**Note. This post may have opinions that are quite arguable based on taste 🙂 I will try to be as unbiased as possible! Pictures are from google and represent what you will actually see.
For those who have it narrowed down to Mexico or Belize, on the Caribbean side (note: the Caribbean islands are all awesome. Let’s say you decided you wanted to do a place that was not an island, but on the mainland—why the mainland? Authentic character, easier/cheaper to get to, and the places in this blog are awesome!). Three great places to choose from are Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Mexico, and Placencia, Belize. See my post HERE for a comparison between Placencia and Ambergris Caye, Belize, and Roatan, Honduras (the latter two being islands).
Playa del Carmen and Tulum are in Quintana Roo, MX, on the Caribbean Sea. They are South of Cancun and you need to take a bus or puddle jumper to get there. There is a great bus service called ADO that gets great reviews. They are about 45-90 minutes away from Cancun.
Here is a brief overview and description of each place, compared to each other, from one traveler’s (my!) point of view:
Playa del Carmen:
-Biggest, most developed of the three places
-HUGE pedestrian street…5th Ave…with bars, restaurants, and shops as far as the eye can see
-Super fun area on 12th where “clubby” nightlife is centered
-Pretty much all the American-ized choices you could ever want. (Starbucks, McDonalds, etc.)
-more to do than any one person could do on vacation!
-gorgeous beaches with soft white sand
-great Mayan ruins in walking distance to town
-unique, beautiful rocky beaches, cliffs in areas
-the most charming, unique stretch of beachfront resorts you could imagine–I can’t stress this enough. I could not begin to describe the amazing job the developers did with their beachfront properties. It is so overwhelming to take in one cute eco resort, restaurant, cafe, etc….NO CHAINS! Very nice, welcome feel, you can walk down most stretches of beach, none of the resorts there are the mega resorts you see in most places.
-Great city planning and clear areas where there are more local flair vs. tourism, you can easily get from one place to another with a bike.
-small, warm, welcoming village where within a day you will recognize people and beach dogs, you will feel a part of town by the end of your trip
-you can get around town just by walking-no car or bike needed
-you will not feel overwhelmed or like you are missing out on something….there are a handful of comfortable beach bars and places where everyone is, no guesswork or cabbing around to find the fun
-Very authentic, no chains of any kind, no mega resorts in the village, everything is open to all
-You can drink the water!!
Benefits all three have, they all feel safe, they all have great beaches (admittedly……….Tulum and Playa’s beaches—- at least when I was there–are a bit more stunning in color and landscape than Placencia), all have access to snorkeling, ruins, etc. You can do more first world stuff in Mexico, like theme parks and huge Sea World like places. The aesthetics of Mexico are more advanced and stunning than Belize. They are decades ahead tourism wise. BUT at times I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, feeling like a small fish in a big ocean.
I imagine there would be some vacationers who might feel a bit overwhelmed and even overstimulated by the environments in Mexico. It is beautiful, exciting, tons of energy, tons to do…picture a bit of Vegas on the beach. SO many choices. Sometimes this is exactly the right type of trip. Other times, you may want a relaxed, predictable, warm, and easy vacation where you connect with locals and actually talk to and connect to others; you are not one of 1000’s of other tourists, and where you only have to choose between a couple events each night, not 100’s.
So, on one hand, I can say that scientific studies show that less choices=more satisfaction and higher levels of happiness. But, sometimes I just want all of the choices/energy/craziness that big crowds bring. Overall—most exciting and stimulating award goes to Playa. Most charming goes to Tulum. Most warm/welcoming/relaxing goes to Placencia 🙂 Hope this helps you pick what you are looking for!!