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Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum: An In-Depth Comparison

Located on the stunning Riviera Maya on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, these two popular beach towns attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Deciding on Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum can seem like an overwhelming choice if you can only visit one during your time off.

Each beach town offers something for everyone, and depending on what your looking for each town is quite different and may or may not be for you.

Tulum is known for its pristine beaches, exclusive insider parties, off-the-grid resorts, yoga & self-improvement, being pricey, and a boho-hippy style vibe. Playa del Carmen is cheaper, walkable, has tons of nightlife, is more developed, is digital nomad & ex-pat friendly, and family-friendly.

Each beach town is only around a 50-minute drive from each other, so if you have time you may as well do both. You could easily do a day trip to Tulum from Playa Del Carmen or vice versa.

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum Comparison Table

OverviewPlaya Del CarmenTulum
BeachesNarrow, crowded, brown beaches. Walkable from the town.Wide, larger beaches, white sand, blue water. Not walkable from Tulum town, biking distance.
CostCan be done on a budget easily.Quite expensive, not easy to save money.
NightlifeA wider range of nightlife, cheaper, all bars and clubs are within walking distance.Expensive nightlife, more electronic music-oriented, exclusive “Tuluminati” parties.
FoodMany budget options and higher-end options. More fast food places than Tulum.Lots of high-end restaurants, also budget options in Tulum town center.
Things to doLots of shopping malls, ferry access to Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, lots to see on Quinta Avenida.More cenotes to explore nearby, better beaches and beach clubs, Mayan ruins nearby, and Sian Ka’an reserve.
LifestyleDigital nomad, ex-pat friendly and family-friendlyMore of a couples, romantic and boho hippy vibe

Playa Del Carmen Overview

✔️ Pros:

  • Cheaper than Tulum
  • More nightlife options than in Tulum
  • Everything is within walking distance
  • Digital nomad and expat-friendly

❌ Cons:

  • Beach is not as nice, crowded, a little dirtier, and narrower
  • Too developed and crowded, Tulum is more nature-oriented and eco-friendly

Playa Del Carmen is located 45 minutes south of Cancun with a population of approximately 300,000 which has grown enormously over the past decade. Much more developed than Tulum, PDC offers tons lots of shopping options with 3 large shopping malls, larger resorts, and a walking street known as Quinta Avenida full of amazing nightlife and lots of shops.

5th Avenue in Playa Del Carmen

One thing you’ll notice quickly while staying here is how close everything is. You’ll be able to walk from your hotel or Airbnb to the beach, to your favourite bar or club, and to a variety of shopping malls within 10 minutes. This wouldn’t be possible in Tulum without a bike or taxi.

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum
Beach front resorts in Playa Del Carmen near the center

One of the most popular attractions in Playa Del Carmen is the main walking street known as 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida in Spanish). All along this street, you’ll find a variety of upscale and budget restaurants, many shopping malls, and of course all kinds of bars and clubs.

One of the downsides of Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum is just how overcrowded it is and the narrow beaches, full of tourists. If you go further south to Playacar beach or north to Coco beach you’ll find a lot fewer people and wider beaches.

Playacar beach further south

Tulum Overview

✔️ Pros:

  • Beaches are much more beautiful
  • More eco-friendly and less developed than Playa Del Carmen
  • More relaxing, photogenic, and romantic

❌ Cons:

  • Much more expensive than Playa Del Carmen
  • The town and beach are far apart, bicycle or taxi is required
  • Considered less safe than Playa Del Carmen

Only a 50-minute drive from Playa Del Carmen, Tulum is an up-and-coming beach town that has gained massive popularity in recent years thanks to social media.

Tulum is more eco-friendly oriented, targeting vegans, health-conscious individuals, and Instagram influencers and is surrounded by nature and beautiful, pristine beaches. While Tulum is quite expensive compared to Playa Del Carmen, it is definitely possible on a budget.

Playa Ruinas in Tulum

One thing you’ll notice right away about Tulum is the nature-inspired resorts and hotels with thatched roofs in the middle of the jungle or next to the beach. It’s a very photogenic place that is popular with Instagram influencers and the Tuluminati for good reason.

Some visitors may have heard some negative things regarding the safety in Tulum, and it may be a concern to some but for the most part, if you’re staying away from drugs and not walking around Tulum town at night, you will be fine. That being said, most people consider Playa Del Carmen safer than Tulum.

So if money is not a concern for you then we’d recommend staying in Tulum if you want nicer beaches, a more natural vibe, less crowded, and a more spiritual, health-conscious environment.

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum: Beaches

Tulum has some of the nicest beaches in all of Mexico and is far superior to the beaches in Playa Del Carmen. So if you’re looking to spend time on beautiful beaches then choose Tulum.

Playa Paraiso in Tulum

However, staying on the beach is very expensive in Tulum, but if you choose to stay in the town center, you can rent a bike which will be around a 20-minute bike ride to the beach.

If you want to stay in Playa Del Carmen, we recommend the beach further south known as Playacar which is far nicer but a little further away from the center. However, most of the beaches in Playa Del Carmen are within walking distance.

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum: Nightlife

In our opinion, the nightlife in Playa Del Carmen is much better, with a larger variety of music, clubs, and bars. The clubs are more upscale with rooftop clubs such as Clandestino and Santino right on Quinta Avenida playing the latest in electronic music.

Clandestino in Playa Del Carmen

The nightlife in Tulum is typically more exclusive and harder to get into the clubs featuring famous DJs from all over the world playing among the jungle or on the beach.

Places like Papaya Playa Project and Zamna Festival have some amazing production value with amazing light shows and top-tier electronic music.

You can find nightlife in the town center as well which will be much cheaper, but usually not as nice or even possibly even as safe at times.

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum: Hotels and Accommodation

Playa del Carmen has a lot of larger resorts right on the beach and also affordable accommodations such as hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs right in town. The good thing is that everywhere is within walking distance so no matter where you stay, everything will always be close.

Tulum is more spread out than Playa Del Carmen so figuring out where to stay can seem daunting. Tulum has some of the most stylish and eco-friendly resorts in Mexico, we recommend checking our guide here to see what works for you.

Staying on the beach will be ideal but it’s quite expensive, so you may want to choose an Airbnb to save a bit of money. Staying in Town is also an option if you’re on a budget, with lots of hostels and hotels, however, the beach is quite far so you’ll have to rent a bike or get a taxi to get there.

Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum: Things to do and See

Both towns offer a multitude of amazing things to do, with Tulum geared more towards nature, yoga and meditation retreats, and relaxation, Playa Del Carmen is more for partying and shopping, but both offer excellent day trips to take.

If you love Mayan history then you’ll find more ancient ruins in Tulum such as Muyil, Coba, and the Tulum ruins nearby.

The Muyil ruins in Tulum

If nature is your thing, there are lots of cenotes around Tulum, as well as the stunning Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve just south of Tulum with tons of things to do.

Day trips from Playa Del Carmen include a short ferry ride to Cozumel island, where you can enjoy the amazing reefs and beautiful remote beaches. Chichen Itza is closer to Tulum, as well as Cancun if you feel like checking out the amazing beaches there.

Playa Del Carmen is more developed so it offers more shopping options and high-end dining and partying.

Between both places on the main highway, you’ll find awesome themed water parks such as Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Xplor which are great for couples or for the whole family.

In summary, both places offer something for everyone, some may prefer the remoteness and natural beauty of Tulum, and others might prefer the convenience and modernity of Play Del Carmen. Whatever your choice, if you have enough time, try checking both out and you may find you prefer one over the other.

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