Riviera Maya’s Tulum and Playa del Carmen: The new Caribbean vacation hot-spots
Riviera Maya in Mexico is probably one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world – and for good reasons. This stretch of Caribbean coastline is endowed with pristine beaches, glittering seas, picturesque shores, quaint beachside towns, tranquil fishing hamlets, ancient ruins, natural landscapes and a whole lot more!
Where to Go
Although Cancún steals most of the tourist traffic in Riviera Maya, I personally prefer the charming towns of Tulum and Playa del Carmen. You may not have heard of either of these two towns, but you’ve probably seen their envy-inducing pictures on Pinterest or your favorite celebrities’ social media feeds in the last several years.
If you want a quiet beach getaway right next to a crazy nightlife, shopping and a more urban scene, Playa del Carmen is the perfect vacation spot for you. Here, you’ll find some of the Riviera Maya’s most stunning beaches and most elegant luxury beachfront resorts as well the trendiest bars and clubs.
If you think Playa del Carmen is a little too…touristy, then I’m sure you’ll love the boho beachy vibes of Tulum. Although the town is only about an hour south of Playa del Carmen, it feels like a whole other world. Instead of grand retreats lining the road, you'll find palm trees and lush jungle. Instead of fine-dine restaurants, you’ll find rustic-chic beachfront cafes serving inexpensive authentic cuisine. It goes without saying that for those seeking relaxation and unplugging (within reason), Tulum is a wonderland.
Wherever you're in the Riviera Maya, you're bound to stumble upon glowing white sand and striking blue waters. In my subjective opinion, however, Tulum takes the win for the best beach in the region. Tulum's beach hews closely to its overall quintessence – it's sedate and feels untouched.
Where to Stay
As I said before, Tulum and Playa del Carmen are starkly different – and that carries on to the style of hotels you’ll find in these towns. The hotel scene in Tulum is pretty chill and low-key. The town retains its humble former fishing settlement history – which I love. So, where to stay in Tulum? My top hotel picks are Be Tulum, Hotel Cabanas Tulum, and Villa Pescadores Tulum.
Playa del Carmen's hotel offerings, on the other hand, are what you’d reasonably expect from a luxury beach retreat in the Caribbeans. The lively town is crowded with large-scale resorts that range from all-inclusive estates to brand-name luxury resorts. My top hotel picks are The Fairmont Mayakoba, Le Reve Hotel & Spa, and Barrio Latino Hotel.
Just north of Playa del Carmen you will find one of my all-time favorite resorts: the Rosewood Mayakoba. This super lavish resort provides a level of service that is hard to fathom: every detail is impeccably done and well thought-out. The villas are insanely beautiful, spacious and private, the facilities are stunning, and each villa even gets their very own butler. Living the lap of luxury comes at a price though--the villas generally start at around $1,000 per night.
What to Do
Whether you’re in Tulum or Playa del Carmen, there are a lot of cool things you can do to keep your vacation fun and exciting. So, what to do in Tulum? When in Tulum, you can witness Mexico’s captivating pre-Hispanic cultural treasures. Tulum itself is home to 13th century ruins. Magnificent Mayan ruins of Coba are also a short drive away. If you want to hit the beach, head to the pretty beaches of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Offshore snorkeling is also a delight there.
Playa del Carmen is, as you can probably guess, packed with somewhat more tourist-friendly activities –snorkeling, cultural shows, interactive exhibits and what have you. You can also take a day trip to Cozumel and explore the quaint town of San Miguel or rent a scooter and head to the wild beaches.
Where to Eat
Whether you’re looking for fresh seafood from simple beach-side shacks, the best authentic tacos in town, or even gluten-free burritos or tasting menus for special occasions — neither Tulum nor Playa del Carmen will disappoint you. If you’re wondering what to eat in Tulum, you must try the Garlic Shrimp at El Camello Jr., sheared tuna at Único and the empanadas at Antojitos La Chiapaneca. When in Playa del Carmen, try Ceviche at Las Hijas de la Tostada, deep dish pizza at Don Chendo and roasted chicken at La Brocherie.
If you end up visiting Tulum and Playa del Carmen in Riviera Maya, I hope you have a great time!
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