Cabo vs Tulum: 16 Critical Differences You Must Know About

Tourism in Cabo and Tulum contributes to the $16 billion that international tourists spent in Mexico during the first seven months of 2022.

But these destinations are on the opposite end of the experience spectrum, leading many potential visitors to be curious about the differences between Cabo vs Tulum.

I spent one month in Cabo and two months in Tulum. So, whether your goal is a quick beach getaway or settling in for the long term, I’ll share vital things to know when deciding whether to visit Cabo or Tulum.

Cabo vs Tulum Overview

If you’re on the brink of clicking “purchase” on a flight to Mexico, the chart below can help speed up your decision on what side of the country to fly into.

LandscapeDry, desert, hillyTropical, lush, flat
Tourist makeupClub goers & retireesVegans & hippies
Day tripsLimited optionsMany choices
InfrastructureLuxury shopping, good WiFiFewer modern amenities, unreliable WiFi

The items above are just a few of the many differences I’ll be pointing out between Tulum and Cancun.

How Far Is Cabo From Tulum?

According to Google Maps, it takes approximately 45 hours to drive from Cabo to Tulum. Most people don’t have the time or desire to drive that far.

So, how long is the flight from Cabo to Tulum?

The minimum flight time from Cabo to Tulum is about 5.5 hours. Keep in mind that Tulum doesn’t have an airport, so you’ll need to fly into Cancun and then drive or take the bus about two hours south upon landing.

Furthermore, there aren’t direct flights from Cabo to Tulum. Mexico City is the most popular layover stop for flights between these destinations.

16 Differences Between Cabo and Tulum

Depending on the amount of time you have, a trip to both Tulum and Cabo may or may not be feasible. In either case, these destinations offer very different experiences, and most visitors walk away having a strong preference for one over the other.

1. Different Geographical Areas

A boat passing by Cabo's hilly shoreline.
A boat passing by Cabo’s shoreline.

Location matters when you’re figuring out whether to visit Cabo or Tulum.

Los Cabos sits on Mexico’s west coast, calling the Pacific Ocean home. In contrast, Tulum is on the east coast, enjoying a privileged spot on the Caribbean Sea.

Tulum is also in the more southern part of Mexico than Los Cabos.

These geographical differences between Cabo and Tulum offer a significantly different vacation experience in terms of the weather, topography, ease of swimming, and more. Hang tight because I’ll be revealing those differences in more detail throughout this article.

Psst! Are you confused about the difference between Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas? Check out my guide explaining their six differences.

2. Tulum Is Tropical

Palm trees on a cliff above the Caribbean Sea.

If you walk away learning only one thing with these Cabo vs Tulum comparisons, let it be this: Tulum has a jungle climate, and Cabo has a desert environment.

For an American reference, it’s like comparing Florida’s Gulf coast with southern California.

So, in Tulum, you can expect lots of humidity, lush foliage, and a diverse range of insects and fauna. Frequent rain showers are what keep Tulum the lush place it is, although you’ll encounter dryer weather from December to April.

In contrast, Cabo has a dry climate. Cacti and sparse vegetation dot its hilly landscape. And while mosquitos are present in both Los Cabos and Tulum, you’ll encounter less insect diversity in Cabo (which is a positive or negative, depending on the person).

Both Cabo and Tulum experience hurricanes.

Cabo’s hurricane season starts slightly earlier than Tulum’s (May 15th to November 30th versus June 1st to November 30th). However, you have a higher chance of encountering stronger hurricanes in Tulum than in Los Cabos.

3. Cabo Is Bigger

When comparing Cabo vs Tulum, you can have views of the Pacific Ocean from the top of Mt. Solmar in Los Cabos.

Cabo is bigger than Tulum both population and size-wise.

Whereas Tulum has under 50,000 residents, Los Cabos has more than seven times that, with a population of over 350,000.

Furthermore, Los Cabos is divided into two distinct areas: San Jose del Cabo to the north and Cabo San Lucas, 30+ minutes to the south.

In contrast, Tulum has three main areas, but they’re all close to each other.

It takes about five minutes to drive from downtown Tulum to the Tulum ruins and about ten minutes to drive from downtown Tulum to the beaches.

Los Cabos is better connected via buses than Tulum. The Ruta del Desierto buses offer a comfortable way to travel between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. In contrast, you’d need to take a taxi or bike to arrive at Tulum’s beaches from downtown.

4. Vegans & Yogis Visit Tulum

A sign for Raw Love Cafe in Tulum.

If you’re looking to tap into the spiritual side of things during your time in Mexico, head to Tulum. Yoga studios, healing ceremonies, and astrology services abound there.

You can even participate in ayahuasca or toad licking.

As with anything, do your due diligence before partaking in such activities. The National Parks Service discourages toad licking’s hallucinogenic practice.

Furthermore, you’ll find multiple vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants on nearly every street corner in downtown Tulum and around its beaches.

In contrast, Cabo is the kind of place to party it up at clubs or have a luxurious beach experience without any “earthy” vibes.

5. Great Hiking Options in Cabo

Hikers standing on top of Cabo's cliffs, a unique aspect of Los Cabos when comparing Cabo vs Tulum.
The top of Mt. Solmar in Cabo.

If you love a good hike and are on the fence about Tulum vs Cabo, the hiking opportunities in Cabo might help you make up your mind.

The most notorious hike in Cabo is the Mt. Solmar trek. This tip-based hike with a local English-speaking guide leads through private property to an area with the best views in Los Cabos.

And the icing on the cake for animal lovers?

You’ll hike with a dozen or more dogs.

Aside from Mt. Solmar, other excellent hikes in Cabo include:

  • Cañon de La Zorra
  • Cascada Sol de Mayo
  • Cañon Costa Azul

You can visit All Trails for information on these hiking paths and more.

6. Tulum Is For the Eco-conscious

The famous open heart statue in Tulum.

Tulum is underdeveloped compared to Los Cabos. But of the touristy accommodations that it has, many places are eco-friendly.

It’s easy to find environmentally conscious cabañas and villas tucked in the jungle or on Tulum’s beaches. Local businesses geared towards tourists also place a greater emphasis on showcasing their eco-friendly ways.

You won’t find such an environmental emphasis in Cabo.

But when you’re comparing Cabo or Tulum in terms of eco-consciousness, you won’t find plastic bags at the stores in either destination.

Single-use plastic bags are banned. So, be sure to carry your own bag if you plan on loading up on groceries.

7. Cabo Is Expensive

Resorts lining Cabo's shore.

We’ve all heard that Mexico is cheaper than the U.S. But finances is an understandable consideration for many travelers.

So, is Tulum or Cabo cheaper?

Tulum is significantly cheaper than Cabo. But that doesn’t mean Tulum is cheap. On the contrary, you’ll find far cheaper Yucatan destinations in places like Playa del Carmen and Merida.

But Cabo takes expensive to a whole new level.

You can expect to pay similar prices in Cabo for food and accommodation as you would at resort vacation areas in the United States. Even staying outside of the tourist center will only help lower the price a little.

On the other hand, Tulum has a greater range of price options.

Yes, some of those are very expensive (most of which are by the beach). But you can find relatively more reasonable prices in downtown Tulum, though you can still expect to pay more than in most other parts of Mexico.

So, when you’re comparing Cabo vs Tulum and asking yourself, “Is Tulum expensive compared to Cabo?” the answer is “No.”

But everything is relative. So if you’re looking for a cheap Mexican vacation, I recommend skipping both Cabo and Tulum.

8. Tulum Is Better For Solo Female Travelers

When comparing Cabo vs Tulum, you can find quieter villas like this one in Tulum.

As a solo female traveler, I felt safer and more comfortable walking the streets of Tulum than Cabo.

The street harassment I encountered in Los Cabos was unlike any I had experienced in the 50+ countries I’ve visited to date. The men were relentless with their unsolicited comments, and I had to grow a thicker layer of skin to deal with it.

Although I don’t recommend Los Cabos for solo female travelers, the silver lining is that I didn’t feel physically threatened.

Whereas I experienced street harassment nearly every time I left my apartment in Los Cabos, I encountered only a handful of catcalls or inappropriate comments during my two months in Tulum.

So, when comparing Los Cabos vs Tulum from a female perspective, Tulum is the clear winner in my eyes.

Along similar lines, the Department of State (DOS) ranks Cabo as more dangerous than Tulum. It places Cabo in the “reconsider travel” category, whereas Tulum is in the “exercise increased caution” category.

To be fair, Tulum has its fair share of cartel-related crime. So, it’s not the kind of place where you should let your guard down.

For more details on safety, check out my guides on safety in Los Cabos and safety in Tulum.

9. The Water Is Rougher in Cabo

A glass bottom boat visiting Cabo's famous arch, something that Tulum doesn't offer when comparing Cabo vs Tulum.

Cabo has ferocious waves on most of its beaches, making them unsuitable for swimming.

The reason for these rough waves is the steep contour of the ocean floor. That said, Medano Beach is an area in Cabo San Lucas that often offers the opportunity to swim in relatively calmer water.

But even then, you’ll need to check for flags on the beach. A red flag means don’t go in the water.

On the other hand, Tulum can also have big waves and rip currents. But they’re not as common, and the quality of its water for swimming often varies according to the weather.

The less wind, the calmer the water for swimming.

Tulum is also close to other great swimming areas. My favorite is Akumal Beach, which is home to a sea turtle population.

So, if you’re waffling between staying in Cabo or Tulum and you love to swim, Tulum is the better choice.

10. Tulum Has Less Infrastructure

A street in Tulum with a hippie van and electrical wires.

You won’t encounter high rises and ultra-modern amenities in Tulum as you do in Cabo. Half-fallen electrical lines often criss-cross uneven sidewalks, and cars must tread carefully along pothole-prone roads.

Furthermore, the WiFi reliability in Tulum is bad compared to Los Cabos.

Of course, the WiFi company and the number of people connected to it impact signal strength in either destination.

But I experienced many times when the WiFi went out at my apartment in Tulum. Random street-wide electrical outages are also common in Tulum.

I had no issues with the WiFi or electricity going out in Los Cabos.

Although I worked remotely in both destinations, when choosing between Tulum or Cabo for the best place to work remotely, I’d recommend Cabo as the safest choice Wi-Fi-wise (what a phrase!).

11. Upscale Shopping Is in Cabo

The marina in Cabo, equipped with the building "Luxury Avenue."

At this point, it likely comes as no surprise that Los Cabos offers more high-end shopping options than Tulum.

You’ll find several malls in the area, with the oceanfront Puerto Paraiso Mall in Cabo San Lucas being among the most popular. Even if you’re not into shopping, I highly recommend heading to the second-floor food court area of this mall for stunning (and free) views over the port.

That said, when comparing Cabo vs Tulum for cute boutique shops, Tulum wins.

You’ll find eco-friendly clothing, organic cosmetics, and souvenir shops in Tulum. While there are many shops in Tulum’s beach area, downtown Tulum is also a great (and often slightly cheaper) option for boutique store explorations.

12. Parties Are “Earthier” in Tulum

A rabbit sculpture made from palm leaves.

If your idea of partying is going to raging nightclubs that stay open well into the morning, Cabo is your place.

Clubs abound in Cabo, with the party feeling like it extends into the day, thanks to the loud music that comes from them and vendors trying to sell their nightclub as the best option.

In contrast, nightclubs don’t exist in Tulum.

Instead, Tulum has small-scale bars, many of which sit along the beach. Because of the hippie crowd that Tulum draws, the parties have a different feel, and “natural medicines” usually aren’t too far out of reach.

Should you wish to have a laid-back bar scene for most of your time in Tulum but still crave some nightclub life, you can take a trip up to Playa del Carmen or Cancun.

13. Cabo Attracts an Older Crowd

A boat that says "Bee Rich," which is something you have to be to visit Cabo since when comparing Cabo vs Tulum, Los Cabos is more expensive.

There’s wiggle room with this statement, as I don’t have statistics to back it up. But from my experience spending three months between Cabo and Tulum, there’s an older demographic in Los Cabos.

I’d imagine part of this is because Cabo is outrageously expensive.

So, it naturally draws people who’ve had career success to enjoy their retirement vacations in a Mexican resort area.

But plenty of older people appreciate Tulum’s laid-back and more nature-oriented vibes too.

So, whether you visit Cabo or Tulum, you’ll find young people in both destinations. You’re just more likely to run into more retirees in Los Cabos than in Tulum.

14. More Day Trip Options From Tulum

The quiet shores of Akumal Beach.
Akumal Beach, which is a short drive from Tulum.

When comparing Los Cabos vs Tulum, Los Cabos is a great place to plop yourself for the duration of your vacation. Many people book all-inclusive resorts, venturing out only to visit Cabo’s famous arch.

But Tulum is closer to more day trip destinations than Los Cabos. So, it’s a great base for people wanting to explore other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Some excellent Tulum day trips include:

  • Akumal
  • Coba ruins
  • Gran Cenote
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve

You can arrive at many of these destinations by public buses. Alternatively, you can book a group or private tour in Tulum.

15. Cabo Is Louder

A frog holding up a drink.

With the streets of Cabo San Lucas lined with nightclubs and bars, its streets are loud day and night. To top it off, vendors will shout to you, offering you tours, souvenirs, and, perhaps, some illegal white powder.

So, when comparing Cabo vs Tulum, you’ll experience a quieter atmosphere in Tulum.

It’s common to hear birds, insects, and animals making noises in Tulum, especially if your accommodation is tucked into the jungle. Vendors in Tulum are also more laid-back about their sales tactics compared to Cabo.

That said, if you wish to visit Cabo but want to be away from the noise, it’s possible.

San Jose del Cabo is quieter than Cabo San Lucas. But for the ultimate quiet experience in Los Cabos, choose a beachfront hotel between these two areas.

16. Tulum Is For Bike Lovers

A bicycle and bike path in Tulum.

The best way to get around Tulum is by bike. You’ll even encounter bicycle paths on many of the main streets.

It takes approximately 30 minutes to bike from downtown Tulum to the beach. Since Uber and other rideshare apps don’t operate in Tulum, this is a safer way to get around than by hailing a street taxi (though you can call a taxi, and that’s safe).

You can also bike to the Tulum ruins from downtown.

There’s no shortage of bike shops in Tulum. Just be sure to have your passport on you, for they’ll need that and a security deposit as part of your bike rental.

In contrast, you can get around the centers of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo on foot. But to explore elsewhere, you’ll either need to go by car or bus—the distances are too far and too hilly for the average person to bike.

Is Tulum Nicer Than Cabo?

It’s up to personal preference whether Tulum is nicer than Cabo.

Tulum has a rustic, hippie feel compared to Cabo. It also has lush jungle and beaches that often contain natural debris.

If you travel to Tulum from May to October, you likely won’t think it’s nicer than Cabo. That’s because these months fall during Tulum’s sargassum season when seaweed arrives in mass quantities on Tulum’s shores.

Volunteer Opportunity in Los Cabos

Calling all cat and dog lovers!

If you enjoy spending time with animals and this guide on Cabo vs Tulum has you deciding to visit Los Cabos, I highly recommend taking some time out of your vacation to volunteer at Los Cabos Humane Society.

The dogs love going for walks, and the cats enjoy playtime and cuddles.

Los Cabos Humane Society is well-equipped to receive tourists for short volunteer stints. So, stop by their shelter ready to give and receive love from their four-footed residents.

Cabo vs Tulum: What’ll It Be?

A sign in Tulum that says "Follow That Dream."
The popular “Follow That Dream” sign in Tulum.

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing between Cabo or Tulum—both destinations have unique qualities for a memorable trip.

But I find that while one destination isn’t inherently better than the other, most people have a strong preference for their favorite. And with such stark differences between Tulum and Cabo, I’m among them.

Tulum is my favorite of the two.

I’d love to hear your opinion. Have you been to Cabo and/or Tulum? What was your experience like? Do you have a favorite?

Feel free to leave a comment with any questions I didn’t answer here, and have a great trip!

4 thoughts on “Cabo vs Tulum: 16 Critical Differences You Must Know About”

  1. I was in Tulum in Nov 2022 and was so sad to see all the garbage all around Tulum and its beaches. We stayed in the Aldea Zama area and every open space was filled with litter and the route taken from there to the ADO terminal was filthy. I hope things improve because it is a beautiful area.

    1. Hi Shan,

      That is indeed very sad to hear. Hopefully the local government steps in to rectify the problem. I agree, Tulum is a beautiful area and it would be a shame for it to become ruined with garbage.

  2. I just spoke with a couple that was in Tulum May 2023 and sadly they said it was filthy. I was hoping to visit Tulum for the first time in June. I am from the states and have been in Meridia for entire month of May and was hoping to stay in a beach town in June prior to traveling to Cabo for medical treatment in July. I am female solo traveler and found this article to be extremely helpful. I have had zero harassment in Meridia. Thank you😀

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for sharing. Do you know if the couple was referring to seasonal seaweed that made Tulum filthy or was it actual trash? May marks the start of the seaweed season in the Yucatan, so I could see where the beach would be filled with seaweed.

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