Cancun vs Tulum vs Playa del Carmen

MexicoTulum › Riviera Maya Best Places
Updated: February 7, 2023

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Beach resort in Riviera Maya.

Where to Go – Cancun or Tulum or Playa del Carmen?

Cancun Characteristics

  • Where to Stay in Cancun
  • Great beaches
  • No surfing
  • Beach and city are separated, most tourists don’t go into the city though it has some great food spots and markets
  • Large resorts with few small boutique hotels
  • Good attractions within 90 minute drive
  • 20-minute drive from airport
  • Most restaurants are sub-par and good food takes effort to find
  • Good high end shopping
  • Good nightlife, clubs and DJs
  • Many kid-friendly resorts
  • Not good for walking or biking
  • 2 hours to Coba ruins, 2 hours to Chichen Itza

Playa del Carmen Characteristics

  • Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen
  • Great beaches
  • No surfing
  • Beach and town are together, though many resorts are outside of town
  • Mix of resorts and smaller hotels
  • Good attractions within 40 minute drive
  • 50-minute drive from airport
  • Most restaurants are decent or better and good food is easy to find
  • Good touristy shopping
  • Good nightlife, bars and clubs
  • Many kid-friendly hotels
  • Good for walking, OK for biking
  • 90 minutes to Coba ruins, 2 hours to Chichen Itza

Tulum Characteristics

  • Where to Stay in Tulum
  • Great beaches
  • No surfing
  • Beach and town are separated, both areas are lively and fun
  • Most hotels are small boutiques
  • Good attractions within 20 minute drive
  • 90-minute drive from airport
  • Most restaurants are great and good food is easy to find
  • Good art and boutique shopping
  • Good nightlife, bars and beach parties
  • Many kid-friendly beach hotels (but many are adult-oriented too)
  • Best for honeymoon: the most romantic of the 3 destinations
  • Good for walking, great for biking
  • 40 minutes to Coba ruins, 2 hours to Chichen Itza

Read More

  1. All Inclusive vs Hotel in Mexico

    Hi. Going to Mexico in April trying to decide if we should do an All Inclusive or just a hotel?

    1. Mexico Dave The Hotel Expert

      If you like good food then go with hotel and enjoy some of the awesome restaurants in Tulum or Playa Del Carmen. If you stay in Cancun it matters less as there is not as much good food to be found.

      1. Tony

        I stay at the Ritz every year.
        The restaurants are pretty much all within walking distance. Do NOT go all-inclusive.

        Good restaurants:
        Puerta Madera
        Rosa Negra

  2. Tulum or Cancun (for Snorkeling)

    Thanks for posting. Trying to decide – Tulum or Cancun. I have teenage kids who like the ocean and specifically snorkeling. Can you recommend on over the other? Thanks.
    Doug Sweeney

    1. Mexico Dave The Hotel Expert

      Neither Cancun or Tulum have good snorkeling straight off the beach (they’re both too sandy). For the best snorkeling from Cancun go to Puerto Morelos and take a boat tour out to the reef. From Tulum it’s either out to the reef (500m from shore) or to Cozumel (drive to PDC then ferry). The cenotes near Tulum are also good for snorkeling.

  3. Tulum Transportation

    Hi Mexico Dave.
    My friends & I are visiting Mexico (staying at Secrets Maroma Riviera Maya) in January and I visited Tulum last year and had a great honeymoon at Mi Amor. With that being said, I definitely want to get a chance to spend a day in Tulum when we return. Are you familiar with any transportation services that essentially takes us to Tulum and back? We want to visit the Cenotes, Tulum town to Antojitos la Chiapaneca and then to the beach to La Zebra or a bar, then back to our hotel. My thought is perhaps there is a transportation company or taxi that is cost effective for this sort of trip.
    Thanks in advance and really appreciate your blog for amazing advice.

    1. Mexico Dave The Hotel Expert

      There are transportation services that you can reserve in advance but my recommendation is to hire a taxi near your hotel. Negotiate for a day price. Start looking a day or two in advance as you walk around and whenever you see taxis. Pick a nice looking taxi (or taxi van) that you’ll be ok spending a day in. Ask a few drivers and start by making low-ball offers and you’ll quickly get a sense of what the true price is.

  4. Acapulco vs Playa Del Carmen

    Hi Dave,
    Do you know much about Acapulco? We are flying into Mexico City for a few days and then we are unsure wether to then go to Acapulco or Playa Del Carmen!

    Thank you!

    1. Mexico Dave The Hotel Expert

      Go to Playa Del Carmen for sure.

  5. Tulum vs PDC

    Dave, love your sites! Hoping to travel with my fiancé to Mexico in August, looking for a spot with great food, a few excursions and great beaches. Would you recommend Playa del Carmen or Tulum? Preferably an all-inclusive place w/o kids, any recommendations there. Thanks!

    1. Mexico Dave The Hotel Expert

      Both Tulum and Playa del Carmen offer fantastic beaches, dining, and fun excursions nearby. But if you’re looking for an all-inclusive, definitely pick Playa del Carmen. Tulum only has one all-inclusive resort, and it’s just ok. Playa del Carmen has plenty of adults-only, all-inclusives to choose from. In particular, check out El Dorado Maroma, Blue Diamond, and Paradisus La Perla.

    1. Mexico Dave The Hotel Expert

      The north beach area is interrupted by rocky parts so it’s not walkable from there to Beach Town. Then there is a lagoon and narrow stretch of beach (beside the beach road). But from that point (El Pez) all the way south to Casa Malca is perfectly walkable on the beach.

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