Isla Mujeres or Playa del Carmen for Vacation? An Honest and In-Depth Comparison to Help You Choose!

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Mexico is a popular place to visit, especially during the winter.

For people looking to get away from the claustrophobic crowds of Cancun and the expensive resorts in Cabo, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, offer an exciting tropical bliss.

While they are in the same region, both places offer something unique for tourists that visit these towns.

Want to know what they’re about before deciding to go there? Check it out below.

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Vibes ✌️

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres beaches

Located 13 kilometers off the coast of Cancun in the Yucatan Peninsula, the island of Isla Mujeres (island of women) is known for its quaint and tranquil charm with pristine white sand beaches, crystal blue waters and welcoming locals.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen beach
Playa del Carmen, Cozumel

Playa del Carmen is almost like the Miami of Latin America.

It’s a big city with party vibes on the beach. So this is the place to gather your friends and have a good time on vacation.

This is perfect for the family who loves laying on the beach at one of the resorts (Dreams Adventura Maya) and is into history/culture.

Playa del Carmen is also close to Tulum, which has gained popularity throughout the years as a Yoga retreat center and is home to rejuvenating Cenotes (natural pools) said to have healing properties.

Beaches 🏖

Both Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, have some of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast but due to their geographical conditioning and demographics offer quite varied experiences.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres Playa Norte beach
Image by Marrovi on Wikimedia Commons

Isla Mujeres, as an island, is surrounded by beaches. 

Playa Norte is Isla Mujeres’ most popular beach, with super soft white sand that leads into calm, turquoise blue Caribbean waters. 

Another popular beach is Playa Central, which is located in the island’s center and is slightly less crowded than Playa Norte.

Playa Garrafon is located in the Garrafon Natural Reef Park in the southwest part of the island and offers incredible snorkeling in pristine waters right from the beach. 

The majority of the east side of the island has rocky cliffs with a few hidden beaches that, depending on the time of year, may or may not have the dreaded sargassum seaweed.

That said, if you are looking for pristine sargassum free beaches, then Isla Mujeres along with Cozumel is among the best places for a sargassum free vacation.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, Cozumel
Playa del Carmen, Cozumel

Playa Del Carmen is well-known for its tranquil white-sand beaches and turquoise-blue waters. 

Although the beaches in Playa del Carmen are usually as crowded as those in Cancun, they are still more tranquil.

In terms of sugary white sand beaches and calm turquoise blue waters, Playacar beach is easily comparable to those in Isla Mujeres. In contrast to Cancun, Playa del Carmen has a plethora of beach bars.

Furthermore, the city center of Playa Del Carmen (Fifth Avenue) is very close to the beach, which is a significant advantage over Isla Mujeres. 

On the downside, Playa del Carmen’s beaches are slightly narrower and less equipped than those in Isla Mujeres and have moderate seaweed problem on most of its beaches just like Cancun and Tulum.

Nightlife 🍻

Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen have their own version of nightlife that reflects the vibe of the place.

Playa del Carmen clearly has more things going on at nighttime, but we will look at both places to see what you can do when you’re done with the beach.

Isla Mujeres

After a day at the beach, there are several fun bars and restaurants on Isla Mujeres where you can enjoy a few cocktails. The Rock Bar, Tiny’s Bar, Isla Brewing Company, Tiny Gecko, and Kokonuts Restaurante and Sports Bar are among the best.

The bartenders cater to tourists and ensure that everyone has a good time. Furthermore, because it is a small island, don’t be surprised if you quickly make new friends.

Playa del Carmen

If you’re into the nightlife, you’ll definitely love Playa del Carmen.

There’s a ton of options here that you can go to. A popular place called Coralina Daylight Club is always slinging excellent drinks and putting on fantastic dance tunes. You can even go here during the day.

Another place that you can check out in Playa del Carmen is L’Ambassade. 

You can party with the locals and the drinks are very cheap. 

For 100-200 pesos, you can get a 1 liter cocktail that will last you a while. That’s about $10 for a large drink there!

Shopping 🛍

Now, you’ll want to bring home some souvenirs right? So, besides the typical gift shops, here are some shopping options in both places that you can visit.

Isla Mujeres

This small tropical island boasts of enough shopping stores to buy some souvenirs. Be it local crafts, jewelry, T-shirts, caps or paintings, Isla Mujeres has it all.

Do you love crafts? If yes, then make sure to stop at Tribal to check out amazing artisanal jewelry and clothing.

How about cool Mexican T-shirts and caps? Head down Avenida Hidalgo street and you’ll find Monomalo, a clothing store where you will find Mexican-inspired designs. 

If you are an art enthusiast, at the Galería L’Mento Arte art gallery you can find wooden boxes, ceramics, wood carvings and the best part is you can commission your own unique design which is made in front of you.

Playa del Carmen

There are so many places that you can go shopping in Playa del Carmen. It has shopping malls that carry designer brands and local stores as well.

Plaza Playacar is one of those outdoor shopping malls that you should visit. It has a variety of stores.

If you want to shop for international brands, check out Calle Corazon. You’ll find Old Navy, Guess, and Tommy Hilfiger here as well as a bunch of local shops. When you’re done shopping, take a break and get a Krispy Kreme donut.

As you see, clearly Playa del Carmen wins when it comes to shopping. There are so many stores here that you can shop from so that you can take home something. 

Whether you need new clothes, maybe a new bottle of perfume, or souvenirs, you’ll find no shortage of stores in Playa del Carmen.

Things to do

This is on the top of everyone’s mind when they visit a place.

They want things to do that they would never get to do at home. Thankfully, both Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen have a ton of things to do for everyone.

Best Things to do in Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is all about the ocean and sea activities. Snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding and windsurfing are all popular activities. 

The island is pretty small so a fun thing to do is to rent a golf cart or bicycle and explore the island yourself which is easy to do in a day.

There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants to check out. Be sure to visit Punta Sur Park at the southernmost end of Isla Mujeres. 

This historic eco area has Mayan ruins, stunning views, trails and more.

Best things to do in Playa del Carmen

Xenses Park by Xcaret
XCaret park
XCaret park

If you need a break from the beach, you’ll appreciate this area. It will challenge all of your senses, so it’s the perfect family outing.

3D Museum of Wonders

This is the perfect rainy day activity that you can do with the family. You can view all the 3D art on the sidewalk that was created by Kurt Wenner.

Chikin Ha

This is a beautiful piece of nature that you should visit at least once in a while. It looks something out of an Avatar movie and there’s some wildlife that you can see here too.

Both places have so much to do, but if you want it all Playa Del Carmen has it.

Visit the Mayan Ruins
Mayan ruins Tulum
Mayan ruins Tulum on the shores of Caribbean Sea

Does history fascinate you? Then go visit the famous ruins. Nearby ruins is Mayan Ruins of Tulum, and Xel Ha Archaeological Zone. These places provide the perfect opportunity to take photos that are totally Instagram-worthy!

Go snorkeling
Cabo snorkeling

This is one of the top things to do in Riviera Maya, besides seeing the Mayan ruins! You can go snorkeling and see many beautiful marine creatures under the water. It’s a fun and exhilarating activity to add to your to do list when you’re here!

Go underground to Rio Secreto & Aktun Chen
Rio Secreto
Rio Secreto

Do underground caves and coves excite you? Rio Secreto is an underground cave that is semi flooded, so you can visit this area with a guide.

If you’re into diving, you can go to Aktun Chen, another underground cave that was recently discovered by divers 10 years ago!

Check out the bat cave in Cenotes Dos Ojos
Cenotes Dos Ojos

You’ll have to be on a tour to see this place, but the guide is very knowledgeable about the cenotes and will let you go through the bat cave. You’ll see bats galore and be surrounded in perfect beauty.

Conclusion

So, Isla Mujeres or Playa del Carmen for a vacation? 🏖

If you are looking for a laid-back island vacation with spectacular beaches and surroundings with activities limited to the beach and a casual nightlife, then Isla Mujeres is your cloud nine.

For those looking for a vacation that is less crowded than Cancun but more action-packed than Tulum, Playa del Carmen is an excellent choice. It offers a laid-back experience that falls somewhere between Cancun and Tulum.

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About the author
Aditya Bhosale
Hello there. For the past five years, I have worked as a travel blogger, photographer, and digital marketer. I packed my backpack, pulled up my socks, and have been wandering around the world wherever the roads lead me since quitting my mundane 9 to 5 job.

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