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Tulum vs Cancun: Which is Better to Visit?

Tulum vs Cancun: Which is Better to Visit?

There are many fantastic destinations in Mexico, and choosing which one to visit can be hard. One of the popular decisions is choosing between the tourist destinations of Tulum and Cancun. 

Despite both being top vacation spots, they offer different experiences. The significant similarities between the two spots are that both Cancun and Tulum have amazing white sand beaches, sparkling seas, and easy access to the Mayan ruins.

However, aside from that, the two places have a distinctive vibe. This guide below outlines what you should know to help you select the ideal Mexican paradise.

About Cancun

Island and Ocean Aerial View

Cancun is a city that is abundant in skyscrapers as well as chain restaurants. In many ways, it’s like any other big city you’d find stateside. The area is a popular party destination, especially for those who want to celebrate Spring Break. Because of this, nightclubs are common here. 

However, it’s important to note that Cancun is not only for partygoers. It is also an amazing holiday destination because most luxury hotels and inclusive resorts in the Cancun hotel zone are very affordable. 

While in Cancun, you can relax in the beachside resorts and sip your favorite cocktail by the pool as you enjoy the stunning views of the Caribbean. As expected, this place often has many honeymooners and people who want a break from their busy life in the city.

Chances are, you’re not going to find a lot of backpackers in this spot because it’s too mainstream for travelers who want to explore hidden gems. 

There are tons of cool things and experiences you can find in Cancun. Because of where Cancun is, the Caribbean Sea will be right on your doorstep. There are also so many underwater activities you can enjoy. You can also go on day trips to see a new side of Mexico.

About Tulum

Cottages by the Beach

While Cancun is a little more hectic and frenetic, Tulum is the opposite. This destination is known for its chill vibe. When you decide to visit Tulum, your experience will be full-on relaxation.

The perfect way to describe Tulum is to think of an unassuming town with tropical beach vibes where the people are in no way rushing. This place has many beautiful trendy hotels, top-tier restaurants, amazing food stalls, and hostels. 

Tulum still offers nightlife despite being more relaxed if you want to be in a lively location. The place attracts a diverse crowd that ranges from backpackers to families and even A-listers. Aside from that, Tulum is also famous for its yoga classes and restive retreats.

The beaches in Tulum also have something special to offer if you love spending the day tanning or exploring underwater scenes, colorful reef fish, and other marine life. Because of where Tulum is, there are also many day trip possibilities if you want to explore inland blue holes, ancient ruins, or spas.

Compared to Cancun, Tulum is less developed, and you won’t find big skyscrapers here. Here is a table comparing both destinations:

AspectTulumCancun
VibeBohemian, eco-chic, laid-backLively, resort-focused, party atmosphere
BeachesPristine, white sand, less crowdedWide, powdery white sand, more crowded
AccommodationEco-resorts, boutique hotels, beach cabanasLarge all-inclusive resorts, luxury hotels
NightlifeLow-key beach clubs, casual barsVibrant clubs, bars, and nightlife scene
ActivitiesCenotes, Mayan ruins, yoga retreatsWater sports, golfing, shopping malls
DiningFarm-to-table, vegan/vegetarian optionsInternational cuisine, beach clubs
Getting AroundRent a bike or carTaxis, public transport, or resort shuttles
Best ForRelaxation, wellness, off-the-beaten-pathPartying, family vacations, beach resorts
CostModerate to highModerate to very high (for luxury resorts)
Distance from Airport81 miles from Cancun AirportAdjacent to Cancun Airport

Tulum vs Cancun: Airport and Transportation

Plane in the Sky

One of the major deciding factors of where you should vacation is its accessibility. Let’s dive into how to get to these two destinations.

Cancun International Airport

Cancun International Airport CUN and control tower, Cancun, Quintana Roo QR, Mexico
Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com

Is Cancun better than Tulum when it comes to accessibility? Yes. For those wondering how to get to Cancun, the city has an international airport that serves as the major hub of the entire Yucatan Peninsula. It also serves the entire Riviera Maya area. Those planning to visit the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mayan Riviera must fly to this airport.

Tulum Airport

The bad news is that Tulum has no airport if you want to vacation there. But because of its popularity, the government plans to open a luxury airport in 2023. 

If you’re wondering how to get to Tulum, you’ll have to fly to Cancun International Airport, which is two hours away from this quaint town by car. You can also fly to Cozumel, which is 40 minutes by ferry and an hour away by car. 

Things to Consider Before Going to Tulum and Cancun

We’ve gathered some of the top things to consider before you decide where to spend your vacation. The information below will help you determine whether Tulum vs Cancun is better.

Getting Around Cancun

Resort Aerial View

Getting around Cancun can be a little expensive. You’d best take a taxi or the local bus if you want to leave Cancun’s hotel zone to explore downtown Cancun and vice versa safely. Different app-based rideshares operate here. 

Remember that walking may not be a good decision here because the distance between the hotel zone and downtown Cancun is quite far. Please rent a car, but double-check whether your Airbnb or hotel charges you for parking.

Getting Around Tulum

Palm Trees on a Cliff and the Ocean

The easiest way to go to the spots you want to visit is by taxi to Tulum. Unlike Cancun, walking makes more sense here, especially if you want to explore the downtown or beach area. 

But to move between both spots, it’s not possible to walk. Despite this, you can get around the area by bike. Unlike Cancun, finding rental cars can be challenging, especially if you stay in the beach zone. 

See Related: Virginia Beach vs Ocean City: What’s the Difference

Cancun Shopping

Biggest Cancun Shopping Mall La Isla (The Island) that sells everything from souvenirs to brand name luxury clothing
eskystudio – stock.adobe.com

When making a vacation trip in Cancun, planning for shopping is a must because one major difference between Tulum and Cancun is its shopping scene. 

Because Cancun is a bigger city, it has more developed big shopping malls such as Puerto Cancun, La Isla, and Plaza Las America. These spots are immensely popular with tourists, especially those shopping for souvenirs such as tequila, sombreros, and jewelry. 

Make sure not to miss Market 28, Cancun’s most popular open-air market. 

Tulum Shopping

Clothing and souvenir shopping stalls at the entrance of Chilam Balam hotel in Tulum
ingusk – stock.adobe.com

While Cancun is home to many huge shopping malls, Tulum has a more understated shopping scene. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find great things here. 

Instead of enormous shopping malls, Tulum sports charming local boutique shops with tons of handcrafted products, such as clothes and unique souvenirs. Tulum also has many authentic artisan products and arts and crafts. 

See Related: Cheapest Shopping Destinations in the World

Vibe of Cancun

Cancun beach panorama, Mexico
javarman / Adobe Stock

While Tulum’s vibe will make you think of the ultimate beach vacation, Cancun still has the same vibe minus the presence of untouched nature and the addition of more commercial areas. 

Depending on where you stay, whether it’s in affordable locations filled with a younger crowd, or more upscale resorts, it may dictate your experience.   

Vibe of Tulum

Mayan ruins of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico
Simon Dannhauer / Adobe Stock

If you choose Tulum, you can bask in nature during your vacation. Because Tulum is less developed than Cancun, you won’t see the same tall apartment blocks and skyscrapers – but that’s changing.

If you visit Tulum right now, you may see unfinished buildings, construction sites around the area, and unpaved roads. This landscape is more common in Aldea Zama and La Veleta, two newly established neighborhoods. Tulum also has a more tranquil vibe. This feature is why many tourists love it.

Cancun Hotels & Resorts

Resort, Ocean, and Skyline
Photo by Booking.com

In this tourist spot, you can find large, all-inclusive hotels by the most successful hotel chains in the world. Its beachfront hotel zone features many resort hotels and high-rise condos. 

Depending on your budget, you can easily find simple, mid-range, luxury hotels in Cancun. Some of the most popular hotels in the area include Le Blanc Spa Resort, Grand Fiesta Americana, and Grand Park Royal.

Tulum Hotels & Resorts

Swimming Pool Surrounded with Plants
Photo by Booking.com

If you want to stay in a small yet luxurious boutique hotel instead of a big party resort, head to Tulum. The hotels in this destination will give you a unique experience primarily because their design is based on nature. 

Most of its hotels have a rustic charm, yet it still doesn’t sacrifice luxury. Some places you should check out include Mamasan Treehouses & Cabins, Hotel Bardo, and Aldea Xaan Ha Tulum.

Cancun Beaches

Chairs Facing the Ocean

Wondering who’s the winner when it comes to Tulum vs Cancun beaches? You’ll find out the answer here. Cancun is home to many stunning beaches that will reward you with turquoise waters as well as powder-fine sand. These beaches are some of the best in the country. 

The general public can access many of the beaches in Mexico. But remember that many resorts have private sections of the beach that only their guests can access. 

However, it’s still very common to see tourists and locals mingling on the beach, and this experience will truly add to your travel experience. On other crowded beaches, it’s not common to see beach vendors that sell different souvenirs and offer tours. 

If you want a quieter vibe, Cancun’s more remote and lesser-known beaches will give you a more relaxing experience.   

Some of the most popular resorts in the area include Playa Delfines. This beautiful beach is the largest public beach in the area. You should also not miss visiting Costa Mujeres, Playa Playacar

Tulum Beaches

Beach and the Ocean

Tulum is truly a beach lover’s paradise and arguably home to even better beaches than Cancun. With its long stretch of silky-smooth and powdery white sand and vibrant blue waters, you’ll want to take a picture every single time.

With so many beaches, you won’t run out of beaches to hang out here. You can lounge under a parasol, read a good novel, or venture to a secluded beach. Some of the most popular beaches in the area include Playa Paraiso, Las Palmas, and Akumal Beach

Tulum vs Cancun: Things to Do

While you can lay out in the sun all day, you should check out a few sights in paradise.

Thankfully, both spots offer many activities and day trips so that you won’t get bored on your trip. If you are wondering who the winner is regarding Tulum vs Cancun attractions, check it out below. 

Mayan Ruins

Chichen Itza, one of the most visited archaeological sites, Mexico
Aleksandar Todorovic / Adobe Stock

One of the best things about Cancun and Tulum is both places are within reach of Mayan Ruins, which are a must-visit for everyone, especially for history lovers.

This is because Mexico is surrounded by one of the most captivating ancient cities built by the Mayan Civilization. Mexico is filled with archeological sights.

During your trip, you can visit these extensive ruins. The best part is they are nearby your hotel. No matter which of these ruins you choose, you will have a peek at the fascinating culture that once called Mexico its home.

Cancun’s Mayan Ruins

Historic Ruins

If you’re in Cancun, you can easily escape the glitz and glamor of the hotel zone and take a trip to ancient stone temples. You can head over to Chichen Itza, a UNESCO Heritage site. The ruins are also home to numerous cenotes.   

Tulum’s Mayan Ruins

Archeological Monument

Tulum is also not short of Mayan Ruins. Tulum was initially built as a seaport fortress. Its steep ocean cliffs protected areas from the east and the limestone wall that enclosed the city. 

Some popular spots include the Temple of the Frescoes and the House of the Columns. This tour will take you through some of the best spots in Tulum. The famous Playa Ruinas is a beautiful beach with turquoise waters, palm trees, and breathtaking Mayan ruins.

See Related: Best Places to Travel in Your 20s in the US

Cuisine

If you’re traveling to Mexico, you should not miss trying out local cuisines in the area. Part of the allure of both Tulum and Cancun is you can experience authentic culinary delights right on its streets. 

Cancun’s Cuisine and Restaurant Scene

Artifact in a beach restaurant in cancun
PhotoSky / Adobe Stock

Most of the restaurants in Cancun are different from those in Tulum. In the hotel zone, you can find recognizable major restaurant chains such as Hard Rock Café, Hooters, Bubba Gump, and many more. However, there are also tons of 4 and 5-star hotels in the area that boast excellent in-house restaurants and fine dining options.

If you want more affordable food, eating in the hotel zone is not recommended. If you want to explore Cancun’s street food scene, you’ll love this tour.

Tulum’s Cuisine and Restaurant Scene

Plate of Camarone sin Tulum
panda / Adobe Stock

Despite being a small, almost rural beach town, Tulum also offers a great restaurant scene. However, you’d have to shell out quite a lot of money to dine in top-tier restaurants. As expected, low-key and mid-key establishments serve food if you are on a budget. 

Nightlife

If you want to party, you’re in luck! Both Cancun and Tulum have a great nightlife scene. 

Cancun Nightlife Scene

Downtown cancun at night
DIEGOALBERTO / Adobe Stock

when it comes to a night out, Cancun is the opposite of chill, although there are still a few quiet places to drink if you prefer a more peaceful scene. Cancun’s party scene is exactly why it has been a popular spring break destination for decades. 

In this destination, you can find some of the biggest nightclubs in Mexico, which you can bar-hop to since these bars are located mostly on one strip. Most hotels, such as the Grand Oasis, also have bars and nightclubs where guests can dance the night away. 

Book this Coco Bongo Nightclub experience here to experience a fun night in Cancun.

TulumNightlife Scene

People rushing through the streets of Tulum at night with many bars and restaurants open. View at sunset. Aerial view of the Tulum city.
ingusk / Adobe Stock

Tulum offers a more chill nightlife centered mostly on local bars, casual drinks, and amazing cocktails in upmarket beach establishments. Note that there are no proper nightclubs in Tulum. But there are drinks served in most local restaurants

That being said, most bars stay late and play great music so visitors can still enjoy a party if they want to. Tulum also hosts some music festivals yearly, such as Day Zero, a banging techno festival. 

Cenotes

If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram or Pinterest, you may have already seen photos of cenotes.  Cenotes are giant cave systems or sinkholes that form when the ground collapses on itself or when the roof of a cavern collapses. These holes get filled with clear and refreshingly cool fresh water. 

Cenotes in Cancun

Cenote Surrounded with Plants
“Cenote Zaci-8” by ruffin_ready is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When in Cancun, you must tick off a few cenotes on your list. Among the finest accessible cenotes is Cenote Zaci, located in the center of Valladolid. You can also find tons of fauna like fish, bats, and lizards, among other animals. This tour will take you on a 3-hour cenote discovery tour.

Cenotes in Tulum

Tulum is also rich in this natural wonder. Here, you can snorkel in the crystal clear waters. Some of the most popular cenotes here include Blue Cenote, which is 90 meters deep, Cenote Negro, Cenote Calavera, and Dos Ojos. 

If you want to go on a bike tour and visit caves, check out this tour. Here’s another tour that will take you to different cenotes and archeological spots.

Cancun Vs Tulum: Budget

When figuring out your next vacation, you need to consider your budget. The truth is, both areas can be affordable depending on your requirements. 

Accommodation

Hotel Room with Wine Glasses

When it comes to Tulum vs Cancun resorts/hotels, expect Cancun to be slightly more expensive than Tulum. This is mostly because accommodation is more expensive in the area. 

In both destinations, there are hotels where you can pay less than a hundred or thousands of dollars per night – it’s up to what sort of trip you’re trying to build.

When staying in Cancun, you can book cheaper rentals if you know where to look. Some affordable yet great accommodations include Azcapri Villa Boutique & Spa, this villa in front of Kukulkan Plaza, and this apartment in Petunia Beach

The same is true for Tulum. There are many affordable places to stay that don’t sacrifice quality. Some of the top choices of travelers include the Jungle Tree House in Casita Milagros, Amatista 305 at Amena, and this villa near Akumal Beach

See Related: Different Types of Hotel Rooms… Explained!

Food

Generally, the two areas have the exact cost regarding food and street stalls. It is important to note that the food prices in both Tulum and Cancun can vary significantly in restaurants.

Transportation

Regarding transportation, taxis are more expensive in Tulum than in Cancun. The two have very similar prices for entertainment and activities if you want to sightsee different attractions. 

Drinks

Because Cancun is a popular party place, drinks here are generally cheaper than in Tulum. However, it is also important to note that the more you plan on going out, the higher your budget for drinks needs to be. 

Destination Cancun Tulum
Avg. Daily Food/Drink Cost (per person) Food: $17.23
Drink: $8.81
Food: $22.49
Drink: $16.64
Avg. Daily Transportation Cost (per person) Public Transport: $11.86
Rental Car: $29
Public Transport: $18.41
Rental Car: $32

Tulum vs Cancun: Safety

Which is safer, Tulum or Cancun? Here’s what you need to know about the safety of Tulum and Cancun. In both areas, the general concern includes scams regarding ATMs, so make sure you withdraw from a legitimate bank, high rates for cars and motorcycle rentals, and drink spiking. In both areas, make sure not to flash your valuable items. 

Safety in Cancun

Aerial view of a beach in Cancun, Mexico
chrisroosfotografie / Adobe Stock

Is Cancun safe for travel vacations? Cancun is generally a safe place to spend your vacation. The crime rates here are lower than in other places in Mexico because the government is trying to make this tourist destination safe. 

Of course, this information does not mean that you should not take precautions wherever you go. It is still essential to remain alert, especially regarding your belongings. 

Safety in Tulum

Beautiful beach with turquoise water  in Tulum Mexico, Mayan ruins on top of the cliff.
tanaonte / Adobe Stock

Is Tulum safe for travel vacations? According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council or OSAC, Tulum is a safe destination. However, just like in Cancun, travelers should be cautious in the area. 

If you’re wondering if there are cartels in Tulum, it is included in the concerns listed by OSAC, together with contaminated water as well as natural disasters. 

See Related: Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

Tulum vs Cancun: Which of the Two Destinations Is Better? 

When considering Tulum vs Cancun, you should know that both destinations attract different tourists. This is because each destination offers a slightly different mix of attractions, hotel selections, and holiday activities you can enjoy.

When picking between both destinations, the main thing to ask yourself is what you want your experience to be. Do you want to spend your holiday in a rustic beach town, or do you want to experience an all-out vacation with partying?  

The difference between Cancun and Tulum is obvious. If you cannot decide which of the two you should choose, why not visit both? Tulum and Cancun have pros and cons, and you’ll have time in both tourist spots.

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