Heading to Mexico and torn between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum? Well, in this post, you will find an in-depth comparison between the two. I will also tell you what one can expect from either destination.
Playa Del Carmen
Let’s start with Playa Del Carmen first. Playa Del Carmen is a large town located in the Riviera Maya, about 45 minutes away from Cancun International airport. Once known as a, “sleepy fishing village,” Playa Del Carmen is now a Riviera Maya tourist destination in its own right.
Playa Del Carmen is a pretty developed town in comparison to Tulum. Here, you’ll find lively bars and cool boutique shops sitting next to local taquerias and chic hotels – most of which are located along the town’s main pedestrian strip, 5th Avenue.
By day, one can hit the beach or take a ferry over Cozumel, and by night, be strolling into Porfirio’s for one of the best dining experiences in the entire city.
However, due to its development, those looking for more “instagrammable” photos, won’t find them here, especially when comparing it to Tulum. However, it’s a great place to stay for those looking to work remotely, be a digital nomad and/or travel on a budget.
Now let’s talk about Tulum. Tulum is a bit further away from Cancun – about 1.5 hours away – but as of recent, Tulum has become the most popular getaway in the Riviera Maya area. Once a laid-back beach destination, Tulum is now a hot spot for yoga and spiritual retreats, dining, boutique shopping and a vivacious nightlife.
The main town of Tulum is located right by Highway 307 and is a bit away from the beach (about 15-20 minutes driving) and is where you’ll find many markets, banks and cafes. And for those looking looking to be a bit more in the action, you’ll find some of the more expensive hotel and beach clubs located on the beach near Playa Paraiso or in Zona Hotelera.
Where Are The Best Beaches?
When it comes to the beaches, while both towns are known for their oceanfronts, they each have distinct characteristics.
The beaches in Playa Del Carmen are often narrow and in general, not as picturesque as those in Tulum. That being said, the beach is easy to walk to from downtown and there are plenty of public spots.
Some of the best beaches in Playa Del Carmen include Parque Fundadores, Calle 10 Beach and Playacar Beach.
In contrast, Tulum’s beaches are prettier and much more “natural” as much of the town maintains its jungle terrain due to it not being fully developed.
However, these beaches aren’t nearly as walkable from Tulum town. If you plan on staying in the downtown Tulum area, you’ll have to take a taxi, rent a car, or ride a bike down to the beach. *Of note, taxis from downtown Tulum to the beach area are MUCH more expensive than a relative trip of the same distance in Playa Del Carmen.
Some of the best beaches in Tulum include Playa Ruinas, Playa Paraiso and Las Palmas.
The Hotel Scene
I would say that the biggest aspect to consider here is budget and style.
Both Playa Del Carmen and Tulum offer a wide array of hotel options, but you’ll get much more value for your money in terms of accommodations in Playa Del Carmen than the unique boutiques in Tulum.
There are plenty of excellent options for luxury, mid-range and budgeters alike in Playa Del Carmen.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, while Tulum does offer some budget friendly options (typically in the form of hostels), most of the more affordable accommodations require you to stay in Tulum town.
If you’re looking to stay in relative walking distance of the beaches in Tulum, be prepared to open up the wallet.
When researching Playa del Carmen and Tulum for a vacation getaway, you’ll see that both destinations are chock-full of things to do. The struggle will come down to which activities to do with a limited amount of time.
Playa Del Carmen
- Lido’s Beach Club
- Explore Cenotes
- Shopping on 5th Avenue
- Take a day trip to Cozumel
- Take a day trip to Valladolid and tour Chichén Itzá
- Experience the lively nightlife
- Tour Tulum Ruins
- Explore Sian Ka’an Biosphere
- Explore Cenotes
- Take a day trip to the Coba Ruins
- Experience local beach clubs and parties
In choosing between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, cost will certainly play a role in decision making.
While both locations have a range of pricing options for hotels, restaurants and transportation, that of Tulum is roughly 20-30% higher than what you would find in Playa del Carmen.
In Tulum, the closer you are to the beach, the more you’ll have to shell out for accommodations. In Playa del Carmen, you can be within a 5 minute walk to the beach and stay in a nice Air Bnb for less than $125 a night.
I would say that the decision will ultimately come down to budget and expectations. If you’re wanting to be a beach bum, while working remotely with the perfect margarita in hand all for a nominal price, then Playa del Carmen is for you. If you’re wanting to view pristine beaches and vacation in luxury and are willing to pay for it, then Tulum is the place for you.
I hope this helps in aiding you in your decision making. Hopefully you’ll have enough time to perhaps visit both towns and experience the differences firsthand.