So you may be thinking of heading to the Yucatan Peninsula for a getaway but are wondering, Tulum vs Cancun, which one is better for you? The two beach towns are some of the most popular destinations in Mexico, including Playa Del Carmen which is just in between both.
Both towns have a lot of similarities and each is very unique in its own way. When it comes to deciding on Tulum or Cancun, we have to take many things into account. Are you looking to just chill in an all-inclusive family-friendly resort and enjoy some beautiful beaches? Then you’ll probably want to stick to Cancun.
If you’re looking for more of a retreat, surrounded by nature, with stunning remote beaches and also the occasional party, and a younger crown, then you’ll probably want to consider Tulum for your holiday.
Either way, if you choose Tulum or Cancun you’re going to have a great time as both offer something special, including some of the best beaches in Mexico and some of the most amazing day trips.
Tulum vs Cancun Comparison Table
|Beaches||Beautiful white sandy beaches and blue water. Some are private and exclusive to resorts.||Large, uncrowded white sandy beaches and blue water. Far from the Tulum town|
|Cost||Typically expensive, unless staying in town.||Comparable to Cancun but typically more expensive.|
|Nightlife||A few bars and nightclubs around the resort area, not as much variety as Tulum.||Expensive nightlife, more electronic music oriented, exclusive “Tuluminati” parties.|
|Food||Some budget options in the town, but higher-end options in the hotel zone.||Lots of high-end restaurants, also budget options in Tulum town center.|
|Things to do||Many shopping malls, ferry access to Isla Mujeres, ideal for Holbox day trip||More cenotes to explore nearby, better beach clubs, Mayan ruins nearby, Sian Ka’an reserve.|
|Lifestyle||Ex-pat and family-friendly.||More of a couples, romantic and boho hippy vibe|
- Very close to the airport
- Cancun (hotel zone) is more walkable than Tulum
- Closer to Holbox and Isla Mujeres
- Beach is more crowded
- More developed and more resorts, Tulum is more nature-oriented and eco-friendly
- Less variety of nightlife than Tulum.
- Fewer cenotes and Mayan ruins nearby
The Cancun airport is the most popular airport in the Yucatan Peninsula, and the second busiest after the Mexico City Airport. Because of this, it’s no wonder Cancun and the Maya Riviera are one of the most popular destinations in Mexico.
Being so close to the airport, many people on a short vacation tend to find Cancun more appealing as the hotel zone is only about 30 minutes away, whereas Tulum is around 2 hours away by bus.
As of 2022, Cancun has a population of around 900,000, and because of this, there is lots to do in the city center which is around a 25-minute drive from the main beaches. The main beach area stretches over 22.5 kilometers (14 miles) with around 80 hotels and resorts dotting the coast.
The best thing to do is of course enjoy the spectacular white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue water, while sipping on a margarita at your resort. If you’re feeling up to it, there are a few Cancun day trips you can take. Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, and Holbox Island are some of the most popular and closer to Cancun than Tulum.
- Beaches are a little less crowded
- More eco-friendly and less developed than Cancun
- More relaxing, photogenic and romantic
- Better, closer day trips including Chichen Itza, cenotes and the Coba ruins.
- Far from the airport
- The town and beach are far apart, bicycle or taxi is required
- Typically little pricier than Cancun
Around a 2 hour drive from Cancun, Tulum is a popular beach town with a younger crowd than Cancun, recently made popular thanks to Instagram and social media. Tulum is more popular for day trips to cenotes and Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza or Coba, as it’s closer.
Targeting the vegan, health-conscious, and eco-friendly crowd, Tulum is surrounded by stunning, untouched nature and beautiful beaches. Tulum is regarded as typically a little more expensive than Cancun, but it can be done on a budget.
The first thing you might notice about Tulum vs Cancun is the nature-inspired and eco-friendly resorts in the middle of the jungle or on the beach – a stark contrast to Cancun’s towering resorts that make up its famous skyline. Tulum is much more photogenic, with tons of Instagram influencers and digital nomads making this spot their home.
If you’re looking for a more natural, spiritual, health-conscious, and less modernized vibe, then Tulum is probably for you. It’s way less developed than Cancun and the people you meet will be friendlier, more approachable, and not your typical “American tourists just visiting for a week” you’ll meet in Cancun.
Tulum vs Cancun: Things to do and See
While there’s not a whole lot to do in both of these towns besides catching some rays on the beach or partying, outside of both towns are some incredible day trips to be had.
If you’re into cenotes and Mayan ruins, then you’ll definitely want to consider Tulum. It’s much closer to Chichen Itza, Coba, Muyil and even has its own “Tulum Ruins” only a 5-minute drive from the main town center. Tulum also boasts the stunning Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve in the south, a spectacular nature sanctuary with tons to do.
Cancun has both the stunning Isla Mujeres and off-the-beaten-path Isla Holbox to explore nearby. Day trips to Playa Del Carmen and Chichen Itza are also quite common. Cancun does have smaller, lesser-known ruins nearby such as the San Miguelito Archeological Site or the El Rey Archaeological Zone.
Cancun also offers a lot more boat trips for scuba diving, whale shark spotting, and snorkeling compared to Tulum, as it has a harbour, unlike Tulum.
Tulum vs Cancun: Beaches
When it comes to beaches, it’s really hard to say which beaches are better as both are simply stunning. Cancun has more resorts looming over the white sandy beaches with more tourists, and more private access beaches that are easily accessible to the guests staying there.
Tulum has a larger variety of beaches, and they stretch for a longer distance, all with fewer tourists. You won’t see any high rises here, Tulum opts for more of a nature-inspired feel with their thatched roofs in the middle of the jungle.
If you’re just looking to spend time on the beach – you’ll love both places. Cancun is ideal for shorter stays as it’s close to the airport, and Tulum is more ideal for those planning on exploring and staying for a longer time.
Tulum vs Cancun: Nightlife
If you’re looking to experience the nightlife, both places have options, Cancun having more nightclubs such as Mandala, Abolengo, and La Vaquita, whereas the nightlife in Tulum has more exclusive and harder to get into the clubs with famous DJ’s from all over the world.
You’ll find more festivals in Tulum, but also the occasional events around Cancun. You can also find nightlife in the town centers of both cities, which will be much cheaper, and is often more frequented by the locals. Either way, both places are going to have excellent nightlife.
We also recommend checking out Playa Del Carmen which is another beach town about halfway between Tulum and Cancun, which in our opinion has the best nightlife in the area.
Tulum vs Cancun: Hotels and Accommodation
In Cancun you’ll find some of the best resorts in all of Mexico, most being all-inclusive from famous worldwide chains. If you’re looking for an excellent resort experience then Cancun is probably for you.
If you’re looking for a more nature-inspired off-the-grid setting then Tulum is probably for you, check out our Tulum resort guide here to see what options you have. Staying on the beach in both towns is going to be more expensive, so you may want to choose an Airbnb to save a bit of money.
You may also want to consider staying in the town centers if you’re on a budget and just take a taxi or bus to the beaches. Food and shopping will also be cheaper in the town centers than on the beach.
Is Tulum or Cancun Better?
Once again, this depends on what you’re looking for. One isn’t necessarily better than the other – they are just different in their own way. Some prefer the ease of getting to Cancun if they’re staying for just a week, relaxing on stunning beaches.
Others prefer the natural setting of Tulum, going on week-long yoga retreats in the jungle, or becoming lost in the Tuluminati and Instagram influencer lifestyle. Whatever your choice, we’re sure you’ll have a great time in both of these beautiful destinations.