Cancun Hotel Zone
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Cancun Vs Tulum: Which is the Best Beach Destination 2023

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Cancun vs Tulum: Family Vacation Showdown

Cancun vs Tulum: Parents, if you’re planning a family vacation to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, you’ve probably looked at both popular tourist destinations. We’re here to help you decide which suits your family’s needs and desires.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the heart of Cancun and Tulum, comparing their beaches, attractions, accommodations, and overall atmosphere. Let’s start on this journey to discover the best vacation spot for your family!

Cancun Vs Tulum Beaches: White Sand and Turquoise Waters Galore

Cancun’s Beaches

Cancun’s beaches are spectacular (as long as you stay in certain areas) with their white-sand beaches and stunning turquoise waters. Some of the most beautiful beaches in Cancun include:

Cancun, situated on the Yucatan Peninsula, is known for its stunning beaches with crystal-clear waters and powdery white sands. While the Hotel Zone boasts some of the clearest water in the area, the beaches further south, where new hotels are being built, have slightly different characteristics.

  • Playa Delfines: Known for its picturesque views and pristine sand, it’s a great place for families to relax and swim in the warm waters.
  • Cancun Hotel Zone: The beach area in the Cancun Hotel Zone is lined with luxury resorts and beach clubs, offering easy access to gorgeous beaches and various water activities.

Cancun Hotel Zone

Cancun Hotel Zone: Turquoise Paradise

Cancun Hotel Zone

The Cancun Hotel Zone is famous for its vibrant turquoise waters and pristine white-sand beaches. This area stretches along a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and offers some of Cancun’s most picturesque and iconic beach landscapes. The clear waters are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and various sports.

Important!: Southern Beaches: Seaweed and New Developments

As you venture south of the Hotel Zone in Cancun, you may notice that the water is not as clear and is more affected by seaweed, particularly sargassum, brown algae. The influx of sargassum can vary seasonally and affect the beach experience for visitors.

In the above map, you’ll notice the areas affected the most by seaweed. While this map is several years old, the same areas are generally affected each year to some extent. When choosing a Cancun hotel, check its location. You will likely find the best beaches in the Hotel Zone, including our favorite, the Hyatt Ziva.

While one of our other favorite resorts, Moon Palace The Grand, is located in an area with more seaweed, the resort amenities offset some of that. There’s a trade-off between having a huge resort with a water park or one with an amazing beach.

The area to the south is undergoing rapid development, with new hotels and resorts built to accommodate the growing number of tourists. These southern beaches still offer beautiful landscapes. However, if you’re looking for the beautiful beaches you’ve seen in pictures, use caution, as this area will disappoint you and could leave you with a beach like the picture below! This beach is an extreme example, but we’ve seen many unswimmable due to conditions like this.

Cancun Seaweed

Seaweed Updates: Staying Informed

Visitors can join a Facebook group dedicated to providing regular updates on the sargassum levels to stay informed about the seaweed situation on Cancun’s beaches. This group, called “Sargassum and Seaweed Updates for Cancun and Riviera Maya,” posts photos and information on the current state of the beaches, helping tourists plan their beach days accordingly.

Tulum’s Beaches

Tulum Beach

Tulum’s beaches are breathtaking, boasting white sandy beaches and crystal-clear blue water. Some of the best beaches in Tulum include:

  • Papaya Playa Project: A laid-back beach club with a boho-chic vibe, perfect for families seeking a more relaxed atmosphere.
  • Tulum Beach Zone: This area is home to boutique hotels, beach clubs, and pristine public beaches.

Regarding beach quality, both Cancun and Tulum offer white sand beaches and beautiful warm waters. The choice ultimately boils down to personal preference and the atmosphere you’re looking for.

Family Attractions and Activities

Cancun’s Top Picks

Cancun is an excellent choice for families seeking a variety of attractions and activities. Some top picks include:

  • Day Trips: Cancun’s convenient location allows easy access to day trips to nearby attractions such as Isla Mujeres, Chichen Itza, and Xel-Há Water Park.
  • Water Sports: The Cancun Hotel Zone offers numerous water sports, including scuba diving, snorkeling, and jet skiing.

Tulum’s Top Picks

Tulum, on the other hand, provides a more laid-back atmosphere with a focus on nature and history. Some of the best activities in Tulum include:

  • Ancient Ruins: The Tulum Ruins and the famous El Castillo offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s rich Mayan history.
  • Nature and Wildlife: Tulum is home to various eco-parks, such as Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Gran Cenote, where families can explore unique ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Yoga and Wellness: Tulum is known for its wellness retreats and yoga studios, offering a serene atmosphere for parents seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.

Accommodations: From Luxury Resorts to Boutique Hotels

Cancun’s All-Inclusive Resorts

Cancun is famous for its all-inclusive resorts and luxury hotels, catering to families of all sizes and budgets. Some popular family-friendly resorts in Cancun include:

Best overall

Best Choice for Families

This luxurious all-inclusive resort and Moon Palace Grand are our two favorite resorts in Cancun for families. If beautiful beaches are on your priority list, this is the resort for you! The Hyatt Ziva features multiple swimming pools, a kid’s club, and a teen’s club, ensuring entertainment for all ages.

The resort also offers a variety of dining options and recreational activities, such as snorkeling, beach volleyball, and live performances.

Best Large resort

Best Large Resort with Water Park

With its massive water park, waterslides, wave pool, and lazy river, Moon Palace The Grand is a paradise for families and one of our favorites for families.

The negative for this resort: as mentioned above, these newer, larger hotels are being built in an area that doesn’t have the crystal clear beaches of the hotel zone.

So if perfect beaches are a must, look at the Hyatt Ziva instead. However, this resort’s water park and other amenities make up for some of that!

Runner up

Dreams Natura

The surrounding Mayan jungle inspires this family-friendly resort and offers a unique vacation experience.

Guests can enjoy the on-site water park, infinity pools, and various activities for all ages.

Best Family-Friendly Resorts in Tulum

Tulum, in contrast, is known for its boutique hotels and eco-friendly lodgings. While there are some all-inclusive resorts in Tulum, they don’t quite compare to the size and quantity of the Cancun area resorts. Here are some of the best family-friendly resorts in Tulum:

Best new resort

Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya

Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort is a luxurious and family-friendly resort situated on the stunning coastline of Tulum.

With its high-quality amenities, exceptional service, and a wide array of activities, this resort is perfect for families seeking a memorable vacation experience.

Other top choice

Grand Bahia Principe Tulum

Grand Bahia Principe Tulum is a family-oriented resort with spacious accommodations, multiple pools, and a children’s water park.

With various dining options and a dedicated kid’s club, this resort is perfect for families seeking an enjoyable vacation in Tulum.

runner up

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa

Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive resort that provides many amenities and activities for families.

While not getting as high of reviews as the other top choices, Dreams offers a kid’s club, a teen’s club, and various on-site dining options.

See other top Dreams resort here.

Xcaret: A Great Option Halfway Between Tulum & Cancun

Luxury & Fun

Hotel Xcaret: A Unique All-Inclusive Experience in Riviera Maya


Hotel Xcaret is a luxurious all-inclusive resort between Cancun and Tulum in the heart of the Riviera Maya.

This eco-friendly resort offers an exceptional vacation experience, seamlessly blending nature, adventure, and relaxation.

Hotel Xcaret

Accommodations and Amenities

Hotel Xcaret features spacious and elegantly designed suites with breathtaking views of the lush surroundings, ocean, and meandering rivers. Each room has modern amenities, including comfortable bedding, Wi-Fi access, and a minibar.

The resort offers a variety of swimming pools, including a dedicated children’s pool, an on-site spa, and a fitness center. The hotel is also committed to sustainability, showcasing eco-integrative architecture that minimizes its environmental impact.

Dining Options

Guests can enjoy various dining options at Hotel Xcaret, from international buffets to à la carte restaurants offering Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean cuisines. The resort also features several bars and lounges where visitors can relax and enjoy a refreshing drink.

Unique All-Fun Inclusive® Concept

What sets Hotel Xcaret apart from other resorts is its All-Fun Inclusive® concept, which provides unlimited access to several nearby eco-adventure parks, including Xcaret, Xel-Há, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xavage, Xoximilco, and Xenses, as well as the Xenotes and Xichen tours. This offers exceptional value for families and adventure seekers, making exploring the best attractions in the Riviera Maya easy.

Overall, Hotel Xcaret is an exceptional resort choice for those seeking an all-inclusive experience that combines luxury, adventure, and sustainability in the heart of the Riviera Maya.

Nightlife and Dining

Cancun’s Vibrant Nightlife and Fine Dining

Cancun is known for its bustling nightlife, with a wide selection of bars, clubs, and live music venues. It’s also home to various fine dining restaurants, such as Le Basilic and Fantino, offering diverse culinary experiences for the entire family.

Tulum’s Laid-back Atmosphere and Local Cuisine

Tulum, on the other hand, offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, with local bars and restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine. Some popular spots include Hartwood and Mezzanine, where families can enjoy a delicious meal while soaking in the beach town vibe.

Accessibility and Transportation

Cancun: Direct Flights and Easy Access

Cancun is serviced by the Cancun International Airport, offering direct flights from numerous cities in the United States and worldwide. The city is also well-connected by bus routes and taxis, making exploring the downtown area and nearby attractions easy.

Airplane Flying Over Cancun Hotel Zone

Tulum: Smaller Town with Limited Transportation Options

Tulum is a smaller town compared to Cancun, with limited transportation options. Although the Cancun Airport is the nearest major airport, you’ll need to arrange additional transportation to reach Tulum, about a 2-hour drive away. Downtown Tulum is walkable, but you might need to rent a car or use taxis to visit some attractions further away from the town center.

The New Tulum Airport Opening in 2023

The upcoming Tulum Airport, set to open in 2023, is a highly anticipated development in the Riviera Maya region. This new airport aims to boost tourism and improve accessibility to the popular vacation destination of Tulum and its surrounding areas.

Improved Connectivity

The new Tulum Airport will provide travelers with easier and more direct regional access, reducing travel time and offering more convenient connections. Currently, visitors to Tulum must fly into Cancun International Airport and then take a 1.5 to 2-hour drive to reach Tulum. The new airport will significantly shorten this travel time and provide a more seamless experience for tourists.

Exploring the Riviera Maya: Cancun and Tulum’s Surrounding Wonders

The Riviera Maya stretches along the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coastline, and both Cancun and Tulum are nestled within this stunning region. When deciding between Cancun and Tulum, it’s worth considering the nearby attractions that can further enhance your family vacation.

Day Trips from Cancun

Cancun’s prime location offers families the opportunity to embark on various day trips to explore the Yucatan Peninsula’s wonders:

  • Isla Mujeres: A short ferry ride away, this charming island is known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant marine life, and laid-back atmosphere. This is one of the best calm beaches with clear water we’ve ever been to. It’s close to Turks and Caico’s clarity!
Isla Mujeres

  • Chichen Itza: A UNESCO World Heritage site, Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites, featuring the iconic Kukulkan Pyramid.
  • Cenotes: Cancun provides easy access to the region’s many cenotes, natural swimming holes formed in limestone caves, such as Cenote Ik Kil and Cenote Dos Ojos.

Day Trips from Tulum

Tulum also boasts a variety of nearby attractions for families to discover:

  • Coba: An ancient Mayan city around an hour’s drive from Tulum, Coba is known for its impressive ruins, including the towering Nohoch Mul pyramid.
  • Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: This UNESCO World Heritage site is a natural paradise featuring diverse ecosystems, wildlife, and miles of unspoiled coastline.
  • Muyil Archaeological Site: A lesser-known but equally fascinating Mayan ruin site, Muyil is nestled within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and is easily accessible from Tulum.
Tulum Beach

Family-Friendly Activities in Cancun and Tulum

Beyond their beautiful beaches, Cancun and Tulum offer unique family-friendly activities catering to different interests and preferences.

Cancun’s Exciting Adventures

Tulum’s Nature-Inspired Activities

  • Tulum Monkey Sanctuary: This sanctuary is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of various animal species, including spider monkeys, capuchins, and coatis. Families can enjoy guided tours and learn about the animals and their habitats.
  • Kiteboarding: Tulum’s consistent winds and shallow waters make it an ideal spot for families to try kiteboarding, with several schools offering lessons for beginners.
  • Tulum Art Walk: Families can explore Tulum’s vibrant arts scene through the Tulum Art Walk, a self-guided tour of local galleries and studios showcasing contemporary art and handicrafts.

Shopping and Local Flavors

Cancun and Tulum provide visitors with a taste of local culture through their shopping and dining scenes.

Shopping in Cancun

Cancun’s downtown area and Hotel Zone offer a variety of shopping opportunities, from high-end boutiques to local markets. Popular shopping spots include:

  • La Isla Shopping Village: A picturesque open-air mall featuring international brands, local boutiques, and a variety of dining options.
  • Market 28: A bustling local market where families can find traditional handicrafts, souvenirs, and authentic Mexican cuisine at affordable prices.

Shopping in Tulum

Tulum’s more laid-back shopping scene focuses on local artisans and sustainable products. Some favorite shopping spots in Tulum include:

  • Tulum Art Club: A creative hub that showcases the works of local and international artists, as well as unique clothing and jewelry pieces.
  • MIXIK: A boutique shop offering a diverse selection of Mexican crafts, textiles, and souvenirs, making it the perfect spot to find one-of-a-kind gifts.

Local Flavors in Cancun and Tulum

Both destinations offer plenty of options for families to indulge in the region’s culinary delights.

  • Cancun: Families can explore local flavors in downtown Cancun at places like La Habichuela or Los De Pescado, where they can enjoy traditional dishes such as cochinita pibil, ceviche, and chiles en nogada.
  • Tulum: To taste local cuisine in Tulum, families can head to Taqueria Honorio or Antojitos La Chiapaneca, offering delicious street food like tacos al pastor and tamales.

Safety and Security

When planning a family vacation, safety and security are always top concerns. Both Cancun and Tulum are generally considered safe for tourists, but it’s essential to follow standard safety precautions:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings.
  • Stick to well-traveled areas and avoid venturing out alone at night.
  • Be cautious when swimming in the ocean, as strong currents can sometimes be present.
Chichen Itza, Cancun Vs Tulum Things To Do

Best Time to Visit Cancun and Tulum

The best time to visit Cancun and Tulum largely depends on your preferences and priorities:

  • For the best weather and the least amount of rain, the high season (December to April) is ideal. However, this is also the busiest time and can be more expensive.
  • The low season (May to November) offers more affordable prices and fewer crowds, but the weather can be hotter, and there’s a higher chance of rain and hurricanes.

In conclusion, Cancun and Tulum offer unique experiences for families exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. With gorgeous beaches, vibrant cultures, and many attractions and activities, both destinations have something to offer every family. By considering your family’s preferences, budget, and desired vacation style, you can choose between Cancun and Tulum for your next unforgettable family adventure.

Tulum’s Low-Key Entertainment

Tulum’s nightlife scene is more relaxed and low-key compared to Cancun, focusing on intimate venues and unique experiences:

  • Gitano: A jungle-inspired mezcal bar and restaurant, Gitano offers live music, DJ sets, and a magical atmosphere under the stars.
  • Papaya Playa Project: Known for its full moon parties and eco-chic vibes, Papaya Playa Project is a beach club that hosts music festivals, yoga sessions, and wellness workshops.
  • Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar: A popular spot in Tulum town, Batey is famous for its refreshing mojitos made with freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and live music performances.

Sports and Outdoor Activities

The Yucatan Peninsula’s natural beauty and diverse landscapes provide numerous opportunities for families to engage in sports and outdoor activities in both Cancun and Tulum.

Outdoor Fun in Cancun

Cancun’s warm waters and white sandy beaches make it an ideal destination for water sports and beach activities:

  • Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: Cancun’s crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs make it a fantastic location for underwater exploration, with popular dive sites like the Underwater Museum and Cancun Reef.
  • Water Park: Families can enjoy a day of fun in the sun at Ventura Park, a water park with thrilling slides, wave pools, and a lazy river.
  • Fishing: Cancun offers a variety of fishing opportunities, from deep-sea fishing excursions for marlin and sailfish to fly fishing in the tranquil lagoons of the Nichupte Lagoon.

Outdoor Adventures in Tulum

Tulum’s lush jungles and pristine coastline provide a playground for nature lovers and adventure seekers:

  • Biking: Renting bikes is a popular way to explore Tulum’s attractions, with many visitors cycling to the beach, the Tulum Ruins, or the nearby cenotes.
  • Paddleboarding: The calm waters of Tulum’s beaches make it a great place to try stand-up paddleboarding, with several rental shops and guided tours available.
  • Ziplining: Families can experience adrenaline as they soar through the jungle canopy at adventure parks like Xel-Há and Xplor.


Q: Which destination has better beaches, Cancun or Tulum?

A: Cancun and Tulum have gorgeous white sand beaches and turquoise waters. The choice ultimately depends on the atmosphere and amenities you prefer. Cancun’s beaches are often busier and offer more water sports, while Tulum’s beaches provide a more laid-back and serene environment.

Q: Is Cancun or Tulum better for families with young kids?

A: Cancun may be a better choice for families with young kids due to the availability of family-friendly all-inclusive resorts, theme parks, and easy access to various attractions. However, if you prefer a more relaxed and nature-focused vacation, Tulum could be an excellent option.

Q: Is Cancun more expensive than Tulum?

A: The cost of a vacation in Cancun or Tulum depends on the type of accommodations, activities, and dining options you choose. Cancun is known for its luxury hotels and fine dining, which can be more expensive, while Tulum has a range of boutique hotels and local restaurants with varying price points.

Q: Which destination is better for history and culture enthusiasts?

A: Tulum may be a better choice for history and culture enthusiasts, thanks to its proximity to the ancient Mayan ruins and eco-parks that showcase the region’s unique ecosystems and wildlife.


So, which is the better option for your family vacation: Cancun or Tulum? Ultimately, the choice depends on your preference and what kind of experience you seek.

Cancun is a bustling tourist destination with luxury resorts, beautiful beaches, and a wide range of activities, making it a great choice for families seeking excitement and entertainment. On the other hand, Tulum offers a more laid-back atmosphere, focusing on nature, wellness, and Mayan history, making it an ideal choice for those seeking relaxation and cultural experiences.

Whatever you choose, both Cancun and Tulum are located on the stunning Yucatan Peninsula, offering endless opportunities for fun and adventure. So pack your bags, gather the family, and prepare for an unforgettable vacation in paradise!

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