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Choosing Between Cancun vs Tulum for an Unforgettable Family Vacation

Choosing Between Cancun vs Tulum for an Unforgettable Family Vacation

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Are you debating between a Cancun or Tulum vacation? Keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about choosing a trip to Cancun vs Tulum.
This comparison of Cancun vs Tulum was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Are you trying to decide between Cancun vs Tulum for an unforgettable family vacation?

Rest assured, you aren’t the only one! Cancun and Tulum are glorious beach destinations, with a high-end hotel zone filled with luxury hotels, tons of adventure, cultural history, and so much more.

Both Tulum and Cancun are located on the Yucatan Peninsula, so you can’t go wrong. However, each Mexican vacation spot has its own merits.

For example, Cancun is a larger city with more hustle and bustle. Tulum, on the other hand, has a more laid-back atmosphere that caters to peace.

We’ll dive deep into the differences between Cancun vs Tulum, so you’ll be prepared and ready to plan your next relaxing beach vacation.

Keep reading to learn everything you need about Tulum and Cancun.

Overview of Yucatan Peninsula

Nestled in the southeast corner of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is a captivating paradise extending into the Caribbean Sea.

This breathtaking region borders the Caribbean coastline to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the north.

Image of El Castillo, the central piece of the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum, Mexico, sits atop the cliffside overlooking the Caribbean sea.
The Yucatan Peninsula is a region in southeastern Mexico, known for its rich Mayan history.

So, if you’re looking for luxurious beach destinations, you can’t go wrong with any coastal towns and cities along the shore here.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, adventurer, nature lover, or seeker of cultural immersion, the Yucatan Peninsula delivers diverse activities and attractions.

From exploring the Mayan ruins to taking a dip in the mesmerizing cenotes unique to this area alone to sitting back and indulging in the array of delicious food and drinks, there’s an abundance of wonders sitting along this coast of Mexico, just waiting to be discovered.

Cancun and Tulum are located on the Yucatan coast, about 80 miles (130 km) from one another. But they each offer a unique glimpse into life and vacation in the Yucatan.

When to Visit Tulum vs Cancun

Cancun and Tulum are very close, meaning similar weather and climate trends exist. November to March is perfect if you’re looking for the best temperatures.

Hurricanes end around November, so you’ll get the post-hurricane season calm. And while summer months get extremely hot, rainy, and humid, the winter months are much dryer and cooler.

Check out the best all inclusive Cancun resorts for families recommended by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of Beach umbrellas made of straw on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Mexico
The shoulder season is a great time to visit Cancun and Tulum.

If you want to save a little money, the shoulder months (November and March/April) are the best. This is just before it gets hectic, but still with reasonably lovely weather.

December through February tend to be the busiest times in Cancun and Tulum. The busy season usually brings much larger crowds and sometimes even higher prices.

If you’re looking for something different, you could plan your trip to this side of Mexico during the spring or fall equinox, when there is a big equinox celebration at Chichen Itza (not too far from Cancun or Tulum).

Getting to Cancun vs Tulum

Cancun International Airport is the central hub for those traveling anywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula or around Quintana Roo. The airport is just outside Cancun Central, about 14 miles (23 km) from the Cancun hotel zone.

Runway in Cancun Airport, Mexico
You’ll want to fly into Cancun International Airport.

If you’re staying in downtown Cancun or the hotel zone, you can easily take an ADO Cancun to Tulum bus, taxi, or shuttle service from Cancun airport to your accommodation.

If traveling further away, you can take an ADO from Cancun airport to downtown Tulum. Tulum is about 80 miles (130 km) from Cancun, and the ADO bus should take around 2 hours.

The ADO is located just outside the airport, and you can buy tickets directly at the bus pick-up or a small stand just after baggage claim.

ADO services all major regional locations, including downtown Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and other places along the Riviera Maya.

Where to Stay in Tulum vs Cancun

There are several Tulum hotels, from little boutique hotels (best in Tulum) to larger all-inclusive resorts (best in Cancun), perfect for spring break or any other visit.

So, whether you’re looking for something small and mellow for the family, or something exquisite and luxurious, you’ll be able to find whatever you need between the two destinations.

Let’s look at some of the top kid-friendly resorts in Tulum and Cancun.

Best Kid-Friendly Tulum Resorts

Una Vida

Una Vida is a spacious high-end resort in Tulum town, close to all the best restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and popular local bars.

This hotel is perfect for families because of its large variety of rooming options. Check rates here.

Una Vida

Una Vida offers a three-bedroom private house with two king beds, two large twin beds, and one double sofa bed. So, there’s guaranteed a comfortable space for the entire family.

In addition, the hotel has two large swimming pools, breakfast included, and babysitting and laundry services. The hotel even allows pets at an extra charge.

This is the best option for families that want the convenience of being situated in downtown Tulum while providing enough space for everyone. Check the latest rates and availabilities.

El Paraiso Hotel Tulum

El Paraiso Hotel Tulum describes itself as a “beach spa retreat, walking distance from Playa Paraiso,” And who wouldn’t want exactly that?

El Paraiso is a high-end beach spa retreat in Tulum’s hotel zone right on the beach, where the waves kiss the shore, and the birds sing through the jungle. Check rates here.

El Paraiso Hotel Tulum

El Paraiso Hotel Tulum is another perfect choice for families looking for accommodation in the hotel zone, as the rooms and services are very family-friendly, and the hotel will provide extra beds by request.

This hotel has a highly-rated spa, a beach club for guests, and all the other amenities you can imagine. Check the latest rates and availabilities.

Hotel Tiki Tiki

Hotel Tiki Tiki is an Art Deco Tulum hotel located in the neighborhood of La Veleta.

While Hotel Tiki Tiki isn’t in either the downtown area or the hotel zone, it sits very close to the Tulum ruins and is very walkable to almost anywhere downtown. Check rates here.

Hotel Tiki Tiki

Hotel Tiki Tiki looks like a large house on the outside but feels like a luxurious boutique hotel on the inside. The staff are all very friendly and attentive. And the hotel also offers extra beds/cribs upon request, bicycle rentals, and direct beach access.

Hotel Tiki Tiki does have breakfast included and is also near some of the best taco stands and Mexican restaurants in the area (like La Taquieria Pinches Taco Shop). Check the latest rates and availabilities.

Best Kid-Friendly Cancun Resorts

Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun – All Inclusive

The Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach is a beautiful hotel and one of Cancun’s best all-inclusive hotels.

So, it offers luxury, comfort, and every other service (including food, drinks, and rentals) you may need during your relaxing vacation. Check rates here.

Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach

The hotel rooms are spacious, and you can choose the style and size that best fits your needs. They offer traditional suites, one-bedroom suites, two-bedroom suites, and more.

The hotel also has a kids’ pool, kids club, playground, and family game room. Check the latest rates and availabilities.

Hotel Casa Maya – Near Langosta Beach

Hotel Casa Maya is another luxury hotel only a three-minute walk from Langosta Beach (one of the most beautiful beaches in Cancun).

And this hotel is also Cancun’s hotel zone, so you’ll be within walking distance from restaurants, shopping malls, beach clubs, other Cancun hotels, and stunning beaches. Check rates here.

Hotel Casa Maya

Hotel Casa Maya has several accommodation offers, perfect for families and travelers of any size. You can choose one of the classic suites or a larger Ambassador Suite that sleeps up to six people.

Hotel Casa Maya is especially popular amongst families for the kids’ pool, playground, and close proximity to Cancun’s beach and other tourist destinations. Check the latest rates and availabilities.

Residence Inn by Marriott Cancun Hotel Zone

Residence Inn is one of the many chain hotels in Cancun’s hotel zone but is still considered luxury with many desirable amenities.

Although it’s technically in the hotel zone, it’s just on the outskirts, which means it doesn’t have a private beach. Check rates here.

Residence Inn

That being said, it’s only a 4-minute drive from Playa Delfines. It also has two outdoor pools, including a rooftop pool with stunning views of everything Cancun offers.

Residence Inn has several accommodations, including single-room studios and multi-room suites with kitchens. Breakfast is included for everyone in the room, and extra cribs can be requested. Check the latest rates and availabilities.

Best Things to Do in Cancun and Tulum

Things to do in Cancun with Kids

Explore Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is the #1 thing to do in Cancun with kids. As one of the seven wonders of the modern world, it attracts tourists from every corner of the globe.

It’s so monumental visiting Cancun doesn’t feel complete without a day trip to this wonderous Mayan ruin.

Kukulkan pyramid in Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.
I highly recommend a day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun.

While you can visit Chichen Itza from Cancun and Tulum, Cancun’s central proximity and large city vibes make getting there slightly easier.

This all-inclusive tour from Cancun includes a comprehensive tour of the ruins and a stop at a stunning cenote. Check the latest rates and availability.

Catamarn Tour to Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a beautiful island off the coast of Cancun, making it so easy to hop on over during your family holiday.

perfect tropical sea landscape. island Isla Mujeres (Women Island). Mexico, Yucatan
Isla Mujeres is a fun Cancun day trip.

While Tulum and Cancun tend to have a more active nightlife scene, Isla Mujeres moves at a much closer (and more relaxing) pace.

One of the best ways to visit Isla Mujeres is on a catamaran tour. This all-inclusive catamaran tour includes transportation, snacks, an open bar, and snorkeling. Check the latest rates and availability.

Spend a Day at the Beach Clubs

We all know how beautiful Cancun beaches are; they are trendy. And one of the best ways to truly enjoy the beach zone here is at one of the many beach clubs around Cancun.

While Cancun and Tulum have great beach clubs, Cancun has many more options due to the city’s size.

While some beach clubs have more of a party scene, many cater to families. This is a great place for everyone to sit back and relax in the beach chairs while the kids enjoy the pools or play areas.

These are some popular beach clubs for families and travelers:

  • Mandala Beach Club
  • Cocos Beach Club
  • Delirio Day Club

Learn at the Mayan Museum

The Mayan Museum is located near the Cancun hotel zone and shouldn’t be missed, especially for those that want to focus on a well-rounded cultural experience alongside beach club fun.

And even though it’s near the Cancun hotel zone, it feels like the perfect quick escape from the huge hotels and nightclubs that can sometimes feel overwhelming.

After all, it’s an engaging exhibit on Mayan history and art and a rather large exhibition of ancient Mayan artifacts.

If you want to make the most of the cultural experience, consider a comprehensive tour for the family so you can better understand the Mayan history and Cancun’s culture.

This private tour is great for the whole family and includes a guided tour of the Mayan museum, a trip to a cenote, and lunch. Check the latest rates and availability.

Go on an ATV Adventure

Cancun is so much more than the beach, believe it or not. The beautiful surrounding nature makes it the perfect place for an all-out adventure.

One of the most fun things to do is book an ATV adventure tour, which often includes ziplines, cenotes, and other exciting activities.

While not all tours are recommended for children, some cater to families. This ATV adventure tour is family-friendly and has ATV exploring, zip lines, interactive bridges, a cenote, lunch, and transportation. Check the latest rates and availability.

Things to do in Tulum with Kids

Visit Tulum Ruins

While you can (and should, if you’re interested in Mayan history) venture out to Chichen Itza, you can also stay closer to home to explore some ancient ruins.

The Tulum ruins are right near the center, with its own access to a beautiful Tulum beach.

Ancient mayan ruins at the Tulum archaeological site, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
It’s worth checking out the ancient Mayan ruins at the Tulum archaeological site.

The Tulum ruins are small but still have a lot to offer. And they have arguably one of the best views, as the ruins sit right on a ledge overlooking the beautiful Caribbean sea.

Coba ruins are also not too far from Tulum. Consider a guided tour of both if you want to get two birds with one stone.

This is a full-day archeological tour of the Tulum and Coba ruins, with lunch included. Check the latest rates and availability.

Swim with Sea Turtles

While Tulum beaches are something else, the small town is also very close to Akumal – one of the best places to swim with sea turtles in the Riviera Maya.

Akumal is a great place to go swimming with turtles in Mexico.

Akumal is a small beach town comprising all-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, and private beaches. However, they also have a thriving reef and a good chance of swimming alongside sea turtles.

This tour from Tulum includes a swim at a cenote and a guided snorkel tour with sea turtles in Akumal. Check the latest rates and availability.

Spend a Full Day at Cenotes

There are some amazing cenotes near Tulum, and you shouldn’t miss them.

If you want a break from the Tulum beaches or are simply trying to escape some emerging seaweed (or sargasso), you can easily spend a whole day exploring some of the many cenotes.

Swimmeres in X-Canche cenote in Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. This cenote is 30 km from center of town Valladolid near Mayan site Ek Balam. Yucatan peninsula, Mexico.
X-Canche is one of the many cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Cenotes are essentially natural pits, or sinkholes, that expose fresh groundwater. You can swim in closed cenotes (like a cave, with caverns and underwater tunnels) or open cenotes (like a lake in the middle of the jungle).

This four-cenote tour from Tulum takes you to some of the most popular cenotes. Check the latest rates and availability.

Take a Sian Kaan Boat Trip

Sian Kaan is a designated reserve established in 1986 and has an area of 75 miles (120 km), and is known to be the largest protected reserve in the entire Mexican Caribbean.

As it’s only 20 minutes away from Tulum, it’s the perfect place to explore. And there are so many different activities in Sian Kaan to accommodate the entire family, whether you’re more into snorkeling and lounging or exploring and adventuring.

While you can easily take a taxi or car rentals to Sian Kaan, you can also take a boat tour from Tulum.

This tour includes snorkeling, a tour around the local lagoons, and lunch on a sandbar. Check the latest rates and availability.

Go to an Adventure Park

There are many exciting adventure parks around Tulum and the Riviera Maya. The adventure parks here are something to discuss; they often include ziplining, cenotes, waterparks, cultural shows, food, and so much more.

It’s easy to get carried away in all the excitement and thrilling activities. This isn’t the best activity for young children, but it can be fun for adventurous families.

This tour takes you to Selva Maya, one of the best adventure parks near Tulum. It includes professional guides, lunch, and all the activities. Check the latest rates and availability.

Scuba Diving in Tulum vs Cancun

Both Tulum vs Cancun have some incredible scuba diving opportunities, although slightly different.

In Cancun, you can scuba dive in some pretty epic locations right off the shore. Manchones Reef is a popular spot for those hoping to catch lively marine life and beautiful reefs.

Image of someone scuba diving in a cenote in Mexico
Cenotes offer some interesting scuba diving opportunities.

However, Cancun is most known for its unique underwater museum. With over 500 underwater statues, this is a fun spot to scuba dive and explore, as it offers a different experience to divers.

Speaking of different experiences, Tulum is the perfect gateway to scuba diving the breathtaking freshwater cenotes. Cenotes are caverns and are connected by hundreds and thousands of underwater tunnels.

You can take a break from Tulum Beach and explore the marvelous freshwater system.

Beaches in Cancun vs Tulum

Beaches in Cancun vs Tulum is another tough call. Both locations have access to great beach clubs, long stretches of white sand, and turquoise-blue waters.

Playa Delfines in Cancun Mexico
Playa Delfines in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun beaches tend to be a little more crowded, with many resorts and spring break visitors. The Tulum beach, on the other hand, is often more spacious and open.

However, Tulum’s city center is a few miles away from Tulum Beach, so it isn’t as convenient as Cancun (where you can easily talk from one place to another).

Day Trips from Cancun and Tulum

Popular Cancun Day Trips

Tulum

If you decide to stay in Cancun but don’t want to miss out, you can easily take a day trip to Tulum. Tulum is only 81 miles (131 km) from Cancun and is easily accessible by car, bus, or taxi.

Ruins of the Mayan fortress and temple near Tulum, Mexico
This is a temple near Tulum.

Tulum is a popular destination, so you wouldn’t want to miss this chance if you could make the time. The best thing to do is take a day to visit all the incredible cenotes around Tulum. There are a lot of Cancun tours to Tulum that operate Cancun day trips to Tulum.

This tour from Cancun includes a tour of Tulum, a cenote near Tulum, Coba ruins, and Playa del Carmen. Check the latest rates and availability.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a beautiful island, only 12 miles (20 km) off the coast of Cancun. The ferry terminal to head to Isla Mujeres is very close to Cancun Center, so it’s pretty easy to get here and spend a day on the island.

Isla Mujeres Mexico boats turquoise Caribbean sea Quintana Roo

Isla Mujeres is most known for the stunning Playa Norte, supposedly one of the best beaches in the Caribbean Sea. This is a must-see if you have the time while in Cancun.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a smaller town, about 42 miles (68 km) from downtown Cancun. Playa del Carmen is known for its lively nightlife (which even rivals Cancun’s nightlife), cute boutique hotels, and beautiful beaches.

Aerial view of Playa del Carmen public beach in Quintana roo, Mexico
Playa del Carmen is worth a day trip.

Playa is also on the way to Tulum and near many famous cenotes, so you can easily stop here and explore this whole area of the Riviera Maya.

The place to be in Playa is right on Fifth Avenue, and the beach that runs parallel to it. Fifth Avenue is a fun walking street with many bars, restaurants, shops, and souvenirs for everyone.

Popular Tulum Day Trips

Cancun

If you decide to stay in Tulum but feel like missing out, you can take a day trip to Cancun. The buses run frequently, and it only takes about 2 hours on the main highway.

Check out these essential Cancun travel tips for first-timers recommended by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. View of beautiful Hotels in the hotel zone of Cancun. Riviera Maya region in Quintana roo on Yucatan Peninsula. Aerial panoramic view ofallinclusive resorts
Cancun has a lot more action than Tulum.

While people in Tulum tend to be more laid-back and low-key, people in Cancun tend to be more lively and energetic. So, it might be good to spice up your vacation with something different.

Valladolid

Valladolid is a small town inland from the Caribbean Sea, nestled within the magnificent jungle. It’s a popular starting point for those visiting Chichen Itza and other nearby cenotes.

Night view of Valladolid sign and San Bernardino Convent in Valladolid, Mexico
Valladolid is a cute town.

However, it’s a cute town all on its own, and you can just as easily spend a whole day walking through the quiet streets and admiring the central park.

If you tour Chichen Itza, you will likely make a quick shop in Valladolid anywhere. For example, this popular tour to Chichen Itza also includes a stop in Valladolid and a cenote.

Bacalar

Tulum is not too far from the unforgettable Bacalar, often called “the lagoon of seven colors.”

Laguna de Bacalar Lagoon pier in Mayan Mexico at Quintana roo
You’ll want to see this lagoon in person!

Bacalar is 133 miles (215 km) from Tulum, and you can take a 3.5-hour bus ride from Tulum’s ADO station to the center of Bacalar.

While you’ll have to leave early to make the most of your time, it’s one of North America’s most stunning lagoons so it would be worth the trip.

Can You Do Both Cancun and Tulum?

Yes, you can do both Cancun and Tulum! They are only about 2-hours apart, and it’s easy to travel between the two popular Mexican destinations. If you visit Cancun, you will certainly want to take at least one day to discover Tulum.

How to Get to Tulum from Cancun

If you’re wondering how to get to Tulum Mexico, you’re in luck! There are no direct flights between Tulum and Cancun, but don’t worry; you won’t need that!

Cancun vs Tulum are only 80 miles (130 km) apart. The best way to travel between the towns is by bus.

You can take the ADO (Mexico’s premier bus company that services all of Quintana Roo) between Cancun and Tulum. You can take an ADO from downtown Cancun at:

Calle Pino, Súper Manzana 23, Manzana 56, Lotes 1 y 2, 77500, Cancún

Or, you can take an ADO bus directly from the Cancun International Airport to Tulum. Conversely, you can take a private shuttle from Cancun to Tulum or Cancun Airport to Tulum.

You can also take a colectivo from Cancun to Tulum. Colectivos, which are just small minivans, are the local transportation. The colectivo station in Cancun is just across the street from the ADO station in Cancun.

If you take a colectivo from Cancun to Tulum, you will first take a colectivo to Playa del Carmen and quickly switch to a colectivo from Playa to Tulum.

You can also do the same trip in reverse from Tulum Mexico to Cancun with relative ease.

Cancun vs Tulum FAQs

Are the beaches nicer in Cancun or Tulum?

Both Cancun vs Tulum have lovely beaches. Cancun’s beaches are more crowded, as there are many more resorts. And Tulum’s beaches, further away from the city center, are quieter and more reserved most of the time.

Is Tulum in Cancun?

No, Tulum is not in Cancun. Both Tulum and Cancun are in the Riviera Maya or the state of Yucatan, Mexico. But Tulum is about 2 hours from Cancun.

Is it worth going to Tulum from Cancun?

Yes, it is worth going to Tulum from Cancun. Tulum is an entirely different place. It’s serene, relaxed, and welcoming. It might be a nice change of pace if you’re staying in Cancun.

Why is Tulum so special?

Tulum is unique because it can offer the complete package; historic Mayan ruins, beautiful beaches with calm waters and long stretches of sand, and lush jungle encasing the small town.

While it’s gotten more popular over the years, it also holds a quintessential charm that feels different from most other vacation hubs.

Is Tulum or Cancun better?

Some might argue for Tulum when answering the question is Tulum better than Cancun? Tulum is very different from Cancun, so it’s hard to say which is better. Tulum is much more laid-back, whereas Cancun is more of a bustling city. Both are beautiful places in Mexico, with a lot of exciting activities.

Is Tulum more expensive than Cancun?

Cancun and Tulum are two of the most expensive cities and towns in the Yucatan Peninsula, even if they are affordable compared to a lot of U.S. vacation destinations. However, it’s easier to travel on a budget in Cancun compared to Tulum.

Final Verdict on Cancun vs Tulum for Families

It’s hard to compare Cancun vs Tulum because they are both such beautiful locations that are highly renowned as well-deserved beach destinations.

However, there are some key differences. Cancun is a large city near one of the busiest international airports in Mexico. It has more of a hustle, more of a party scene, and many more families.

Tulum, on the other hand, is more laid-back. It encompasses more of a naturalistic approach compared to the city vibes in Cancun. Tulum is also closer to the important ruins, cenotes, and other critical points of the cultural history of the Riviera.

Both Cancun vs Tulum are great places for the family. It depends on what you’re looking for.

Do you want a lively city with easy accessibility and endless beaches on your doorstep? Or do you enjoy a calming jungle-inspired atmosphere with many ruins and cenotes to explore?

Looking for more Mexico travel resources? Check out my top Cancun tips for first-timers, Cabo tips for first-timers, best places to visit in Mexico, how to book a Cabo photo shoot, best all-inclusive Cabo resorts for families, Cabo vs Cancun, Playa del Carmen family resorts, top all-inclusive Mexico family resorts, best Cancun day trips, and the best all-inclusive Cancun resorts for families!

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