Cabo vs Tulum: where to go on a beach vacation in Mexico?

When it comes to the ultimate vacation in Mexico, it is very difficult to choose among the so many incredible destinations within the Mexican territory, and choosing between Cabo vs Tulum is one of the most common dilemmas.

If you can relate, you are in the right place. In this post, I will compare these two dream Mexican destinations and cover different aspects of each one to help you decide on the perfect choice for your next trip.

Both Cabo and Tulum are very popular for many reasons, and the stunning beaches, nightlife, and activities of these two destinations are just a few of the things travelers appreciate about both high-end beach resort towns.

With lots of hotel options for all budgets, restaurants, bars, and spectacular natural places to visit, both Cabo and Tulum are perfect for a vacation, and that’s why thousands of people visit them every year from all around the world.

Cabo vs Tulum

However, you should keep in mind that Mexico is a huge and diverse place and besides the fact that Tulum and Cabo are located in two very different states on opposite coasts, with different climates and geography, they offer a completely different vacation experience with a distinct vibe and scenery.

That is why deciding between Cabo and Tulum can be a tough choice. There is no right or wrong or better or worse. It all depends on what kind of vacation you are looking for.

But that’s why I am here for. I hope that by the end of this post, you will have a clear understanding of what each of the two destinations has to offer and therefore you will have all the information you need to make up your mind on which one is the best one for you.

So, without any more delay, let’s get down to it!

Cabo vs Tulum: which one to choose for the perfect Mexican vacation?

Let’s check out the main differences between these two spectacular destinations.

Tulum Beach aerial view
Tulum Beach aerial view – Photo © Isabella Biava taken with DJI Mini 2

Cabo vs Tulum: geography

The most obvious difference is the location.

Cabo Location

Cabo is located on the southern tip of Baja California Sur, on the Pacific coast where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, with a spectacular red rocks mountain range as a backdrop.

The rugged coastline is interrupted by spectacular bays with sand beaches and incredible postcard-worthy views, but not all of them are swimmable because of the rips and currents.

Cabo and the nearby coast are loved by professional surfers and kite surfers.

Cenote Corazon - aerial view
Cenote Corazon Aerial View Photo © Isabella Biava taken with DJI Mini 2

Tulum Location

Tulum is located on the ultra-flat Riviera Maya in the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, boasting an endless white sand beach washed by the turquoise Caribbean sea, very accessible and swimmer friendly.

Surfers can also find some good spots in Tulum but random and you need to know where and when to go.

Tulum’s beach backyard is an extensive thick jungle dotted with refreshing cenotes (I will explain what they are later on).

Tulum is also flanked by the spectacular Sian Kaan reserve on the south side and many other spectacular beaches of the Riviera Maya on the north side.

Tulum ruins
Tulum Ruins

Cabo vs Tulum — Cabo features and highlights

Cabo San Lucas is a resort town famous for its all-inclusive resorts, stunning beaches, vibrant nightlife, awe-inspiring rock formations, golfing, and delightful cuisine.

The town has grown from a small fishing port near La Paz to a world-renowned tourist destination in Mexico.

Nowadays, it sees thousands of tourists from across the globe.  In fact, at the close of 2019, Los Cabos received 2.8 million passengers. Not a joke!

The international airport and rapid development in recent years have played an important role in making Cabo one of the most popular destinations for luxury tourism.

Many features of Cabo can be found in Tulum, including luxurious stays, stunning beaches, nightlife, and lots of restaurants.

But then there are also some exclusive aspects of a Cabo vacation that you won’t find in Tulum (or anywhere else really).

Even though Tulum is also popular for its luxury hotels and high-end lodgings, in Cabo we can appreciate another kind of luxury, more modern and austere and high-end finishing and big all-inclusive hotels.

On the other hand, in Tulum, you will find small boutique hotels and spectacular apartments with a more vintage or natural look, so-called boho or laid-back chic.

cabo arch

Highlights of Cabo

✓ The golden sand of Cabo beaches is a striking contrast to the turquoise water of the Pacific and the bright blue skies, which makes for broad, breathtaking views.

✓ Cabo is known for its one-of-a-kind rock formation, El Arco (the arch) that erupts from the sea at the very end of the Baja Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. It’s a local landmark and one of the most visited places in Cabo.

✓ The desert-like region of Cabo has great opportunities for hiking excursions.

✓ Cabo’s landscape is also filled with unique natural wonders, which means getting to see and do a lot there.

✓ Cabo beaches offer a variety of water sports including, paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling, and kitesurfing.

✓ The weather in Cabo is warm, clear, and dry throughout the year and there is less chance of rain compared to the Caribbean side of Mexico. Nights are cooler because of the proximity of the desert.

✓ Diving with whale sharks is a famous activity in Cabo that you can try during the season that runs from October to February.

✓ Golf lovers will be well entertained in the 16 golf courses in the region 5 of which are some of the most prestigious golf courses in the world.

✓ From Cabo beaches you can see spectacular sunsets

✓ San Jose del Cabo has a cute colonial historical center where you can enjoy local art shows and a delicious eatery during the evenings, especially on a Thursday.

Cabo San Lucas beach

Cabo distances

  • 32 min (33 km) from San Jose del Cabo.
  • 56 min (76 km ) from Todos Santos.
  • 1 hr 32 min (98 km) from the Canyon of the Fox (Cañon de La Zorra)
  • 1 hr 34 min (112 km) from Los Barriles.
  • 2 hr (156 km) from La Paz.
  • 2 hr 7 min (132 km) from Cabo Pulmo National Park.

The negative side of Cabo compared to Tulum

🔴 Cabo has a more high-end, Americanized resort destination feel and is famous for the celebrities that visit here.

The atmosphere is more of uptight tourism, compared to the boho vibe of Tulum (not necessarily a negative aspect for some, but a con if you’re someone like me).

🔴 Swimming in the water of some of the beaches in Cabo can be dangerous because of the undertows and strong currents on the Pacific Ocean side.

Don’t worry though, there are still some spots perfect for swimming that are marked with a blue flag.

🔴 Tulum is known to be expensive, but Cabo is even more expensive (and possibly the most expensive destination in all of Mexico).

Though only a handful, there are luckily some affordable lodging options available in Cabo, and Airbnbs and VRBO are also excellent alternatives if you’re on a budget.

Los Cabos Resorts
Resort in Cabo

Cabo vs Tulum — Tulum features and highlights

Tulum town is a gorgeous and unique Mexican destination located on the Yucatan Peninsula.

It’s situated along the Caribbean coastline, which means stunning white-sand beaches, with a thick lush jungle as a backdrop and many natural beauties to discover in the surroundings.

The town is known for its controversial boho-chic feel, where you will find lots of great sophisticated boutique hotels and stylish apartments made of clean cement, local resins, and wood, decorated with ethnic artifacts and boasting a pseudo-eco-friendly culture.

Tulum is a destination for style-conscious hipster travelers but also curious explorers and nature lovers.

The charming downtown of Tulum, with its adorable cafes, restaurants, and trendy nightclubs, and the well-preserved cliffside Mayan ruins are also part of the Tulum magic, and it also has a variety of activities, shopping opportunities, so many stunning cenotes, and lots of great places to visit nearby.

Just like Cabo, Tulum was a sleepy fishing village once. In little to no time, it has come to be known as one of the most authentic vacation destinations in Mexico.

Of course, the rapid development has made it a lot more expensive as well.

Grand Cenote Platform tulum
Grand Cenote Platform

Highlights of Tulum

✓ The famous Tulum Archeological site is perched atop a cliff and surrounded by nature, making for an awe-inspiring attraction of the town and one of the most photographed spots on the Riviera Maya.

✓ The lodging options in Tulum include boutique hotels, luxury condos, and apartments both in the hotel zone and in the lush green jungle surrounding the town offering some of the most creative and spectacular stays.

✓ Tulum’s downtown which is everything but charming, boasts a unique mix of local and international feel with all sorts of eateries, yoga places, and hotels for all budgets.

✓ The downtown is where you will also find Tulum’s laid-back nightlife in its small bars.

✓ Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) is nearby, and Valladolid is also just one and a half hours drive from Tulum.

✓ Tulum is expensive, but it’s the cheaper option when compared to Cabo as you find many more budget-friendly options than Cabo.

✓ Tulum is surrounded by spectacular cenotes and caves, and Mayan Ruins and lagoons to explore for an authentic adventurous trip.

✓ From Tulum beach you can enjoy spectacular sunrises.

Kaan Luum Aerial view
Photo © Isabella Biava taken with DJI Mini 2

Tulum distances

  • 53 min (64 km) from Playa del Carmen.
  • 1 hr 20 min (102 km) from Valladolid.
  • 1 hr 47 min (131 km) from Cancun.
  • 2 hr 30 min (148 km) from Isla Mujeres.
  • 2 hr (149 km) from Chichen Itza.
  • 2 hr 28 min (169 km) from Chiquila (where you get the ferry to Isla Holbox).
  • 1 hr 10 min from Cozumel (50′ car 20′ minutes ferry)

The downsides of Tulum compared to Cabo

🔴 Due to its tropical climate, Tulum is hotter and more humid than Cabo during the summer months.

🔴 Tulum’s downtown and the hotel zone are 10 km apart

🔴 The closest international airport (Cancun Airport) is located 2 hours away from Tulum.

🔴 There are only two all-inclusive resorts in Tulum, which means you won’t have the same variety of all-inclusive here as in Cabo. So if you prefer all-inclusive resorts, you know where to go now 🙂

🔴 Tulum is becoming less safe and more crowded, which can be a contradiction but yes, Tulum receives about 1.5 million visitors per year and it seems that the increased number of crime situations is not affecting the trend.

Cancun – Tulum Private Transportation Round trip – 10$ OFF

Private tranasportation Cancun Airport to Tulum

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humpback whale in Cabo pulmo

Cabo vs Tulum — Which one is safer?

As you could see both destinations receive thousands of tourists from different countries of the world every year.

I would say that in both destinations it is relatively safe to walk around in daylight but I would still avoid isolated roads day and night.

As I mentioned before there has been an increase in episodes of crimes in Tulum that are not drug-related which made me question all my previous preaching on how Tulum is safe if you don’t get involved in drug-related issues.

I am not saying that you should not go to Tulum. I am still going, but I would recommend keeping your eyes open and following the most common-sense rules, just be extra careful.

You may want to read these safety-related posts for further discussion:

Is Tulum Safe right now?
Is Mexico safe?
Is Cabo safe to travel to?

Cabo San Lucas Marina
Cabo San Lucas Marina

Cabo vs Tulum — Weather

Cabo has a dry, desert-like climate, so the region is pretty much sunny throughout the year with little rain.

Winter days in Cabo are warm and perfect to spend on a beach, while nights and evenings get a bit cooler with occasional chilly temperatures (when you might need some warm clothing).

The shoulder season (from April to June and October to November) is probably the best time to visit Cabo when the weather here is way better compared to Tulum. This is also when there are fewer crowds in town and the rates are cheaper.

On the other hand, Tulum has tropical weather, which means it’s hotter and more humid compared to Cabo during summers.

The chances of rain are also higher during the season, so the majority of people visit here between December and April when the weather is sunny and dry, and even better than in Cabo (however in Cabo you can see the whales during that period).

During this time, the skies in Tulum are clear and the weather is excellent. But that’s also when prices soar and most of the crowds show up in town.

If you want to avoid the crowds and find better rates, visit during the shoulder season (April to May and October to November).

You may want to read these related posts for further info:

The best time to visit Tulum

Tulum at sunset

Cabo vs Tulum: airport transportation

Both cities offer great transportation service options to get to the hotels in the area or the nearby cities.

However, keep in mind that while Cabo airport is at 20 minutes drive ( depending on where you are staying), the closest airport to Tulum is Cancun International Airport, which is about 1h 45 minutes away.

In both cases, you can find great transportation services available, though.

Here below I will share my recommendation for the best companies for a safe and seamless transfer.

► Shared transportation from Cabo Airport to Hotel

► Private transportation from Cabo to Cabo hotel zone

► Cancun – Tulum Private Transportation Round trip – 10$ OFF

Private tranasportation Cancun Airport to Tulum

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Read about all the ways to get from Cancun Aiport to Tulum for different budgets

Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas

Cabo vs Tulum — Final thoughts

As you could see, Cabo and Tulum are two entirely different destinations when it comes to the vacation experience they offer, so it’s hard to choose one over the other objectively.

The good part is that there is no wrong choice as both destinations offer a variety of spectacular lodging on sunny days, beautiful beaches and spectacular natural wonders, great eateries, and fun things to do.

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