Playa del Carmen vs Tulum: Which Should You Visit?

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Vacations come in all shapes and sizes, and Playa Del Carmen and Tulum can really fit any type of explorer.

It’s like comparing apples and oranges! As the saying goes, it comes down to personal preference.

As you’re shopping around for your Mexican getaway, you may find yourself wondering: Playa del Carmen or Tulum?

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation or an adventure-filled escape, both offer something special that you won’t want to miss.

If you don’t have time for an extensive amount of research on each destination, let us be your guide. Let’s get into it!

Is Playa del Carmen or Tulum Better?

What is Playa del Carmen Known For?

Playa del Carmen undeniably swoons travelers with its alluring boutique hotels, mesmerizing cenotes and effortless beach town vibes.

Whether you’re a family or simply a well-seasoned couple, Playa del Carmen is where laidback adventurers come to explore.

Beyond the beachy main street lies a natural treasure trove like no other, featuring an array of activities both on land and in the clear Caribbean waters.

So if taking your time and finding that perfect Mexican escape is what you’re after – Playa del Carmen won’t disappoint.

Mayan Ruins in Tulum
Mayan Ruins in Tulum

What is Tulum Known For?

Tulum is a paradise for those looking for both a historical and nature-filled getaway.

Perfect for couples and honeymooners seeking a more authentic experience, its resorts are tailored to eco-enthusiasts who love the great outdoors.

With 8 miles of white Caribbean beaches, lush jungle, cenotes, and ancient Mayan ruins, there really is no limit to the activities and sights you can experience here!

It doesn’t matter if you’re an adventurous spirit or a laid-back traveler looking for R&R – Tulum has something truly special to offer both types of visitors.

14 Best Resorts in Playa Del Carmen for Couples


Beaches in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen boasts some arguably stunning beaches, the kind that make you pinch yourself and wonder if it’s really real.

So, follow your bliss and tip-toe away from all the often overwhelming touristy hustle in Quinta Avenida; take a few turns and find yourself on a pristine beach called Playa Esmeralda.

This is one of those elusive gems on this part of the Riviera Maya, where you can devote your day to sun lounging, kitesurfing and just being super chill. Welcome to your new happy place – no crowds included!

Tip: Make sure to do your research before visiting the beaches in Playa del Carmen; they’re generally not well-equipped. No loungers, umbrellas or worse – no bathrooms!

Tulum Ruins and beach
Tulum Ruins and beach

Beaches in Tulum

Beaches in Tulum offer all the best of the Caribbean. From lazing on golden sands to snorkeling through vibrant reefs, there’s enough to leave you wanting more!

Take a stroll along Playa Ruinas and marvel at the Mayan ruins scattered throughout palms and soft sand, or relax into the sultry atmosphere on Playa Paraiso, where you can sip a tropical cocktail while dipping your toes in shallow waters.

For some underwater action, there’s nothing better than splashing around in Akumal Bay, which offers up plenty of dazzling coral gardens for exploring.

6 Best Golf Courses in Playa Del Carmen

Things to Do

Things to Do in Playa del Carmen

Welcome to Playa del Carmen, where maintaining its laid-back vibes is a top priority.

Within the city’s main streets, you’ll find all types of eateries, watering holes, beach clubs, shops and more – truly something for everyone.

But don’t be misled; there’s much more than city life in this Mexican destination.

Around 20 minutes outside the city limits lies an array of cenotes that glow with beauty – seriously, Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino are like something out of a fairytale!

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, Xcaret Park is your answer – here you’ve got all kinds of adventurous activities including underwater caves, water slides and nighttime shows bursting with energy.

Just another day in Playa del Carmen, no big deal!

Not to mention, Cozumel is just a short ferry ride away with amazing snorkeling and scuba diving at the second-largest coral reef in the world.

These tours will give you some incredible stories to tell your friends back home!
If that’s not enough excitement for one trip, adventure addicts can also take day tours to Chichen Itza – perfect for history buffs.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

Things to Do in Tulum

Tulum is where authenticity is guaranteed. From cenotes and Mayan ruins, there’s something for everyone in this coastal city steeped in culture.

Forget shopping centers and congested roads, and bask in the untouched stretches of sandy beach accompanied by vibrant jungle life.

Here you can while away the days at one of the many beach clubs that line the shore, go for a round of golf, or get some much-needed R&R at a spa.

Feel the heat in Parque Nacional Tulum as you explore the cliffside archeological site, then cool off with a dip in Cenotes dos Ojos before taking a zip line over its crystal blue water.

The adventure continues beyond the city limits with a visit to the ancient Coba ruins.

For more ideas, make sure you check out our full guide on things to do in Tulum.


Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

You may be surprised to hear that Playa del Carmen has some serious party legends lurking in the shadows, like Coco Bongo, Mandala, and Senor Frogs.

The main shopping street packs a punch at night with big-name nightclubs and slews of bars offering up anything from live music to drink specials and open-air seating.

It’s the perfect place for bar hopping since everything is within walking distance thanks to the grid layout of the area.

Oh yes, there’s no shortage of partying fun in Playa del Carmen!

14 Fun Things to Do in Tulum You Can't Miss

Nightlife in Tulum

Nightlife in Tulum may not be quite as wild as other cities, but there’s plenty of chill evening spots to help quench the thirst for some fun.

From the upscale jungle-themed clubs on the beach, to downtown venues featuring cheaper acts, you have lots of options.

But for the most epic party experience around, catch one of Papaya Playa Project’s Full Moon events.

These epic gatherings bring together celebrated DJs and infectious music that’ll keep you dancing all night.

If a more relaxed vibe is what you crave, Batey Mojito and Kin Toh are some of the best bars in Tulum and offer outdoor lounges.

Dining & Restaurants

Dining in Playa del Carmen

If you’re looking for Americanized food, Playa del Carmen’s main shopping street will serve you right. Alongside large menus posted outside chain restaurants, come the not-so-subtle price tags.

But if you’re looking to move away from that type of food, take a few steps away from the town center and you’ll find some authentic Mexican gems – with much more pleasant prices.

For more foodie inspo, check out the following guides for the best tacos, breakfasts, burgers, and fine dining in Playa del Carmen.

17 Best Restaurants in Playa del Carmen with a View

Dining in Tulum

Tulum dining is to die for – provided you’re into Mexican food! All your favorite seafood and authentic Mexican flavors are practically at your fingertips, while Yucatecan cuisine offers a traditional kick that’s hard to beat.

Don’t worry if foreign flavors are more your thing – Tulum Beach has got it covered, offering a smorgasbord of Thai, Italian and Japanese eateries.

Of course, if you still can’t let go of American eats, most beachside joints have got something for your classic cravings too.

Bohemian-style cafes are all the rage for breakfast in Tulum, and you seriously cannot visit without checking off the tacos bucket list here.

Where to Stay

Where to Stay in Playa del Carmen

No matter if you’re looking for adults-only, luxury accommodations, or a party resort, Playa del Carmen has got you covered for a hot vacation spot.

For all-inclusive relaxation and adult vibes only, Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera is here to make your dreams come true. It’s also a great pick for couples.

But if you want something more luxe and exotic, Rosewood Mayakoba‘s mangrove jungle setting will be right up your alley.

For those looking to really party it up, Thompson Playa Del Carmen is an obvious winner – in addition to being close to the beach and great restaurants, there are two clubs just down the block ready to provide that late-night fun!

Rosewood Mayakoba
Photo by Rosewood Mayakoba

Where to Stay in Tulum

Tulum isn’t your typical Mexican holiday spot; it’s got something special in store if you’re looking for places to stay.

From mile-long beaches to lush jungles, the boutique resorts are the star of the show here and offer the most rustic and luxe vibes ever.

Tulum Pueblo is even more perfect for budget travelers. With hostel stays starting at just $39 and mid-range hotels averaging between $150-200 per person each night, accommodation here won’t break the bank or your heart.