Group Differences

Group Differences

Differences between the riviera Maya and Cancun

Differences between the riviera Maya and Cancun


Besides the mere location differences between these two popular vacation spots, Cancun and the cities located in the Riviera Maya are different. In some ways it is hard to believe that they are neighbors except the blue of the Caribbean gives it away. This article digs into the variations of each destination and highlights the not so obvious differences.


Cancun is a large city located at the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was the very first tourism specific destination built in the early 70’s. The Riviera Maya is a region to the south of Cancun that starts at Puerto Morelos and ends at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. In some ways we are comparing apples and oranges – city verses region – but Cancun and the Riviera Maya are compared all the time, if not thought to be the same. When people inform me they thought they were the same, my reply is this “Is Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore the same?” This analogy seems to clear up whatever was unclear. Cancun is a large metropolitan city with a residential population reaching almost one million. The tourism zone, where hotels and entertainment businesses are highly concentrated, is outside the main city center on a small peninsula that surrounds a natural lagoon. Though there are small hotels and vacation rentals in the city center, tourism resides in this area, away from the residential neighborhoods. The Riviera Maya region includes the following popular cities – Puerto Morelos,Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Xpu-Ha, Akumal, Soliman’s Bay, Tank Ha Bay, Tulum, and the Sian Ka’an located on over 133 kms/88miles of beach coastline. The largest city is Playa del Carmen with 250,000 residents. Tulum is the second largest city with a population of just under 100,000 people. Other cities are small in comparison with populations well under 20,000 people. These geographical differences, and the fact that people compare a city to a region, make both of these areas very, very different. But Cancun the city is different from Riviera Maya cities.


Cancun has a national population in its core city with 90% of its tourism happening in a designated beachfront area of the city. This separates every day life from vacation life. It also separates residents from visitors. • The sheer size of Cancun makes it difficult to navigate not only for regional day trips but urban exploring. A taxi, public bus or private driver is a must if you wish to explore outside the hotel zone. Though not impossible, it makes exploring a challenge or a tad bit intimidating to the first time visitor. • When visitors choose to leave their resort or large hotel, they are shuffled to more tourism hot spots in the hotel zone. Very few visitors dive into downtown Cancun to experience the local authenticity of Cancun residential neighborhoods and markets. The ‘bubble’ is what Cancun staff support when getting people out and about. • With a large percentage of all inclusive resorts, Cancun has gained the reputation of ‘Spring Break Haven’ where college kids party during the winter months. Cheap resorts, lots of night clubs, and high-end shopping centers have created this atmosphere, but has made Cancun a profitable tourism center. • International brands like Wet and Wild water parks, Hard Rock Cafe, Outback Steak House, MontBlanc, Nike, etc can be found in Cancun to appeal to American and international tourists visiting the hotel zone in Cancun. • Predominately this area is frequented by American and Canadian tourists with a small influx of European and South American visitors.



Each city in the Riviera Maya has its own unique feel, tourism base and extraordinary attractions. Developed after the rise of Cancun, these cities are less populated and come with a lifestyle that is focused on the beach and local cenotes. •Tourism is highly diverse with people from around the world visiting local cities. It is not uncommon to hear various European languages, Spanish, and English spoken everywhere by both staff and visitors. Some Riviera Maya cities have a high concentration of US and Canadian residents, Puerto Aventuras and Akumal being known for this. •These cities are less about resorts, which are located outside city centers, and more about small hotels, vacation rentals and in some cases beachfront cottages (cabanas). This is not the hospitality landscape in Cancun. •Most cities are walking cities as they are small and intimate. It is easy for a visitor and locals to walk to restaurants, local attractions, and to the beach. Playa del Carmen has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade but has retained its neighborhood feel in the downtown core. What we do appreciate is the recent addition of arts and cultural activities that Playa did not have just a few years ago. •It is natural that the concentration of tourism is by the beach, with city centers revolving around hotels, shopping and vacation rentals, but residential neighborhoods are closely located if not a part of the hotel and restaurant areas. This urban mix retained a local feel to the cities where visitors and residents mix, happily. This neighborhood feel makes the cities of the Riviera Maya friendlier, more local, and information about where to go and what to do easily exchanged. •Each Riviera Maya city is a stop on the main 307 highway, the only highway that runs along the coast. This main artery connects local attractions to visitors with easy, making exploring a pleasure, inexpensive and really easy to navigate. Most Riviera Maya visitors and locals visit cenotes, other small cities, Mayan ruins, and local cultural attractions with greater flexibility than Cancun visitors.


We understand all too well the differences between Cancun and the Rivera Maya. We also understand the nuances of both locations. What we love is the diversity of the two areas. We live in the Riviera Maya so we can enjoy the ease of exploring, smaller communities, and direct access to the beach. We value the mix of visitors and locals, and love that we can have tacos on one corner and a burger on the other. We also appreciate the benefits of Cancun. Brand name shopping is useful (think Costco or the Apple Store) and in the old days Cancun was the place you had to shop.Back then Riviera Maya cities had maybe one grocery store and food choices were limited. Today that has changed but Cancun still has stores and retail outlets not found in the Riviera Maya. Unfortunately if your travel agent or online booking website is not familiar with the area (which in most cases they are not, many have not even visited the area) you may find yourself in a hotel or resort that doesn’t match your dream. We have heard time and again that people feel stuck in Cancun. We talk to people who thought they booked a hotel in Playa del Carmen only to learn it is 20 minutes away and not remotely close to the famous 5th Avenue or near the glorious beaches of Tulum as promised.


If you know what you want for your vacation and would like to investigate the best place for your week off, talk to a local (pointing finger over my head) A local will listen to what you want and quickly point you in the right direction. If you want to hit the nail in the head the first time, talk to someone who knows.

So give us a call. Drop us a line. Ask away and we are happy to give you the lay of the land. And if you choose to come to the area, be sure to let us know so we can meet up for a cocktail and share travel stories! We love to hear how your vacation is panning out and what you think of the area. If you are already booked, contact our concierge who is happy to get you where you want to go, suggest great restaurants and guide you to local attractions worth seeing!

Shared from:

Destination Weddings FAQ

Destination Weddings FAQ

Destination Wedding – FAQs

Disney Cruise wedding

The couple may also find most of what I cover here in my book on amazon. 


When do I need to book by?
The booking deadline will be listed on the couple’s wedding website or event link. You’ll get the most options and best rates if you book early. The bride and groom have a lot of details to plan, so it is best to be considerate of their time and book at least 6 months prior to the wedding date. This gives them the time and numbers they need to make and finalize their wedding day plans and budget. As long as the hotel has rooms available, we can book. The deposit gets paid when you make your reservation. Final payments are due 60-90 days prior to travel.

How Should I Book My Trip?
Most couples have a wedding website or event link with information on how to book your trip. This will either have room rates listed, or a quote form for you to fill out. The couple often receives amenities for their wedding based on how many rooms are booked. They are looking to us to organize all the rooms and keep count. The right thing to do is work directly with us to ensure smooth planning and organization for the couple.  Also, make sure you book your trip on time. The bride and groom have a wedding to plan and cannot get an accurate guest count until everyone is booked. We all love good deals, but you want to avoid last-minute problems. Unfortunately, for destination weddings, last-minute guests just add last-minute work for the couple, causing them to scramble to get extra décor, extra seats and extra dinners. Be kind, book early.

How much is the trip going to cost?
Check the wedding page. Often times, room rates are posted there. If not, just email us @ Be sure to include all of the details. To do an accurate quote, we need to know how many people are sharing your room, how many nights you are staying, and where you are flying from if air is to be included. For guests, a destination wedding can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $1,700 depending on the destination, departure city and length of stay. This cost covers flights, resort fees, accommodations and food and drinks for typically 4 nights/5 days. 

Piggy Bank

What if I can’t afford it?
We understand, and so do the bride and groom. Not everyone will be able to attend the wedding, and that’s ok. You may always contribute to the “wedding fund” at this link. No matter what, ALWAYS let the couple know.

What’s not included with my all-inclusive trip?
You’ll want to bring a bundle of 1’s and 5’s with for tipping around the resort. Gratuities are technically included with your travel package, but based on our travel experience, you’ll want to tip something to the bartenders and waiters taking care of you. Be prepared by bringing small bills with so you have them if you choose to tip. The shuttle driver is not a hotel employee and will expect a tip, as will the airport employees. Tours, excursions and spa treatments are not included. You can pay with cash or credit card for these at the hotel. Again, US cash for tips is fine. Insurance is not included, but it is optional when booking your trip. All liquor is included unless you order a full bottle of a specific liquor. This will cost extra. Some destinations, like Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, require a small country tax to be paid locally. This is not included, but we will be sure to let you know about it.

What if I find a cheaper price online?
We work hard on getting you the best price. If you see a less expensive price for the exact package – dates, airline, airline times, taxes, insurance, transfers, etc – give us the opportunity to see if we can get the same price. This way we can book your reservation and you can still be counted as part of the wedding party. Usually online prices are lacking something, like transfers or taxes. Please give us the opportunity to help you with this. Please let us know which website you are looking at, and send us a screenshot of the flights, hotel room, and dates so we can recreate it. Our goal is to have EVERYONE book into the bride and groom’s room block. 

What do I wear to a destination wedding?
Since it will be warm, dress cool. For men, khaki slacks, linen shirts, and nice sandals are all appropriate. You will see very few suits and even fewer ties. Ladies, find a nice sundress or capris with sandals. Unless otherwise noted by the bride and groom, destination weddings are a little more casual than traditional weddings, but if you’re unsure, ask the bride or groom. Sometimes couples have planned special dress codes, such as “all white,” so the last thing you want to do is arrive at the hotel with the wrong outfit.

Should I bring a gift?
If you’re attending a destination wedding, you don’t have to bring a wedding gift. Some couples tell the guests that their presence is gift enough but a card is still a nice touch in these cases. Check with us about adding a tour or a room upgrade as a gift from you. This can often easily be done. If you still want to give the couple a monetary or boxed gift, give it to them before the wedding at their Honeymoon Wishes account. 

What if I run into problems?
One key etiquette tip for guests at destination weddings is to avoid involving the bride and groom in travel or room issues. If your name is spelled wrong on your documents or you missed your flight, call US. Likewise, if your room isn’t ready or the view isn’t perfect, don’t complain to the couple or other guests. This just creates a frenzy. There is no need to add extra stress to the couple. If you have a problem, call or email us. Our travel partners have 24/7 help desks. Their phone number is listed on your travel documents. If you have issues with the hotel, we need to solve them while you are there. Very little can be done after you check out. Let us help. Not everything goes as planned, just be flexible and polite. 

Read my short book to discover more insightful information. 

Wedding planning tips

Wedding planning tips

Planning a Destination Wedding – details to consider

There are several things to consider when planning a destination wedding. Here is a list to get you thinking:


Consider how much you’re comfortable having your guests pay for a 3 night vacation. Typically, budgets start at approximately $1000 per person for a 3 night, all-inclusive vacation including air, hotel, transfers, meals, drinks, tips and taxes. Remember though, you get what you pay for.


Your wedding date will determine how much the trip will cost.

Peak season = high rates:  mid-Jan through Easter, all holidays
Mid-season = average rates: Easter through August, early January
Low season = low rates: September through early November, early December

You also want to make sure you give your guests enough time to plan and save for their trip. Sending a Save The Date a year or more before your wedding is a good idea.


​Don’t be upset if not everyone on your guest list can join you due to time or money constraints. Generally, about 40% of those you invite will be able to attend your destination wedding. Most couples have a reception back at home to celebrate with those who were unable to attend.


​Try to keep travel times within reason. For example, you won’t want to plan a Hawaii wedding if guests need to fly for 9 hours and can only stay for 3 nights. Likewise, the more exotic islands can often require multiple airline connections to get there. All guests will need a passport. Most resorts will require the bride, groom and witnesses to arrive 3 full days prior to the wedding ceremony.


Do you envision something small and intimate, or something loaded with activities and energy? We highly recommend all-inclusive resorts that include meals and drinks. This makes it so much easier for your guests to budget for their trip. And, many all-inclusive resorts include a semi-private reception with their wedding packages, which saves you money. Perhaps money that could be spent on a nice upgrade to the honeymoon suite!


Ceremony Location 
​Beach, gazebo, garden, chapel? Resorts usually have many options for you to choose from based on your desires and number of guests. Resorts also have a back up plan and location in case of inclement weather.


Ceremony Type 
​There are two types of ceremonies for destination weddings. You can have a LEGAL ceremony, where you are legally married in your destination and receive a marriage certificate that is recognized at home. Legal ceremonies often cost a little more and require extra paperwork and occasionally blood tests. Or, you can have a SYMBOLIC ceremony that has no legal holding. To have a symbolic ceremony, you would be legally married at home by your clergy or courthouse before you travel. At your destination wedding, you will celebrate your union as if it were your actual wedding with flowers, music, vows and other ceremony details. Your guests will not know the difference between a legal and symbolic ceremony. Approximately 80% of all destination weddings are symbolic.
Wedding planning tips

25 questions to ask

25 important questions to ask a travel agent

  1. Are they available to help you plan?
  2. How long have they been in business?
  3. Do they have a business license?
  4. How do they get paid? Is there a fee to you, and if so, what is it?
  5. Do they specialize in honeymoon planning?
  6. How many honeymoons have they planned?
  7. Are they familiar with the best places to travel the time of year you would like?
  8. What services does the travel agent offer?
  9. If they provide full-service planning, what do they need from you?
  10. Can they help you stay within budget?
  11. Do they get discounts at certain resorts?
  12. Have they traveled to any of the resorts they recommend?
  13. What is their favorite place to visit?
  14. Do they have photographs or websites for the resorts they have booked in the past and recommend?
  15. Do any resorts provide special perks for honeymooners (champagne, chocolates, etc.)?
  16. Can they recommend activities to do while on your honeymoon?
  17. Do they coordinate transportation?
  18. How can you reach them while on your trip in case of emergency?
  19. Do they offer trip insurance?
  20. What types of documentation is necessary for your trip (domestic and international)?
  21. Can they provide references?
  22. What is the total cost and what is required for a deposit?
  23. Do they offer payment plans?
  24. What type of payment can they take – cash, check, credit card?
  25. What it their refund or travel change policy (including if the wedding is called off)?

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