Friends at a beach.

Cancun vs Tulum: 10 Make-or-Break Differences Between These Mexican Destinations

There’s nothing like lounging on a Caribbean beach in Mexico. But with so many beach options in the Yucatan, you might wonder about the differences between Cancun and Tulum. Here are the top ten to know.

1: Cancun Is Easy To Get To

The shadow of a plane on a tropical beach.
Photo Credit: Jag_cz via Adobe Stock.

Cancun has a massive international airport, which also serves as a private and public bus station. Every terminal at the Cancun airport has a bus parking lot. You can book an ADO bus on the spot to destinations like downtown Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Merida, and, yes, Tulum.

Cancun’s beaches are a short drive from the airport. In contrast, it can take 2 – 2.5 hours to arrive in Tulum from Cancun.

2: Tulum Is for Yogis

Person meditating at the beach.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

There’s more to Tulum than yoga. However, Tulum’s reputation as a yogi hub has its merits; yoga studios and signs pointing you to beach yoga classes are everywhere.

While you certainly don’t have to be into yoga to enjoy Tulum, craving the buenas vibras (positive vibes) lifestyle helps to make your trip more enjoyable.

3: Cancun Is Where the Party’s At

Sign saying "Party, sleep, repeat."
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Partying is a stereotype that rings as true for Cancun as it is misleading for Tulum. Cancun offers access to some of the most famous clubs in Mexico and the world, including Coco Bongo and Mandala.

Coco Bongo is a nightclub inspired by the 1994 film, The Mask. Make sure to buy your tickets in advance, for they’re known to sell out during the high season.

4: Tulum Is Where the Other Party’s At

Person laying down tarot cards.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Partiers in Tulum tend to take a more holistic approach than in Cancun. You’ll have access to ayahuasca ceremonies, other natural “medicines,” and even toad licking.

Of course, if you’re more of a bar and beer kind of person, there are plenty of great places along the beach where you can do your low-key partying. 

5: Cancun Is Great for Shopaholics

Three girls shopping.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

If a vacation isn’t a vacation for you without shopping, head to Cancun instead of Tulum.

By staying in the Hotel Zone, you’ll have access to large malls like Forum By the Sea and La Isla Shopping Village. There are also countless boutique and touristy individual shops along the way.

6: Tulum Is a Nature Lover’s Paradise

Iguana at the Tulum ruins.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

People in Tulum live among nature instead of adapting nature to live with them. Dense forests abound, and eco-friendly restaurants and accommodations are everywhere. 

One of the most notable nature-related aspects that set Tulum apart from Cancun is its cenotes (sinkholes). Dos Ojos and Casa Cenote are two sinkholes you should put on your bucket list.

7: Cancun Has More Chain Hotels

Aerial view of the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Cancun is home to just about any hotel chain you can possibly think of. These gigantic high-rise hotels line the beach, giving off a vibe that you arrived in Miami instead of Cancun.

Tulum, on the other hand, has more locally owned boutique hotels and lodges. Instead of high-rises, you’ll encounter small facilities woven through the jungle and along the beach. 

8: Tulum Is Expensive (Too)

Man with empty pockets.
Photo Credit: Deagreez via Adobe Stock.

Under most circumstances, Mexico is a cheap destination by U.S. standards. However, it has pockets of extraordinarily high prices, which happen to include Tulum and Cancun.

Tulum is often more expensive than Cancun. Although most tourists flock to the Hotel Zone in Cancun, there are many options for staying at cheaper hostels and hotels inland. Unfortunately for the budget-seeker, Tulum’s inland accommodation prices usually don’t have such a dramatic price drop.

9: Cancun’s Beaches Are Pristine

Beach resort in Cancun, Mexico.
Photo Credit: Jdross75 via Adobe Stock.

Photoshopped and all, the photos you’ve seen of Cancun online are pretty much what you can expect upon arrival. It has all the cliches you’d want from a tropical vacation; its beaches are pearly white, its ocean is turquoise blue, and its sand is powdery soft.

That said, many tourists prefer Tulum’s more rustic beaches. You may find seaweed strung along the beach, iguanas lounging on rocks jutting out of the sand, and the occasional thorn in the sand nearby flowering bushes.

10: Tulum Is Closer to Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza ruins.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

It’s hard to visit the Yucatan without stopping to see at least one ruin. And if you’re going to choose just one, it’ll likely be the world-famous Chichen Itza, one of the 7 New World Wonders.

Tulum is about a 2-hour drive from Chichen Itza compared to Cancun’s approximately 2.5-hour drive.

Similarities Between Cancun and Tulum

Nerdy man holding glasses.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Despite their differences, Tulum and Cancun share some similar qualities. We’ll touch on the most notable.

Lackluster Downtowns

An old cement house with a closed window.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

There are few activities of tourist interest in Cancun and Tulum, and both downtown areas have a rather run-down feel. Additionally, the beaches for both of these destinations aren’t within walking distance of their downtowns. 

Seaweed Season

Seaweed season in the Yucatan.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Seaweed season is heartbreaking for unsuspecting tourists. From around May to October, thick masses of brown seaweed, called sargassum, arrive on Cancun and Tulum’s shores.

The locals do their best to cart the seaweed off the beach with wheelbarrows and bulldozers, but it still makes a small dent in this Caribbean-wide problem. 

ADO Bus Transport

ADO bus parked at a bus station.

Both Cancun and Tulum have ADO bus stations. And it just so happens that both are in the downtown areas without offering the option to take you to the beach.

So, if you take the bus to Cancun or Tulum, you’ll need to transfer to a smaller local bus or take a taxi to your beachside accommodation.

WiFi and Cell Phone Reception

Woman looking at phone with a suprised face.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Both Cancun and Tulum have good cell phone reception, although Tulum’s cell phone reception can be hit or miss the further you get from the main beaches and town.

WiFi in Cancun and Tulum can be excellent or horrendous, depending on the internet plan your accommodation has. 


Woman in pink tank top at the beach.
Photo Credit: Dirima via Adobe Stock.

The author of this piece is a solo female traveler who’s spent many months between Tulum and Cancun. She felt quite safe during her stays, but of the two, she felt safer in Tulum. You can read more about her experience in her guides on safety in Cancun and safety in Tulum.

How Safe Is Mexico, Really?

Church in Mexico City.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Are you planning on traveling to other destinations in Mexico aside from Cancun or Tulum? I break down safety in the popular and more remote parts of Mexico from the perspective of safety statistics and my experience as a solo female traveler.

Is Mexico Safe? The Must-Have Destination Safety Guide

Cancun vs Cabo: 27 Key Similarities and Differences

Famous arch in Cabo.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Cancun and Cabo are popular destinations among American vacationers. But do you know enough about them to decide which is best for you?

Cancun vs Cabo: 27 Key Similarities and Differences

ADO Buses 101: How To Explore Mexico by Bus

Woman with backpack staring down mountain road.
Photo Credit: Yuriyzhuravov via Adobe Stock.

If you’re considering bus travel in Mexico, this is a must-read. Taking buses in Mexico isn’t as scary as you might have it pictured if you do it right.

ADO Buses 101: How To Explore Mexico by Bus

17 Embarrassing American Tourist Stereotypes

American holding an American flag and a brown suitcase.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Are you guilty of falling into these embarrassing American tourist stereotypes? Some are harmless, many are annoying, and a few are rude.

17 Embarrassing American Tourist Stereotypes

This article was produced and syndicated by A Piece of Travel.

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