Cancun vs Tulum, which one is better? Planning a vacation to the Riviera Maya and wondering if you should stay in Cancun or Tulum?
Both are the top two beach vacation destinations in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It may be hard to decide between Tulum and Cancun if it’s your first time visiting.
We have been to both beach towns a lot of times over the years and know the ins and outs of each of them and can help you decide if Tulum or Cancun is better for you.
Cancun and Tulum are similar in some aspects but very different in others. Which one is right for you depends on what type of traveler you are and what you are looking for in your vacation to Mexico.
In our post, Tulum vs. Cancun we will show you the similarities and differences and the pros and cons of each Riviera Maya beach destination.
Afterward, it should be easy for you to decide whether Tulum or Cancun is the better vacation destination for you.
Whether Tulum or Cancun is better to visit depends on the type of traveler you are and what you are looking for in your vacation to the Yucatan Peninsula.
There is no right or wrong. Both are great places in their own right and can also be enjoyed in different ways.
Meaning the stereotype of Cancun is, for instance, being the ultimate party place. That is true, however, it is not all Cancun is. You can also spend a luxurious resort vacation in Cancun or a tranquil family getaway.
How your vacation to Tulum or Cancun is going to be is what you seek and what you ultimately make out of it.
This comparison of Cancun with Tulum is to point out the general differences between the two major beach destinations.
So let’s take it away with comparing Tulum and Cancun to help you decide on where to go.
Let’s start off with how to get to Cancun and Tulum. Which one is easier/ faster to get to?
Cancun is the main airport hub of the Yucatán Peninsula and serves the entire Riviera Maya. Everyone visiting the peninsula will have to fly into Cancun International airport. (With the exception of Merida airport, but that’s on the other side and can be neglected for the purposes of this post.)
There is no airport in Tulum, ….yet! However, since Tulum’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, plans for an airport in Tulum are in the making.
The Tulum International Airport is said to be opened in 2023. So hold on tight, soon there will be an airport in Tulum.
The transportation from Cancun Airport to Cancun Hotel Zone is very easy and quick. It will take around half an hour to get to the Hotel Zone from the airport in Cancun.
At the CUN airport can take a taxi, private shuttle service, shared shuttle, or rent a car at Cancun airportto get to your hotel in Cancun.
Getting to Tulum takes a lot longer than getting to Cancun since Tulum doesn’t have an airport yet.
You will have to fly into Cancun and from there get transportation to Tulum. Depending on which transportation from Cancun to Tulum you chose, it will take at least about 2 hours.
To get to Tulum from Cancun airport you can take a taxi, private shuttle, shared shuttle, or rent a car at the airport and make the drive yourself.
Note, the ADO bus doesn’t run from the airport in Cancun. The ADO bus station is in downtown Cancun.
So if you were wondering, if it is easier to get to Tulum or Cancun? It is definitely easier, quicker, and cheaper to get to Cancun than Tulum.
In order to get around in Cancun, you can take a taxi or hop on a local bus to get from the hotel zone to downtown for instance. There are also app-based rideshares operating in Cancun.
The distances are very far, so walking doesn’t make much sense. If you have a rental car, your hotel might charge you to park the car.
In Tulum, you can easily get around by taxi. Walking is an option here to explore within the Tulum Beach area or Tulum Downtown. To move between the two, walking may be a bit too far.
Another popular mode of transportation in Tulum is getting around by bike.
If you have a rental car, parking may be difficult in the beach zone in Tulum. In Aldea Zama and La Valeta parking is usually no problem.
The biggest differentiator between Cancun and Tulum is the vibe and scene. This is one of the main factors you ultimately are going to decide for or against either one of the beach destinations.
In Tulum, you find yourself in the middle of the jungle. Tulum is a lot less developed than Cancun, you will find lots of unpaved roads and unfinished things and also construction. Especially in the newly established neighborhoods of La Valeta and Aldea Zama. It is becoming more and more developed by the day though.
Tulum started out as a tranquil and low-key beach paradise and Yoga Mecca on the Mexican Riviera loved by international backpackers and yogis alike.
While Yoga retreats are still present, Tulum now has become this world-famous, high-end, eco-chic junglevacation destination. It is to the point that Tulum is being compared to Bali.
Inspired by nature, design, and luxury the Tulum vibe and scene are what you could call upscale boho chic.
Tulum is more rustic than Cancun. At Tulum Beach, you will mainly be walking around in the sand. There is only one paved road with mostly no sidewalk in the beach zone.
You won’t find people wearing heels and suits in Tulum, but rather legere boho-inspired clothes that complement the eco-chic jungle vibe.
If you want to get outfit inspiration for Tulum, check out our Tulum boho outfits post with boho-inspired clothes to wear in Tulum.
The vibes in Cancun couldn’t be more different from the vibes in Tulum. While Cancun has a beach vacation vibe too, of course, there is no jungle or nature inspiration in Cancun.
Depending on where you stay in Cancun you either have an upscale luxury resort kind of vibe or a spring break kind of vibe. You can totally have either end of the spectrum in Cancun.
Check out our Cancun Outfit Guide to get inspiration and ideas on what to pack for a vacation in Cancun. Hint, to Cancun you can pack your heels and party outfits!
To sum it up, Tulum has an eco-chic boho jungle vibe whereas Cancun has a resort hotel vibe. Which vibe is better, Tulum or Cancun? That’s up to you to decide!
In Cancun, you will find big all-inclusive hotels from major hotel chains. The beach at the Hotel Zone in Cancun is lined with one big resort hotel complex next to the other. There are also some high-rise condos in Cancun overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Hotels range from simple and business hotels in downtown Cancun to mid and upper-range resort hotels at the Hotel Zone In Cancun.
Turquoize at Hyatt Ziva Cancun
Mayan Monkey Hotel & Hostel Cancun
Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone
In Tulum, you will find small boutique hotels as opposed to the big resort hotels in Cancun. The look and feel of the boutique hotels in Tulum is entirely different from the resort hotels in Cancun.
At the hotels in Tulum, nature meets design. While the boutique design hotels in Tulum have a more rough nature-like feel to them, they don’t lack luxury at all. In fact, some of the most luxurious hotels are located at Tulum Beach. The style is just different one commonly known from luxury hotels.
To state it upfront, both beaches are great, they are just a little different.
The beaches in Cancun have white sand and super blue/ turquoise water. Like insanely turquoise! The sea can get pretty choppy at times. When you go in the water, it gets pretty deep very quickly.
Only on the Northern end of the Cancun Hotel Zone is the water shallower and calmer. This is our favorite beach in Cancun.
Read more about the best beaches in Cancun here.
The beaches in Tulum are white sand beaches as well. The water is more light blue than in Cancun. The only exception is the beach at the ruins in Tulum, where the water is as deep blue as in Cancun.
In Tulum, the water is shallower than in Cancun and you can walk into the sea more. If it’s windy the water can get choppy too, but the waves aren’t as big as in Cancun.
Read more about the beaches in Tulum here.
To sum it up, both Cancun and Tulum have great white sand beaches and turquoise water. However, Cancun has undoubtedly the bluest water of the entire Riviera Maya and for that reason, if you want to swim in incredibly blue water, the hotel zone in Cancun has the better beaches. The turquoise blue water of Cancun is just unmatched!
If you don’t want to lay at the beach all the time and are looking for activities to do during your Mexico vacation you are probably wondering if Tulum or Cancun has better options for things to do and see.
Both Mexican vacation destinations are hubs for activities and day trips and either beach town has plenty of options for things to do. However, they differ a little bit in regards to the type of activities.
To learn more about the best things to do in Cancun, check out our Cancun Guide.
For the best things to do in Tulum read on in our Tulum Guide.
For instance, Cancun offers lots of boat tours and island trips, whereas Tulum doesn’t since it is lacking a harbor and also islands nearby like Isla Mujeres.
In Cancun you can do whale shark tours, catamaran day trips to Isla Mujeres, snorkeling boat toursto Isla Contoy directly from the hotel zone in Cancun.
Tulum offers some boat tours, but you will first drive to somewhere else, like the Sian Ka’an Biosphere for instance, or to nearby Akumal for snorkeling with sea turtles.
Wondering if there are cenotes in Cancun? Unfortunately, there are no cenotes in Cancun directly. However, you can make day trips to cenotes from Cancun. It just requires some driving time.
Two of our favorite cenotes that can easily be reached from Cancun are Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino.
We wrote a post about which cenotes to visit from Cancun.
In Tulum, on the contrary, there are some cenotes directly in town and lots of cenotes close by. To some cenotes, you can even ride your bike, they are that close to Tulum.
For instance, Cenote Calavera is the closest cenote to Tulum that is only a short bike ride away.
We wrote an entire guide about the best cenotes in Tulum.
Tulum is famous for its archaeological zone in the North of the beach strip. The ruins in Tulum directly overlook the Caribbean sea.
There is also a lesser-known Mayan pyramid half an hour South of Tulum, called the Muyil Ruins which are absolutely worth a visit.
The Coba Ruins, located an hour inland from Tulum, can also easily be reached via a day trip from Tulum.
Cancun is home to some Mayan archaeological sites too, however, they are smaller and not well known, even though they are located directly in the Hotel Zone.
One is the El Rey Archaeological Zone and the other one is the San Miguelito Archeological Site.
To get to the Chichen Itza pyramid, the drive from Tulum is slightly shorter than from Cancun.
From Cancun, lots of travelers visit the Ek Balam Ruins along with a visit to the colonial town Valladolid.
Are the ruins better in Tulum or Cancun? While Cancun has some archaeological sites too, the ruins in Tulum are more breathtaking than in Cancun.
Tulum has evolved from a small rural beach town on the Riviera Maya to a top-notch luxury travel destination and so have the restaurants. In Tulum, you will find some of the best dining options in the most boho chic beach setting you have ever experienced.
These outstanding dining experiences in Tulum come with a price tag though. However, there is also plenty of mid-range and low-key restaurants in town that serve amazing food for a more affordable price.
In general, Tulum has fine dining options but also has amazing food and restaurants in all price categories.
The majority of the restaurant options in Cancun are quite different than Tulum’s. In the Hotel Zone in Cancun, you will find American restaurant chains like Hooters, Buba Gump, the Hard Rock Cafe, etc., and Senior Frogs, to only name a few. So, that is quite different from the restaurants in Tulum.
Having all these chains, however, doesn’t mean that there is no good dining in Cancun. On the contrary, but you have to look for it or know where to go. There are plenty of 4 and 5-star hotels in Cancun that have really good restaurants.
Aside from the hotel restaurants, there are also other fine dining restaurants in Cancun, especially if you venture more towards Puerto Cancun.
For cheaper food options you have to go towards downtown Cancun and away from the hotel zone.
Or and not to forget, if you stay in an all-inclusive resort you don’t have to look for food at all! 😉
Summing up the dining options in Cancun: While you can’t find restaurants in a jungle setting and rather have lots of American restaurant chains in Cancun’s hotel zone, you can still find other great local restaurants and fine dining experiences.
Cancun is world-renowned for its wild Spring Break parties and its clubs like Coco Bongo. If you love to party Cancun is the place for you. You can party day and night in Cancun.
I have actually been to Coco Bongo once, and surprisingly really enjoyed it and stayed until the morning hours. The show they put on is amazing and so is the people watching.
The small beach town Tulum used to be a tranquil place for international backpackers and yogis searching for paradise and tranquility. Sadly, that time has long passed.
With the worldwide rising interest in the rural beach town and therefore following influx of tourists, Tulum has transformed from a simplistic hippie and yogi place to an eco-chic luxurious jungle vacation destination to a place where more and more of the party is taking over.
This is good for the people who like to party and bad for the ones that loved what Tulum used to be. (For the purpose of trying to write an unbiased overview of Tulum vs Cancun we won’t go further into this topic here. That is for another post.)
Even though the party has arrived in Tulum too, there are still plenty of places in Tulum to enjoy your peace of mind and experience the original magic of Tulum.
With that said, if you are into yoga, you will find the best yoga retreats in Tulum. Shambala Petit is one of them and is loved by yogis from all over the place and celebrities too.
Another big differentiator between Tulum and Cancun is the shopping opportunities.
Cancun is a lot more developed and has big shopping malls like La Isla, Plaza Las America, and Puerto Cancun.
In Tulum, you won’t find any malls. Tulum is a lot less developed and the demand for big shopping malls is also not there. Instead, you will find small local boutique shops with handcrafted products and clothes. Of course, there are also some insanely overpriced boutiques in Tulum.
The main tourist destinations of the Yucatan Peninsula, which includes Cancun and Tulum, are considered the safest places in Mexico. While living in Mexico and vacationing in Mexico we have never felt unsafe.
If you don’t break any laws, stay in the main tourist destinations and apply common sense like not walking around alone at night, watching your belongings, etc. it is very unlikely that something will happen to you.
However, like anywhere else, use caution when traveling, but that should go without saying and should also apply to your home country.
If in doubt, check your government’s foreign affairs website for official travel warnings and advice.
Both tourist destinations, Tulum and Cancun, are safe for traveling when applying common sense and caution.
Lots of people wonder if Tulum or Cancun is more expensive? The short answer is, both, Tulum and Cancun, can be super expensive and cheap at the same time. It depends on your budget and requirements.
There are 4 and 5-star luxury hotels in either destination where you pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars a night. But there are also hostels and budget accommodations in Tulum and Cancun alike. They are not necessarily at the beach, but close enough.
We have vacationed in Mexico as students, as Millenials with a salary and visited as digital Nomads and can confirm either end of the spectrum in either town is possible.
The same goes for food too. Mexican street food and local low-key restaurants are cheap in either destination. At the same time, you can find very expensive restaurants in Tulum as well as in Cancun.
Cancun can be as expensive and as cheap as Tulum. The budget depends on your needs!
Cancun and Tulum used to attract very different kinds of travelers. Nowadays, with Tulum’s massive gain in popularity, it is also catering to a broader crowd and the lines are becoming more blurred year by year.
The main question you need to ask yourself to decide between Cancun and Tulum is:
Do you want to spend your vacation in a boho-chic boutique hotel in a rustic, small beach town or do you want a resort vacation, with all-inclusive and big swimming pools?
If you can’t decide between Tulum or Cancun or want both, do both! 🙂 Either one has its pros and cons. There is a time and place for everything and the experiences you will have on your vacation are what you make of it!
Here’s a short overview of the differences between Cancun vs Tulum.
CANCUNTULUMAirportCUN Intl. AirportSoon to come!Airport Transport30 mins to hotel zoneMin 2 hrs to Tulum BeachGetting
ThereShuttle, private shuttle, taxiADO bus, shuttle, private shuttle, taxi, rental carGetting
AroundPublic bus, taxi, carTaxi, car, bike, walkHotelsMostly big all-inclusive hotel chains, luxury resortsBoutique hotels and vacation rentalsVibeParty or all-inclusive luxuryEco-chic, boho, jungle vibes, luxuryBeachesWhite sand
Deep blue water
Mostly light blue waterRuinsEl Rey Archaeological Zone
San Miguelito Archeological SiteTulum Archaeological Site
Coba close byCenotesClosest Cenotes in Puerto Morelos (Ruta de los Cenotes)Some cenotes in Tulum directly and many nearbyDay TripsLots of day trips availableLots of day trips availableFood/ RestaurantsLots of American Chain Restaurants, but also some fine dining restaurants. Upscale & low keyGreat food and restaurants. Upscale & low keyParty/
NightlifeBig clubs like Coco Bongo & beach clubs like Mandala Beach ClubMany beach clubsYoganot known for Yoga retreatsknown for Yoga retreatsShoppingMalls like La Isla & Plaza Americas & Marina Puerto CancúnSmall boutique shopsBudget$$-$$$$$$$-$$$$$SafetyConsidered safeConsidered safe
Once you have decided on where to go in Mexico, it’s a good idea to start thinking about things like travel insurance and protecting your trip.
This is something really important to think about! Whenever we travel abroad we always get travel insurance in case something happens. Not just because Germans (Julia) love to have insurance for everything! 😉
Of course, we are hoping for the best, and in the vast majority of cases, we will be just fine. But when something actually happens, like we get sick or have an accident, etc., we are going to be more than glad that we are covered.
In addition, travel insurances can also include things like reimbursements for lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellations/ interruptions and the like which can come in handy.
A popular insurance among travelers is World Nomads. We like that on their website you can super easily find out how much the travel insurance for your particular trip will cost and which benefits are included.
Check it out if you don’t have travel insurance yet and are looking to get one.
We hope you found our overview of Cancun Vs. Tulum helpful and now know which beach destination is the right one for you.
Enjoy your vacation in Mexico!