Playa Del Carmen or Tulum or Cancun? What is a perfect fit for you?

Where to stay in the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum

Trying to decide on where to go on vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico? Well there are a lot of options and the three main ones are Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum. Of course there is the whole coast which is dotted by all inclusive hotels and small towns as well. We think though that once you know the places, you will fit into one of them because they are all very different and appeal to different people. Lets talk about each one and what some of the pros and cons are about taking a vacation in each one.

Is Cancun a good vacation spot for you?

Cancun was the original destination in the Yucatan Peninsula. That is why it is the most known and has been developed so much.

  • Pros- There are a lot of package vacations. Since there is a lot of competition in the Hotel Zone for tourist and when the season is lower, so go the prices. If you stay on the front of the Hotel Zone as well, you will have great beaches to enjoy. Cancun is a tourist machine and everything is geared toward tourist. The tourist infrastructure is there with everything a tourist would want, from beaches to tours, Cancun was built for tourist.
  • Cons-Since it is an older destination there is element in some older hotels that show their age. Also since tourist have been coming here for sometime, some of the locals have learned all the ways to charm the money out of you by offing you cheap drinks in bars, timeshares, tacky souvenirs and overpriced tours. This can be avoided if you stay at more upscale hotels and when walking around some the touristy areas, don’t take everything so serious at stores that are trying to sell you souvenirs or tours. Cancun is not a walking city. The Hotel Zone alone has miles and miles of hotels. It can take 20 minutes by car just to reach the downtown, so walking around is limited, that is why most people just stay on their resort and book tours with pickups.

Is Playa Del Carmen a good vacation spot for you?

  • Pros-This is not Cancun for sure. It is much more European feeling and small scale. It is a very walkable city and most things are in a 20 block area. The city is centrally located to many of the tourist destinations (see Day trip guide to Playa Del Carmen) as well as being close to the airport (45minute away). Since this city is such an international draw, not just for tourist but also residents, there is an amazing restaurant scene here and foodies will be busy checking out all the good places to eat. Playa Del Carmen also has a nice range of shopping for tourist, everything from magnets to fine crafts from around Mexico can be found.
  • Cons-Playa Del Carmen has been growing over the years at a fast rate. This means that the beach huts and sand streets are now more likely to have chic restaurants and boutique hotels. People do still find the small feel and charm to the place but some now see Tulum as Playa Del Carmen of 15 years ago. If you like all inclusive hotels then you are limited with just a couple in the Playa Del Carmen center. There are more in the Playacar neighborhood at the south end of Playa and this can be a happy medium between staying at an all inclusive and being able to walk into the center of Playa.

If Playa Del Carmen sounds just a little to big for you then you might want to check out Puerto Morelos. It is a smaller town between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

Is Tulum a good vacation spot for you?

  • Pros-If you like eco-chic or hippie-chic then Tulum might just be a good fit for you. Tulum is a town of two parts. There is the center of town that has all the businesses, souvenir shops, transportation and hostels and then there is the beach area which is separated from the town by about 3k. The beach area is now known for its eco-chic hotels, $300USD a night prices, small gourmet restaurants ,celebrities and New Yorkers walking around. You can get high levels of service and seclusion here and the food scene is ever increasing. Cheaper accommodation can still be had in town and father back from the beach.
  • Cons-Tulum is all about relaxing and the eco-chic destination. You are not going to find malls, movie theaters or mini golf here. If you want stuff to do besides stay in your hotel, beach, visit the ruins, eat out and walk the town in one hour, you might find yourself wanting to do something else. There are some attractions like the Coba ruins, Muyil ruins, cenotes and Sian Ka an that are al close to Tulum. These are all great to see but there are on the tame side. You also do not have the large all inclusive resorts in Tulum so if you do have the energy of a big hotel with nightly shows if that is what you want. If you have a long flight to Mexico, the transfer from the Cancun Airport to Tulum will take you over one hour in transportation. after a long flight you may not be thrilled to still have to get there, but once you are there you are really away from things an maybe you can relax more.

If you do think Tulum sounds good to you because you want a quiet vacation not at an all inclusive resort, then you might also want to check out Akumal, a small town between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.

Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum

The Riviera Maya is a diverse place and each place has a distinctive personality. This makes for a good fit to different people. We hope you find your piece of paradise and make it here soon. For more help on where to stay please check out our Hotel Guide for the Rivera Maya, this helps narrow down the thousands of hotels to a list of the better ones.

If you are searching for hotels, we do recommend this search box because it combines search engine to give you the best rates.

Which place do you like to visit when on vacation? What do you like about where you go? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Brilliant information, thank you so much. Our family is visiting in late May/early June so this helps to really give us an insight into taking care of ourselves and the environment.

  2. I like going to Tulum but it is loosing it touch. With all the 300 a night hotels and then some got closed down.The town is full of new condos and I think it is too expensive for what it is. I am going to enjoy staying in Playa del Carmen for cheaper and visiting the Tulum area for a day.

  3. We have liked going to Playa del Carmen for years but we like the old Playa and less of the commercial aspect of 5th Avenue. We are going to Tulum this year to see if we can capture that old feeling.

  4. After a bunch of hotels were closed on the beach in Tulum by the government I am leary of going there. I don’t really like the downtown. Maybe it is back to Akumal or Playa Del Carmen for vacation.

  5. Cancun is for package tourism. The downtown of Cancun could be much more interesting but it is a concrete mess. It is changing some and is getting a little like Guadalajara but still not where I want to go on vacation. I wish the planners would make it more walkable and more trees.

  6. We still like Tulum even thought it is changing. The small beach atmosphere is changing and more groups of people are coming. Even though there is limited parking people come and I wonder how the sewer systems will handle all the people. There is also a lot of construction.

  7. Been yesterday to Tulum. Loved the ruins but didn’t really like the Pueblo, its a shame and a surprise that it’s so dirty when there are so many tourists and beautiful businesses 🙁 the mayor must be on holidays himself, the streets and the sidewalks are a mess. I was thrilled that the taxi driver was a Maya, speaking his language over the phone with another guy 🙂

  8. So overall you made a wonderful choice. Me too I might be tempted to retire here… I am curious if you’re American or Canadian. Heading out to Valladolid in a few hours. Cheers !

  9. Valladolid was great, as i expected, the yucatecan food, Ek Balam, Uayama church and Oxman chenote insane, Chichen Itza overwhelming. Had a wondeful driver who spent 8 hours with us for 1000 pesos. An amazing experience out there, i wish i had more time but i’ll be back for Merida and that side.

    • That is great Robert! We are glad you got off the beaten path and got to see Uayama Church. There is so many hidden gems all over the peninsula. We have been exploring for years and still have so much more. Best of all the people are welcoming, friendly, rich in tradition, prices are affordable and life is peaceful.

  10. Very good blog! We love all your pages of info. We love exploring the Yucatan and Riviera Maya. We like staying in either Playa Del Carmen or Akumal because the proximity to things. See you soon. Many thanks!

  11. I am all about the vibe of Tulum. The beach is great and the boutiques are always bring interesting things to the market. I think Playa Del Carmen has gotten too developed for me. I like the options though.

  12. Haven’t been to Playa Del Carmen or Cancun but I really enjoyed Tulum, I liked being able to walk around, a short taxi ride or bike to the beach was not bad at all. I stayed closer to town so I didn’t pay anywhere close to $300 a night, I think my 4 nights there at a new boutique hotel was around $600 including flight. Food was very inexpensive there but very good. I do plan on visiting Playa Del Carmen , sounds like a cool place!

    • Thanks for your comments Rafee. Tulum does have it’s own vibe. We love being able to stay at a couple places and explore while on vacation and that is something people can do here. There is a great contrast between Tulum, maybe a night in the colonial city of Valladolid and then cosmopolitan Playa.

  13. I moved to Mexico for love 2 months ago. I can defenetely say that the central Yucatan is the best area, full of things to dicover. good vibes, kind people, and Cenotes??? Come on!!! Are million years old natural swimming pool. Do you really like to be inside tourists areas? Enjoy the mexican nature and history!

  14. We just staying in Tulum and we were surprised at all the new places there to eat at and there is three grocery stores now. Tulum is becoming a more popular place with more options.

  15. We had not been to Tulum in three years and am glad to see some new sidewalks in Tulum and the new grocery store. It is nicer than any grocery store in Playa del Carmen. However some of the shanty towns on the outskirts show the conflict with money and the people that cannot afford to live there and work there.

  16. It has been three years since we were in the Riviera Maya and decided to visit Tulum this year instead of Playa Del Carmen. We like how Tulum is developing. It has some natural feel but some upscale elements as well. I hope the beachfront can remain small and boutique like it is now.

  17. We still like coming to Playa Del Carmen and going to the beach clubs in Tulum. It is a little too quiet in the hotel zone for us and we like a hotel with a good ac. Some of the eco resorts are too quiet for us. Maybe for a few days but “camping glamping” gets old after you have no wifi. I know there are hotels there with everything, I just like come creature comforts while on vacation.

  18. We have been to Cancun twice now and looking to explore more of the coast. Everything at the resorts has been good.

  19. With the expansion of Playa del Carmen has come problems with crime. We are hopping the same does not happen in Tulum.

  20. I have come to Playa for years and only visited Tulum for the day. Can you tell me what areas of Tulum are good to stay in? This will be my first time going to stay there. What is the main differnce between the ebach area and downtown? Thanks

  21. If you really want to get more of the culture, the further away from the tourist areas, the more Mexican culture you get. Cancun is all about tourist and hotels, Playa has gotten much more commercial over the past 5 years and Tulum has developed a culture all its own.

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