Mexico is on the top of most people’s bucket lists when it comes to traveling hot spots. Stunning beaches, perfect weather, and an inviting and exciting culture await travelers in Mexico. But where is the best place to “kick it” during your next vacation?

Most people are well aware of Cancun. It’s one of those dream destinations that scream “excitement” and all-around pleasure. However, Tulum has hit the top of the must-see charts in recent years.

Which one’s better?

Each destination comes with its own whirlwind of pros and cons, and this article shares everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the notorious Tulum vs Cancun debate.

Tulum vs Cancun

To be honest, both destinations are excellent options for a vacation. But each place has its own “role” that coaxes different types of travelers craving a distinct experience. With that in mind, here are some of the key differences between Tulum and Cancun for your next holiday destination.

How to Get There

tulum vs cancun - cancun international airport

The first difference is how to get to Tulum vs Cancun. Cancun has its own airport, for starters, which makes it definitively easier to get to. To get to Tulum, you will have to fly into the Cancun airport and take a trip down to Tulum – approximately two hours. (However, due to the recent uptick in popularity, there are plans for a Tulum airport to open in 2023. Winning!)

The Party “Scene”

The thing that separates Tulum and Cancun the most is the “scene,” or what others may call the “vibes.” While Cancun is 100% known for being the ultimate getaway for parties, shopping, and nightlife, Tulum is notably the boho-chic, hippy escape where you’ll be invited to enjoy a yoga class on the sandy shores engulfed in nature.

That said, if you’re looking for partying where you’ll be practically arm-in-arm with fellow party-goers, you will enjoy what the Cancun nightlife has to offer.

There’s a reason why Cancun is touted as the “party lover’s paradise,” and it’s here where you can find some of the most popular clubs in the world. One of these reputable clubs is none other than the upscale Mandala. This comfy and classy club can fit a whopping 5,000 people inside, making it the largest club in Latin America.

On the other hand, consider the Tulum nightlife if you’re looking for a more laid-back and relaxing visit. Sure, it’s not all the “rage” like Cancun, but some people may prefer the more soothing nature of the area.

There are also some unique adventures awaiting travelers in Tulum. The Tulum nightlife consists of ayahuasca ceremonies, toad-licking parties, and other quirky experiences that the boho crowd will thoroughly enjoy. Oh, but don’t worry – there are still bars and beer if you’re into the more “typical” party affair.

The Area

tulum vs cancun

Another key difference between Tulum and Cancun is the area. Although both have crystal-clear and inviting beautiful beaches to enjoy, to put it simply, Tulum is the ultimate paradise for nature lovers. At the same time, Cancun is a city scene with plenty of buildings, shopping, a party scene and chain hotels to choose from.

Tulum is known for being engulfed in nature and less developed than its Cancun sister. So much so that many of the roads are unpaved, and lots of the area is left untouched, allowing visitors to be consumed by the beauty of the jungles around them. Think of Tulum as “The Mexican Bali,” and you’ll know precisely how the area appears.

When you rent an Airbnb in Tulum, you can expect to sleep in an area surrounded by gorgeous foliage and wildlife. You’re likely to get a glimpse of the many colorful birds, iguanas, and other creatures that rest in the area. Some have even mentioned they’ve seen jaguars during their stay. Amazing!

In Cancun, your stay is less about nature and more about living it up. An Airbnb in Cancun is likely to have more cityscape views with more noise. They are likely to be more upscale and luxurious than Tulum options.

Things To Do

Cancun and Tulum are iconic beachside destinations in Mexico, so many of their activities beyond shopping opportunities, nightlife, and unique experiences are the same.

Tours – Both Are Great Picks

For example, Cancun and Tulum both offer exciting boat tours, snorkeling tours, and even whale shark tours. Make sure your snorkeling gear is on your list for travel-must haves (along with plenty of bathing suits and sunscreen, of course). In other words, both locations are great beach towns.

Cenotes – Head to Tulum

Are you traveling in hopes of finding a cenote? You won’t find it in Cancun. That said, one big Tulum vs Cancun difference is that Tulum is home to many cenotes right in town. Like the ever-popular Cenote Calavera, these cenotes offer exciting trips for visitors where they can sink and enjoy the lush waters beneath.

Ruin Exploration – Tulum Wins

Tulum vs Cancun

You also won’t find the same breathtaking Mayan ruins in Cancun as you will in Tulum. In fact, Tulum is known for its many archaeological zones. The Mayan ruins overlook the majestic blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, giving you two beautiful sights in a single trip. It is also known for the Muyil and Coba Ruins. Cancun has a few ancient ruins, but they’re much smaller and less well-known. Still, add them to your bucket list (San Miguelito Archaeological Site and the Chichen Itza is a must-see).

Food Options

Tulum vs Cancun food

For food options, Tulum takes the cake (literally) once again. The area has a wide range of food options for food lovers. If you’re looking for a more expensive and luxurious experience, you can enjoy one of the finest and chicest boho restaurants on the seashore. Want to spend less money? Consider one of the low-key restaurants in town, featuring low prices and fantastic food. You can never go wrong with good, affordable food.

Cancun can’t be totally ruled out, though. It’s just “different.” Cancun city tends to have more chain restaurant options like The Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump. There are other picks, especially in downtown Cancun, though. These places are a tad cheaper and have more local fare than the chain options.

Pricing

To say that one destination is cheaper than the other would be impossible. That’s because it depends on where you’re staying, which activities you engage in, and where you eat – amongst other things.

That said, you can make the trip as cheap or as expensive as you’d like.

  • First, pay attention to where you’re staying. An Airbnb in Tulum right on the beach may be more expensive than the inland Airbnb in Cancun. There are also luxurious, 4 and 5-star hotels and cheap hotels in each area.
  • Second, check the price of your activities. Well-known clubs in Cancun city may be as expensive as an extraordinary tour in Tulum. It simply depends on what you and your travel buddies want to experience and how much you’re willing to spend.
  • Last, consider your dining options. If you want to spend plenty of money, head to the seashores for a lush experience. Want to save a buck? Mexican street fare is authentic and delicious and impressively cheap, too.

Summary: Tulum vs Cancun

If you want a chill, laidback experience where you can get away from it all, the hippy vibes of Tulum are calling your name. However, there is still plenty to do there, including jaw-dropping cenotes and exciting tours. With an incredible nightlife scene, Cancun is the must-go destination for partiers that want to live it up in the lap of luxury. Either way, you’ll find yourself in your own slice of paradise no matter which tourist destination you choose.

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