When looking for a family friendly designation, most families want somewhere warm. Although winter activities are fun, the amount of gear and accoutrements a family has to bring on a winter vacation is, at the very least, overwhelming. A summer trip means less clothes and easier living! We try to take a week long family vacation every summer and this summer, we were lucky enough to take two. Both were lovely and here are the similarities and differences in Riviera Maya vs. USVI.
Ease of getting there: Depending on where you are, the Riviera Maya might be a shorter flight. The Cancun area of Mexico is fairly centrally located to many U.S. cities, whereas flying to the Caribbean can be a big pain for people located in the western states. In addition, if you’re flying to an island within the USVI where there is no airport, such as St. John, even if you have a direct flight to St. Thomas, you’ll still have to catch a boat to go to St. John. If you are located in Denver, like us, you’ll have to take a 3 to 4 hour flight to either Houston or Miami and then hop on another 3 hour flight to St. Thomas. it’s a lot of traveling. If you are traveling to the Riviera Maya, it’s a direct flight to Cancun from many U.S. cities and then a quick 30 minute drive from the airport to Riviera Maya.
Beaches: The Riviera Maya is well known for it’s amazing beaches and sugar soft sand, but summer is much different. Although the sand is still soft and smooth, seaweed season starts in late May. Many of the beaches are overrun with seaweed, making even walking into the water almost impossible. On our recent trip, there were some beaches where the seaweed was three feet high and we could not even get to the water. Snorkling was not possible unless we hired a boat to take us out past the shore side seaweed. In comparison, the beaches of USVI, and St. John in particular, are rarely anything but beautiful, clear water filled with fish, stingrays and coral. The water is clear year round and we were able to walk right into the water and start snorkeling. We even saw stingrays from the beach.
Historical Sites: While the U.S. Vigin Islands have many sugar plantation ruins and some historical sites, the Riviera Maya wins on this category. Mayan ruins are everywhere and there is much to see. A plethora of tours abound and if a tourist wants to see 3 different sites in one day, it’s possible. USVI have more nature trails than historical sites, although there are several areas in St. Croix and St. Thomas with historical forts.
Terrain: For the most part, the area around Cancun and the Riviera Maya is flat. While there are plenty of jungles, it is not mountainous terrain. The topography instead prides itself on Cenotes – underwater caves and caverns, which are amazing places to see. All of the USVI islands are rolling hills and green mountains.
Noise: The atmosphere in the USVIs is rather quiet and slow – “Island time.” On St. John, the main town of Cruz Bay is very tiny and sleepy. Don’t expect to be out partying until midnight or later….it’s not uncommon for restaurants and bars to close before 10 pm. The Riviera Maya and the Playa del Carmen area; however, are hopping until very late at night. In addition, it’s starting to become overrun with tourists and very commercialized (at least Playa and Cancun are – if you are staying in a quiet resort, you won’t even notice the late night partiers).
Accommodations: On the 3 U.S. Virgin Islands, there are only a few resort type hotels on each island (Caneel Bay and Westin on St. John for example). There are a few more on St. Thomas and St. Croix, but not a lot. The Riviera Maya area has an enormous amount of resorts to choose from. In Riviera Maya, you can find all-inclusives, luxury, family friendly, adults only. There is literally something for everyone in the Riviera Maya. USVI does not have close to the amount of choices if you are looking for a resort.
Food: USVI has traditional Caribbean food and rather Americanized food so if you’re looking for something exotic, you wouldn’t find it there. Riviera Maya, on the other hand, has many different types of food and the authentic Mexican food is out of this world.
We were lucky enough this summer to travel to both places and I have to say, I loved them both. But I feel that we have done the USVIs at this point and I’m looking for something new. We are planning a trip for 2 years from now with my family and I’m hoping to find a great place in Mexico. Riviera Maya is much closer for us and there are so many places to choose from as far as places to stay. What’s your favorite place to stay in the region?