Akumal vs. Tulum: 10 Differences to Consider

With so many beach destinations along the Rivera Maya, choosing which to visit is a travel conundrum at its finest. So, if you’ve narrowed down your search to Akumal vs. Tulum, help is on its way.

I’ve visited Tulum and Akumal a couple of times each. I also spent eight months in the Riveria Maya, giving me a solid feel for how these destinations compare to other parts of the Yucatan.

Are you ready to get up to speed on the must-knows of Akumal vs. Tulum?

Let’s dive (or snorkel) in.

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A Quick Run-down on Akumal vs. Tulum

If you’re short on time and your vacation is near, the chart below covers the points we’ll be discussing in detail next.

CharacteristicAkumalTulum
Lots to do in townNoYes
Many beach optionsNoYes
Free beach accessLimitedMany options
HotelsSmall selection, condos commonRustic to luxury eco lodges
Nearby destinationsPlaya del Carmen, Xcaret, CozumelCoba, Sian Ka'an Reserve
EconomicalYesNo
Nightlife optionsFewMany
Good swimming waterYesDepends
AttractionsSwim with sea turtles, visit cenotesExplore the ruins, bike riding, cenotes, spiritual ceremonies
Vehicle needed?NoYes (bus, taxi, or bike)

10 Akumal vs. Tulum Differences

Now that you’ve got a feel for the basics, let’s explore each of these points in more detail.

1. Choosing Your Beach Town Vibe

A sign saying "It's Ok" on a staircase.

If you love exploring a beach town as much as you do the beach itself, Tulum will likely be a better fit for you than Akumal.

Getting to downtown Tulum requires a vehicle or bike since the town sits away from the coast. But once you’re there, you’ll have dozens of touristy shopping opportunities and restaurants to choose from.

We’ll be talking more about prices shortly, but for now, know that you’ll also be able to purchase cheaper souvenirs and food in downtown Tulum than by the beach.

Although there’s more to do in downtown Tulum than downtown Akumal, I don’t want to hype it up too much—downtown Tulum wouldn’t win a “most beautiful town” award since it’s rather run-down. It’s more of a place to do your shopping and eatting before heading back to the beautiful jungle and beach atmosphere along the coast.

Akumal’s downtown isn’t anything to write home about either. However, it has a more local feel than downtown Tulum. Much of this likely has to do with the fact that to get to downtown Akumal, you’ll have to cross Highway 307, which you can do on foot.

When you arrive in downtown Akumal, a handful of small convenience stores, local restaurants, and budget accommodations will greet you. However, it’s not the type of place to do shopping or look for souvenirs.

In regards to the people it attracts, Tulum is an excellent fit for yogis and the spiritual-oriented.

Akumal, on the other hand, is a better fit for beachgoers who want a more commercial and pristine beach experience than the rustic, jungle-like one that Tulum offers.

2. Beach Size Matters

A beach with some seaweed in Tulum.
Beach in Tulum.

Akumal is primarily composed of two bays—Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay.

Both bays offer a beach that’s long enough to take a nice walk. However, they’re not so long that you can walk for miles on end.

In contrast, Tulum’s coast faces the open ocean. That, in part, is what makes it have its iconic wide, seemingly endless beaches.

Unlike Akumal, Tulum has many beaches. Some are smaller and relatively more crowded, but most are expansive with few people.

That said, when comparing Akumal vs. Tulum, both destinations don’t have loads of tourists.

Akumal also offers some beaches on the outskirts of its town, which few people frequent, making it akin to the beaches that sit in southern Tulum.

3. Free vs. Paid Beaches

Where you pay your entrance fee at Akumal.
Where you pay your entrance fee at Akumal.

It’s hard to visit Akumal these days without paying an entrance fee. While some returning tourists resisted it, from the perspective of someone who’s only ever known Akumal to be a paid beach, I think it has its benefits.

Namely, the beach is cleaner, with a lower risk of petty beach theft, and has fewer crowds than Cancun and Playa del Carmen’s beaches. In turn, that also makes it a more comfortable place for Akumal’s sea turtles to live.

Psst! Check out my article on Akumal vs. Playa del Carmen for more details on Playa.

You can learn more about the entrance fee and what you get with it in my post on tips for visiting Akumal Beach. But for now, know that foreigners have to pay 100 pesos (about $5) to enter.

In contrast, Tulum has many free beaches.

That said, just how “free” those beaches are depends on whether you drive and have to pay for parking. That can add up, given how expensive prices are in Tulum.

So, if you enjoy some exercise and don’t mind the heat, beach hopping via a bike rental is an option to consider.

However, if you want to visit some of Tulum’s most secluded beaches, which primarily sit in the southernmost part of town, you’ll likely need a car.

4. Weighing Your Hotel Options

Pancho Villa sign in Tulum, with eco villas being more common there when comparing Akumal vs. Tulum.
Villas in Tulum.

If you’re planning on staying in Akumal or Tulum instead of just spending the day there, you can expect a difference in the types of hotel choices you’ll encounter.

Accommodation in Tulum is more rustic and eco-friendly than in Akumal. You can expect lodges nestled in the jungle, many powered by solar energy. However, that’s not to say that Tulum doesn’t have luxury lodges.

On the contrary, you can encounter many expensive beachfront hotels in Tulum and lodges like Be Tulum, which merges local materials with fancy touches like copper tubs and private pools.

Furthermore, you’ll have many more lodging options in Tulum than in Akumal.

Although Akumal’s hotel choices are limited, luxury hotels like Secrets Akumal sit on the beach. Among the handful of all-inclusive Akumal resorts you’ll encounter when searching for accommodations, it’s also common to rent condos in Half Moon Bay.

Overall, you can expect to spend less on accommodations in Akumal than in Tulum.

However, when comparing Tulum vs. Akumal, one similarity that these destinations share is that it’s less expensive to stay in their respective downtowns than by the water.

5. Ease of Getting There

A sidewalk and bike path in downtown Tulum.
Downtown Tulum.

Akumal and Tulum are both easy to get to from many destinations in the Yucatan. They sit off Highway 307 (the same road that runs to Cancun), and many buses on their way to Tulum will make a stop along the highway in Akumal if you request it.

The drive from Cancun to Akumal takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the drive from Cancun to Tulum takes about 2 hours, and 10 minutes.

You’ll be driving on the exact same highway from Akumal to Tulum, meaning that the driving time between the two is only about 30 minutes.

Needless to say, if you’re near one destination in Akumal, you’re relatively near that same place in Tulum.

Nevertheless, below are the destinations you’ll be 30 minutes closer to by visiting them from Akumal instead of from Tulum:

  • Xcaret
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Cozumel

On the other hand, you’ll be closer to these destinations in Tulum:

  • Coba
  • Sian Ka’an Reserve

Bacalar is still a jaunt from Tulum, but you’ll arrive at the “lagoon of seven colors” in about 2.5 hours versus the three hours it would take you coming from Akumal.

6. Considering Your Wallet

A taco sign with prices.

If you haven’t picked up on it already, Tulum is a lot more expensive than Akumal.

They’re incomparable, really, unless you’re looking at the prices in downtown Tulum with that of the restaurants around Akumal Beach.

So, if you’re on a budget, you’re likely better off staying in Akumal and taking a day trip down to Tulum. Vans (called colectivos) from Akumal to Tulum run down Highway 307 frequently, passing every few minutes and costing around $1.

The bus will let you off in downtown Tulum. From there, you can either rent a bike from one of the many shops in town or take a bus or taxi to the ruins and beach.

When comparing Akumal vs. Tulum, the prices at restaurants around Akumal Beach are about what you would expect to pay for an average meal in the United States. They have lots of seafood and local dishes.

There’s no shortage of seafood in Tulum, either. However, the beaches and town are packed with vegetarian and vegan-friendly cafes. So, “naturally,” these restaurants have higher-priced menus than your average taco stand.

7. To Nightlife It or Not

A view of Akumal Bay.
A view of Akumal Bay.

Here’s one of the great things about Akumal and Tulum: You can enjoy a quiet, peaceful getaway in either destination.

But if you like having access to happenings in the evening, you’re much better off staying in Tulum than Akumal.

Akumal pretty much shuts down at night. It draws in a lot of day-trippers who return to places like Playa del Carmen, Cancun or, yes, Tulum in the evenings where there’s more nightlife.

And although Tulum doesn’t have a raging nightlife scene like Cancun, it has lots of beachside bars.

You can also encounter some small clubs in downtown Tulum.

One thing that makes Tulum unique from partying in larger cities like Cancun is that it draws in a more spiritual and “natural medicine” crowd.

Marijuana, ayahuasca, and toad licking are among some of the many spiritual types of partying you’ll encounter there.

However, once you do your partying (or if you’re the type of person that goes to bed when the sun goes down), you can head off to your jungle bungalow where you’ll be far away from the noise of partiers having their spiritual awakenings.

8. Ease of Swimming

A calm beach in Akumal, which often isn't the case in Tulum.
Beach in Akumal.

Akumal and Tulum are only about 16 miles apart. So, while they share the same ocean, they often offer completely different swimming experiences.

It comes down to bays versus no bays.

Akuma’s most famous beaches sit on two main bays—Half Moon Bay and Akumal Bay. It also has the lesser-known Jade Bay to the south.

These bays protect Akumal’s shores from the direct hit of the Caribbean Sea’s waves. Therefore, Akumal offers calm, clear water nearly year-round.

So, if you’re traveling with young children who love to swim, Akumal is a safer swimming choice.

In contrast, Tulum’s shores have little protection from waves. If you visit on a day without lots of wind, you can enjoy a leisurely swim in calm water.

But, if a storm comes, the waves can get dangerous for swimming. It can also kick up debris, making the water temporarily lose its see-through quality.

Needless to say, if you’re looking at Tulum vs. Akumal for shoreside snorkeling opportunities, Akumal is a better choice than Tulum since there’s a higher chance that the water will be clearer. And both options are typically better than swimming in Cabo.

9. Things to Do

A cenote in Akumal.
Cenote in Akumal.

Don’t let all this talk about waves deter you—both Tulum and Akumal are known for their beautiful beaches and turquoise water. But if the moment arrives when you’re ready to rinse off those grains of sand and explore new non-waters, they each offer unique activities.

For example, Tulum is famous for its ruins. Winding through the white stone Mayan architecture will feel like going back in time. Keep your eyes peeled for iguanas which love to sunbathe on the rocks.

Other popular activities to do in Tulum include:

  • Bike riding
  • Visiting cenotes (sinkholes)
  • Attending a yoga class or spiritual ceremony

In contrast, Akumal is all about sea turtles. You can sign up for an Akumal turtle snorkeling tour on the spot, offering you the chance to get up close and personal with these creatures.

Before you sign up for a tour, though, you might want to try swimming out a bit on your own to see if you can spot any. You can rent snorkel gear in Akumal if you don’t have your own.

Another activity to do is to visit the Akumal cenotes, located inland. These cenotes are less frequented by tourists than the ones around Tulum, so there’s a good chance you’ll have them all to yourself.

10. Getting Around

A view of the ocean from the Tulum ruins.
A view of the ocean from the Tulum ruins.

No transportation is required to get around Akumal. Once you arrive, you can get everywhere on foot.

Furthermore, you don’t even need a car to get there. As mentioned earlier, colectivo vans run up and down Highway 307, making it easy to hop on a bus to Akumal from places like Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum.

The vans won’t let you off directly at the beach; it’s about a 10-minute walk once you get off at the Akumal entrance.

On the other hand, you’ll definitely need transportation to get around Tulum.

The colectivos and ADO buses will let you off in downtown, but downtown isn’t the place where you’ll likely want to spend the majority of your time.

Furthermore, few to no buses run between downtown Tulum and its beaches.

So, either rent a bike (and be ready for long rides on shadeless roads) or use one of the many taxis that you’ll find around downtown Tulum and the beaches.

If you’re a bus type of traveler like me, you’ll be glad to know that buses frequently run from downtown Tulum to the Tulum ruins.

Akumal vs. Tulum: Which Will You Choose?

Pelicans hanging out on a sea turtle boat.
A sea turtle tour boat in Akumal.

Akumal and Tulum are both beautiful destinations. In fact, if you’re trying to choose between the two for a multi-night stay, I recommend visiting the destination that you don’t stay in as a day trip.

In either case, I hope the information here has helped make your decision easier.

Do you have questions about visiting Tulum or Akumal? Leave a question, and I’ll be glad to help.

Alternatively, if you’ve already visited these destinations and would like to add to the conversation, I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section.

Psst! If you’re still on the fence about where in the Yucatan to pitch your beach umbrella, read my guide on the best Yucatan beaches. There’s a bonus in there you won’t expect.

2 thoughts on “Akumal vs. Tulum: 10 Differences to Consider”

  1. Hi, Laura! I loved your site and it has been helping me a lot to planning my first visit to Playa del Carmen and surroundings. If you can help me a little further more, please tell me which are the best beaches to visit in Tulum. We will be based in Playa del Carmen and plan to drive to Tulum ruins and some beaches to spend the day.

    1. Hi Adriane,

      I’m so glad the info has been helpful! Playa Paraíso and Playa Pescadores are a couple of my favorite beaches in Tulum, but they’re also the most popular. So, if you’re traveling during the high tourist season, Playa Las Palmas offers stunning beach scenery while giving you plenty of space to lay down a beach towel. Wishing you a wonderful trip!

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