With so many popular vacation beach cities in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico, the different beach towns tend to be put against one another, especially among travelers visiting for the first time and debating where to visit.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen is the most popular beach town debate in the Riviera Maya.
This city debate is widespread because not only are the cities neighbors, but they’re also quite similar in some ways. But also very different at the same time in other ways.
Whether you’re debating which city you should visit for the first time or possibly you’re looking to relocate to one of the two cities to live in. This in-depth comparison guide will answer all of your questions and curiosities.
Ideally, you should visit both when in the region, even if you’re going to either city for a day trip or a night or two!
The distance between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen is 64.7 km/40 miles, and it’s a 1 Hour Drive.
Topics I will cover regarding the cities will be the following, the main differences between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, walkability, the beaches, hotels, and accommodations, things to do in each city, including the nightlife, and lastly, living quality for those looking to temporary/permanently move.
How To Get To Tulum or Playa Del Carmen
Here is some quick information on how to get to each city, whether you’re looking to get to each city from Cancun International Airport or going to either city for a day trip or a few nights.
If you’re going to Tulum, refer to my Cancun Airport to Tulum transportation guide.
Options to Leave Cancun Airport to Tulum or Playa Del Carmen
- Take the ADO Bus (the cheapest method)
- Private Airport Transporation (the most convenient method)
- Shared Shuttle Bus (cheap/convenient)
- Car Rental
- Mayan Train (available as of December 2023)
These are all the transportation methods you can use to get from Cancun Airport to Tulum or Playa Del Carmen.
Options to Get to Tulum or Playa Del Carmen from either City
- Take the ADO Bus (the cheapest method)
- Taxi (make sure you don’t get overcharged, its 600 pesos / 30 US)
- Car Rental
- Mayan Train (available as of December 2023)
You can use these transportation methods to get to Tulum from Playa Del Carmen or Playa Del Carmen from Tulum.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen – Main Differences
Tulum and Playa Del Carmen have some significant differences but share a few similar traits.
For those in a rush, here are the main differences between the two cities that could persuade you to vacation/stay in one or the other.
|Characteristics||Tulum||Playa Del Carmen|
City Walkability – Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen
Walkability in Playa Del Carmen is impressive. You can walk just about anywhere you need to go in the city within 20-25 minutes. The best part is your walk will be exciting. There are shops, restaurants and many things you will see on your walk. You can always take a taxi around town to avoid walking.
Tulum, on the other hand, is not walkable whatsoever. There is only one area in Tulum you could classify as walkable: the Centro area, which is one street that’s considered the City Center of Tulum and is full of restaurants, bars, bike shops, and more. In Tulum, you must take a taxi or bike places.
Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum Beach
Both cities have beautiful beaches, but Tulum Beach is significantly more attractive than Playa Del Carmen’s beach.
Playa Del Carmen has a lovely beach, but Tulum’s is just more tropical; the water is various shades of turquoise blue and can’t be compared!
Which City is More Commercialized?
Playa Del Carmen is more commercialized than Tulum. A city being more commercialized does come with its advantages, overall, it tends to be more developed, but cultural experience lacks slightly. Tulum is less commercialized and offers a laid-back atmosphere.
Now that I’ve covered the main differences between the two popular vacation cities, read further for an in-depth look at these same differences and other significant differences!
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen Beaches
We are starting with the most critical consideration when vacationing anywhere, the beach!
While both cities have beautiful beaches, there are noticeable differences in each city’s beaches.
The beach in Tulum is broken down into two parts, Tulum South and Tulum North. Tulum South is the beach area where boutique hotels and beach clubs mostly dominate.
While Tulum North isn’t as built up and has a more authentic beach experience, Tulum North is also home to the Tulum National Park and the historical landmark Tulum Ruins.
Regarding the actual beach, Tulum’s beach is stunning; when you look out, you’ll quickly notice the various shades of blue in the water.
The beach area is also huge, so there’s plenty of room, and you won’t have to worry about finding a place for your towel and things.
Tulum Beach Clubs are superior to Playa Del Carmen’s beach clubs for those who enjoy beach clubs.
Playa Del Carmen Beach
The convenient part about Playa Del Carmen’s beach is how accessible it is. You can walk to the beach in Playa Del Carmen from most hotels, rentals, and just about anywhere in minutes. Convenient when you’re not looking to walk far or rushing to catch the sunset at the beach!
Playa Del Carmen has its beachfront hotels, but the entire beach is public; portions in some areas are not accessible to the public, but for the most part, there’s always room closer to the water.
The beach shoreline in Playa Del Carmen is smaller in some parts, and spots can get quite busy in the daytime, but you can always find a place.
If you want to enjoy the beach in a more peaceful setting, you’ll need to head to the Northern area of the shoreline Playa Punta Esmeralda and Playa Xcalacoco.
Another essential factor to consider regarding the beach is the restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. You can easily walk to a restaurant, grab food, and return to the beach in minutes. Not something you can do in Tulum unless you’re at a beach club.
Which City has Better Beaches?
Regarding the actual beach, Tulum has the more tropical and beautiful beach of the two cities.
The beach is much more prominent here. It offers a more laidback tropical beach environment, and the water at Tulum Beach is various shades of blue; Playa Del Carmen’s is also, but has fewer hues than Tulum Beach.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen – Resorts/Hotels/Rentals
Regarding resorts, hotels, and rentals, both cities are similar. What’s different is the quantity of each accommodation type in each city. The difference accommodation-wise in both cities is as follows:
Both cities have their fair share of hotels, resorts, hostels, and rentable apartments.
Which City has Better Accommodations?
It all depends on what you’re looking for, considering what city you’d prefer would be suited for you. Depending on the type of accommodation you’re after, one city may be better.
Resort and Large Hotels: Playa Del Carmen is better for large hotels, especially considering the location
Boutique Hotels: Tulum is better regarding boutique hotels; they have lovely/fancy boutique hotels
Hostels: Both cities have an abundant of hostel accommodations to choose from
Long-Term Rentals: Both cities have many long-term rentals. Tulum has more house rentals, while Playa Del Carmen has more condo rentals.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen – Main Attractions
Both popular beach towns in the Riviera Maya have several attractions for visitors. I will share a highlight shortlist of each city’s best attractions. As well as things to do in the evening/night.
Browse each list and see what attractions may interest you and are more suitable for yourself and others you may be coming with.
Remember, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen are only 1 Hour away, so you could always visit for the day.
For those looking to visit the famous Chichen Itza, the most popular attraction in Mexico. This Chichen Itza guide will tell you how to get there from Tulum or Playa Del Carmen.
Tulum Main Attractions
Not including Tulum Beach, because I’ve already covered this earlier in the article, here are the best things to do in Tulum when visiting.
Playa Del Carmen Attractions
Not including Playa Del Carmen Beach, because I’ve already covered this earlier in the article, here are the best things to do in Playa Del Carmen when visiting.
- 5th Avenue Street (a street full of bars, restaurants, beach clubs shops)
- Cozumel (a famous island directly across from Playa Del Carmen)
- Parque Xcaret
- Beach Clubs
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen Nightlife
Both cities have a lively nightlife with many things to do. In Playa Del Carmen, 5th Avenue street is vibrant at night, with many restaurants open and hosting dine-party-like experiences; the street is also full of bars and nightclubs. And in Tulum, it’s similar in its Centro Street/area.
- Centro area full of Bars/Restaurants/Nightclubs
- Tulum Beach Clubs
- Techno Music events in the Jungle
Here’s a list of the Best Tulum Restaurants
Playa Del Carmen Nightlife
- 5th Avenue Street is full of Bars/Nightclubs/Restaurants
- Coco Bongo
- Bars open on the Beach
Here’s a list of the best Playa Del Carmen Restaurants
Regarding things to do at night in both cities for families, Playa Del Carmen is much better, the 5th Avenue Street in the evening has several things to do and is suited for all ages.
Tulum Centro is tailored for young/older adults.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen for Living
Playa Del Carmen and Tulum boast ex-pat/digital nomad communities, good internet, and Mexican food, and you’re minutes away from the beach in either city. What’s not to love?
While both share cities share those traits, and both cities are pretty touristy. They’re very different living-wise. Here is a breakdown of what you should expect in each city if you’re considering relocating to either.
Tulum for Living
Starting with the positives about living in Tulum, Tulum as a whole town offers a more laid-back atmosphere, which is Tulum’s most considerable appeal.
Things are slower in Tulum. That’s why it’s popular with yogis/backpackers and more.
While Tulum is touristy, because of how far things are in Tulum, you can steer clear from getting caught up in a group of tourists.
The restaurant scene in Tulum is excellent; you can find many different cuisine types here.
Now a few negative things about living in Tulum is getting around; you have no choice but to have a vehicle here or ride a bike; things are far from one another.
Also, regarding things you may want to buy, because Tulum is a small town, you can only expect to find some things here; you may have to travel to Playa Del Carmen sometimes to get various items.
Tulum has its shops, but it doesn’t offer what more developed cities offer shopping-wise.
Playa Del Carmen for Living
Starting with the positives about living in Playa Del Carmen, the walkability aspect of Playa Del Carmen is incredible; you can walk anywhere in 15/25 minutes easily, and living here means you won’t have to worry about transportation.
Playa Del Carmen is a more developed city than Tulum. It has malls, more restaurants, and a more vibrant city in the daytime. Now with that comes more tourism, walking around here you can expect to run into tourists, it’s not avoidable.
The restaurant scene in Playa Del Carmen is exceptional. You have high-end fancy restaurants, taco trucks, and many local eateries.
The only negative thing about living in Playa Del Carmen is the tourism, but that’s expected with any famous beach town.
Which City is Better for Living?
Playa Del Carmen is better for living than Tulum; the fact you don’t have to worry about transportation is a significant factor. And being able to walk to places you may need to be in minutes, like the grocery store or gym, is very convenient.
Lastly, because it’s a bigger city, it offers significantly better shopping, so everything you may need is here.
Overall, Playa Del Carmen can accommodate digital nomads and ex-pats better than Tulum because of all its conveniences.
That said, if you’re looking for a quieter city with a more laidback lifestyle, Tulum may be suitable for you, but overall it’s hard to argue that Tulum is better than Playa Del Carmen for living for the average person; it’s not.
Is Tulum or Playa Del Carmen more Expensive?
Tulum is more expensive than Playa Del Carmen, and a few factors explain this.
Starting with the type of “crowd” each city attracts as tourists, Tulum, besides its yogis/backpackers, attracts a luxury-type crowd. This is prevalent when you visit its high-end restaurants, boutique hotels, and beach clubs.
While Playa Del Carmen is for everyone, you will spot a mix of the crowd here. The city has its luxury, mid-tier, and affordable side—something you can’t say about Tulum.
Accommodations are pricer in Tulum, as development has been rampant the last few years. On average, expect to pay around $1,500+ US monthly for a 1 Bedroom in Tulum.
Accommodations are less in Playa Del Carmen; development has also been rampant over the last few years. On average, expect to pay around $1,300 US+ monthly for a 1 Bedroom in Playa Del Carmen.
Restaurants: Both cities have expensive, mid-tier, and affordable places to eat. Playa Del Carmen is cheaper on average because it has more restaurants than Tulum. Finding cheaper food on average in Playa Del Carmen is easier – Especially cheap tacos!
Groceries: Tulum has its local supermarkets, Super Aki being the cheapest and largest. Playa Del Carmen is cheaper for groceries because of its multiple choices of supermarkets in the city; here, you’ve got Super Aki, MEGA, Walmart, and more.
Why is Tulum Popular?
Besides the fact that Tulum is one of the most popular places for people to tag themselves being at on Instagram.
Tulum is famous for its beautiful beach, Mayan Ruins, amazing Cenotes, beach clubs, food, and the laidback bohemian beach lifestyle.
Tulum’s laidback atmosphere is a trait you can’t say about many places worldwide. Tulum has this atmosphere to it. You’ll quickly notice that if you visit and stay for a few days.
Also, those who enjoy Techno Music will already know that Tulum is the hottest spot in the world for Techno Music parties through the high season months of November to April.
Why is Playa Del Carmen Popular?
Playa Del Carmen is famous for its 5th Avenue Street, full of great restaurants, entertainment, bars, malls, and more. Playa Del Carmen is also known for its beach clubs; several cenotes surrounding the city.
The Parque Los Fundadores is home to the famous mermaid statues in Playa Del Carmen and is a popular place for small evening Mayan performances.
I’d also like to include Cozumel when considering Playa Del Carmen’s popularity, only because this island is directly across from Playa Del Carmen and is only a 40-minute ferry ride. The island is its own city with plenty of things to do.
Is It Better to Stay in Tulum or Playa Del Carmen?
After reading my complete guide on comparisons for Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen, are you still trying to decide? Well, here are a few quick last words to help you decide.
You should first consider your party size and who you’re coming with. Are you coming alone? With a few friends or your family?
Remember, you can always visit either city if you have time. It’s only a 1 Hour drive-time between both cities.
Is Playa Del Carmen safer than Tulum or Tulum safer than Playa Del Carmen?
Neither city is safer than the other; both cities aren’t small and have problems from time to time, but for the most part, on a day-to-day basis, it’s safe.
Just follow big-city safety protocols, know where you’re going at all times, don’t buy illicit goods, and at night, if you’re not walking on a lit road, always take a taxi and keep an eye out for your belongings.
RELATED: 9 Safest Cities in Mexico to Visit
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen Solo Traveler
If you’re traveling alone, there’s no reason you shouldn’t visit Playa Del Carmen and Tulum; both cities are popular destinations for solo travelers.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen Family/Couples Vacation
Both cities are great for a couples vacation, with many things to do and great accommodations; if you’re coming with a loved one, it’s best to decide which city would be preferable for you two.
If you’re coming with your family, Playa Del Carmen is a clear winner for a family vacation. It’s easy to get around, with lots to do and more activities for kids.
Tulum vs Playa Del Carmen Friends Vacation
If you want to visit either city with friends, both are great destinations for their nightlife and have great beach clubs, nightclubs, and bars.
Tulum has better beach clubs, and unique parties, like parties that happen in the jungle, but in Playa Del Carmen, you can walk back to your hotel after a night out at a bar or nightclub.
The cities are tied in consideration to those coming with friends. Use my guide to see the main attractions above and what suits the group best!
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