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Playa del Carmen vs Tulum: The Best Beach Destination in Mexico

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Playa del Carmen vs Tulum comparison - the best beach destination in Mexico
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Heading to Mexico and choosing between Tulum and Playa del Carmen? Well, in this post, you will find a comparison of Playa del Carmen vs Tulum. I will also tell you what to expect from either of these destinations! Interested? Keep reading!

If you’re new to this blog, hi, we are Liza and Jose, a millennial couple based in London, UK. As Jose is originally from Mexico, we go back there at least once a year! We have many blog posts about travelling around Mexico, so make sure to check out our Mexico blog posts category!

Here’s what you will find in this post:

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Playa del Carmen vs Tulum: Which one is better?

Playa del Carmen

Let’s talk about Playa del Carmen first! Playa del Carmen is a large town located in Riviera Maya, about 45 minutes away from Cancun International airport. Playa del Carmen is known as a popular, affordable party place; however, anyone can go to Playa del Carmen. It has a lot of public beaches, as well as affordable (and more expensive) beach clubs and a few all-inclusive hotels right in the heart of Playa del Carmen as well as outside of it.

Playa del Carmen is pretty developed – there isn’t much jungle left nearby, and the beach doesn’t have that many palm trees (however, there are some bits if the beach that have them). Playa del Carmen has a lot of restaurants, bars and shops (as well as two large shopping malls) – most of them are located along the town’s main pedestrian avenue – Quinta Avenida or 5th Avenue.

Playa del Carmen isn’t, however, a very photogenic place (especially if you compare it with Tulum); however, it’s a great place to stay for a month or longer and work remotely.

It’s very easy to visit Playa del Carmen on a budget – read my post about the best ways to save money in Playa!

Tulum

Now let’s talk about Tulum. Tulum is further away from Cancun than Playa del Carmen – it takes around 1.5 hours to get there. Tulum became very popular only about 2-3 years ago, and each year it becomes more and more trendy. Tulum is also a large town (although not as large and developed as Playa del Carmen. Tulum’s population is only 18,000 people while Playa del Carmen has over 250,000 inhabitants).

Most of Tulum is located away from the beach (about 5-30 minutes driving or 15-60 minutes cycling to the beach), and only the most expensive hotels are located on the beach – near Playa Paraiso or in Zona Hotelera. If you’re curious about Tulum and different neighbourhoods within the town, head to my post explaining the best areas to stay in Tulum!

Just like Playa del Carmen, Tulum is also a party place, however, Tulum is also all about yoga and spirituality. People staying in Zona Hotelera usually come there to party, while people staying further away, come to relax, do some yoga or live in Tulum for a while as digital nomads.

Now let’s compare Tulum and Playa del Carmen in different categories, so you can understand a bit better how these two compare.

Playa del Carmen vs Tulum: where are the best beaches?

When it comes to beaches while comparing Playa del Carmen vs Tulum, I must say that Tulum’s beaches are far superior. The beaches in Playa del Carmen are average (unless you’re ready to walk for 1 hour on the beach to reach nice beaches near Palmaia in PLAYACAR, but I doubt you would want to walk there every day). The beaches in Tulum, on the other hand, are absolutely stunning. Tulum has a very long stretch of the beach full of palm trees and it also has some stunning beach clubs that make the beach look even better.

If you go to another beach in Tulum (public beach Playa Paraiso) next to the Archeological site, it’s equally impressive. So yes, Tulum is much better than Playa del Carmen when it comes to the beaches (the problem in Tulum is actually getting to the beach if you find hotels on the beach a bit too pricy).

Playa del Carmen vs Tulum: things to do nearby

When it comes to things to do nearby, both places are amazing for exploring Riviera Maya. Tulum isn’t that far from Playa del Carmen (just about 45 minutes driving), so you can easily reach the same landmarks (apart from Cozumel – the ferries there depart from Playa del Carmen). However, the rest of the attractions in Riviera Maya are easily accessible from both locations.

I would say that Tulum has probably slightly more places to visit if you want to visit some nature spots. It’s located very close to Sian Ka’an Biological reserve and also has a lot of cenotes nearby!

Finally, if you decide to visit Chichen Itza, it’s even easier (and cheaper) to drive there from Tulum! Read my post about driving to Chichen Itza from Tulum & Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen vs Tulum: which one to pick (depending on what you want)?

If you still think about whether to choose Tulum vs Playa del Carmen, think of what would you like to do. If you want to stay on a budget lower than $300 a day and at the same time be close to the beach, then you can pick Playa del Carmen. Tulum is very expensive if you’re planning to stay close to the beach.

If you’re coming to Mexico only for a long weekend and you have a healthy budget, then I would definitely recommend staying in Tulum. If you want to party and be in the middle of all the events, you can stay closer to hotels like Ahau. If you want a quiet stay, pick a hotel closer to Rosa del Viento!

Should you want to party with your friends on a budget, then Playa del Carmen would be a better option as it has plenty of affordable bars and beach clubs.

If you have kids, then it probably makes sense to either stay towards the edge of Tulum (close to Rosa del Viento) or somewhere quiet in Playa del Carmen (e.g. Palmaia in PLAYACAR).

If you want photos, then Tulum is much better than Playa del Carmen, as you will see photo opportunities around every corner in Tulum. Read my guide to the most Instagrammable hotels in Tulum.

If you’re visiting Mexico to spend your unforgettable honeymoon, I would definitely recommend Tulum over Playa del Carmen, however, there are plenty of other honeymoon-worthy destinations in Riviera Maya, such as Punta Maroma, Mayakoba and some others. I recommend reading this guide to spending your honeymoon in Riviera Maya, as it tells you about all the places in more detail and provides you with the best places to stay there for the honeymoon!

Finally, if you want to work remotely and stay somewhere for a while, Tulum still has a lot of issues with internet (there is almost no reception on the beaches in Zona Hotelera, so you won’t be able to receive calls) and even in Tulum town, there are places with no reception. Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, has the best connectivity in Riviera Maya and has a lot of hotels and apartments suitable for remote work (e.g. we recommend Serenity Hotel Boutique – we rented a suite and were working from there for 4 days – the internet connection was faster than we have at home in London).

If you have an opportunity or you’re coming to Riviera Maya for longer than 1 week, maybe it makes sense to split your holiday into two parts and stay in both Playa del Carmen and Tulum, so you can understand which one you like more!

Check the prices of flights to Cancun International Airport now!

Some other posts about Riviera Maya that you might find useful:

How to do Playa del Carmen on a budget – tips on saving money in Mexico

The most Insragrammable hotels in Tulum

Cancun vs Riviera Maya: which one to choose

The guide to the best beach clubs in Playa del Carmen

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