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Cancun vs Tulum vs Playa del Carmen

The best for beaches, location, family-friendly attractions, crowds, hotels, and restaurants

Mexico Travel GuideTulum › Riviera Maya Best Places
Updated: August 11, 2020

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

Cancun Characteristics

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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)
  • The most romantic of the 3 destinations
  • Good for walking, great for biking
  • 40 minutes to Coba ruins, 2 hours to Chichen Itza

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8 replies on “Cancun vs Tulum vs Playa del Carmen”

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

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.

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

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.

Hi Santorini 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.
Victoria

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.

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!

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