If you clicked on this article, I imagine you are thinking of spending some time in the Riviera Maya but don’t know which of these equally exciting places to visit.
This article will give you a brief overview of the similarities and differences between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. You’ll get a good idea of the pros and cons of Tulum and Playa del Carmen, and we are going to do a deep dive into comparing the main factors we look at when choosing a holiday destination:
If you came here for a short answer (or the TL;DR) to which is better, here it is:
👩💻 The Short Answer
Tulum is rougher around the edges, with untouched jungle, small boutiques, a very relaxed boho vibe, and a focus on the environment. It also has a high-end expensive eco-lodge side to it. Your experience in Tulum will vary greatly depending on your budget.
Playa del Carmen is more urban, with beautiful beaches, shopping centres, all-inclusive hotels, and all the comforts you may want. It is a bigger city in terms of population and size than Tulum. It is also the more budget-friendly option.
Tulum is better for
- Nature lovers
- Yoga enthusiasts
- Eco-conscious travellers
- Those on a spiritual journey
- Anyone who wants a more relaxed, lowkey vacation
- Those who like to explore off the beaten path
- Papaya Playa Project lovers
- Those with a higher budget
Playa del Carmen is better for
- City lovers
- Those on a lower budget
- Those who want an active vacation with lots to do
- Digital Nomads
- Those who prefer variety and ease
- Solo travellers & young people
- Coco Bongo lovers
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each place:
👍 Tulum vs Playa del Carmen pros and cons
Here is a side-by-side comparison of what to like and what to dislike about each, starting with Tulum.
Tulum’s pros & cons
There are other cons of extended stays in Tulum, so I’d recommend reading this recent article called Tulum is utterly terrible by Nomadic Matt.
Playa del Carmen’s pros & cons
Now that we’ve covered the main points and given an overview let’s see how Tulum vs Playa del Carmen hold up in a head-to-head battle in each category: Beaches, activities, shopping, nightlife, restaurants, hotels/accommodation, cost, safety and weather.
Tulum and Playa del Carmen both have gorgeous beaches bordering the warm Caribbean sea, but their beaches have some distinct differences.
Tulum offers quiet beaches that are beautiful, untouched, and a little bit wild. The beach itself is wide and stretches for miles.
Tulum beaches usually have fewer crowds; however, they are difficult to access if you are not staying in a beachfront hotel. Technically the beaches are supposed to be public, but many beachfront resorts and restaurants try to make you pay by asking you to pay for a lounger or to gain access through their establishments. On top of that, you will have to pay for a taxi to the beach since it is not within walking distance from Tulum town.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen beach is easier to access since the restaurants and resorts are not blocking it off. In addition, some roads lead directly to the beachfront, and it is easy to walk there.
The downside to Playa del carmen beaches is that they are narrower, often crowded, and nowhere near as untouched or scenic.
There is also usually a lot going on, so if you are looking for a peaceful beach day, you won’t get it here. On the other hand, if you like a lively beach scene, Playa del Carmen is the place for you.
Tulum and Playa del Carmen have a lot of daytime activities in common. You can go swimming or snorkelling with the giant sea turtles, visit cenotes, spend time on the beach and see ruins at both destinations. But there are a few things that are unique to each place:
- In Tulum, the cenotes are closer to the town than in Playa del Carmen.
- You can take a mud bath at Laguna Kaan Luum.
- Visit the stunning UNESCO world heritage site- Sian Ka’an Biosphere
- Papaya Playa Beach club is in Tulum
- You can go snorkelling or diving
- Explore downtown, visiting boutiques and checking out the local stalls
- Go on a food tasting tour
Playa del Carmen
- Lots and lots of shopping on 5th avenue! (Though much of the things to do are limited to 5th avenue)
- Watch a Cirque Du Soleil show
- Lidos Beach club is in Play del Carmen
- Go salsa dancing
- Go to an open-air theatre
- Explore beyond 5th avenue and see what you find
Tulum is not the place to go if one of your favourite vacation activities is shopping. Tulum has small boutiques and local stalls. Perfect for the odd memento and maybe some lowkey shopping.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has an entire street chock-a-block with shops and two big malls. If you like having access to your usual stores and spending a couple of days crawling the mall, visiting Playa del Carmen is the better option.
Tulum and Playa del Carmen both have an active night scene and well-known clubs.
Tulum’s clubbing scene is very jungle-esque and has internationally renowned DJs. There are high-end clubs, laid-back beach bars, casual beach clubs, and everything in between. Most beach clubs in Tulum also have things going on during the day. For example, some function as a restaurant during the day. Almost every club in Tulum plays house or electronic music.
Tulum is also home to Papaya Playa Project, famous for its full moon parties, Mayan-inspired architecture and luxury accommodations.
Also worth reading: The best party hotels in Tulum
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen also has a very active nightlife. Here the clubs are more urban-upscale and mainly located indoors, unlike Tulum. Like almost everything in Playa del Carmen, the clubs are primarily located on 5th avenue, which is bustling at night.
Playa del Carmen is home to Coco Bongo, which is not just a nightclub. Here you can find fantastic and unique performances and shows of all kinds.
In Tulum, you will find upscale fine dining. It comes with a cost though, and at the sacrifice of variety. Tulum does not have international tastes but rather food closer to the traditional Mexican style.
That being said, although there is less variety, there are still many options to choose from in Tulum. You will also find some hidden gems for more reasonable prices if you explore a little bit.
Playa del Carmen
Since Playa del Carmen is a lot more commercialised, you’ll find the international food flavours you love and plenty of Mexican cuisine. There is a greater variety and more options to choose from, regarding both food and prices.
Both Tulum and Playa del Carmen have plenty of accommodation options. The decision comes in, in deciding what kind of accommodation you want.
Tulum is known for its boutique hotels, high-end eco-lodges and jungle bungalows. However, it is challenging to find all-inclusive hotel stays in Tulum. And since Tulum is environmentally conscious, you will often find a more rustic jungle style of luxury here.
However, this is not all Tulum has to offer in terms of accommodation. You can find more budget-friendly options like backpacker hostels, but these can come with major downsides, like being far away from the beach and sometimes poor utilities.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del carmen hotels are a lot more diverse. From Airbnb’s to all-inclusive resorts and chain hotels, it has them all (and at a better price).
If an all-inclusive stay is high on your list of priorities, then Playa del Carmen is the place to go. This goes for families or anyone who doesn’t want to worry about paying for all the odds and ends separately.
In general, Tulum is more expensive than Playa del Carmen. This is mainly due to the enormous difference in accommodation prices, and Tulum’s prices, in general, tend to be slightly higher than Playa del Carmen’s.
The accommodation in Tulum’s hotel zone along the beach is very pricey. This is because these are mainly luxury resorts that have sole access to the beach.
You can find more affordable accommodation in town, but this can be a problem if you want easy access to the beach. The eco-focus also causes prices for the beachfront resorts to be higher, resulting in a higher price for travellers.
Tulum is also a bit more exclusive. It has become a hot spot for celebrities, so the luxury services, fine dining and premier experiences are targeted at those who can afford higher prices. They are the target market.
Playa del Carmen
Prices in Playa del Carmen are generally lower than in Tulum.
The cost for accommodation in Playa del Carmen is generally a lot better value for money. Since the beach is not blocked off, there isn’t a massive gap between accommodation prices near the beach and in town like in Tulum.
While you can still enjoy delicious cuisine in Playa del Carmen, there are also more international chain stores and restaurants, which probably balance out the average cost of food.
The bottom line is that Playa del Carmen offers more affordable options, while Tulum’s lower-priced options are few and far between.
Both Playa del Carmen and Tulum are relatively safe. However, since they are both popular tourist destinations, there is a strong police presence.
However, you should always be aware of your surroundings and limit high-value items on your person. For example, having designer clothes or pricey items on you can make you a target for theft.
At night (particularly in Tulum), there are no streetlights on some of the streets, and it becomes pretty desolate. It would be wise to make sure you have a head torch and stick with friends.
Tulum and Playa del Carmen share the same climate since they are situated close to one another.
It is generally quite hot all year round, with a slight respite from the heat around November to February. However, it is also very muggy (humid) for most of the year, with a brief break around February.
It rains throughout the year, with the most rain in June and September and the least between December and April.
When deciding which place is better, the weather doesn’t really come into play.
💭 Final Thoughts
As you have probably gathered from the individual comparisons, Tulum is more rustic yet offers a luxury jungle experience. Therefore, it’s suited to those looking for more of a pilgrimage, lowkey holiday, or nature adventure.
Playa del Carmen is far more urbanised than Tulum and offers the benefit of nicer utilities like the internet and convenience in shopping opportunities and infrastructure.
Since I’m a nature lover, I say Tulum is the way to go! Why not take a walk on the wild side and explore something a little bit more rustic? Going on holiday is about relaxing and experiencing something different. But if that’s not your thing, then Tulum still has you covered with plenty of luxury options.
Still not sure which place you’d rather visit? Why not expand your options and throw Cancun into the mix? Check out my article on Tulum vs Cancun.