Last updated on May 7, 2023 by Wandering our World
As much as mainstream media sometimes gives Mexico a bad reputation, it’s been an indisputable favorite amongst tourists itching to hit the tropics on a dime. The perfect collaboration between tropical jungle scapes and picturesque coastline has created beachy paradises so spectacular that even Hollywood couldn’t resist, and that perfectly sums up Akumal and Tulum.
They’re separated by a mere 30-minute drive, sharing the same stretch of Southeastern Mexico. But Akumal and Tulum are so different in atmospheres you’d swear you had traversed across borders.
For example Tulum is the busier destination, with more things to do and a livelier nightlife. In contrast, Akumal is much smaller, quieter and a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers!
They’re a decent match in charm and character though, but so unique in their appeal that we’ve been prompted to do a comparison to help you decide which is best for you!
And trust us. There’s plenty to praise and scrutinize when it comes to these two destinations. From which has the better beaches, activities and vibe, to which is better for families, couples and more!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has The Better Beaches?
- Which Has A Better Vibe?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Where To Visit For The Best Cultural Experience?
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Has The Better Nightlife?
- Which Has Better Activities?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Town Best Suits Backpackers?
- Which Town Best Suits Families?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Akumal vs Tulum: A Quick Overview
A Quick Overview
Akumal is by every account a beach-lovers paradise and creates a magnificent impression for a population of only 2000. Of the two towns, Akumal is, without a doubt, the smaller, and its coastline stretches just 3 miles.
It’s a fledgling town, originally founded in 1958 by a Scuba Community that couldn’t resist the crystal clear waters and abundance of marine life there.
Since then, we’d hardly say the town has changed much, aside from gaining a few members and growing its own little tourism industry.
Through and through, Akumal is the type of beach town you’d associate with old surfer movies. Beautiful, peaceful, and with so much potential hidden under the surface.
Tulum is a much larger town that bursts with activity from its core to its shore.
Thanks to the popularity of nearby Cancun, Mexico’s most famous area, Tulum has ridden the waves of a growing tourism industry.
Since the 1970s, the town has seen a significant change from the quaint fishing village it started out as, into a utopia for party lovers, beach bums, and backpackers.
It’s quite the menagerie of visitors, but with Tulum’s characteristics, it just makes sense.
Which Has The Better Beaches?
Akumal: The Beaches
Akumal is a town that’s focused around its coastline, and the locals pay a significant amount of attention to keeping their beaches pristine.
Yet unlike Tulum, Akumal has very limited beach options, with some being paid options. That’s enough of a deterrent for tourists out of context, but we’ll explain the reasoning in a bit.
Akumal’s main two beaches are Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay, whose white sandy shores once attracted hoards of scuba enthusiasts who couldn’t wait to dive into the glass-like waters.
The bays contain bountiful reefs, teeming with unmatched beauty and wildlife. But most importantly, perhaps, is Akumal’s one-of-a-kind sea turtle population.
These turtles live and breed along the Akumal shores and are an unbelievable sight both in and out of the water.
The locals have realized how precious their little turtle haven is, and as a result, they implemented the paid beaches feature as a way to ensure certain shores remain pristine, clean, and as environmentally sustainable as possible.
But regardless of spending the extra dollar or two, Akumal’s beaches should rank amongst the best beaches in the world, in our humble opinion.
They’re postcard perfect in every sense of the word and far outrank any stretch of sand you’d find in Thailand or Bali.
Plus, they have the added benefit of limited crowds throughout the year, so you don’t have to wrestle with hoards of tourists for the best spot on the sand. Take your pick!
Tulum: The Beaches
Tulum doesn’t share the same simplicity as Akumal’s beaches. Instead, they’re a wild, tropical escapade that’s loud, busy, and packed with tourists.
Like Akumal, Tulum’s beaches are kept immaculately clean, quite a feat considering how densely packed they can get.
Yet while Tulum might share the same crystalline waters and soft sands as Akumal, it lacks that natural beach vibe. That’s because there are many sun loungers and loud beach clubs populating the shoreline.
That would be okay if there was some way to escape it. But Tulum’s beaches hardly vary from each other, so you won’t get the luxury of hiding in a secluded cove here.
However the Tulum coastline is better for long walks, but doesn’t offer the same conditions for scuba diving as Akumal, and overall, it can feel a bit commercial thanks to the resorts and hotels lining the jungle backdrop.
If you can divvy up the funds to stay in the hotel zone, you may be able to take full advantage of the beaches. But if you’re here on a budget, the idea of a 3-mile trip from the town centre to the best beaches can feel a bit unbearable at times.
Simply put, we think Akumal’s gorgeous beaches, marine diversity, and lack of crowds makes it a better beach adventure than the elbow-to-elbow bustle of Tulum beaches.
Which Has A Better Vibe?
Akumal’s atmosphere is laid back and far more reminiscent of a stereotypical surf town than anything else.
There’s nothing too extraordinary about the atmosphere here, which surprisingly makes Akumal an appealing destination for couples, pensioners, and people who simply need to escape the commercial bustle.
You can find a few ways to spice up the vibe during your visit, but Akumal has never been known for turning heads. In fact, it’s a rather looked-over town in the Quintana Roo.
As a result, you won’t find the same versatility and bustle as Tulum. Instead, you’ll be in for an authentic Mexican beach life experience.
Tulum, without a doubt, is more of a destination for upbeat and energetic traveller types.
The town is essentially the Quintana Roo version of “the city that never sleeps” because come rain, snow, or shine, there’s always going to be something happening.
In fact, not even hurricane season can stop determined visitors from getting their Mexican Beach Party experience.
And that’s what Tulum is! From the busy coast, lined with beach clubs and various beach-side restaurants, to the town centre, which is a flourishing hub for souvenir shopping, dining, and socializing, Tulum is an experience you won’t soon forget.
There’s luxury coursing through the town if you can shake the rustic, worn-looking city centre from your head. Tulum just exudes a certain energy that Akumal would need a case of energy drinks to match.
We will be honest, this round was a knockout. Tulum wins.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Akumal is a relatively easy town to explore, with very little need for costly modes of transport thanks to its small size.
Getting to Akumal from the airport will be the most difficult aspect of travelling in the sense that you’ll need to make the nail-biting decision between bus or taxi!
But once you reach the small town, it’s all smooth sailing from there. Most tourists opt to simply walk their way throughout Akumal, as the city is extremely easy to travel by foot.
But others who opt to travel further into the Riviera Maya will need to look at buses, taxis and rental cars.
And while you’d think Tulum would also be relatively easy to get around, you’d be mistaken. It’s unique layout and general size make walking your way around from Tulum’s city to the beaches a poor idea.
If you’re planning on staying in either Tulum Pueblo or Tulum Playa and not leaving those areas, that’s a different story, but what’s the point of that?
The city is best traversed by foot, but the hotel zone and beachfront require some form of wheels, whether it be a car or taxi, or bicycle, if you want the exercise.
Getting between the town and the beach is where the problem lies as both areas are not exactly connected, and you’ll need to cross a rather dusty and worn road through dense jungle to get there.
So for ease of access, Akumal’s your go-to town.
Where To Visit For The Best Cultural Experience?
Akumal may be a new town, but it’s steeped in old culture.
Just remember, the original residents of Akumal were beach-loving locals who wanted to build a town around this little corner of heaven on the Riviera Maya.
Akumal has had little to no influence from Western culture, which means that you’re getting nothing but authenticity from the locals.
However, when it comes to comparing cultural experiences, aside from sharing a drink at a local bar or buying souvenirs from street markets, Akumal lacks in this department.
For some, the general interactions are enough, but tourists might prefer visiting a town with history and more cultural activities to partake in.
Unless, of course, you know how to work scuba gear, then you can dive and spot the wreckage of 18th-century ships.
Tulum would definitely be a better fit for tourists looking to experience the unique cultures of the Riviera Maya.
The town has a history dating back centuries and extending well into the Mayan dynasty. Tourists come from near and far to grab the opportunity of visiting the ruins of the Tulum Archaeological Zone.
They’re truly a sight to behold, and you can be regaled on old Mayan lore by enthusiastic tour guides along the way.
But unlike Akumal, Tulum has a unique blended culture that mixes old with new. You’ll find influences of European Spanish and Italian culture integrated with Mayan culture which reflects in everything from the cuisine to the dancing.
Throughout the year, Tulum boasts a number of festivals too, which immerse locals and tourists in celebrations of some of the town’s biggest exports, namely art and music.
And if you’re around in November, you can also partake in the Dia de los Muertos festivities, which are celebrated across Mexico.
So it goes without saying that Tulum has more to offer the average tourist looking for some unique cultural attractions.
How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Akumal cuisine is elaborate and diversified, with influences from a menagerie of cultures. Its prime position in the Caribbean makes it known for seafood dishes, and most of the ingredients are caught fresh daily off the shoreline.
In fact, seafood is so popular here you’ll even find it being used by street vendors who hawk their tacos on every corner with food that not only smells enticing but looks incredible too.
It’s no wonder Tacos have made their way into the hearts of many as a staple comfort food!
You’ll also find the likes of Yucatecan dishes, which are also quite popular amongst the Akumal locals.
Foods like Cochinita Pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish, and Sopa de Lima, a chicken and lime soup, are not uncommon here and are a must-try for any foodie!
Tulum shares a similar versatility in its cuisine, bred from the collaboration of multiple cultures.
One of the first things you’ll notice when visiting Tulum is the abundance of Italian restaurants in the town. This isn’t a fluke. It’s thanks to the town’s integrated history that this particular cuisine makes its way into the food scene.
Like Akumal, the coastal location means that seafood is often the order of the day, but when it comes to the ultimate food of Tulum, you can’t go wrong with Tacos al pastor.
Tulum’s street food scene thrives on these generously topped little shells, and you’d be missing out on the best food in town if you didn’t try them.
And for those of you on a health kick, just know that Tulum is becoming increasingly well-known for producing some incredible health-conscious meals.
The city’s flair for bringing vibrant flavors to vegan and vegetarian cuisine is a feat in itself, and it sure helps that the ingredients are all locally sourced and fresh.
Overall, foodies will have to follow their gut on this one. Both towns offer an incredible selection of cuisine that’ll sate any cravings.
Which Has The Better Nightlife?
Akumal is chilled and laid-back, and not necessarily a place with a thriving night scene.
A good night out here would be a peaceful meal at a local restaurant or a late-night beach picnic in the hopes of spotting turtles laying their eggs.
Currently, Akumal is more of a day-trip paradise, with most of the crowds returning to other cities by nightfall for a more diverse scene. Unfortunately, Akumal just doesn’t have the same umph, and hardly likens to the Mexican beach party scenes you see in blockbuster movies.
Which, in all fairness, doesn’t sound too bad for introverts and pensioners. But if you’re looking at comparing nightlife, you’re obviously in the mood for something a bit more upbeat.
In this case, Tulum would be the place to go. Both the beachfront and Tulum’s town centre are bustling with night activities.
The restaurants explode with patrons spilling out the doors. Little beach clubs light up the white sands, and drinks flow from colorful bars feeding crowds of tourists just itching to learn the flamenco. There are a few nightclubs and plenty of live music spilling from bars, restaurants and buskers on the street.
But thanks to Tulum’s noise regulations, the nightly activity dies down around 10 pm. So you can get the best of both worlds if you’re someone who prefers to pack it in early.
Tulum may not have the party reputation of its bigger neighbor, Cancun, but the night scene certainly does the small coastal town justice and offers plenty of kicks for younger and young-at-heart crowds.
Which Has Better Activities?
Akumal may be a small town, but you won’t be left twiddling your thumbs, especially if you love the beach.
Here are a few examples of activities available in Akumal.
- Swimming with Turtles
- Scuba Diving
- Visit the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
- Go on an ATV Adventure
- Explore the nearby Cenotes
- Relax on the beach
But sadly, Akumal’s activities are quite limited and don’t bode well for long vacations. In fact, you might find it a bit boring.
The only upside is Akumal’s relative proximity to other locations, meaning exploring the surrounding towns and areas is easier than you’d think.
Tulum packs a bit more oomph when it comes to keeping busy. The beach and town are filled with fun and interactive things to do to keep you entertained throughout your stay such as:
- Try your hand at surfing
- Visit the local beach bars
- Dine on local cuisine
- Visit a Yoga Retreat
- Enjoy a much-needed spa day
- Explore the Mayan Ruins
- Visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
- Go souvenir shopping
Honestly, this is just a taste of the activities available in and around Tulum. It may not match the standards of other resort towns like Cancun, but it’s certainly in the running!
And like Akumal, Tulum is located quite close to other towns, meaning you can explore the Riviera Maya more if you choose to.
Overall, Akumal is a sleepy town, with far less in terms of activities, making Tulum the natural choice if you like to explore and indulge!
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Luxury: For a taste of luxury in little Akumal, it’s hard to beat the five-star, adults-only Secrets Akumal. This resort sits right on the beach, has incredible poolside views, fantastic facilities and lots of entertainment options. See photos and rates!
Budget: The beach isn’t the only reason you should visit Tulum, the jungle is just as tropical and picturesque. Nahouse Jungle Lodges give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in Tulum’s breathtaking natural landscape, but in stylish decorated villas with access to a big pool to cool down on warm evenings. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Everything about Hotel Ma’xanab Tulum is photogenic. From the gorgeously decorated rooms, to the jungle garden. As well as the private beach and huge outdoor pool.
There’s a reason this five-star hotel is so popular – you can even get rooms with their own private infinity pool! See photos and rates here.
Which Town Best Suits Backpackers?
Akumal is a town that suits a slower pace of life but will certainly offer backpackers a fun experience. It is the cheaper of the two destinations, and the limited selection of accommodations sit well within the confines of reasonability even in peak season.
It’s a town that hasn’t lost its charm to the commercial aspects of Western tourism, instead maintaining the authenticity of a traditional beach lifestyle.
Of course, these are pros for backpackers of all ages, but there are definitely cons too.
For one major con, Akumal is very sleepy and doesn’t offer the same experience and activities as Tulum. There’s little activity after dark, and the limited accommodation choices mean you won’t be able to shop around much.
In contrast, Tulum is fast-paced and much more suitable for the bustle of tourists than Akumal. This incidentally includes backpackers who enjoy the youthful charm of this seaside town and all it has to offer.
The accommodation comes in many shapes and sizes, which gives far more range to choose from in terms of your budget.
The city centre is where most of the backpackers hang out, thanks to the exorbitant pricing of the beachfront hotel zone, but that’s hardly an issue considering Tulum Pueblo is where all the action is.
The exciting nightlife, vibrant beaches and interesting cultural experiences are all highly attractive aspects to backpackers of all ages.
We can overlook some of the pricing because it’s still a comparatively cheap holiday, and there’s plenty of versatility to save you a buck too.
Ultimately, Tulum is better suited to backpackers and budget travellers thanks to its versatility, activities and cost-effectiveness.
Which Town Best Suits Families?
Akumal may be the epitome of serenity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for families.
For one, we don’t feel as though the town has enough activities with substance to keep smaller children happy.
There’s less versatility, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find activities that every member of the family can partake in without travelling outside of Akumal to neighboring towns. The town itself is quiet and safe, but if you’ve got energetic children, it can seem extremely listless.
Tulum, on the other hand, offers everything a flourishing family could need and more. The town has a wide range of activities suitable for all ages, including swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and exploring ancient Mayan ruins.
The beaches in Tulum are also ideal for children, with calm, shallow waters and plenty of rental amenities that’ll let you spend the day in the water and never feel bored!
Tulum has a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, making it an excellent place for families to unwind and spend quality time together.
The town’s restaurants and food options cater to all tastes and preferences too, including plenty of kid-friendly options.
Moreover, Tulum offers a unique educational experience for children, providing the opportunity to learn about ancient Mayan culture, history, and wildlife by visiting the Mayan Ruins and their UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Both towns might have their general appeal, but families need that extra bit of security, fun and versatility to stay happy, which Tulum truly provides.
Akumal vs Tulum: Which Is The Better Choice?
For us, Tulum definitely wins in the battle of Akumal vs. Tulum.
It’s a hands-down victory, and while we respectfully feel like Akumal is a beautiful town with wonderful potential, it simply doesn’t offer enough substance to make for an incredible holiday destination, no matter how you look at it.