Riviera Maya vs. Cancun - 5 Major Differences

What sets these 2 destinations apart?

When it comes to last-minute beach getaways, nothing beats Mexico. 

From the beaches of Cabo to the corals of Cozumel, the country is full of hot spots and hidden gems that will satisfy every holidaymaker. Among the many options, two destinations—Riviera Maya and Cancun—often stand out, but what sets them apart?

Today, we’re breaking down the five significant differences between these idyllic holiday destinations to help you make the best choice for your next vacation in Mexico.

1. Beaches

Although most of the beaches on the Yucatán Peninsula have gorgeous white sand leading into turquoise waters, there are some differences to know about.


The beaches in Cancun stretch for miles, punctuated with hundreds of hotels and resorts. They are usually busier, family-friendly, and developed with many surrounding amenities. 

Rivera Maya

Here, the beaches are smaller, less crowded, and more scattered, with less development and a more relaxed vibe. Think: a romantic getaway or an intimate vacation with close friends.

2. Accessibility

How easy it is to get to your vacation spot from the airport can be an important factor, especially for those traveling with kids or older adults. 


Most of Cancun’s major hotels and resorts are about 15 minutes from the airport, meaning you can be off the plane and in the water in under an hour! The airport's proximity is perfect for those traveling with young children who don’t have much patience for sitting left!

Rivera Maya

By contrast, the Riviera Maya region is about 45 miles from the airport, sometimes taking over an hour to reach.

3. Accommodations

Where you’ll be staying is an essential part of any vacation, and different regions in Quintana Roo offer slightly different options.


Cancun is where you’ll find the most variety of options, including all the large resorts and hotels. Due to the number of travelers that flock here yearly, you’ll most likely find a last-minute hotel deal in a Cancun hotel.  

Rivera Maya 

Riviera Maya accommodations are mid-sized hotels and resorts with an assortment of vacation rentals. While the accommodations here are more spread out and laid back, there are also plenty of opportunities to snag a last-minute all-inclusive deal here!

4. Nightlife and Shopping

Everyone vacations differently, so what’s around where you’re staying matters.


Cancun is well-known for its vibrant nightlight, shopping options, and surrounding attractions. From after-dark events and festivals to world-class shopping centers, Cancun is perfect for high-energy activity seekers who are always up for doing something new. 

Rivera Maya

While Riviera Maya is by no means a slouch in nightlife and shopping options, the scene here generally tends to be more subdued and intimate, even romantic! Riviera Maya is the place for those looking to have night adventures without the commotion of a concert or festival. 

The Vibe

Vibe is something we all feel and base decisions on, so why not consider the vibe of where you’re going on holiday?


Cancun gives off an energetic vibe, with a frenzy of people, places, and things to do. It’s the perfect destination for big family vacations, those looking to be pampered while partying, and groups of friends looking for a fun adventure with plenty of socializing. 

Rivera Maya

As expected, the vibe in the Riviera Maya is much calmer. You won’t see as many large groups, and accommodations and restaurants are more spread out, allowing for a quieter vacation with smaller groups in more intimate settings. 

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