Last updated on January 23, 2023 by Wandering our World
There are so many great destinations in Mexico, and Cabo and Tulum are two of the best. However, both offer very different vacations, so making the choice between Cabo and Tulum is as important as it is difficult.
As a quick example, laid-back Tulum tends to have better beaches than Cabo as it’s on Mexico’s Caribbean side. It’s also close to some of the country’s most spectacular Mayan sites. Cabo, on the other hand, is perfect if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand but also excursions like hiking and whale watching.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how these two destinations are different.
Thankfully we know both destinations well and are here to help! Below we pit Cabo vs Tulum, letting you know what to expect in each, comparing the beaches, culture, nightlife and even more.
We then give you a run down of some of the best natural sights and things to do in each destination to help you decide which one could be better for your holiday. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- Which Has The Better Beaches?
- How Does The Natural Scenery & Outdoor Activities Compare?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According to Your Budget
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
- Which Is The Better Holiday Choice?
A Quick Overview: What To Expect
Many people think these destinations will be quite similar as they’re both in Mexico and popular tourist destinations. However there are actually very notable differences.
If beaches are your priority, then Tulum is likely the better choice than Cabo. Why? Well Tulum sits on the Caribbean Sea, whereas Cabo is on the Pacific. The Caribbean side of Mexico happens to have the warmer water, and whiter sand.
Ultimately both have great beaches, but that’s one important factor to consider. We look at the beaches in both Cabo and Tulum in more detail a little later.
Tulum is also very close to some of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the region. So it’s a destination that often attracts tourists that are looking for a little more than just sun, sea, sand and shopping, but also for sightseeing some of Mexico’s incredible historic sites.
While Cabo has its fair share of all-inclusive resorts (like Tulum), we have found that it does have a certain rustic authentic feel to it, and is a great place for walking, exploring, hiking and even whale watching!
So Cabo may be better suited to tourists who want to explore as much as they want to sunbathe. It is more desert like than Tulum (which has more jungle surrounding it), but there’s still plenty of fun activities – as we show you later. Related: 20+ Fun Reasons To Visit Cabo Now!
Cabo is a safe destination for tourists too – as is Tulum – but as always you must be vigilant in regards to petty crime in both destinations, and be careful of leaving drinks unattended.
Which Has Better Beaches?
As mentioned above, we believe that Tulum beats Cabo when it comes to which destination has the better beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
There are some gorgeous stretches of white powdery sand in Tulum and warm aqua water, whereas the sand in Cabo tends to be more golden and not as soft. That’s no surprise considering Tulum sits on the Caribbean Sea, while Cabo is on the Pacific.
Below we look at the most popular beaches in each destination and show you what they offer. That way you can work out which one may suit you more.
Cabo: The Beaches
This famous Mexican destination has some wonderful beaches, and one of our favorites is El Medano Beach.
This is known for being one of the best beaches in Cabo for swimming – it has several beach bars and eateries, and is a great place to enjoy a cocktail or two in the sun.
On top of that, Cabo also offers a variety or off the beaten path beaches to explore. Beaches like Playa del Amor—Lover’s Beach in English— are undeveloped and only accessible by boat.
Lover’s Beach offers a secluded sandy retreat for those looking to escape the crowds and ruckus of Cabos main hotel strip beaches and showcases some of the most remarkable towering granite rock formations that Cabo has to offer. The water is clear and great for snorkelling, while the sand is soft and pristine.
All in all, there’s a diverse range of beaches in Cabo. From secluded stretches reachable only by boat, to busy beaches in Cabo’s tourist area where you can hire jet skis, snorkeling equipment and sip on cocktails at classy beach bars.
Tulum: The Beaches
Being on the Caribbean side of Mexico, and backed by lush jungle, the coastline of Tulum is just like that computer screensaver image of a tropical paradise.
One of our favourite beaches, Playa Ruinas, sums up culture-rich Tulum well. This stunning beach with palm trees and aqua water is interspersed with Mayan ruins. It’s essentially an archeological site and beach in one, and a definite must-visit.
Tulum was actually one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya, and the ruins at Tulum are one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites. After admiring the ruins, you can then relax on the beach below.
Playa Paraíso is another beautiful beach which has a real Caribbean feel. It’s large, the sand is soft, the water is shallow, crystal clear and perfect for swimming. There’s also a few beach bars which are perfect to grab a cocktail beside the gently swaying palm trees.
And if you head around 30km north from Tulum you will find Akumal Bay. At this wonderful white sand bay you can swim with dolphins, sea turtles and snorkel with colorful fish and rays.
Looking for warm water and a Caribbean feel to your beach excursion? Then Tulum’s going to suit you well.
How Does The Natural Scenery & Outdoor Activities Compare?
Cabo: The Activities
Apart from sunbathing on the beach and enjoying cocktails, there’s plenty more to do in Cabo too.
Due to Cabo’s fantastic location, it has several well protected bays that border the calm waters of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). This makes for outstanding marine experiences including snorkeling, scuba diving, and whale watching.
Make your way to Cabo Pulmo National Park for whale watching opportunities and snorkeling amongst reef fish and sea turtles at the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Our tip: November and December are the best times to see migrating Humpbacks.
A great underwater camera – like this one – is a must. Keep an eye out for the sting rays that sometimes jump out of the water at the national park too!
Back on land, visit the Santa Rita Hot Springs to bathe in the natural hot springs that have sprung up in nature close to Cabo. It’s a tropical oasis.
And if you’re looking for something a bit more energetic, then head to Mt. Solmar. A short, but moderately difficult hike will bring you to the summit where there’s breathtaking views of Cabo and the Pacific Ocean. It’s well worth it.
There’s lots of adventurous excursions in Cabo too, with opportunities to dive with sharks, skydive, go on a sunset party cruise, or even use a flyboard – a fun looking device that allows you to dive into the water and also fly above it.
As you can see, a vacation in Cabo can be full of a variety of activities and excursions. Simply put, it’s very hard to get bored here, and there’s many companies that cater to tourist day trips.
Tulum: The Activities
There’s plenty of activities on the coast to enjoy, but one of our favourite excursions in Tulum – and one that’s quite unique to the region – is visiting the nearby cenotes.
These large natural sinkholes have filled with water and are beautiful places to swim and scuba dive as there’s around 300 miles of interconnected underwater tunnels. The rock formations are other-worldly, the water crystal clear and warm, and the experience of swimming here one of a kind.
Another easy and worthwhile excursion would be a trip to Parque Nacional Tulum which mixes turquoise blue sea with Mayan ruins. The dramatic position of the ruins on the cliff edge is breathtaking, while the countless iguanas that make this place home certainly adds to the atmosphere!
The proximity to Mayan sites is one of the big advantage to a Tulum vacation, and because of its convenient location, Tulum is just a short trip away from several ancient Mayan ruins, offering amazing opportunities to learn about the customs, rituals, and spiritual folklore of the ancient Mayan people.
Chichen Itza (photo above), one of Mexico’s most iconic Mayan sites is one of those sites, and is probably the most famous ruins in the country. You’ll likely also find iguanas basking in the sun there as you admire the huge Mayan pyramid.
But when it comes to wildlife, there’s more than just iguanas around Tulum. With the hiking trails and jungle that surrounds this city, there’s plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities too – as we’ve written about before.
That includes the likes of the endangered margay (see photo below), and the howler monkey which is the loudest monkey in the world. So if you’re a wildlife lover, a trip to Tulum may be your perfect vacation.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
Cabo: For Families
Due to its status as a big party town, Cabo isn’t really known as a destination for family vacations. However, that doesn’t mean that the city isn’t suited for families. There are a lot of interesting attractions in the city that you can still enjoy with your family.
Cabo’s no. 1 tourist attraction, whale watching, is certainly something anyone would enjoy regardless of age.
And while the beaches in Cabo are often not suited for swimming, the great winds there make the area fantastic for water sports activities. From jet skis to paddles and kayaks, water sports is a great bonding activity for any family and lots of fun.
You can also take your kids to Wild Canyon Adventure Park, a huge adventure park filled with many attractions including bungee jumping, ATV riding, and even an animal sanctuary.
As for a family resort in Cabo, we’d recommend Playa Grande Resort & Grand Spa. It’s a comfortable resort with plenty of activities for families and great access to the downtown area.
Tulum: For Families
Tulum also has numerous fun activities for families and has safer water for swimming. Plus as it has more diverse attractions away from the sea, many kids will probably find it more interesting than Cabo.
For starters, you can visit the interesting historic sites of the Mayans, something that you can’t do when based in Cabo.
Another feature of Tulum that kids will surely love is its jungles and countless natural attractions. Punta Laguna Nature Reserve is a place where you can interact with wildlife, from spider monkeys to various species of birds. There are also outbound activities, such as zip line rides and canoeing.
As mentioned previously, the beaches in Tulum are good for swimming too. This is obviously great for children as they will most likely prefer to swim rather than just lie around sunbathing.
Because it has been the US’ favorite tropical holiday destination for years, many families spend their holidays in Cabo, and it is a great place for an easy vacation. But for parents looking to do more with their kids away from their resort, Tulum will likely be the better choice.
Which Is Cheaper?
As two of the most prominent tourist hotspots in Mexico, Cabo and Tulum are relatively pricey compared to the rest of the country.
However, Tulum tends to be more affordable than Cabo. The prices for accommodation in Cabo in particular can be quite high, with hotel prices soaring during winter months.
Cabo vs Tulum: Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Shoestring: Set in the heart of Cabo within walking distance of the beach, restaurants and nightlife, Sofia Hostel Cabo is a friendly hostel with a lovely garden and activities. See photos and rates here!
Budget: Sirena del Mar is spectacularly located on top of a cliff, but still just three minutes walk to a beach, and 15 minutes drive to downtown Cabo.
There you’ll get incredible seaside views, a private beach area, terraces to soak up the sun and an outdoor swimming pool. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Esperanza, Auberge Resorts Collection has to be one of the top five-star hotels in the world.
The exceptional service, landscaped grounds, beachfront infinity pool, spa, and even free yoga sessions – all set right beside the sea and beach – make this place an unbelievable Cabo getaway. See photos and rates here!
Shoestring: Decked out in old Tulum style, Caribeña may be a cheap accommodation choice but it doesn’t look it.
You’ll be just a few minutes walk from downtown Tulum, and close to the beach and archeological sites. And when returning back after a day of exploring there’s a lovely outdoor pool to enjoy. See photos and rates here!
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 Has Better Nightlife?
If vacation time means party time to you, then maybe Cabo will likely be the better choice. Whilst there are plenty of bars and clubs in Tulum too, the nightlife in Cabo is just that bit more bolder, brighter, and larger.
That’s not to say Cabo’s after-dark party scene is like Mexico’s party capital of Cancun – it’s more laid back than that. But the bar scene is very good, and there’s plenty of places for a party. The bars, clubs, and shops are relatively close together too, so it’s easy to bar hop during the evening.
So where do we recommend? Well after a long day exploring Cabo or enjoying the beach, then head to Baja Brewery for great beer and good food. Our tip is to come here at sunset as it’s a rooftop bar and the views are exceptional.
Another favorite spot is The Jungle Bar – expect good music, drinks, and friendly service. For something a little different, head to the cozy Two for the Road Cabo JAZZ Spot – this little jazz joint has great musicians and equally great drinks. An absolute must in Cabo.
Although Tulum isn’t as nightlife centric as Cabo, there are several great evening spots. One of our favorites is Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar. This bar has an energetic vibe, beer garden, and live music – the different flavored mojitos are delicious.
Another favorite is Xibalbar. Expect great service and music at this rooftop bar, as well as a nice selection of food and drinks, and the best hookah in the city. It’s usually open until 1am.
Recommended: A Local’s Guide to Tulum Nightlife
Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
Cabo: For Honeymoons
Cabo is known for its great all-inclusive resorts, which is what many couples look for in a honeymoon destination.
Even though most of the beaches aren’t fantastic for swimming, they are still gorgeous beaches with clear blue waters that would make for an unforgettable honeymoon experience.
After all, just imagine you and your partner walking along the shore with white sand under your feet while enjoying the sunset, or trying out a new water sport together. Cabo has all of that and more.
And of course, newlyweds who enjoy a fun nightlife will have a good time exploring the vibrant nightlife of Cabo together. Make sure to go to the rooftop bar we mentioned above, Baja Brewery for a romantic evening watching the sunset while sharing a drink.
Most Cabo tourists get the full Cabo experience by staying at all-inclusive resorts. So for the best honeymoon resorts we have a couple of suggestions.
The first is Breathless Cabo which is an adults-only resort known to have breathtaking (and very romantic-feeling) views of the sea and great access to the town.
The second option is Marquis Los Cabos, which is another adults-only all-inclusive resort with superb drinks and gorgeous swimming pools where newlyweds can relax together and get those all-important honeymoon snaps.
Tulum: For Honeymoons
While Cabo is popular for its party scene, Tulum has a more relaxing and tranquil atmosphere. And if you’re in a couple that wants a little adventure than Tulum can offer that due to the jungles that surround it and the Mayan ruins that sit on the beaches.
But don’t worry, that’s not to say that Tulum has no “modern” entertainment or amenities either. You will still find plenty of fine-dining restaurants, spas, and clubs there too.
But the top attraction in Tulum for a romantic getaway is Dos Ojos cenote (see photo below), a gorgeous natural water hole that is located underneath a cliff, making it somewhat feel like a cave. The turquoise water and sunlight streaming onto the cenote, complete with the hanging plants, will create a honeymoon snap that will make everyone jealous.
We also think the resorts in Tulum are a little more picturesque for a honeymoon than their counterparts in Cabo.
For example, Azulik Resort offers a one-of-a-kind hotel experience combining nature, culture, and art where you’ll be staying in jungle villas. Located in the middle of the Mayan jungle, you’ll feel like you’re living inside a storybook. The cuisine is also unique, combining Mexican and Japanese foods.
There’s also plenty of more conventional and modern honeymoon stays, some with private swimming pools and direct beach access. Hotel Ma’xanab Tulum – which we mentioned before – is probably the best.
All in all, because of the stunning cenotes, Mayan ruins in Tulum, and gorgeous jungle and coastline scenery, we would lean more towards Tulum when it comes to a honeymoon destination. Both Tulum and Cabo have great beaches and resorts, but you won’t experience the romantic and magical feel of Dos Ojos cenote and Chichen Itza if staying in Cabo.
Tulum vs Cabo: Which Is The Better Holiday Choice?
Both of these Mexican holiday vacations will provide unforgettable memories but for very different reasons.
Tulum has better beaches than Cabo, is relaxed and has an authentic vibe. So if you’re looking for spectacular beaches, some great natural and archeological excursions, then Tulum may be the better choice than Cabo.
Cabo has some lovely beaches too, and great wildlife and hiking excursions.
So if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand in a unique location, and also wish to explore the surrounding area, then Cabo might be the better choice than Tulum.