún.

A little boy running through the sand at a beach club in Tulum - Mexico

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum

Tulum and Playa are not so different from one another. They’re both beautiful beach towns that offer lots of activities for families. When it comes to family friendliness I think they’re equals. 

But there are some differences that might be important for you to know, before choosing one over the other. Playa Del Carmen is the bigger town. It has a more urban feel and Tulum is more bohemian, almost hippie-like.

Accommodation

Accommodation wise you can find larger hotel chains in Playa, while in Tulum you’ll find more boutique hotels. When it comes to food, both places offer the same, local and international cuisine can be found everywhere and the quality of the food is comparable. We did find the prices in Tulum are a bit higher than in Playa.

Walkability

I think the biggest difference is the walkability. In Playa you’ll find the city center almost right next to the beaches. In Tulum the distance between the center and the northern beach zone is a 25 minutes walk. You can get everywhere pretty easily by bike, but walking takes a bit more of your time.

The amount of cenotes, ruins and nature you’ll find in Tulum make Tulum the winner. If you’re looking for a boho-chic vibe and shoot content for socials you should pick Tulum. If you like a more urban feel, pick Playa Del Carmen. Besides that you can’t go wrong with either of these epic destinations in the Riviera Maya.

Cancun vs Tulum

The difference between Cancun and Tulum is like night and day. Cancun is known for its high energy and internationally (mainly American) orientated resort oasis. Tulum almost feels like a big town, with a bohemian and more local vibe with lots of eco-friendly options. With all the archeological landmarks in and around Tulum, you also definitely get a bigger taste of Mexico, then in Cancun. 

Beaches

The beaches are beautiful in both places, but the beaches in Tulum are not as busy as the ones in Cancun. They’re also more quiet when it comes to music. In Tulum you’ll mostly get treated to chilled out tunes and in Cancun you’ll be stomping your feet in the sand to party beats. 

The water in Cancun is more fit for water activities. In Tulum the water is typically calmer which makes it better to swim in.

If you’re staying in Cancún’s Hotel Zone everything is walkable, if not you have to use public transport, cabs or a rental car. Because Cancun is a big city, the driving distances are long and you should save some budget for transportation during your stay in Cancun with kids.

A Volkswagen van is decorated with painted pictures and the words El Dorado on the streets of Tulum in Mexico

Accommodation

The great thing about staying in either Tulum or Cancun is that both places offer an abundance of options for places to stay. These options are available for any style and budget, and both cities have unique experiences.

Cancun has a wide range of hotel options for every type of traveler. There are all-inclusive resorts available, as well as simple hotels. Cancun also has more internationally known chain resorts and hotels that are less abundant in Tulum, where boutique hotels, offering more privacy, are an easy find.

The options in Tulum are definitely more unique and diverse. You can find amazing apartments with a communal pool here, located just outside of the beach zone and the center. But also unique sleeping accommodations that you can’t find in Cancun or Playa, like treehouses and hotels in the middle of the jungle.

Playing in the sand at a beach park on the island of Cozumel - Mexico

Where to stay in the Riviera Maya with kids

Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen: which one is better for your family trip?

I hope I’ve provided you with enough information to pick the best base for your family in the Riviera Maya, or even Quintana Roo. All have their own pros and cons and it ultimately comes down to the preferences of your family. 

Let me close off this post by noting that, whatever your base is going to be, make sure you visit all three destinations on your family trip to the Riviera Maya. They all are awesome in their own way and deserve to be part of your Yucatan Peninsula family road trip itinerary.

FAQ – Where to stay in the Riviera Maya with kids

Is Cancun safe for families and kids?

Cancun is a popular tourist destination and generally considered safe for families and kids. However, it's important to stay informed about the current travel advisories and safety conditions. Stick to well-known and tourist-friendly areas where security measures are typically higher.

You might want to avoid wandering around at night. Especially in the busier places, where you should be wary for pickpockets. And also to avoid drunk people ;).

If I'm being really honest, compared to Tulum and Playa Del Carmen we felt less safe in Cancun. And not because of the locals, but because of the annoying tourists looking for fights and screaming loudly.

Is Playa Del Carmen safe for families and kids?

Yes, just take the precautions you would take in any other city. Don’t wander around in the dark or outside of the main tourist area’s and don’t flaunt your valuables. Don’t drink to much and don’t buy and use drugs. But I guess I’m preaching to the choir here, this is a family travel blog after all.

Is Tulum safe for families and kids?

Yes, Tulum generally is considered safe for families, including those with children. It’s a popular tourist area with a laid-back atmosphere. The area is patrolled and well-maintained, ensuring a safe environment for visitors.

However, as with any travel, it's important to take common-sense precautions. Including supervising children at all times, particularly when swimming in cenotes or the ocean, respecting local wildlife, avoiding isolated areas late at night, and protecting against the sun and staying hydrated in the heat.

Make sure accommodations and travel plans meet your standards for child safety. As for health, it's always recommended for travelers to have insurance coverage and to take necessary precautions about food and water safety. Always check travel advisories for the most current information before your trip.

How far is Tulum from Cancun

Driving to Cancun will take you about 2 hours. The same goes for the ADO buses that go back and forth.

How far is Playa Del Carmen from Cancun

Driving to Cancun will take you about an hour. The same goes for the ADO buses that go back and forth.

How far is Playa Del Carmen from Tulum

Driving to Tulum wil also take about an hour by car, Colectivo and ADO.

What airport do you fly into when you want to visit the Riviera Maya with kids?

Internationally, you’ll probably arrive at Cancun Airport. It will take you about 55 minutes to get from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen and about 2 hours to Tulum.

You can also fly to and from Cozumel International Airport from several US and Canadian cities. Since Cozumel is only a 35 minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen, this could be a great option for you.

Is it safe to swim in Cancun?

Swimming in Cancun is generally safe. The beaches along the Hotel Zone and other popular tourist areas are well-maintained and monitored for safety.

Just pay attention to local advisories and flags indicating water conditions. Strong currents or rough waves can pose risks, especially during certain weather conditions.

When it comes to encounters with jellyfish and stingrays, you're quite safe. Sightings of them are rare here. Always heed warning signs and lifeguard instructions.

Is it safe to swim in Tulum

Yes, it is generally safe to swim in Tulum. The beaches of Tulum are known for their clear, calm, and warm waters which makes swimming fairly safe for people of all ages. However, as with any beach, it's essential to be aware of changing conditions, like waves, currents, and undertow.

Also, stingrays and sea urchins can be found in these areas, so take care when walking in shallow water or when placing your feet on the ocean floor.

If you're planning to swim in cenotes (natural sinkholes filled with fresh water), it's usually safe but there can be deep areas and cold currents under the surface. It's recommended to always use life jackets and follow safety rules, especially for children.

Regardless of where you swim, be it a beach or cenote, always respect local advisories and recommendations, and never swim alone or without supervision for safety.

Is it safe to swim in Playa Del Carmen

Yes, but it’s not known for its abundance of life guards. Stay close to shore and let smaller kids wear life vests. The waves will not get to big, so no surfers here. This makes it a great place to swim for children.

You can find flags on every beach in Playa. Green means it’s safe to swim, yellow means that certain activities like paddle boarding and kayaking are suspended and red means no swimming and no water sports.

Did you enjoy Where To Stay In the Riviera Maya with Kids: Cancun vs. Playa Del Carmen vs. Tulum?

If so, read more about family travel in Mexico

You might also like:
About me Sas Crossing Countries

Hi, I’m Saskia!

I travel the world with my family of 4 and write about our adventures.

Sas Crossing Countries is a family travel blog. It’s created to inspire other parents to travel the world with their kids. Gift your kids the world! It’s the most valuable present you can give them.

With all the experience I have as a traveling parent I’ve got lots of tools and tips for you. So on this site you’ll not only find family travel blog posts, you can also download FREE pocket guides, travel checklists and eBooks from my resources page.

All that I share can be used to plan your own ultimate family road trip!

above a couch you see 4 illustrated poster maps of different countries in the colors brown, blue, green and white. This picture leads to the shop page where you can buy illustrated poster mapsbanner image with the text get access to my free ebook with all the tools and tips you need to plan out and enjoy your ultimate family road trip. The title of the book is also shown and is The Ultimate Beginners Guide: Planning a Family Road Trip. A mock up is shown of a laptop, tablet and phone showing the cover of the ebook and 3 small images giving a sneak peak of 3 pages inside the book.5% discount link Heymondo Travel InsuranceVisit our travel shop!Download my FREE printable packing listsBuy your 3D wooden world map @ Enjoy The Wood with 10% discount code SASCROSSINGCOUNTRIESUPBecome a member of my private family travel Facebook groupLink to shop The Adventure BookRent a car via Discover CarsGet my free downloadable family travel pocket guidesGet an eSim from AiroloDownload my FREE printable bucket lists

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


About me Sas Crossing Countries

Hi, I’m Saskia!

I travel the world with my family of 4 and write about our adventures.

Sas Crossing Countries is a family travel blog. It’s created to inspire other parents to travel the world with their kids. Gift your kids the world! It’s the most valuable present you can give them.

With all the experience I have as a traveling parent I’ve got lots of tools and tips for you. So on this site you’ll not only find family travel blog posts, you can also download FREE pocket guides, travel checklists and eBooks from my resources page.

All that I share can be used to plan your own ultimate family road trip!

above a couch you see 4 illustrated poster maps of different countries in the colors brown, blue, green and white. This picture leads to the shop page where you can buy illustrated poster mapsbanner image with the text get access to my free ebook with all the tools and tips you need to plan out and enjoy your ultimate family road trip. The title of the book is also shown and is The Ultimate Beginners Guide: Planning a Family Road Trip. A mock up is shown of a laptop, tablet and phone showing the cover of the ebook and 3 small images giving a sneak peak of 3 pages inside the book.5% discount link Heymondo Travel InsuranceVisit our travel shop!Download my FREE printable packing listsBuy your 3D wooden world map @ Enjoy The Wood with 10% discount code SASCROSSINGCOUNTRIESUPBecome a member of my private family travel Facebook groupLink to shop The Adventure BookRent a car via Discover CarsGet my free downloadable family travel pocket guidesGet an eSim from AiroloDownload my FREE printable bucket lists