If you’re trying to decide whether to go to Playa del Carmen vs Tulum for your next Mexican vacation, you’re in luck! I’m a big fan of both destinations, and I’m here to help you decide which one is right for you. In fact, I was **thisclose** to moving to Playa del Carmen with my dog, Andre, instead of our big move to Europe – as wonderful as I’m sure it would have been for us, we wouldn’t have the rest of our family members had that been the case! Anyway, in this post, I’ll compare and contrast the two beach destinations on the Yucatan Peninsula and tell you about my experiences there. So read on, and hopefully by the end you’ll have a little better idea of where you want to go!

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How to Get There – Playa del Carmen vs Tulum

Two images side by side, of a hammock in Playa del Carmen and a hammock in Tulum.

Whether you’re visiting Tulum or Playa del Carmen, if you are arriving by plane you will land at Cancun Airport (CUN). This is the nearest airport to both of these Caribbean coast destinations. When considering getting to Playa del Carmen vs Tulum from the airport, Playa del Carmen wins, as it is closer in proximity. Still, Tulum is not too much farther, so it doesn’t make all that much of a difference all else considered equal.

Getting There – Playa del Carmen

There are several companies that offer transportation from the airport to Playa del Carmen, and the prices vary depending on the company and the type of service you choose.

Most people opt for the bus or shuttle service, as it is the most economical option. You can take an ADO bus from the airport. The buses leave every 20-30 minutes and the ride into Playa del Carmen takes about 1 hour. Tickets cost around $9 USD per person.

Taxis are also a popular choice, as they are generally faster and more comfortable than buses or shuttles. However, taxis are more expensive than other options. You can find them right outside of the arrivals terminal. A one-way trip will cost you around $45-50 USD and should take about 45 minutes depending on traffic.

If you are looking for the most convenient way to get to Playa del Carmen from Cancun Airport, a private transfer is your best bet. Private transfers are generally faster and more comfortable than other options, and they can be customized to meet your specific needs. This is often more expensive than taking a taxi but can be more convenient if you are traveling with a lot of luggage or have small children.

Getting there – Tulum

There are a few different ways to get from Cancun International Airport to Tulum. You can take a bus, shuttle, taxi, or private transfer.

If you’re taking a bus, the best option is to take the ADO bus. The ADO bus station is located in Terminal 3 of the airport. From there, you can take a direct bus to Tulum. The journey takes about 2 hours and costs around $9 USD.

Shuttles are also an option for getting from the airport to Tulum. There are various companies that offer this service, and the price will depend on which company you choose. Shuttle journeys usually take around 1.5 hours and cost between $25-30 USD.

Taxis are available 24 hours a day at the airport. A taxi from the airport to Tulum will cost around $60-70 USD and the journey takes around 2 hours.

If you want to avoid the hassle of public transport, you can book a private transfer instead. This door-to-door service will take you directly from the airport to your accommodation in Tulum. Prices start at around $80 USD.


How to Get Around Playa del Carmen vs Tulum

Two images side by side, one of a jet ski in Playa del Carmen and one of a cenote in Tulum.

There is no easy answer when it comes to deciding whether Playa del Carmen or Tulum is the better place to visit as a tourist. Both destinations have their pros and cons in terms of accessibility and ease of navigation. 

However, overall, Playa del Carmen may be slightly more user-friendly for first-time visitors due to its larger size and more developed infrastructure. Tulum, on the other hand, boasts a more laid-back atmosphere and is renowned for its natural beauty, making it a popular choice for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Ultimately, the best decision is to research both options in advance and choose the destination that best suits your individual needs and preferences.

Getting Around Playa del Carmen

Because Playa del Carmen is relatively small, many visitors find that they can easily get around by foot. Most of the tourist areas are located close to each other, so you can easily explore on foot. However, if you want to go further afield or explore more of the city, there are plenty of transportation options available.

The public bus system in Playa del Carmen is efficient and inexpensive. You can purchase tickets at any of the bus stops, and the buses run frequently. Taxis are also widely available, and they are typically metered. Finally, many hotels offer shuttle services to and from the airport or other popular attractions.

Most visitors find that Playa del Carmen is safe to walk around, even at night. However, as with any destination, it is always advisable to take caution when walking in unfamiliar areas or after dark. If you do feel unsafe at any time, there are plenty of taxis and other transportation options available to help you get to your destination safely.

Getting Around Tulum

There are a few different ways to get around Tulum. You can walk, take a bus, or rent a bicycle or scooter. The city is small and relatively flat, so it’s easy to get around on foot. However, it can be quite hot during the day, so you may want to consider other options if you’re not used to walking in the heat.

The local buses are called “colectivos” and they run regularly throughout the day. They’re a cheap and easy way to get around, but they can be crowded during peak times. They are the small white buses that stop at the main bus station in Pueblo.

If you’re looking for a more fun and festive way to get around, you can rent a bicycle or scooter. This is a great option if you’re traveling with friends or family. Just be sure to wear a helmet and drive safely!

Tulum is generally a safe place for tourists, but it’s always best to exercise caution when walking around at night. Stick to well-lit areas and avoid walking alone if possible.


Which has Better Beaches – Playa del Carmen vs Tulum

Two images side by side, a beach in Playa del Carmen and a beach in Tulum.

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico and are trying to decide between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, you might be wondering which one has the better beaches. Both destinations have stunning sandy shores and turquoise waters, but there are some key differences that can help you make your decision.

Playa del Carmen’s beaches tend to be more developed, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops lining the shore. This can be great if you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, but it also means that the beaches can be more crowded. Tulum’s beaches, on the other hand, are much more natural and secluded. You’ll find fewer people and more opportunities to relax in peace. However, this also means that there are fewer amenities, so you’ll need to be prepared to bring your own food and drinks.

When it comes to the quality of the sand and water, both Playa del Carmen and Tulum boast beautiful beaches. However, some of Playa del Carmen’s shoreline is man-made, which means that the sand is often more powdery than Tulum’s. The water in both destinations is clean and clear, although Tulum’s may have a slight advantage in terms of visibility.

So, which has better beaches – Playa del Carmen or Tulum? It really depends on what you’re looking for in a beach vacation. If you want a lively atmosphere with plenty of things to do, then Playa del Carmen is a great choice. If you’re looking for a more relaxed and natural setting, then Tulum is the place for you. Whichever destination you choose, you’re sure to enjoy your time on the beach!

Beaches in Playa del Carmen

There is no doubt that the beaches in Playa del Carmen are some of the best in Mexico. With warm, clear waters and plenty of activities to keep you busy, it’s no wonder that Playa del Carmen is such a popular destination.

Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach or take part in some water sports, there’s something for everyone at the beaches in Playa del Carmen. 

If you’re looking for a place to party, then head to Mamitas Beach Club. This beach club is known for its lively atmosphere and amazing parties. There’s always something going on at Mamitas Beach Club, and you’re sure to have a great time if you visit.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, then Playa del Carmen has plenty of those beaches too. Xpu-Ha beach is one of the most popular beaches for families, as it’s calm and shallow waters make it perfect for swimming and playing in the sand.

Playa del Carmen beaches are definitely worth a visit even if you end up basing yourself in Tulum.

Beaches in Tulum

Some of the best beaches in Tulum can be found on the north side of town. This is where you’ll find Playa Paraiso, which is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. It’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars nearby if you need a break from the sun.

If you’re looking for a more secluded beach experience, Playa Maya is worth a visit. It’s a bit further away from town, but it’s well worth the effort. The water here is crystal clear and perfect for swimming, and there are very few people around. It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet.

If you are looking for a more quiet and relaxing beach, then you should check out Soliman Bay. This bay is located on the east coast of Tulum and it is known for its calm water and beautiful scenery. It is a great place to go for a swim, relax, and take in the view. There are also many restaurants and bars in the area, so you can find something to eat or drink while enjoying the beach.

Both Tulum and Playa del Carmen have beaches that are sure to make you forget life back home. Who wants to think about work anyway, with white sand beaches and clear, turquoise waters?


Things to do in Playa del Carmen vs Tulum

There are definitely more things to do in Playa del Carmen than in Tulum. Playa del Carmen has a lot more shops, restaurants, and bars, as well as a lively nightlife scene. There are also more activities and excursions to choose from in Playa del Carmen, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, etc. 

However, Tulum, in my opinion, has more varied activities. Everything from beach parties to yoga classes, Mayan ruins and nature reserves. 

When considering Playa del Carmen vs Tulum and who wins in the battle of ‘things to do’, this one largely falls on your interests. 

Me, personally, not being a club person and taking an interest in yoga and spirituality, Tulum wins, hands down. 

Things to do in Playa del Carmen

Two images side by side, Xcaret, a water park in Playa del Carmen, and the Tulum ruins.

There’s no shortage of things to do in Playa del Carmen. Whether you’re looking for museums and historical sites, fun events and parties, or just unique experiences, there’s something for everyone. Here are some of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen:

  • Visit the Museo de Arte Popular Mexicano – This museum is a great way to learn about Mexican culture and art. It features a variety of traditional and contemporary pieces, making it a must-see for any art lover. Other museums worth checking out include the Museo Nacional de Arte Popular and the Casa Cenote.
  • Go to Xcaret Park – Xcaret Park is an ecological and archaeological theme park that offers a variety of activities and attractions. You can explore the park’s Mayan ruins, swim in its underground rivers, or take a tour of its butterfly sanctuary.

Things to do in Tulum

There are many great things to do in Tulum, including visiting museums, attending events and parties, and having amazing experiences. Here are some of the best things to do in Tulum:

  • Visit the Tulum Archaeological Site: The Tulum Archaeological Site is a must-see for anyone visiting Tulum. The site includes the well-preserved remains of a Mayan city, as well as a number of temples and other buildings. Visitors can also take a swim in the nearby cenote (natural pool).
  • Attend a Party at one of Tulum’s Many Beach Clubs: Tulum is home to a number of world-famous beach clubs, such as Maya Beach Club and Ziggy Marley’s UMA. Parties at these clubs are always a good time, with great music and plenty of dancing.
  • Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a protected area that is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. Visitors can take part in activities such as bird watching, hiking, and canoeing.
  • Visit the Cobá Archaeological Site: The Cobá Archaeological Site is another must-see for anyone interested in Mayan history. The site includes a number of well-preserved ruins, as well as a large pyramid that visitors can climb.
  • Take a Yoga Class: There are many yoga retreats in Tulum, as it is one of the best yoga destinations in the world. Ground, center, and focus on yourself for a class, whether it’s 45 minutes or 90 minutes while you tune the rest of the world out and turn inwards.

Day Trips from Playa del Carmen & Tulum

Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza ancient city, a day trip from Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
Chichen Itza

There are a number of different day trips that you can take from Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Both cities offer a variety of activities and sights to see, so it really depends on what you’re interested in. Given the close proximity of Playa del Carmen to Tulum, most of the day trips can be done whether you’re based in one city or the other. One may take a little longer, but not too much. 

Cancun would be one example of a day trip that’s significantly closer to Playa del Carmen than Tulum.

If you’re looking for some adventure, there are a number of different archaeological sites that you can explore around the area. Chichen Itza and Coba are two of the most popular options and are definitely worth a visit. Tulum to Chichen Itza or Coba are slightly closer than coming from Playa del Carmen. The Tulum ruins could be done as a day trip from Playa del Carmen – you can swim in Playa Ruinas afterwards, as the feeling of swimming beneath the ancient stone buildings is something everyone should experience at least once. 

If you’re interested in something a little more relaxed, there are also many beautiful beaches that you can spend the day at. Try visiting Akumal to check out the giant sea turtles (just please don’t touch them!).

Both Playa del Carmen and Tulum offer a great selection of day trips, so it really depends on what you’re interested in.


Shopping in Playa del Carmen or Tulum

Shopping in Playa del Carmen

There are plenty of shopping options in Playa del Carmen, from local markets to luxury boutiques.

For a taste of the local flavor, head to one of the many markets scattered around town. You’ll find everything from fresh produce to handmade souvenirs. While Playa del Carmen is known for its luxury resorts, there are also plenty of shopping opportunities for those on a budget. 

For local markets, head to 5th Avenue where you’ll find a range of stalls selling everything from handmade jewelry to fresh produce. For something a little more upscale, check out the shops and boutiques along La Quinta Avenida.

And if you’re looking for the ultimate luxury shopping experience, Playa del Carmen is home to a number of high-end malls and designer stores. For the best selection, head to Plaza Las Americas or Centro Maya.

Shopping in Tulum

There are plenty of great places to go shopping in Tulum, whether you’re looking for local, authentic markets or luxury shops. 

For the best local markets, head to the Mercado Municipal or the Bazar de Artesanias, where you’ll find plenty of handmade goods and souvenirs. 

Mercado Municipal is the perfect place to find fresh produce and other locally-sourced goods. Located in the town centre, it’s also a great opportunity to soak up some of the area’s vibrant culture.

For a truly authentic Tulum shopping experience, head to Bazar de Artesanias where you’ll find handmade goods from local artisans. From jewellery to textiles, there’s plenty to choose from.

Paseo del Carmen is an outdoor shopping mall home to a variety of high-end stores, as well as restaurants and cafes. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for some retail therapy.

If you’re looking for luxury shopping, the El Pueblo Shopping Centre is the place to go, with its selection of high-end stores and restaurants. Whichever type of shopping you’re after, Tulum has something to suit everyone.


Nightlife Playa del Carmen vs Tulum

A beautiful white sand beach in Playa del Carmen.
PDC

Nightlife in Playa del Carmen vs Tulum is one of the starkest differences between the two destinations. While Playa del Carmen is a popular nightlife destination, Tulum is much more laid-back and chill with fewer club options and a more intimate bar scene. Personally, for me, Tulum wins this one as I’ve never been so into clubs. But, if you are, then Playa del Carmen is probably the better destination for you!

Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is well-known for its lively nightlife scene, so there’s no shortage of events and parties to enjoy. Clubbers will be in their element here, with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from. 

One of the great things about Playa del Carmen’s nightlife is that it’s so diverse. You can find everything from low-key lounges to rowdy bars and clubs. And, since the city is such a popular tourist destination, you’ll find people from all over the world enjoying the nightlife here.

If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, be sure to check out some of the city’s rooftop bars. These bars offer stunning views of Playa del Carmen and are the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail or two while watching the sunset.

The popular party street, Quinta Avenida, is lined with clubs and bars that stay open until the early hours of the morning. If you’re looking for a more laid-back atmosphere, there are also plenty of bars and pubs that offer a more relaxed vibe.

Hit up Senor Frogs for the infamous tequila conga line (my first of which was when I was *gasp* 15 years old!).

Nightlife in Tulum

If you’re looking for a lively nightlife scene, Tulum is not the place for you. Most bars and clubs close by midnight, and there is a distinct lack of big, flashy nightclubs. However, there are still plenty of places to enjoy a few drinks and some good music.

The majority of bars in Tulum are small and intimate, with a laid-back atmosphere. They focus on quality over quantity, and you’ll often find them playing host to live music performances. If you’re looking to dance the night away, there are a few places that stay open until late – but don’t expect anything too wild or rowdy.

Overall, the nightlife in Tulum is low-key and relaxed. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a few drinks with friends, and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this unique town.


Restaurants in Playa del Carmen & Tulum

Two images side by side of a steak in Playa del Carmen and tacos in Tulum.

If you’re trying to decide between Playa del Carmen and Tulum for your next vacation, one of the things you might be wondering about is the difference between the restaurants in the two areas. 

There are a few key differences that might make or break your decision to base yourself in Playa del Carmen vs Tulum for your vacation, depending on personal taste as well as dietary preference.


Restaurants in Playa del Carmen

Restaurants in Playa del Carmen have a pretty equal variety of both international cuisine and traditional Mexican fare. There are tons of seafood joints as well as plenty of casual places by the beach to enjoy a quick snack.

As a whole, the restaurants in Playa del Carmen are mostly casual places where you can grab shared appetizers or focus more on drinking than eating.

Favorite Restaurants in Playa del Carmen

Harry’s Steakhouse & Raw Bar

Very upscale, 5 star steakhouse experience. Try the Black Oynx Kobe Steak and Lobster Risotto – I couldn’t decide which was better. If he’s working, try to get a table in Adrian’s section!

Quinta Avenida 1-Lote 8B, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77710 Playa del Carmen

Axiote Cocina De México

Best Mexican food in PDC! Try the duck tacos for food, and you can’t go wrong with the mezcal flight for drinks.

Calle 34 Nte #128, Gonzalo Guerrero, 77720 Playa del Carmen

Restaurants in Tulum

Restaurants in Tulum are more focused on traditional Mexican dishes, with less international influence than in Playa del Carmen.

Tulum definitely has more vegan and vegetarian options than Playa del Carmen, as well as more healthy and nutritious restaurants from which to choose. 

Tulum’s restaurants tend to be more upscale as a whole than those in Playa del Carmen, so if you’re looking for some romantic date night options, Tulum is your better bet.

Favorite Restaurants in Tulum

Burrito Amor

Easily the top favorite restaurant among tourists who visit Tulum. Hands-down, the best burritos in the world! My favorite is smoked pork and pineapple (add grilled purple onion). Their breakfast burritos are bomb, too!

Av. Tulum Mz 05-Lote 03, Tulum Centro, Centro, 77760 Tulum

GAIAD TULUM

A bit of a hidden gem, as it’s never been too crowded when I’ve visited, which is unbelievable considering the quality of the food and the passion the chef puts into his dishes. They have a contemporary, upscale reinvention of Mexican classics. Anything on the menu is worth ordering, but I especially loved the aguachile with shrimp and pumpkin blossoms.

Calle Beta Nte. 11, Tulum Centro, 77780 Tulum


Hotels in Playa del Carmen or Tulum

One of tulum's beautiful hotels
A beautiful hotel in Tulum, Playa Esperanza

There are a few key differences between the hotels in Playa del Carmen and those in Tulum. First, the hotels in Playa del Carmen tend to be larger and more luxurious mega resorts, while the hotels in Tulum are smaller and more intimate. 

Second, the prices of hotels in Playa del Carmen are generally higher than those in Tulum. 

The atmosphere of the two locations is quite different – Playa del Carmen is livelier and more tourist-oriented, while Tulum is more laid-back and relaxed. Playa del Carmen hotels are also more likely to be all inclusive resorts, as Tulum does not have too many of those. 

Playa del Carmen’s hotels are mostly located in downtown Playa del Carmen as well as along the beach. Tulum’s hotels are all (pretty much) located in the hotel zone, outside of Tulum town (also referred to as downtown Tulum). The hotel zone is essentially the area along the shoreline.


Which Destination – Tulum or Playa del Carmen – is Better for X Type of Traveler?

View from Ahau Tulum room overlooking the sea.
Tulum

Budget Travelers – Tulum vs Playa del Carmen

There’s no easy answer when it comes to deciding whether Playa del Carmen or Tulum is better for budget travelers. Both destinations have their own unique charms and offer plenty of affordable accommodation and activities for visitors on a tight budget. However, there are a few key differences between the two that may help you make your decision.

First of all, Playa del Carmen is a much larger and more developed town than Tulum. This means that there are more options for budget hotels and restaurants, as well as a wider range of activities to keep you entertained. However, it also means that prices tend to be slightly higher than in Tulum.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back and authentic Mexican experience, Tulum is definitely the place for you. This small town has a much more relaxed atmosphere, and you’ll find that prices are lower across the board. However, there are fewer accommodation and dining options available, so it’s important to do your research in advance.

Though neither of these popular tourist destinations are particularly budget friendly, they’re also not all that expensive, either. It’s a tie.

Solo Travelers – Tulum vs Playa del Carmen

Well, what are you looking for in a solo trip? Playa del Carmen is a bit more built up and touristy, but this also means that there are more activities and nightlife options. Tulum is more laid back and natural, but can feel a bit isolated if you’re not used to solo travel. Ultimately, the best destination for you will depend on your personal preferences.

If you’re looking for a lively solo trip with plenty of things to do, Playa del Carmen is probably a better option. The resort town has a wide range of activities, from exploring ancient ruins to lounging on the beach to partying at one of the many nightclubs. You’ll never find yourself bored in Playa del Carmen.

However, if you’re looking for a more relaxing and low-key solo trip, Tulum may be a better option. The small town is located on the beach and is surrounded by natural beauty. It’s the perfect place to unwind and enjoy some peace and quiet. It’s also a great place for healing from a traumatic life event, such as a death, divorce, or breakup.

I personally would choose Tulum for this category, but my interests are more geared toward yoga and solitude rather than party hostels and nightlife.

Families – Tulum vs Playa del Carmen

Both destinations have their own unique charms and offer plenty of activities and attractions that families can enjoy together. However, there are a few key differences between the two that may sway your decision in one direction or the other.

Tulum has more upscale, boutique hotels, whereas Playa del Carmen reigns supreme in terms of all inclusive hotels. There are also more activities aimed towards kids in Playa del Carmen, such as the water park and more of a lively environment. 

I’m going to give this category to Playa del Carmen.

Couples – Tulum vs Playa del Carmen

There are many things to consider when deciding whether Playa del Carmen or Tulum is better for couples. Both destinations offer stunning beaches, a variety of activities, and plenty of romantic restaurants and hotels. However, there are some key differences that may make one destination more appealing than the other for your specific needs.

Playa del Carmen might be better for couples looking to spice up their relationship with fun activities and adventure. Tulum, on the other hand, might be the preferred beach destination for couples who are looking to spend quality time together while barely leaving the hotel room.


Which Destination is Better for you – Tulum or Playa del Carmen?

Two photos side by side, one showing a beach on Playa del Carmen and one showing a sculpture in Tulum.

So, you’re trying to decide between Playa del Carmen and Tulum for your next vacation destination. Both are incredibly beautiful places with a lot to offer tourists. So, how do you choose?

Let’s start with a quick overview of each place. Playa del Carmen is a popular resort town on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. It’s known for its stunning beaches, vibrant nightlife, and luxury hotels. Tulum, on the other hand, is a more laid-back beach town with a bohemian vibe. It’s famous for its beautiful beaches, Maya ruins, and eco-friendly resorts.

It really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation. If you want a more relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, then Tulum is probably the better choice. However, if you’re looking for more of a party scene and nightlife, then Playa del Carmen is probably a better fit.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference. Both Playa del Carmen and Tulum are stunning places that are worth visiting. It just depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation destination.

For me and my personality type, when comparing Playa del Carmen and Tulum, I would always choose Tulum. I know, I know – I said I almost moved to Playa del Carmen a few years ago, but that was simply a matter of long-term accommodation options.

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