Destinations Mexico

Cancun or Tulum : Which One To Visit?

Last updated on November 29, 2023

Are you debating Cancun or Tulum? This guide is for you! I am breaking down all the facts here my friends so you can make the right choice on where to visit! Or you can visit both if you really want to be adventurous

I have been to both destinations many a times! I have visited Cancun for spring break and for family vacations and have visited Tulum on a girls trip, mother/daughter getaway and on a trip with my husband!

How To Get from Tulum To Cancun or Vice Versa?

Cancun or Tulum

There a few ways from Tulum to Cancun or Vice Versa! If you wanted to do a day trip to either place, it is totally possible! If you are arriving from the Cancun International Airport and plan to head right to Tulum, you can find plenty of options- though it’s best to book in advance for the best price

  1. By Car
    • Rental Car: Renting a car gives you the flexibility to explore the region at your own pace. The journey as I mentioned above takes anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours! We loved renting a car when we visited Tulum as we were able to go to some cenotes and go downtown if we wanted.
  2. By Bus:
    • ADO Bus: ADO is a reliable bus company in Mexico, and it operates buses between Tulum and Cancun. The journey takes approximately 2.5 hours. Buses are comfortable, air-conditioned, and provide a cost-effective option.
  3. Private Transportation or Driver
    • Private Transfers: Many companies offer private shuttle services between Tulum and Cancun. This option provides convenience and comfort, and you can arrange for direct transportation to your destination. Depending on the company you go with, the cost can vary- we paid about $150.00 CAD for our group of 5. Here is a luxury SUV option for about $135!
  4. Shuttle Bus
    • Shared Shuttles: Shared shuttles or collective transportation services are available. These are cost-effective options, but the travel time may be longer as the shuttle may make stops to pick up and drop off other passengers. Here are some shuttle options
  5. Taxi:
    • Taxi or Ride-Sharing: Taxis are available, and you can negotiate a fare with the driver but DEFINITELY create a price before you leave and do not run the meter.

Cancun to Tulum Distance

The distance from Cancun to Tulum, both located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, is approximately 130 kilometers (about 81 miles) when traveling by road. The most common route is along the Federal Highway 307, which runs along the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The driving time between Cancun and Tulum can vary depending on traffic conditions and the mode of transportation but typically it will run you 2 hours door to door! If you are doing a private transfer, it will definitely be faster!

When we did the drive ( we rented our own car one of the times and did a shuttle the other), there was a check point mid drive. This was not scary and if anything made me feel safe as there was police watching this highway. I feel like sometimes Mexico can get a bad rep but driving this route is generally very safe and there are no issues.

Cancun or Tulum for Families

Cancun or Tulum

While you can certainly do both Tulum and Cancun with a Family, overall I would choose Cancun or Mayan Riveria when travelling with a family.

The atmosphere and experiences in both places are different and overall Cancun is more geared more towards a kid friendly scene.

A lot of the resorts have daily activities, kids clubs if you have really little kids and all inclusive options ( and if you have kids you know how handy that is!)

Tulum’s crowd is more younger and while kids can easily enjoy themselves, a few of the hotels and even some restaurants are adult only- making it a bit harder to visit some places. Some of the design elements of each place- while they are stunning- could be dangerous for some kids who are younger. It’s not designed with young babies in mind.

Cancun or Tulum for a Girls Trip

Cancun or Tulum

If you are looking to do a girls trip in Cancun or Tulum, I think either place would be good! Both offer a LOT of options for going out, having nice and fun dinners, dancing, drinks and overall fun.

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If you are looking to save though on costs, I would say that Cancun for a girls trip is the better option as Tulum is very pricey. If you aren’t worried about a budget, I would pick Tulum all day every day as it’s more intimate and you don’t find massive clubs here. The disco or jungle bars or parties are all much smaller and contained.

Cancun or Tulum for a Couples Trip

Cancun or Tulum Hotel Comparison

Cancun or Tulum for Hotels is another easy decision depending on what you are looking for!

Cancun is home to plenty of all inclusive resorts and bigger hotel chains. This means your drinks and food is included and you have activities, gym and lots of options right on the grounds.

You won’t find these kind of resorts in Tulum hotels. Tulum hotels are more focused on the design element, are smaller and more personalized. A lot of them use natural elements within their builds ( no marble counters here my friends) and are built in an eco friendly way.

Tulum Hotels

Here is a list of hotels in Tulum that are rated well and are centrally located on the main strip!

  1. Papaya Playa Project: This eco-friendly resort offers beachfront cabanas and a laid-back, bohemian atmosphere. It often hosts events and parties on the full moon!
  2. Azulik: Known for its unique, treehouse-style accommodations, Azulik offers a romantic and secluded experience with state of the art architecture that has been featured in countles magazines. This hotel represents everything that Tulum is about!
  3. Nomade Tulum: A wellness-oriented hotel with boho-chic decor, Nomade Tulum often hosts yoga classes, workshops, and has a focus on holistic well-being.
  4. Be Tulum Hotel: A luxury hotel with a stylish design, Be Tulum offers beachfront suites, a spa, and gourmet dining options.
  5. Mezzanine Colibri Boutique Hotel: Known for its intimate atmosphere, this hotel offers beachfront suites and a restaurant serving Thai cuisine.
  6. Sanará Tulum: A wellness-focused hotel with beachfront accommodations, Sanará Tulum offers yoga classes, a spa, and healthy dining options.
  7. La Zebra Colibri Boutique Hotel: This boutique hotel features colorful decor, beachfront cabanas, and a restaurant serving Mexican and Caribbean cuisine.

Cancun Hotels

  1. Hyatt Ziva Cancun: An all-inclusive resort that caters to families, offering multiple dining options and entertainment.
  2. Le Blanc Spa Resort: A luxurious, adults-only, all-inclusive resort with a focus on relaxation and wellness.
  3. Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun: This resort is known for its spacious rooms, multiple dining choices, and a large spa.
  4. Nizuc Resort & Spa: A high-end resort with a serene atmosphere, beautiful architecture, and multiple dining options.
  5. Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun: An all-inclusive resort known for its modern design, vibrant atmosphere, and excellent dining options.
  6. Hard Rock Hotel Cancun: A family-friendly resort with a rock and roll theme, offering entertainment for all ages.
  7. UNICO 2087: Although this resort is in the Mayan Riviera area, it is worth including! It’s modern, doesn’t give off “all inclusive” vibes and is only a few years old!

Cancun or Tulum Restaurant Comparison

Cancun vs. Tulum for restaurants is an easy one to break down. Are you looking for more bigger restaurants that likely have a few multiple locations throughout North America? You will find these in Cancun. Think: Senor Frogs, Johnny Rockets, Starbucks etc! They do also have a diverse culinary scene above and beyond that!

Tulum’s restaurant scene features intimate spaces ( many of which are outdoors) with very thought out and personalized menus. That’s not to say Tulum doesn’t have a big list of restaurants- they do! Their restaurant scene is buzzing but I would say they are more unique and less “flashy” than Cancun’s restaurants.

Also a lot of people that choose Cancun Vs. Tulum will often stay at a resort that is all inclusive so dining off site doesn’t happen that often. When you book a Tulum hotel, getting an all inclusive option is not as common so you are eating out for every meal a lot of the time.

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Here are some of my favourite Tulum Restaurants:

  1. Hartwood: A renowned restaurant with a focus on locally sourced ingredients, offering a menu that changes daily. It’s known for its open-air kitchen and rustic charm. Cash Only and reservations fill up quick!!!
  2. Gitano Tulum: This restaurant combines a jungle setting with a stylish atmosphere. Gitano is famous for its mezcal bar and a menu that features contemporary Mexican cuisine. This is the place to go for dancing!!
  3. Casa Jaguar: Located in the heart of Tulum, Casa Jaguar offers a diverse menu with a mix of Mexican and international flavors. The restaurant has a laid-back, bohemian atmosphere. Personally- I liked this better than Hartwood!
  4. Arca Tulum: Known for its farm-to-table concept, Arca Tulum offers a menu with a strong emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant has an intimate and stylish setting.
  5. Posada Margherita: This Italian restaurant is famous for its beachfront location and homemade pasta. The menu features a mix of Italian and Mexican flavors. The owners are actually from Italy and it shows!
  6. Charly’s Vegan Tacos: I’m not vegan but man oh man are these tacos amazing! Do not miss this spot. It’s at the very end of the strip
Tulum or Cancun

Here are some of my favourite Cancun Restaurants:

  1. Puerto Madero: A renowned Argentine steakhouse with a sophisticated atmosphere and a focus on high-quality meat cuts.
  2. La Habichuela: A classic in Cancun, La Habichuela offers Mexican-Caribbean cuisine in a charming and romantic setting with lush gardens. I would get off your resort one night and come here for sure!
  3. Harry’s Prime Steakhouse & Raw Bar: A high-end steakhouse with a focus on top-quality meats, seafood, and an elegant atmosphere. They also have – as the name suggests- a pretty amazing raw bar with fresh catch of the day and oysters!

I haven’t been to THAT many Cancun restaurants so I am sure there are a lot more where these came from!

Day Trips from Cancun or Tulum:

There are so many day trips that you can do from both Cancun and Tulum. If you are staying in Cancun, you can even visit Tulum for the day if you wanted! I would say that both places offer great day trip options- they are equal on that front!

  1. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Explore the UNESCO-listed Sian Ka’an, a vast biosphere reserve with diverse ecosystems, including mangroves, wetlands, and coral reefs. Boat tours are available.
  2. Chichen Itza: Visit one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, known for its impressive pyramid, El Castillo.
  3. Cenotes Tour: Discover the cenotes (natural sinkholes) in the Yucatan Peninsula. Cenote Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote are popular choices for swimming and snorkeling.
  4. Mayan Ruins aka the Coba Archaeological Site: Visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Coba, where you can climb the Nohoch Mul pyramid for panoramic views of the jungle

Both the Tulum beaches and the Cancun beaches are stunning and you will be happy with both! Also keep in mind that there are other places to stay in this region of Mexico like Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres if you still aren’t fully into Cancun or Tulum as your vacation destination

Travel Tips for Cancun or Tulum:

  • Cancun is close to big chains like Walmart, Starbucks and has plenty of ATMS around the city. Tulum on the other hand is much smaller. While most places do accept credit cards, I would recommend having cash/Pesos here!
  • The mosquitos in Tulum are CRAZY! Do not forget to pack repellant. Tulum is essentially right in the jungle where Cancun’s hotel zone is right on the water and more commercial
  • Cancun is closer to a bigger hospital compared to Tulum. If you are travelling with a medical condition, that’s something to consider
  • There is a big digital nomad scene in Tulum so do not be surprised to see a lot of people working at some of the restaurants and hotels that are from the US, Europe etc
  • Electrical outlets are the same as the US

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