Girl on the beach in Tulum, Mexico

Tulum vs. Cancun: Best Place to Visit in 2024

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Wondering about the differences between Tulum vs. Cancun? Keep reading!

Tulum and Cancun and two very different travel destinations. Only a few hours apart these two cities and some of the most popular places to visit in Mexico offer something completely unique from one another.

I have traveled to both Cancun and Tulum and have experienced the differences between the two firsthand. They are VERY different and choosing the one that fits your wants for a holiday is the best way to guarantee a successful getaway.

Keep reading for a complete rundown of Tulum vs. Cancun!

(Disclaimer: Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you and you may even receive a small discount. See disclosure for more information.)

Short on time? Here is a summary!
➡️ Best Beaches: Cancun & Tulum (TIED)
➡️ Best Prices: Cancun
➡️ Best for Families: Cancun
➡️ Best for Girls Trips: Tulum
➡️ Best for Couples: Tulum
➡️ Best Restaurants: Tulum
⭐️
Best Hotel in Tulum: Hotel Shibari
Best Hotel in Cancun: Hyatt Zilara Cancun 

Tulum vs. Cancun Overview

Tulum and Cancun offer distinct experiences in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Below is a quick overview of what you can expect “GENERALLY” from both!

About Tulum

Tulum offers a unique blend of ancient history and modern bohemian vibes. One of the main draws is the well-preserved Mayan ruins perched on cliffs overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea. This paired with the countless other Mayan Ruins is a history lovers’ dream!

➡️ Reserve your tours in advance! Click here to book the best Chichen Itza Day Trip from Tulum Including Cenote and Lunch

Beyond archaeological wonders, Tulum’s stunning white-sand beaches and trendy beach clubs create a fun young atmosphere – perfect for partying or simply relaxing on the beach. The town itself is complete with colorful murals, boutique shops, and a commitment to eco-friendly practices.

Tulum’s coexistence of ancient wonders, natural beauty, and unbeatable nightlife have made it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico.

Cancun coast with sunset

About Cancun

Cancun is a world-famous travel destination best known for its white-sand beaches, vibrant nightlife, and luxurious resorts.

Located along the Caribbean Sea, Cancun is a hot spot for water enthusiasts, offering crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkeling and water sports. Beyond the beaches, archaeological wonders like Chichen Itza are easily accessible.

➡️ Tours like this one – Chichen Itza, Cenote and Valladolid All-Inclusive Tour – sell out FAST – Click here to book in advance!

The Hotel Zone is a bustling strip with upscale hotels, restaurants, and shops. Cancun is THE place to visit for all-inclusive hotel stays with so much to offer you likely won’t leave the resort.

Cancun seamlessly combines tropical paradise with modern amenities, making it a premier destination for sun-seekers and cultural explorers alike.


Which Has Better Beaches? Tulum or Cancun

Tulum and Cancun both have stunning beaches along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, each with its unique charm.

Tulum Beaches

Tulum’s beaches are home to an endless stretch of powdery white sands that extend along the Caribbean coastline. All this is framed by tall palm trees and vivid bluewater waters.

The beach is lined with endless beach clubs and hotels and the entire area has a very young energetic atmosphere.

💡 INSIDER TIP: One issue is that renting a sunbed at a hotel or beach club can be VERY expensive + comes with some hidden minimum spend limits – LOOK OUT FOR THIS. The keyword for Tulum’s beaches is LUXURY, it is expensive.

Nonetheless, Tulum’s beach is honestly one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen and the lively beach atmosphere is contagious!

Best for those seeking a relaxing yet luxurious escape with a bohemian touch. Tulum’s beaches are some of the most BEAUTIFUL in the world where you can find parties, beach clubs, and relaxing getaways.

Cancun Beaches

Cancun’s beaches are renowned for their postcard-perfect beauty, with soft, white sands and vibrant turquoise waters along the Yucatan Peninsula.

Stretching along the Hotel Zone, these beaches offer a lively and energetic atmosphere. Whether it’s relaxing under the sun, engaging in thrilling water activities, or enjoying vibrant beach parties, Cancun’s beaches cater to a diverse range of preferences.

Best for those craving an entertaining beach experience. Cancun’s beaches embody tropical excitement with many people, parties, and lots to see and do.


Tulum vs. Cancun Prices

If prices are important to you keep reading. The prices of different things in Tulum vs. Cancun can be a huge factor in deciding where to go.

Tulum Prices

Below is an outline of the average prices in Tulum you can expect. Of course, everything depends on where and when you visit. Hotels, transportation, and restaurants in the hotel zone are 10x more expensive than in the town.

But if you are planning a beach holiday traveling to the beach every day can be a hassle. Factor in everything to ensure your making a good choice overall.

CategoryAverage Prices in TulumAdditional Information
Hotels$100 – $900+ per nightPrices vary based on accommodation type and location. Expect higher prices in the Beach Zone than in the town.
Taxis$10 – $200 for short distancesAgree on the fare before the journey. Tulum taxi drivers are notorious for charging insane prices for short drives (I had a taxi charge me $25USD for a 5 minute drive).
Food (Per Meal)$10 – $50+Street food and local eateries are more affordable.

➡️ This is the BEST hotel in Tulum! Private Cenote, Restaurant, and World Class Service!

Additional Information:

  • Pricing Concerns: You must be very cautious in Tulum to avoid scams, especially with street vendors. Verify prices before making purchases.
  • Tipping: Tipping is appreciated in restaurants (10-15%). Some places may ALREADY include a service charge and try to get you to double tip!
  • Bargaining: While bargaining is common in markets, it’s less common in established businesses.

Tulum has many boutique hotels and trendy beach clubs (not as many all-inclusive resorts) with prices that reflect a more luxurious upscale experience.

SCAMS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN TULUM

Common ScamHow to Avoid
Fake ExcursionsResearch and book excursions through reputable companies or your hotel. Avoid booking from street vendors or strangers.
Overcharging Taxi RidesAgree on a fare before starting the ride or use reputable taxi apps with transparent pricing OR use colectivos (my tip)!
Fake Rental ListingsBook accommodations through trusted websites or directly from reputable hotels and resorts. Verify listings with multiple sources and read reviews.
Double Charging Credit Card TransactionsSome restaurants may “run out of paper” in their card machine and say the transaction didn’t go through and make you pay again. Check your banking to see if this is true.
ATM SkimmingUse ATMs located inside banks or reputable establishments. DO NOT use any ATM’s in the hotel zone!
Fake Police ScamsAsk for identification and verify with the local police station if approached by someone claiming to be a police officer. Avoid going to secluded areas alone.
Double TippingSome restaurants will add the tip to the bill without telling you and then ask you to add an additional tip – look out for this!
Unauthorized Parking FeesUse official parking lots or park in well-lit areas with attendants. Always ask for a receipt and verify the parking fee beforehand.

Cancun Prices

Below is an outline of the average prices you can expect in Cancun. Of course, they could be much more or less depending on the type of traveler you are.

CategoryAverage Prices in CancunAdditional Information
Hotels$100 – $1000+ per nightPrices vary based on the location, amenities, and the type of hotel.
Taxis$5 – $100 for short distancesAgree on the fare before the journey. Booking Uber is best for knowing the price.
Food (Per Meal)$10 – $50+Local restaurants are much better priced. However, most people stay in All-Inclusive in Cancun so food costs could be $0 for you!

➡️ This is the BEST hotel in Cancun! All-inclusive and beautiful.

Additional Information:

  • Pricing Concerns: Be wary of scams, just like Tulum there are some shady taxi drivers, tour operators, etc trying to take advantage of tourists.
  • Tipping: Tipping 10%-15% is common.

Cancun, with its diverse offerings and bustling Hotel Zone, provides a variety of accommodations and dining options suitable for different budgets.


Who Should Visit Cancun or Tulum

Cancun vs. Tulum for Families

Cancun:
➡️ Offers a wide range of family-friendly resorts with amenities like pools, entertainment, and kids’ clubs
➡️ Some of the best all-inclusive resorts in the WORLD – perfect for a holiday that actually feels like a holiday
➡️ Lively atmosphere with parties and nightlife as well as events and shows
➡️ Diverse dining options

Tulum:
➡️ Some hotels can offer a more relaxing and laidback holiday experience
➡️ The Tulum Archaeological Site offers a cultural and historical experience for both parents and kids
➡️ Access to cenotes and eco-friendly activities

For a family vacation, CANCUN is best. This is my opinion but of course, every family is different. However, I have seen much more families in Cancun than in Tulum which also may contribute to a better holiday experience.


Cancun or Tulum for a Girl’s Trip

Cancun:
➡️ Vibrant nightlife with numerous clubs and beach parties.
➡️ Shopping districts, upscale resorts, and a variety of dining options.
➡️ Ideal for those seeking a lively and energetic atmosphere.
➡️ You can book an all-inclusive and not worry about safety with having to leave your resort to do things (this is a big plus for me!)

Tulum:
➡️ Trendy beach clubs, bohemian ambiance, and aesthetic hotels/restaurants
➡️ Relaxing beaches, boutique shops, and a more laid-back vibe.
➡️ Great for a combination of relaxation and luxury
➡️ Tons of amazing festivals and shows all year

For a girl’s trip TULUM is best. This is my choice for a girl’s trip – but make your own choice!


Cancun or Tulum for a Couples Trip

Cancun:
➡️ Diverse range of resorts, including adults-only options.
➡️ Thriving nightlife, upscale dining, and romantic experiences.
➡️ Access to snorkeling, water activities, and day trips to nearby attractions.

Tulum:
➡️ Intimate boutique hotels, beachfront dinners, and a romantic atmosphere.
➡️ Cultural experiences with the Tulum ruins and cenotes.
➡️ The crowd in Tulum is less family-focused so you can enjoy a getaway without families all about

For a couples trip, TULUM is best. I visited Tulum with my husband and loved it.


Frequently Asked Questions

Renting a Car in Tulum

Rental Agencies: Numerous car rental agencies operate in Tulum, both at the airport and in the town. Examples include major international brands and local companies.

➡️ I book all my car rentals with Discover Car – be sure to ONLY book with reputable car rentals in Mexico and opt for FULL COVERAGE INSURANCE!

Requirements: You need a valid driver’s license, a credit card for the deposit, and the minimum age requirement varies (usually 21-25 years old).

Cost: Rental prices vary based on the type of vehicle, duration, and the rental company. On average, prices can range from $30 to $100 or more per day.

Additional Costs: Factor in fuel costs, insurance (optional but recommended), and any potential extra fees.

ProsCons
Allows you to explore Tulum and surrounding areas at your own pace.Limited parking in some areas, especially during peak times.
Access to remote attractions, cenotes, and ruins without relying on public transportation.Can run into problems with police checks (may have to pay the police to let you continue)
Ideal for families or groups.Rental fees, fuel, and insurance costs can add up.

How To Get from Cancun to Tulum

The best ways to get from Cancun to Tulum are as follows:

Cancun or Tulum Hotel Comparison

The types of hotels you will find in Cancun vs. Tulum can be quite different. Keep reading for a rundown on what to expect in each place!

Tulum Hotels

Tulum offers a diverse range of accommodations, from boutique beachfront retreats to eco-friendly jungle hideaways. Expect charming, bohemian-chic designs, with many hotels blending seamlessly into the natural surroundings.

With a focus on sustainability and a laid-back atmosphere, Tulum hotels provide a unique and tranquil escape along the picturesque Caribbean coastline.

The best sustainable hotel in Tulum is CASA OLAS – a hotel I highly recommend if you want to immerse yourself in the laidback and sustainable side of Tulum.

➡️ Budget: Hotel Boutique Murana Tulum
➡️ Midrange: Niken Beachfront Tulum Hotel
➡️ Luxury: Hotel Shibari

Cancun Hotels

Cancun boasts a diverse array of hotels, catering to every traveler’s preferences. Whether you’re on a budget, seeking mid-range comfort, or indulging in luxury, these three hotels, all available on Booking.com, offer distinct experiences.

➡️ Budget: The Quetzal
➡️ Midrange: Nizuc Resort & Spa
➡️ Luxury: Hyatt Zilara Cancun 

Cancun or Tulum Restaurant Comparison

Cancun Restaurants

Cancun’s dining scene is diverse, offering a mix of international cuisine, local Mexican flavors, and seafood specialties. From casual beachside eateries to upscale restaurants in the Hotel Zone, you can explore a wide range of culinary experiences.

Top 4 Rated Restaurants in Cancun:

  1. Le Chique: Upscale dining experience with a tasting menu with innovative and artistic dishes.
  2. Puerto Madero: Argentinian restaurant with great steak and seafood lovers.
  3. Taco Arte Restaurant at Club Med: Amazing Mexican food with a stunning atmosphere.
  4. Lorenzillo’s: A renowned seafood restaurant famous for its lobster dishes. Guests can enjoy their meals in a charming, overwater setting.

Tulum Restaurants

Tulum’s dining scene is known for its blend of bohemian elegance and local authenticity. Restaurants range from beachfront gems with a laid-back atmosphere to upscale restaurants offering creative culinary experiences.

Top 5 Rated Restaurants in Tulum:

  1. Hartwood: Known for its farm-to-table concept and open-air kitchen, Hartwood offers a unique dining experience with a daily changing menu featuring locally sourced ingredients.
  2. Arca: Situated in the jungle surroundings, Arca provides a sophisticated ambiance and a menu focusing on wood-fired dishes and contemporary Mexican cuisine.
  3. Gitano Tulum: A chic jungle oasis, Gitano Tulum offers a mezcal bar and a fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean flavors, making it a popular spot for both dining and nightlife.
  4. Casa Jaguar: Set in a lush garden setting, Casa Jaguar combines a bohemian vibe with a diverse menu featuring seafood, grilled meats, and vegetarian options.
  5. Cenzontle: Tulum’s Cenzontle is recognized for its creative Mexican cuisine and intimate setting. The menu highlights traditional flavors with a modern twist.

Day Trips from Cancun or Tulum

Day Trips from Cancun

Cancun offers a plethora of day trips that blend history, nature, and relaxation. Here are some notable excursions:

Chichen Itza Mexican temple ruins in Mexico

Chichen Itza:

  • Duration: Approximately 2.5 hours by car.
  • How to Get There: Easily accessible by car or organized tours. Consider early departures to avoid crowds.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour from Cancun to Chichen Itza

Isla Mujeres:

  • Duration: 15-20 minutes by ferry.
  • How to Get There: Ferries depart from Puerto Juarez or Playa Tortugas. Enjoy a scenic ride to this island paradise.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour from Cancun to Isla Mujeres

Xcaret Park:

  • Duration: Full day.
  • How to Get There: Located south of Playa del Carmen, accessible by car or organized transportation. A variety of experiences awaits, from cultural shows to water adventures.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour from Cancun to Xcaret Park

Coba Ruins:

  • Duration: Approximately 2 hours by car.
  • How to Get There: Drive or join a guided tour to explore the ancient Mayan city. Climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid offers stunning jungle views.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour from Cancun to Coba Ruins


Day Trips from Tulum

Tulum, nestled along the Riviera Maya, serves as a perfect hub for enchanting day trips that seamlessly combine natural wonders and cultural exploration. Here are some must-visit destinations:

Beautiful view of Cenote Sac Actún - Akumal, near Tulum city located in Yucatán Peninsula - Mexico

Cenotes:

  • Duration: Half day
  • How to Get There: Take the tour below to visit various centoes in one day with a professional guide.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour from Tulum to Various Cenotes

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve:

  • Duration: Full day.
  • How to Get There: Join guided tours departing from Tulum. Explore this UNESCO-listed reserve with its diverse ecosystems, wildlife, and ancient Mayan ruins.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour for Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Akumal:

  • Duration: 30 minutes by car.
  • How to Get There: Drive or take a colectivo. Snorkel with sea turtles in the calm waters of Akumal, known for its marine biodiversity.

Mezcal and Chocolate Tasting:

  • Duration: FewHours
  • How to Get There: Join the tour below and be guided.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated Mezcal experience in Tulum

Tulum Ruins and Beach:

  • Duration: Close proximity.
  • How to Get There: Easily accessible by bike, taxi, or walking. Explore the ancient Tulum Archaeological Site and then unwind on the nearby Tulum beach with its white sands and turquoise waters.

➡️ Click HERE to book the top rated tour for the Tulum Ruins

Travel Tips

Tulum Travel Tips:

  1. Eco-Friendly Practices: Tulum promotes sustainable tourism. Support eco-friendly businesses, reduce single-use plastics, and be mindful of your environmental impact.
  2. Cash is Useful: While credit cards are widely accepted, having some cash is handy, especially in local markets and smaller establishments.
  3. Renting Bikes: Consider renting bikes to explore the town and nearby attractions. Tulum is bike-friendly, offering a unique and leisurely way to navigate.
  4. Sun Protection: Tulum can be hot. Bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun, especially if you’re spending time on the beaches or exploring outdoor attractions.
  5. Reservations for Popular Spots: Tulum is a popular destination, and some restaurants and beach clubs can get crowded. Consider making reservations, especially during peak seasons.

Cancun Travel Tips:

  1. Water Precautions: While many hotels have safe tap water, it’s advisable to drink bottled or purified water to avoid any sickness.
  2. Public Transportation: Use the ADO buses for affordable and reliable transportation between Cancun and nearby destinations. Taxis are also readily available.
  3. Tipping: Tipping is customary in restaurants (usually 10-15%). Some places may include a service charge. It’s also common to tip taxi drivers and hotel staff.
  4. Weather Awareness: Cancun can experience occasional storms. Check the weather forecast during your stay and plan activities accordingly.

Both in Tulum and Cancun, respecting local customs, embracing eco-friendly practices, and staying aware of your surroundings contribute to a more enjoyable and responsible travel experience.


Conclusion: Tulum or Cancun

Choosing between Tulum or Cancun is a VERY subjective choice.

Tulum is best for those seeking a blend of ancient wonders, bohemian vibes, eco-friendly practices, and plenty of beach clubs/parties.

Cancun is best for those looking for vibrant nightlife, diverse entertainment, and luxurious beachfront experiences.


Travel Insurance

Getting travel insurance before you travel is a MUST. It’s the number one thing you should always pack before travelling that can save you a lot of money, time, and stress. With how crazy travel has gotten recently you need that peace of mind that no matter what happens there is something protecting you from losing out. I always travel with travel insurance and think everyone should.

I always travel with travel insurance and think everyone should. Below is my favorite travel insurer Safety Wings, enter your details to get a free quote!

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