Cancun vs Tulum: which one should you choose?
If you are undecided about where to find the ultimate Mexican beach experience this post is for you.
Although I won’t be able to tell you which destination is best for you, I will do my best to give you an unbiased description of each of the two Caribbean destinations.
Hopefully, after reading this post you will have a clear idea of which city is best for your needs.
Mexico is a renowned travel destination, with countless beautiful beaches and resorts to choose from, and Cancun and Tulum are two of the most popular places here.
Cancun and Tulum at a Glance
Cancun is a lively city with plenty of nightlife and activities to keep you busy. There are lots of elegant hotels and restaurants in town. The beaches here are also stunning, with soft white sand and clear blue water.
Tulum is a more relaxed option, perfect for those who want to enjoy the natural beauty of Mexico. The beaches here are quiet and secluded, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding jungle.
In Tulum, you will find a younger crowd juggling between a party beach life and a relaxed yoga routine, gourmet fine dining, and a selected healthy cuisine.
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There you won’t find the high-rise all-inclusive hotels that are dominating the scene of the Cancun beaches.
Gorgeous and outrageously expensive eco-chic boutique hotels flank the stunning Tulum Beach.
Both destinations sound just perfect for an unforgettable Caribbean beach vacation, but there are some differences in the overall experience you will get from your trip to these white-sand paradises.
I’ll tell you about it all, so let’s start.
Cancun is a year-round destination, so anytime can be the best time to visit here depending on your preferences. The best time to visit Cancun for good weather is the high season (mid-December to March).
With clear skies, pleasantly warm temperatures, and little rain, thousands of tourists show up here to escape snowy winters and spend months lounging on the gorgeous white-sand beaches.
The winter season is the busiest time of year in Cancun, so it’s also the best time to enjoy the party atmosphere and nightlife that this town is famous for. Excursions and water activities are also great this time of year.
Cancun is also a favorite destination for spring breakers, who dominate the party scene in Cancun during March. So this is a month to avoid if you don’t like crowds.
Actually, if you prefer a more laid-back and relaxing vacation, you should avoid the entire high season.
The best time for an intimate vacation is the shoulder season, from April (after Easter) through May and November through mid-December.
The weather is still decent in these months, but most crowds have gone back, and this is also when you will find better deals on hotels and flights.
Cancun and Tulum aren’t very far from each other, so the best time to visit Tulum for good weather is pretty much the same as in Cancun.
November through April is when you can enjoy sunny days, warm temperatures, relatively less humidity, and almost no rain.
The couple of months right after the high season is over are great for a family trip to Tulum. Weather and activities are still great, but crowds are fewer.
But if you want to avoid crowds altogether or make a budget trip, any time during late summer/early fall is the best for it.
Cancun VS Tulum | Costs
The average cost of visiting Cancun for a week is between $1,000 and $1,200 for a solo traveler. This includes the cost of airfare, hotel, food, and activities.
Expect to spend anything from $30-$1000 per night for lodgings, $40-$300 daily on food and travel, and anywhere between $40-$140 on a tour/activity.
It all depends on your spending habits and your standard of living.
Keep in mind that these figures will vary depending on the time of your visit, the hotel you choose to stay in, the places you eat at, and many other such factors.
Cancun has a wide range of lodging options, so you will easily find cheaper (or more expensive) options to choose from.
Similarly, food prices range from place to place, and there are plenty of activities to enjoy, so you will find many options that are budget-friendly in those as well.
If you want to go on a trip to Cancun with budget as your main priority, you can opt for the off-season months (ideally between April-May or November and mid-December) and make that happen as well.
Just keep in mind that you may have to compromise on the weather a little during the off-season months.
Tulum is slightly pricier than Cancun, with the average cost of a week’s stay being close to $1,900 per person. This includes the cost of airfare, food, lodgings, and activities. Lodging costs can range from $50-$200 per night.
Food costs will depend on where you eat and what you order but expect to spend around $60-$100 per day on food and transport. Tours usually range from $40-$140.
Again, these are just the average estimates of a trip to Tulum in the peak season. You can definitely plan a budget trip and cut the costs by a significant margin; there are plenty of Airbnb options, and you can find deals on flights, make your own meals, and enjoy many free activities to do that.
And if you want the cheapest rates, you will find them during a shoulder/low-season visit. What’s more, you will get plenty of great discounts on flights and hotels during these months to sweeten the pocket-friendly deals even more.
Cancun is very easy to reach. There are direct flights from most major cities in the United States and Canada, so you don’t have to worry about making any connections. And once you’re in Cancun, getting around is a breeze.
The airport is about 30 to 40 minutes shuttle from your hotel, depending on where you are staying and there are many transfer options from Cancun airport to the hotel zone or downtown. Here below a quick summary.
Just like Cancun, Tulum is a major tourist destination in Mexico. However, the town grew out of a small fishing village, so there is no international airport here.
If you’re flying to Mexico from overseas, a flight to Cancun will open up numerous ways to get to Tulum in less than 90 minutes.
These include driving there, taking an ADO bus or a cab, and using an airport shuttle service provided by many resorts and hotels in Tulum.
My favorite one is by private shuttle, a bit expensive but it’s fast and it provides a minivan just for you and your party.
You can check out all the available transportation options from Cancun to Tulum in my detailed post.
The Cancun beaches are some of the most stunning in the world. With their white sand and clear blue water, they are perfect for a relaxing day by the ocean.
There are many activities to enjoy on the Cancun beaches, such as swimming, sunbathing, windsurfing, and parasailing. You can also find plenty of restaurants and bars along the beach.
However, not all of the beaches in Cancun are swimmable. Some of them have strong currents or waves. In fact, it’s good for surfing, but it can make swimming difficult.
Isla Blanca, located 20 km north of Cancun is a great beach for both kitesurfing and swimming.
The beaches in Tulum are just as breathtaking as well, but more swimmable than Cancun. Also, you will find plenty of water sports, tours, and activities on these beaches along with lots of relaxation, drinking, and dining opportunities.
The only difference in these beaches is the ambiance, as Tulum beaches are known to be more secluded and less crowded compared to the ones in Cancun.
They are also lined with palm trees and a cute boutique hotel.
Both Tulum and Cancun have beach clubs where you can pay just for the day’s use of the facilities.
Cancun and Tulum both have a wide range of lodging choices. These include budget options like hostels and cheap apartments, and mid-range hotels as well as luxury and elegant all-inclusive resorts.
With that said, I’ll recommend a few below.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Cancun, you’re in luck; there are plenty of great hotels and resorts to choose from.
Live Aqua Beach Resort
The Live Aqua Beach Resort is one of the best adults-only all-inclusive in Cancun. It’s located on a beautiful stretch of beach in the Hotel Zone and offers stunning views of the ocean.
Along with tons of modern amenities, the resort has 7 outdoor pools, private parking, and a concierge service as well.
Hyatt Ziva Cancun Resort
The Hyatt Ziva Cancun Resort is a great all-inclusive option for families visiting Cancun. This resort is situated on a private beach and features an outdoor pool. It also has an onsite restaurant, a spa, and a fitness center.
Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun
Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun is a great choice for families. Besides the kids-friendly facilities, the hotel sits on a beautiful beach with easy access to the water.
Adults will love the Fiesta Americana SPA.
If you are traveling on a tight budget, Sina Suites, Grand City Hotel, and Hostel Ka’Beh are all good budget options as well.
Best Hotels and Resorts in Tulum
Kore Tulum Retreat & Spa
Tulum has no shortage of luxury hotels. However, the only all-inclusive hotel in the Tulum hotel zone is Kore Tulum Retreat & Spa.
This is an adults-only luxury resort known for its elegant rooms, rich furnishings, unparalleled comfort, and delicious food.
Yoga lovers and vegan travelers will love Sanara, where they will find beautiful elegant rooms and healthy cuisine in the heart of the Tulum Beach zone right in front of the turquoise Caribbean water.
A stay at Sanara becomes a real healthy retreat!
One of the most popular and trendy hotels on Tulum beach with spacious suites facing either the ocean or the jungle and a common rooftop terrace with a plunge pool from where to enjoy spectacular sunsets or sunrises
Amaka Calma Riviera Tulum
If you are looking for a cheaper option Amaka Calma Tulum is one of the cute new properties located in La Veleta Tulum an emerging trendy neighbor in Tulum.
It’s recommendable to have a car rental if you are staying here.
Things to do in Cancun
✔️ Go for a swim in the crystal clear waters
✔️ Relax on the beautiful beaches and get a day pass in one of Cancun’s luxury resorts so that you can use their facilities and enjoy their fine cuisine.
✔️ Go partying at one of the many lively nightclubs
✔️ Go swimming with marine creatures like whale sharks, sea turtles, and many other exotic species
✔️ Experience the local cuisine in some of the best restaurants in Cancun
✔️ Enjoy the high-end shopping experience
✔️ Take a dip in one of the Mystical Cenotes near Cancun
✔️ Take a boat tour to Isla Mujeres or Contoy
✔️ Visit the ancient Tulum Mayan ruins overlooking the sea.
✔️ Go for a swim in the gorgeous turquoise waters.
✔️ Take a walk on the beach and enjoy the stunning views.
✔️ Swim or snorkel with the amazing marine life of Tulum.
✔️ Explore the spectacular cenotes near Tulum.
✔️ Visit some of the Tulum cenotes for a refreshing swim.
✔️ Explore the town and the eclectic culinary scene
Cancun vs Tulum | Tours
Top Tours in Cancun
👉 Luxury Catamaran and Snorkel. Lunch & Open Bar Onboard and Visit to Isla Mujeres
4.5⭐ 1831 Reviews
Isla Mujeres is a beautiful island located at only 30 minutes ferry ride from Cancun. You can visit on your own or you can join a luxury catamaran cruise that offers snorkeling, drinks, and food.
You will still have time to explore Isla Mujeres on your own, though, but you will also have the sailing experience in the turquoise Caribbean sea.
👉Viator Exclusive Combo Tour: Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling Plus Cenote and Caves
5⭐ 2509 Reviews
If you have little time you shouldn’t miss this tour which combines some of the most incredible attractions in one day.
You will visit the spectacular Tulum ruins overlooking the Caribbean sea, you are going to see the marine life by the barrier reef right in front of the ruins and you will jump in one of the amazing cenotes around Tulum.
It’s a full-day tour packed with incredible adventures!
👉 Chichen Itza, Cenote and Valladolid All-Inclusive Tour
5⭐ 8519 Reviews
Take a trip to one of the world’s seven wonders. If you haven’t been there yet, this is a place you wouldn’t want to miss.
This tour includes a stop at Chichen Itza (entrance fees not included), a visit to the colorful colonial town of Valladolid, and a dip in one of the spectacular mystic cenotes.
👉 ATV, Ziplines, and Cenote Tour at Extreme Adventure Eco Park Cancun
4.5⭐ 1358 Reviews
Adrenaline junkies and adventure seekers must join this tour where you will be exploring the Jungle around Cancun and flying over cenotes, venturing out in the jungle on ATV, and swimming in the mystic Mayan sinkholes.
👉 Horseback Riding and Cenote Swim from Cancun
5⭐ 967 Reviews
On this trip, you will be visiting some of the most beautiful cenotes in the Jungle near Cancun but you will get there by horseback ride.
What a fun experience! You don’t need to be an expert rider for this trip. Beginners welcome.
👉 Jungle adventure on speed boats
4.5⭐ 934 Reviews
A speedboat tour through the thriving jungle and mangroves of Nichupte’s lagoon in Cancun is a thrilling experience.
👉Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour in Cancun
4⭐ 860 Reviews
If you love the underwater world but you don’t dive, this is a great tour for you where you can watch the shipwreck and coral reefs while snorkeling from the surface in the crystal clear Caribbean water of Cancun.
Top Tours in Tulum
👉Tour Cenotes Oasis Maya by Xcaret from Cancún and Playa del Carmen
5⭐ 573 Reviews
This tour through the Tulum Jungle is full of exciting adventures, as you will be exploring the underground caverns while paddling in your kayak, snorkeling, and floating on the azure water on inner tubes.
A guide will be with you sharing interesting stories about the Mayan culture and traditions.
👉 Tulum Guided Tour, Magical Cenote, Lagoon Snorkeling, and Beachside Lunch
5⭐ 510 Reviews
While in Tulum you cannot miss the spectacular Mayan ruins, its magical cenotes, and the nearby lagoon. You can go on your own by car rental or you can join this guided tour to make this easier.
👉 Sian Kaan Adventure
5⭐ 558 Reviews
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve is a UNESCO world heritage site close to Tulum. This is one of the top-rated tours to the Biosphere to explore the spectacular surroundings, wildlife, and jungle with a certified guide.
👉 Selva Maya Eco Adventure Park: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, Rappelling, and Cenote
5⭐ 672 Reviews
There is a tour for adventure seekers from Tulum as well. This tour to Selva Maya is full of exciting experiences from rapelling to ziplining and of course, swimming in a cenote.
👉 Kayaking and Snorkeling Experience through Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
5⭐ 246 Reviews
If you love some exercise you can explore the Sian Kaan Biosphere in a more eco-friendly way by kayaking around and stopping in amazing snorkeling spots. Definitely a unique experience.
👉 Mexican Cooking from Scratch and Mezcal Tasting in a Local Home in Tulum
5⭐ 230 Reviews
Learn about the secret of Mexican cuisine with a local chef in her own home. An incredible experience that makes you connect with the authentic side of Tulum.
Cancun is a fairly safe place to travel to. However, you still need to pay attention to your surroundings and avoid doing things that may cause you trouble.
Don’t flaunt your wealth, stay in well-lit areas, be aware of your surroundings, and do not leave your belongings unattended among other safety measures that I mention in the above-linked guide.
The same applies to Tulum. Although there have been unpleasant episodes of crime, it’s still a very popular vacation destination.
However, make sure you walk in lit and populated areas, especially at night.
Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t leave your belongings unguarded in public areas. As long as you use common sense and take precautions, Tulum should be a safe place to visit.
Do you need travel insurance?
Yes! That is the short answer. I never travel without it just because you never know what can happen.
If you ask me I have two recommended travel insurance companies, one is SafetyWing, which I find relatively affordable and quite comprehensive.
The other is not a company but a site aggregator, Travel Insurance Master which will help you find the perfect insurance for you. You fill out the form with the information about your profile and requirements and they select the insurance company that is a good fit.
Cancun vs Tulum | Food Options
Cancun is a food lover’s paradise. There are so many delicious options to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to start.
Whether you’re looking for fresh seafood, traditional Mexican food, or international cuisine, you will most definitely find it in Cancun.
One of the best things about Cancun’s food scene is the variety. If you get tired of one type of cuisine, there’s always something else to try.
And with so many great restaurants to choose from, you’ll have tons of variety in both the kinds of food you want to try and the costs.
There are lots of food options in Tulum as well.
For those who want to experience the local cuisine, there are many places serving up traditional Mexican dishes.
However, the cuisine you find in Tulum is much more eclectic than in Cancun. Not only you will find delicious local and international eateries, but also a lot of cute healthy cafes, bakeries, seafood restaurants, and much more.
You will also find tons of health-focused restaurants in Tulum, many of which have vegan menus. International cuisines are also served at many eateries in Tulum.
Both Cancun and Tulum are one of the best beach destinations in Mexico, but the kind of experience they offer differs a lot.
In case of a family vacation, Tulum is definitely the better choice if you want to enjoy the beach with fewer crowds, find some fun activities to try with your family, and have a relaxing vacation.
However, if you love the all-inclusive type of resorts, Cancun offers many more all-inclusive options that are family-friendly, such as Fiesta Americana Coral Beach and Hyatt Ziva.
Cancun VS Tulum | Best Place to Visit for honeymoon
Cancun and Tulum are quite different from each other when it comes to atmosphere, so either can be the best destination for a honeymoon depending on what you want.
If you want to experience the cosmopolitan vibe of Yucatan’s most popular tourist city, Cancun is the best place for your honeymoon.
The city is a high-end tourist destination, so you will find lots of luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, and fun things to do here.
Cancun is also known as one of the hottest party spots in the Yucatan, so the nightlife is also very lively. In short, you will have a very fun-filled honeymoon in Cancun.
Tulum’s atmosphere is more relaxed. So, if you’re looking for a traditional Mexican town with lots of nature in it, Tulum is the place for it.
Also in Tulum, you are closer to nature and you will find many romantic boutique hotels for the perfect intimate honeymoon.
Solo travelers love Cancun and Tulum alike, so the best choice boils down to factors like their budget, the kind of experience they want, and other personal preferences.
If you want a budget destination, Cancun is generally the cheaper of the two—but you can also plan a budget trip to Tulum.
Then there’s the party atmosphere of Cancun vs the chill vibe of Tulum. Cancun is known for its high-rise hotels, luxury resorts, and elegant shopping and dining, whereas Tulum is a nature lover’s paradise filled with authentic charm and a laid-back lifestyle.
In Tulum, it’s easier to make friends, in the multiple cafes, yoga centers, or co-working spaces, that create a sort of community vibe, while in Cancun everything is more spread out and there is less sense of community.
Tips for Traveling to Cancun and Tulum
👉 Budget, plan, and book your trip in advance. This way, not only can you enjoy your vacation better, but also save up some costs with great deals.
👉 Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen. The sun can be harsh on your skin, even if you’re visiting Cancun in winter.
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👉 Bring comfortable walking shoes for exploring around
👉 Be prepared for the heat and humidity. Bring a hat, sunglasses, and an insulated water bottle to stay protected and hydrated on excursions.
👉 Most places accept credit cards, but some may not. Have some Pesos handy for those as well as for taxis and tips.
👉 Drink lots of water to stay hydrated in the heat.
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Cancun vs Tulum | final thoughts
When it comes to choosing between Tulum and Cancun, there are pros and cons to each destination. Tulum is more laid-back and natural, while Cancun is more developed and vibrant.
If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation where you can enjoy the beach and nature, Tulum is a better choice. The town has a bohemian vibe and you can find great resorts, hotels, and restaurants here.
Also, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy, like exploring ancient ruins and jungles, snorkeling with marine life, or swimming in a nearby cenote.
However, if you’re looking for a party atmosphere with non-stop nightlife, all-inclusive high-rise hotels, and a big-city vibe, Cancun is the place for you.
The town is an exclusive beach destination and tourist city in Mexico, so you can expect tons of hotel options and activities, and the shopping and dining experience here is also very high-end.
However, if your final choice is Cancun you can include a day trip to Tulum in your Cancun Itinerary and vice versa! And, problem solved 🙂