Tulum vs Cancun: Which Is Better?
If you’ve clicked on this article, you have most likely decided that you want to visit Tulum or Cancun but aren’t sure which one. Well, you chose wisely because whether you’re just checking it out or are already in the planning phase, this article will be helpful to you.
We are going to break down and compare three major categories when comparing Tulum vs Cancun:
- Daytime entertainment
- Location, convenience and accommodation options
Now, let’s dive straight into it!
What daytime entertainment is on offer?
Both Cancun and Tulum offer a number of the same daytime activities. From gorgeous cenotes and archaeological ruins to beautiful beaches with plenty of ocean and wildlife adventures. There are also a few things that are unique to each place. Let’s take a look at what each has to offer:
Daytime things to do in Tulum
Tulum beaches are a bit more wild and untamed but teeming with natural beauty. While you will find fewer crowds on Tulum’s beachfront, it is further away from town. Here you can enjoy tanning, lazing on the beach, swimming in the blue Caribbean sea and drinking craft cocktails.
Underwater adventures and Outdoor adventures
Tulum offers scuba diving or snorkelling in the ocean with colourful reef fish or in the underground limestone cenotes. Or you can visit the cenotes to see the stalagmites and enjoy the incredible photo opportunities. Tulum is an eco-conscious destination with lots of extraordinary nature to explore.
- Private Snorkel and Sailing Experience
- Day trip to Sian Ka’an Biosphere – see the fantastic biodiversity
- Visit Tankah – A nature park with crystal waters covered in lilies, forests and lagoons. There are also a whole lot of adventure activities that you can do here, like kayaking and zip-lining.
Restaurants and food
Trying authentic Mexican cuisine and local favourites in Tulum Pueblo (Town) is a must. You can visit restaurants to explore the local flavours, or you can go on a tour where you’ll have someone sharing all the inside details!
- Tulum Local Walking Food Tour
- Mexican Cooking from Scratch and Mezcal Tasting in a Local Home in Tulum
Yoga and Spa
- Get a relaxing massage and get pampered at one of Tulum’s Spas.
- Tulum is well known for its yoga scene. Book a yoga class for a relaxing and zen experience.
- Climb the Mayan ruins of Coba: You have the choice to scale the side of the pyramid if you want!
- Tulum Ruins: Visit Tulum Archaeological Zone and learn more about Mayan history.
- Chichen Itza: Is another Mayan Pyramid site, about two hours away from Tulum, making it closer to Tulum than Cancun.
Explore downtown Tulum
There are so many fun things to do in town. Of course, just taking a walk around and finding street art, Instagram spots, and local stalls is a whole day activity! But there are one or two specific cool spots to check out.
- Mystika Immersive Museum: This museum aims to give you a mystical experience, immersing you in Mayan cosmology, nature and culture. It has seven rooms, each with a different theme, displayed with lights and projections.
- Tulum Tower: The tower that takes you 118ft (35 meters) up into the air for a spectacular view of the town below and the archaeological ruins. Up there, you can enjoy a drink and take some epic snaps.
- You will find more artisan shops in Tulum, hand-crafted goods, and one-of-a-kind items. Making it an excellent place for souvenirs and keepsakes!
Check out these tours that offer different combinations of the activities that you can do in Tulum:
From Cancún: Tulum and Tankah Cenotes Eco-Adventure Tour
Riviera Maya Full Day Tour: Tulum Ruins, Snorkeling & Cenote
Tulum and Coba: Full-Day Archeological Tour with Lunch
Daytime things to do in Cancun
The Cancun beaches are pristine, with white sands and blue ocean, but they can often get quite crowded. These stunning beaches may almost seem manicured since they don’t have Tulum’s wild jungle aesthetic. Here you can also relax and have a good old beach day at one of Cancun’s famous beaches or find a spot of sand right in front of your hotel.
Underwater and outdoor adventures
Just like in Tulum, you can visit the turquoise cenotes, snorkel or scuba dive, but Cancun has something quite extraordinary in ways of underwater adventures! There is an underwater museum in Cancun!
- Snorkel the underwater museum (MUSA): Over four hundred life-size statues are made of coral and other materials below the ocean surface.
- Go swimming with whale sharks and see the turtles.
- Zip-lining through the leafy canopies of the jungle near Cancun.
- Go sailing on a catamaran!
- Visit Isla Contoy to see the amazing variety of birds.
Explore downtown Cancun
- Go shopping at Mercado 28 (Market 28): Cancun has a huge flea market the size of a shopping mall. They sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to fabric, local food and curiosities.
- As I mentioned earlier, the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins are also a great option. Admittedly, it is a little further away from Cancun than from Tulum, but it is still a strong option in the area!
There are also many other ocean adventures like stand-up paddle boarding, foiling, and kayaking. Check out these tours that offer different combinations of the activities that you can do in Cancun:
Mayan Jungle: 4-Hour Adventure Tour from Riviera Maya/Cancun
Small-Group Eco Friendly: Whale Sharks tour in Cancun & Riviera Maya
From Cancun: Isla Contoy & Isla Mujeres Tour – Go up Cancun scenic tower and get a 360 view of the islands below.
Which has the better nightlife?
The nightlife in Tulum definitely has a laid-back hippy vibe, with some more upscale bars along the beach and a few monthly parties like the Papaya Playa Project’s full moon party.
Cancun features many more options for nightclubs and bars, and some of the wildest parties take place there since it is a popular spring break destination for students.
The casual laid back vibe of the Tulum nightlife scene is found in two main areas. Tulum Town, also known as Tulum Pueblo, and the beach zone.
In Tulum Town, you will find affordable food, accommodation, local bars and clubs. While in the beach zone, you will find bohemian rustic chic-themed boutique hotels and resorts. In either, you can sip on a tropical cocktail and listen to the swaying rhythms of salsa or melodic electronic melodies.
- Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar. Here you will find an affordable and festive bar with delicious drinks and live music. The sugarcane for your drink gets pressed out of a converted VW Beetle!
- Pasito Tun Tun. A laid-back bar with a buzzing business in the front and a more relaxed garden patio in the back. Live bands and DJs are commonplace on most nights.
- Ki’bok. Tulum’s most renowned coffee shop opens its upstairs terrace in the evening to host a fun, open-air bar with a great view of the bustling street below.
- Kiki. The best (and only) nightclub in Tulum Town. Doors open at midnight, and the fun starts between 1 and 2 am.
The Beach Zone
- Gitano. An upscale beach resort by day, with a sultry bar at night. On Fridays, the party starts at around 11 pm and continues all night under the jungle canopy. If you are looking for a more relaxed environment to hang out at this beautiful location, swing by on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to enjoy the live bands that play in the early evenings.
- Papaya Playa Project. This is the biggest party of the week, happening every Saturday night, and even more so on the monthly Full Moon parties. Big-name DJs frequent this venue, and the dancing often goes on until morning light. So get your tickets in advance and arrive early to avoid delays.
- La Zebra Hotel. Sunday night is Salsa Night at La Zerba and is a good place for a fun night of salsa dancing. There are free lessons, a bar and a restaurant, and delicious craft cocktails.
Nighttime Activities in Tulum
If you are unsure where to go, try out the Tulum Pub Crawl, a local guided service that will take you to 3 colourful and entertaining venues in the night, along with welcome shots and vibrant company.
The general dress for a night out is bohemian chic. Don’t show up in your beachwear, but leave your heels at home. Dress to feel comfortable and relaxed.
Compared to Tulum, Cancun is best if you love loud over-the-top parties. It is home to some world-famous nightclubs, like Coco Bongo (Jim Carrey in The Mask, 1994). Here are some of the best places to go:
- Coco Bongo. This is Cancun’s most famous nightclub. It has everything, music, drinks, balloons, confetti, regular live performances, and dancing wherever you find yourself.
- Mandala. This Indian-inspired nightclub feels like a classy VIP lounge, except it’s an entire club. Aside from the class, one of the best points of difference is the open-air ambience, which separates Mandala from most larger clubs.
- Monkey Business. If you are looking for a fun evening that’s not in a big nightclub, Monkey Business offers a different vibe. With food, a full bar, live music and karaoke, there is plenty to experience every night of the week.
- The City. The largest nightclub in Latin America, the City has a capacity of over 5,000 people! A-list performers, celebrities and DJs frequently visit this triple-floor club. Some names include Fergi, Snoop Dog and Akon. It is often fully packed during the summer months and spring break.
Nighttime adventures in Cancun
There is also an intriguing nighttime adventure that you can go on in Cancun. Xochimilco Park: Ticket with Transportation from Cancun and Riviera Maya. This is a theme park modelled after traditional Mexican traditions and folklore. You can enjoy a floating Mexican party with traditional food, drinks, games and singing!
Which has the better location, convenience and accommodation options?
Cancun has an overall better location and convenience out of the two, with more accessible transportation. Tulum generally, however, has more affordable accommodation than Cancun.
Location and Convenience
The best way to get into the area is to fly into Cancun International Airport before travelling to either one of these magical destinations. While Tulum has more options available, Cancun has more convenience and accessibility.
Tulum does not have an international airport, so visitors must fly to Cancun International Airport before making their way to Tulum. Tulum is located 75 miles (120 km) from the airport, which takes roughly an hour and a half. Many luxury hotels will be able to provide a private airport pickup upon arrival at the airport, but these may not be within everyone’s budget.
Alternatively, there are several airport transfer options provided by independent providers. A one-way journey from the airport to the Tulum hotel zone will cost you approximately $140, and a return journey will cost you around $280.
When it comes to getting around town, Tulum is considered walkable for the most part, but the beach zone is around 6 miles (10 km) from the town centre, making it too far to travel on foot.
Biking is by far the most popular way to get around Tulum. The town is structured to accommodate this type of transport with dedicated bike lanes alongside the roads, making it easy for visitors to get around.
Biking to the beach area or back is also a pleasant experience along the leafy road. Many hotels loan guests bikes as part of their stay, and rentals are usually around $8 per day or $56 per week. You can rent a bike by heading over to Ola Bike Tulum.
Colectivos are shared minivans operating on routes during all hours of the day. These are cheap but often packed to the brim. Popular routes include Cabañas, which leads to the southern Beaches and Ruínas, to the northern beaches. There are also colectivo routes towards the Playa del Carmen ruins that will cost you about $1.
Cancun has an international airport and a private bus station. I recommend you take a taxi from the airport to the Cancun hotel zone, but the affordable local bus system is more than sufficient once there.
A taxi from the airport to the Cancun hotel zone will cost around $38 and $70 for a round trip. Once there, the local busses will cost between 60 cents to $1 to transport you between locations. ADO buses are the most popularly used in the area.
Walking is usually the best way to get to the beach, as nearly all of Cancun’s lodging is along the coast. However, the rest of Cancun is too spread out to experience on foot, so I suggest using the bus system.
Of the two, the hotels in Tulum (except in the beach zone) are more affordable and provide excellent value for money. Tulum hotels also offer a wider variety of options within resorts.
Many resorts offer budget accommodation and high-end rooms, making many of Tulum’s resorts suitable for all sorts of travellers. Cancun hotels, however, while usually more expensive, offer easier access to various party activities.
In Tulum, there is plenty of variety. From the main town to the tropical or jungle-themed beach zone. The average price of hotels in Tulum is slightly cheaper than that of Cancun.
Recommended Tulum Town Hotel: Mayan Monkey Hotel & Hostel Tulum
Recommended Tulum Beach Hotel: Cinco Tulum
Recommended Budget Hotel: Selina Tulum
In Cancun, the accommodation is slightly pricier than in Tulum, but not by much. Here you will find more western modern-styled hotels and resorts.
Recommended Luxury Hotel: Atelier Playa Mujeres
Recommended Budget Hotel: Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool Cancun
Recommended Party Hotel: Nomads Party Hotel & Hostel
So what’s the verdict?
For daytime entertainment, Tulum and Cancun are tied. It is impossible to choose who does it better, with both Tulum and Cancun offering huge varieties of experiences and also many similar activities. If you enjoy more seclusion during the day, then I’d recommend Tulum, but if you prefer to be in the hustle and bustle with others, you’ll feel right at home in Cancun.
For nightlife, Cancun has more choices. Tulum is definitely the best place for a laid-back and relaxed night, but if you are looking for a big, flashy, all-out night to remember, you’ll surely find one in Cancun.
Location, Convenience and Accommodation
For the location and convenience, Cancun would have to be my pick. At the same time, Cancun is marginally more expensive than Tulum for accommodation. However, transportation is also better in Cancun.
Tulum wins out for travellers looking for an affordable, relaxed experience off the beaten path, with many unique attractions and experiences. But Cancun is the place to be for those looking to experience bigger, more modern thrills.
If you are looking for more information on Tulum. Check out this article where we compare Tulum Town to Tulum Beach to help you decide which is the best choice for you.