In Riviera Maya for a few days for a wedding and planning on staying an extra 4-5 days. Wondering what surrounding areas (and hotel) would be good for family and 2 kids (3 yr old and 1 yr old) Activities? Etc. Will be staying at an all-inclusive hotel in Riviera Maya so would prefer to not have another all-inclusive spot. Thanks in advance!
I was just talking to someone a couple days back who was asking me about the region, so I'll cut and paste a bunch of my response which is relevant to your question.
Along the Yucatan here, there are several options in addition to the two most famous, being Cancun and Playa del Carmen: Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum.
There are some other tiny ones like Akumal, Paamul and Soliman Bay, but primarily these are the main places people stay.
Sorry if some of this information you're well aware of, but it helps to give a bit of context to each location...
Cancun — Huge resorts, tons of action out on the street, crazy nightclubs and a lot of hustle.
When you step out of your hotel (and even within your hotel lobbies, stairwells to rooms and common areas), you will be hit by sales from every angle possible.
Cancun can be overwhelming, but if you're okay with just laughing off the "HEY MISTER! HEY LADY!" chants from the sideline salesmen, you'll be fine. It's definitely a busy, busy place, which can be fun if that's your thing.
Puerto Morelos — Small fishing town just south of Cancun. Morelos has some smaller hotels, nice little restaurants.
It's a pretty sleepy little town with some small independent shops and a few good restaurants. The beaches aren't quite as picturesque as the rest of the region, it just happens to be in an area of the peninsula that has some darker sand and a bit grainier.
It's still beautiful, though! It has a great, small town feel. Puerto Morelos just doesn't look exactly like the beach in the Corona commercials (which is located just down the highway from my house, at Xpu-Ha).
Playa del Carmen — A good balance between the two described above. There's lots going on, but no high-rise 30 storey hotels, although there are a few larger resorts in and around the main town centre.
There are lots and lots of non-inclusive independent hotels as well as big all-inclusive resorts and malls.
Nothing is over 4 or 5 storeys tall, so it has a cozier vibe than Cancun. By cozier, I don't mean it's a quiet town... It can be really busy, but in a smaller town kind of way, and there are definitely more pedestrian friendly areas like 5th Ave.
Puerto Aventuras — This is a marina town. There are a couple hotels with beaches (Dreams Puerto Aventuras, Omni, and some others).
A big market in Puerto Aventuras is condo rentals as well, just search "Puerto Aventuras short-term rentals" and you'll find plenty. It's a nice clean area where you will not be harassed a single time by anyone selling anything.
There's a golf course, a couple restaurants, fishing tours, boat charters and a much quieter atmosphere than Playa or Cancun.
It's probably not the best option if you want the freedom to stroll around each day discovering new things in town.
You can do an entire loop of the main marina area in 20 minutes, so it could get repetitive each day unless your goal is to just lay out at the beach and do nothing.
Tulum Beach — Love it here. I just spent yesterday there all day. My wife and I go as often as we can, but it's getting pricey if that's an issue, especially for families.
Rooms can be $200-1000usd a night for double occupancy in high season.
It's pretty much $150 pesos per cocktail at most beach bars.
The beaches in Tulum are unbeatable in the region, and there are only small "boutique" style hotels. Lots of great food and an awesome place to be.
I love Tulum Hotel Mi Amor. Great food, great staff, ownership, view, everything. Another great hotel is The Beach Tulum / Cabanas Tulum (same hotel, two different price points).
A good friend of ours has a little restaurant on the beach strip (jungle side) called Hartwood. It's our absolute favourite in the area and we try to fit in a dinner there every time we go to town.
Mega Resorts — You did say in your question here that you didn't want another all-inclusive, but I thought I'd add this anyhow.
In between every one of these main towns I listed are other mega resorts along the highway that will say they are a part of one of those towns in their name, but really they are the size of a small city on their own.
For example, "Dreams Tulum" is absolutely not in what is considered Tulum, no giant resorts are... But, it's close enough, so they say Tulum. So goes the same for big resorts along the highway near Playa and Puerto Morelos.
I don't have a ton of personal experience at the resorts since we have our own place here, so I can't recommend one specifically, but there sure are lots to choose from.
All-inclusive modest, all-inclusive super high-end, non-inclusive modest, non-inclusive luxury, condos, etc.
I would say pick the criteria that are most important to you, and work backwards from there. Are you on a budget, but want to be far away from the non-stop party in Cancun? Look at Playa or Puerto Morelos.
Note about Playa: You obviously can't tell how noisy a hotel or condo is by looking at photos on their website, and they certainly won't mention it, but try not to book near Calle 12 or 5th Ave. Those are the two big streets in town that will have lots of noise late at night. The outskirts (Playacar, or the north end of town) are always much quieter, as are the resorts either directly on the beach or further back from the beach than 5th Ave.
If budget isn't a concern, and you must have great food and pristine beaches? Look at Rosewood Mayakobá, Grand Velas or H10 Hotels along the highway, or any of the beautiful hotels on the Tulum beach strip.
Do a bit of Trip Advisor research about the town that sounds like it suits you best, and start combing through the hotels.
If you're looking for private condo rental, try looking in the Playacar neighbourhood in Playa del Carmen. It's just south of town, gated and very quiet.
I used to have a place at Paseo del Sol for four years. It's a condo development with 65 units, plenty of which are for rent. It has the largest pool in Playacar and a really quiet, happy environment.
The guests that stay there are mostly retired owners that come down for the winter from Canada and the US or families that rent out units for a week or month at a time.
I hope that all helped! I've been down here for ages, so if I see some notifications to responses in this thread I'll do my best to help!
P.S. I just started a little Facebook group this afternoon called "My Riviera Maya Mexico" where I hope to be able to answer as many questions like these about the region as possible and have other visitors share their experiences (no catch or anything, of course... I live down here with my wife and we have a wealth of knowledge so we're hoping to build a little community around that). Hit Join and I can help out as much as possible: https://www.facebook.com/groups/669551803181482/
Hope that helps! What are your dates? Timing will make a big difference on what's going on in each town and the different kinds of specials you can take advantage of.
All the best, and have an amazing vacation down here!
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