Cancun and the Riviera Maya


Have you heard the terms “Riviera Maya, Playa Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Aventuras” and others and wondered just where they are, what they offer, and how far they are from the Cancun airport?

Well, let me give you an introduction to the area.

 “Riviera Maya” is a term that loosely means the tourist areas south of Cancun.  It’s more easily understood if you divide in into three sections, the area from Cancun south to Playa del Carmen, the Playa del Carmen area, and the area south of Playa del Carmen.  “Playa Mujeres’ is a term that loosely means the tourist areas north of Cancun.

The northern part of the Riviera Maya is home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches and most luxurious resorts in the Riviera Maya.  Playa del Secreto, Playa Paraiso, and Maroma Beach are fan favorites.  The great Mayan Reef is a short boat ride from these beaches and many of our favorite resorts are located in this area.   It’s an area that’s quickly and easily accessed from the Cancun airport.

Playa del Carmen is a town about 60 minutes south of Cancun.  It is frequently referred to as simply “Playa” by tourists.  It stretches about 15 miles along the Caribbean, and is the main departure point for ferry service to Cozumel.  The Playacar development on the southern end of town offers a huge variety of mega resorts (a grand total of more than 6,000 rooms), something for every style and budget. 

Playa has a wonderful shopping area, is very pedestrian friendly, and has many terrific golf courses nearby.  It’s a great central meeting point for you and your friends.

Puerto Aventuras is a world class development about 75 minutes south of the Cancun airport.  It was built around a deep draft marina and offers several first class resorts.  

Akumal is about 90 minutes south of the Cancun airport and is famous for a turtle sanctuary that brings in thousands of tourists annually.  The best way to experience the turtles of Akumal is to book a resort there.  The gorgeous white sand beach and amazing marine life make it definitely worth the drive to stay that far from the Cancun airport, especially if you are staying 5 nights or longer.

Tulum is about 5 minutes south of Akumal.  Tulum is the only Mayan temple built next to the Caribbean, making for an incredibly beautiful setting.  

Playa Mujeres is an area north of Cancun (about 20 minutes from the airport) that is currently exploding with development.  There are some incredibly beautiful white sand beaches there and even a great golf course.  There are currently 5 properties in the area that we recommend with several more new resorts opening in the very near future.


The marina in the Playa Mujeres area is where the whale shark swimming excursions depart.  If you plan to participate in the whale shark adventures it would be better to stay in resort located in Cancun or Playa Mujeres.  

All of the major theme parks and cultural activities, as well as Mayan ruins, cenotes etc. are in the southern areas of the Riviera Maya.  If you are planning to leave your resort and spend a day of adventure at one of those attractions you would be better off to stay in a resort located in the Riviera Maya, south of Playa del Carmen preferably.

Of course the Cancun hotel zone is a mere 10 minutes from the Cancun airport and home to some of the most amazing resorts in Mexico.  You can find everything from quiet and romantic adult only resorts all the way to energetic family friendly resorts. Of course there are still a few wild party resorts but those are few and far between and are generally on the very cheap end of the budget spectrum.  

There are literally hundreds of resorts and thousands of rooms available within a two hour drive from the Cancun airport.   With so many choices, there is truly something for everyone in the Cancun, Riviera Maya area to love.

Joy Gawf-Crutchfield owns and operates The Joy of Travel.  Contact Joy at 918-339-4805