Sunny days, white sand, sky-blue water, palm trees swaying with a gentle breeze, and breathtaking views are the vibe you are going for your vacation getaway in Mexico, but you need help deciding between Tulum or Cabo. Don’t worry; we have you covered!
We will analyze Tulum and Cabo side by side in every aspect so you can decide between the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea. The best way to compare the two paradise cities is by dividing them into categories; location, airport distance, historical landmarks, safety, water activities, history, beaches, nightlife, location, weather, airport accessibility, and more.
Tulum vs Cabo, let’s figure out which one is best for you!
Location – Tulum
Tulum is located in Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan Peninsula. Tulum is part of an old Mayan civilization that was a central port city. The main National Park of Tulum is called El Castillo, where Mayan stone ruins sit on the cliff overlooking the sea.
Tulum and the Riviera Maya explained:
Tulum sits on the Yucatan Peninsula and is part of the Riviera Maya. The Riviera Maya is almost 93 miles (150 km) of pristine beaches, accessible by car or walking. Lined with resorts, hotels, and small towns like Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Punta Allen, where you can experience the Mayan culture and traditional Mexican food from the south.
Location – Cabo
Cabo or Cabo San Lucas is located in Baja California Sur Penninsula. The Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez feed its beaches, which makes it dangerous for people to attempt to swim, but it’s a paradise for surfers.
Cabo and Los Cabos San Lucas explained:
Los Cabos San Lucas, the city of San Jose del Cabo, and the tourist corridor are all part of the Los Cabos region. When you refer to Cabo, you talk about the Cabo Region. When you refer to Los Cabos San Lucas, you are exclusively talking about that one city.
San Jose del Cabo is a chill town away from all the noise and nightlife of Los Cabos. On the other hand, Cabo San Lucas is a more upscale town with hip bars, restaurants, tourist attractions, and luxury resorts. Both cities are close to the tourist corridor and the marina.
Tulum is 73 miles (118 km) or 1 hour and 30 minutes from the Cancun international airport. There is no airport in Tulum.
Tulum is best to explore on foot or by bicycle. If you need to move around, hire a registered Taxi but know the driving rates and use your GPS to verify the route. Some “collectivos” (shared vans) drive on the main roads. Mainly used by locals, they are cheap but usually crowded. It is recommended to hire a ride instead of renting a car because it makes you more susceptible to bribes from the local police.
Airport distance and transportation – Cabo
Los Cabos International airport is 31 miles (50 km) or 50 minutes from downtown. On foot and by rental car are the best way to get around in Cabo. However, be aware that bribe among the transit police is likely. Registered Taxis and buses can take you where you need them, and your resort or hotel can arrange transportation. This is the safest way to travel.
Historical landmarks – Tulum
Tulum is part of the ancient city of Coba, a civilization on the Yucatan Peninsula located in Quintana Roo. It was one of the most important port cities of the Mayan civilization since it is situated on a cliff on the peninsula overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Three archeologically important structures are El Castillo, one of the best-preserved ruins, and the most famous one perched on the cliff’s edge. The Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Descending God. In addition, cenotes are among Tulum’s highlights.
Historical landmarks – Cabo
Cabo is known for its famous Arch. Located at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula because of its location is also known as Land’s End.
It is also the point where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet. Home to the famous Lover’s beach and Divorced beach.
Marine Life and Whale Watching – Tulum
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System runs along the Tulum shores, which extends along the Caribean Coast for more than 620 miles (997 km). This majestic reef system extends along the countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The Mesoamerican Reef is home to 65 species of corals, 350 types of mollusks, and over 400 fish species, from clownfish to sharks.
Tulum is famous for whale shark watching and swimming tours.
Marine Life and Whale Watching – Cabo
Cabo has the World’s aquarium. The Mexican Baja Peninsula is a marine biologist’s paradise. Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, called the Sea of Cortez “the Aquarium of the World.” Close to Cabo is a National Park called Cabo Pulmo, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005. The Sea of Cortez is the best spot for zodiac whale watching.
Tulum has more sandy beaches and a quiet paradise with picture-perfect views. Because it is along the Caribbean coast, the waters are calmer and more accessible. We’ve compiled for you the most popular beaches in Tulum.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere – With its secluded spots, this beach is a lover’s paradise. This area is located in the South of Tulum Beach, and its location is protected. Inside the biosphere, you can find the secret beach. It is not a popular location. You must be prepared to take everything you need for the day, from snacks to shade, to spend a long time undisturbed. The place is so peaceful that dolphins and sea turtles can easily find their way to the shore.
Playa Paraiso – Only 4.9 miles (8 km) away from Tulum Archeological Zone. This beach is what people think of when they picture themselves sipping margaritas, sun tanning, and relaxing in the Caribbean.
Small hotels line the shore, but the leading tourist destination is the Playa Paraiso Beach Club, where you can lounge, order drinks and enjoy the club atmosphere.
Playa Ruinas – Located at the bottom of the cliff of the El Castillo ruins. This is the perfect place to end the day if you are doing a tour of the ruins. Unfortunately, it tends to be crowded throughout the day.
Akumal Beach – Only 14.9 miles (24 km) from Tulum Archeological Zone. Akumal is shaped into a bay. It’s normal to spot sea turtles swimming close to the shore; people go to this beach to snorkel. Palapas, bars, and restaurants have everything you need.
Las Palmas – A secluded area, 1.2 miles (2 km) from the Tulum Archeological Zone. This is a slight stretch of beach with two hotels offering bar and restaurant services to adventurous tourists. Because it is a more isolated area, it’s good to pack everything you will need for the day or be ready to spend at the hotels. With only two hotels along this beach, there are typically few crowds to contend with.
Playa Pescadores – This translates to “fishermen’s beach” because the fishermen leave and arrive to take their catch from the day to sell to town. Located .8 miles (1.3 km) from Tulum Archeological Zone. The best place to eat seafood while overlooking the Mayan ruins and the beach. This beach is more lively, and there is plenty of tourist activity. You can book a snorkeling tour or excursions along the Tulum shoreline but be sure to haggle the prices before agreeing to anything.
Soliman Bay – Only 7.4 miles (12 km) away from Tulum Archeological Zone. There are many private villas and vacation homes in the area; however, the beach is open to the public. There are some activities to do, like kayaking or snorkeling. There are few restaurants so it’s best to take your snacks and all you will need for the beach.
Paamul Beach – 27 miles (44 km) from the Tulum Arqueligical Zone, making it the farthest shore on the list, closest to Cancun. This beach, popular among locals, is a place to escape tourists and the hijacked prices. There are few convenience stores or restaurants, so take everything you need for the day. To get there, you will pass a checkpoint where you need to inform them you want to get to the beach, and they should let you in for free.
Beaches for swimming – Cabo
Los Cabos San Lucas is located on the Peninsula of Baja California Sur, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. The Cabo shore is equally beautiful as it is dangerous because of the nature of the Pacific Ocean. The water is wild, with strong currents, deep drop-offs, and destructive waves. While most of the shore is accessible, not all the beaches in Los Cabos are open for swimmers. Let’s explore the beaches where it’s safe to swim.
Medano – The most popular accesible and touristic beach in Cabo. Only 800 meters away from the marina. This is the heart of tourist activities, like, surfing, kayaking, jet-skiing, boogie boards, parasailing, water skiing, swimming, snorkeling, and more. Its shore is lined with restaurants, bars, resorts, boutiques, and everything the tourists need to spend the whole day at the beach.
Tour companies also offer island hopping rides and other tourist activities.
Medano beach has Blue Flag status, meaning that much effort goes into conserving the biosphere and preserving the ecosystem.
At night, Medano turns many of those bars into nightclubs to dance and party the night away. Another plus is that it is close to the marina, the heart of downtown.
Chileno Beach – Located 8.6 miles (14 km) from the marina. Chileno Beach has the perfect snorkeling spots and is a bit more secluded than Medano beach. Therefore, you must come prepared with shade, snacks, and anything to stay comfortably at the beach. It sits along the Golden Corridor, the majestic highway that connects Los Cabos and offers a stunning view of the Sea of Cortez and the marina. Another Blue Flag beach in Cabo.
Santa Maria Beach – Away from tourists, hotels, and luxury resorts, this beach is perfect for swimming. Only 7.4 miles (12 km) away from the marina. In addition, Santa Maria is a protected area awarded with Blue Flag certification. However, because of its location, it’s advised to not go into the ocean alone since the water currents can change at any moment and put you in a dangerous situation.
Playa Empacadora or Cannery Beach – This translates to Cannery beach because of the old tuna cannery industry that used to be there. Another name used to refer to it is Playa Coral Negro which translates to Black Coral beach. It is located only 500m from the heart of the tourist area, so this beach is less famous than you might think. Few tourists venture into this beach because there are few shops and it’s surrounded by intimidating boulders, but despite the look, it is safe to swim and snorkel.
Playa del Amor or Lover’s Beach – Located 600 meters from the Marina. This is the most iconic spot in Los Cabos. Lover’s beach is in the Sea of Cortez, where the water is calm, and you can do many water activities. The Pacific Ocean side is known as Divorce Beach, where the water is turbulent and wild. From Lover’s Beach, you can see the famous Arch.
To arrive at Lover’s Beach, you need a water taxi or a kayak from the marina if you have the stamina. There are no shops, restaurants or bars so take all you need to spend a long time at the beach. Things like umbrellas for the sun, snacks, and water are a must.
Palmilla beach – From the Marina to Palmilla beach is 17 miles (28 km) along The Golden Corridor. Because it sits between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, there are many resorts, bars, and hotels where you can stop by or even rent a lounge area for the family. This is a family-friendly location. Another Blue Flag-certified beach.
Cerritos beach – At 39.7 miles (64 km), this is the farthest away from the marina on the Pacific Ocean side. You can snorkel or go horseback riding on this particular beach. The water is shallow, so it’s perfect for families with kids, but it’s essential to know that there are no resorts or bars along the shore, so bring everything you need for a full beach day. However, this is the perfect location if you want to avoid crowds.
Weather and travel deals – Tulum
The best time to travel to Tulum is from December (highest 82-80°F and lowest 72-80°F) to April (highest of 88-91°F and lowest of 65-68°F) to April. The weather is gorgeous, sunny, and not as scorching hot as it usually is during the summer. These dates also experience the highest influx of tourists.
The worst time to travel to Tulum is during hurricane season, from late June to October. There are mid-summer rains, but the worst rainfall is during August and September. These dates experience the best deals for inclusive hotels, but you must sacrifice a good deal for sunny days.
Weather and travel deals – Cabo
The best time to travel to Cabo is from November (highest 84°F and lowest 62.6°F) to April (highest of 83.7°F and lowest of 58.8°F). Unfortunately, this is also peak tourist season and hijacked prices.
The worst time to travel to Cabo is in June, August, and September due to the rainy season. Hurricane season is from mid-May to Late November. It might not rain daily, but there is a higher chance of cloudy skies and stormy weather, even if no hurricane is predicted. Consequently, these months are the best to visit Cabo since there are better deals on flights, hotels, and all-inclusive resorts and no crowds at the expense of cloudy weather.
Tourist season – Tulum
The highest tourist season in Tulum is from December to April, with sunny days and cooler nights. This time of the year is when Tulum is most active with water activities and land attractions such as yoga retreats, music festivals, sports tournaments, and more. Be ready to experience large crowds at the beach, restaurants, and archeological sites.
The lowest tourist season in Tulum is during the rainiest months of the year, from early June to late October. So you can expect cheap deals on flights, all-inclusive resorts, activities, and restaurants; however, it is at the expense of bad weather.
The sweet spot for traveling to Tulum is in May, July, and August when the bad weather begins and the tourists go home. This is where the all-inclusive resorts, restaurants, tour agencies, and flights are lowering prices to lengthen the season and attract the last of the tourists before the season is over because of the bad weather.
Tourist season – Cabo
The highest tourist season in Cabo is from December to April when the weather is excellent, and people take winter holidays and spring break.
The lowest tourist season in Cabo is from August to September because those are the rainiest months, and most tourists don’t want to pay money to stay inside while on their vacation. Also, those months are when kids are back to school. That said, those are the best months to find the best deals on all-inclusive resorts, flights, tour packages, and accommodations.
The sweet spot is from May to June; those days are scorching for tourists, and prices are lower because it’s almost the end of the season. Most tourists have gone home, and locals and businesses are getting ready for the worst of the hurricane season.
Safety – Tulum
The U. S. Bureau of Consular Affairs categorized Quintana Roo’s state as an “Exercise Increased Caution.” Quoted directly from their site, “Exercise increased caution due to crime and kidnapping. Criminal activity and violence may occur in any location, at any time, including in popular tourist destinations. Therefore, travelers should maintain a high level of situational awareness, avoid areas where illicit activities occur, and promptly depart from potentially dangerous situations.
While not directed at tourists, shootings between rival gangs have injured innocent bystanders. Additionally, U.S. citizens have been the victims of non-violent and violent crimes in tourist and non-tourist areas.
There are no restrictions on travel for U.S. government employees in Quintana Roo state, which includes tourist areas in Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and the Riviera Maya. However, personnel is advised to exercise increased situational awareness after dark in downtown areas of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen and to remain in well-lit pedestrian streets and tourist zones.”. Source: US Embassy.
The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs has strict and detailed recommendations and instructions on what precautions to take while traveling to Mexico to mitigate the risks of illness or injury while traveling to their tourist locations. Therefore, to best prepare for your trip, it’s essential to keep all their suggestions in mind.
More about this here: Safety in Tulum.
Safety – Cabo
Cabo – The U. S. Bureau of Consular Affairs categorized Baja California Sur state as “Exercise Increased Caution.” Quoted directly from their site, “Exercise increased caution due to crime. Criminal activity and violence may occur throughout the state. There are no restrictions on travel for U.S. government employees in Baja California Sur state, which includes tourist areas in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz.”
As explained in the Tulum safety section, follow the recommendations of The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs on what precautions to take while traveling to Mexico to mitigate the risks of illness or injury while traveling to their tourist locations.
Activities – Tulum
Water activities in Tulum include parasailing, scuba diving, water skiing, jet skiing, sailing, kayaking, boat tours, island hopping, exploring cenotes, kiteboarding, spearfishing, fly fishing, and swimming with whales. And, of course, the most popular are swimming and snorkeling.
Land activities in Tulum include shopping, walking the towns, visiting Mayan ruins, exploring the city, tanning, bar hopping, going to adventure parks, and trying new foods. Yoga retreats and golf are also popular activities.
More about activities here: 11 things to do in Tulum.
Activities – Cabo
Water activities in Cabo include sport fishing for “The Dorado” or the blue marlin. Flyboarding, yacht lounging, swimming, kayaking, renting a boat, scuba diving, whale watching, and surfing.
Land activities in Cabo include golfing, driving four-wheelers, eating, shopping, walking the Marina, horseback riding, a spa day, bar hopping, and discovering regional cuisine.
Nightlife – Tulum
Tulum is known for its nightlife, music festivals, artistic scene, and free-spirited ambiance. It has many bars, nightclubs, music festivals, live music nights, creative demonstrations, and thematic clubs.
Tulum is a laid-back and carefree town with a different vibe than Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Tulum caters to a young and laid-back population; therefore, the prices are more affordable at restaurants and bars.
Recently, clubs in Tulum and other establishments have gone under curfew. They are required to stop serving customers at midnight, and facilities must be closed by 1 am. This is to better protect tourists and locals from increased crime in the city.
Pueblo, or the Middle Beach zone, is the busiest spot in town and is well-known for its nightlife. You can find affordable bars and no dress code-enforced businesses in Pueblo, while Middle Beach Zone has an upscale vibe. Therefore, it is customary to do bar crawls from Middle Beach Zone to Pueblo.
More about this here: Tulum’s Nightlife.
Nightlife – Cabo
Cabo attracts a more mature audience, celebrities, and overall people in stable financial situations; therefore is only affordable to some tourists.
There are all kinds of nightclubs, bars, private parties, villas, and resort parties. However, the Caribean is known for the party scene; in this aspect, Cabo cannot compete with its counterpart.
Cabo is alive at night. There are two blocks; to Marina Boulevard and Lazaro Cardenas, where you can find nightclubs, bars, pubs, private parties, and restaurants.
Summary for Tulum vs Cabo
Travel to Tulum if you are young at heart, free-spirited, carefree, don’t care for upscale, or need many comforts, like adventure, and want a strong connection with nature during your trip. Because of its laid-back atmosphere that Tulum is great for families with kids and young adults making their first trip abroad.
Travel to Cabo if you are looking for an upscale, opulent vacation, with our traveling with a big party or if you want to be comfortable by the beach sipping margaritas and watching the golden hour from the comfort of your sun lounge.