While it’s only about an hour south of Cancun by shuttle or taxi, Playa del Carmen is a very different destination. Unlike the endlessly long strip of beach hotels and timeshare buildings that makes up the tourist part of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is an actual tourist town, and a very charming one at that.
Cancun is perfect for those who want to check into a big hotel and then take a taxi to a nightclub. But if you would rather choose from hundreds of different restaurants and bars and shops and attractions, Playa del Carmen is the better choice.
The more casual restaurants and bars in Playa del Carmen will quote prices in Mexican Pesos, and they offer very good value for most visitors. Higher end places will quote prices in US Dollars, and those can seem a bit expensive in comparison. Visitors on lower budgets will have plenty of excellent options among hotels and eateries, especially if they are willing to stay a couple blocks away from the beach.
The larger resorts are mostly a bit out of the town center, and those are obviously less convenient for the city services. Many of them are all-inclusive hotels, which are also very good value.