Akumal vs Tulum: These two cities on the Riviera Maya are premier Mexican vacation destinations. But which one is better for your next vacation. While there is no single answer to this question, there are some significant differences between Akumal and Tulum that may make you prefer one over the other. If you are trying to decide between Akumal vs Tulum for your next vacation, here is what you should know.
Classical Mayan ruins in old city of Tulum, The Cenotes Dos Ojos, Laguna Kaan Luum, Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, Cenotes Sac Actun, secluded beaches, swimming, snorkeling, authentic Mexican restaurants and markets
Swimming and snorkeling with wild green sea turtles, Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay beaches, Aktun Chen National Park, Yal-ku Lagoon, Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
Food and Drink
Excellent Mexican food, great international options. Fine dining at the all-inclusive resorts
Great Mexican food, wide variety of restaurants, bars, and cafes. Plenty of open-air eateries right on the waterfront. Fine dining at all-inclusive resorts
Budget hostels and hotels, all-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, and villas and condos to rent concentrated in the beachfront "Hotel Zone"
Beachfront all inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, and some hostels and budget hotel options
Frequenty direct flights to Cancun from many major US and Canadian cities, then a 90 minute bus or car ride to Tulum
Frequenty direct flights to Cancun from many major US and Canadian cities, then a 1 hour ride to Akumal via car o bus
78.3 °F average annual temperature. Long dry season followed by rainy season from June - October
Tropical dry climate. 78.5 °F average temperature. Rainy season from June - October
Akumal vs Tulum: The History
Located 17 miles apart on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Akumal and Tulum’s modern history is quite similar. Up until the 1970s, the whole coastal area of the Yucatan Peninsula, now known as the “Riviera Maya” was undeveloped, and contained only a smattering of sparsely populated fishing villages. The Mexican federal government poured significant funds into developing a city on the northern tip of the Peninsula, which would become the tourist destination Cancun. With the success of Cancun, investors began developing the rest of the coast, and by the 1980s and 90s, the cities of Akumal and Tulum had transformed into significant tourist attractions.
Although the two cities are close in proximity, they have significant differences in terms of their main attractions, their beaches, and their atmosphere. Here are the major differences and similarities between the two cities, and what you should keep in mind when choosing one over the other.
Attractions and Activities
Tulm’s main attraction is its Mayan ruins. The modern city of Tulum is located on a Mayan city that was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. Many of the ruins of this Mayan city remain standing to this day, and have become a very popular tourist attraction due to their beauty and accessibility.
The first thing you will notice when approaching the old Mayan city of Tulum is the stone wall surrounding the city. Much of this wall is still standing, and it towers from 10-16 feet in height. Beyond the walls, in the city proper, are multiple stone buildings, the most prominent of which are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God.
El Castillo (the castle) is the largest Mayan structure in Tulum. Standing 25 feet in height, this pyramid-like structure dominates the site. El Castillo stands just feet away from a cliff leading to the ocean below. It also aligns nearly perfectly with a gap in the barrier reef that surrounds Tulum. It is believed that El Castillo served as a sort of lighthouse to guide trading canoes safely through the reef and to shore.
Located almost directly in front of El Castillo, is the second largest structure in Tulum, the Temple of the Frescoes. This two story building is believed to have served as both a temple and an observatory for Mayan astronomers to track the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. The name “Temple of the Frescoes” comes from the various frescoes that are found on the walls, including multiple that show an upside down god known as the “diving god” or “descending god.”
The third most prominent structure in Tulum is a one room building known as the Temple of the Descending God. A staircase leads up to the doorway to this building, above which is the likeness of an upside down god, believed to represent the Mayan god of bees and honey.
Aside from the Mayan sites, Tulum has many other attractions that appeal to tourists. One of Tulum’s main attractions is its beaches. The beaches in Tulum are beautiful, with long white, sand stretches, and turquoise, Caribbean waters. One thing to keep in mind is that the waters on Tulum’s beaches can get rough, although most beaches are swimmable. The most popular beaches in Tulum include:
Playa Paraíso: Located just north of Tulum’s main hotel zone. Playa Paraíso is a long, sandy beach with calm waters. It rarely gets overcrowded despite being one of Tulum’s more popular beaches.
Playa Ruinas: Located right near the Mayan ruins, Playa Ruinas is a picturesque Caribbean beach, with warm sands, coconut trees, and turquoise waters. It is an ideal place to relax before or after seeing the ruins.
Las Palmas Public Beach: One of the quieter, more secluded beaches in Tulum. Located about 3 miles from the ruins.
Other major attractions in Tulum include day trips and excursions to the local underground swimmable caves, called cenotes; ATV and buggy tours of the nearby jungle; mezcal tasting tours and food tours; golfing; and waterfront activities like snorkeling and scuba diving, kayaking and canoeing, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and sailing.
Popular sites in Tulum include:
The Cenotes Dos Ojos: Incredible, vast cenote with crystal clear water. Amazing for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Laguna Kaan Luum: Beautiful, green water lagoon surrounded by jungle. Great for swimming.
Punta Laguna Nature Reserve: Protected jungle wildlife area full of spider monkeys. Crowds are sparse and the tours of the reserve are incredible.
Cenotes Sac Actun: Incredible, cavernous cenote that is well worth the visit.
Akumal is a small beachfront community located 17 miles north of Tulum. It is situated on two bays, Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay, in the center of the Riviera Maya. Akumal means “Place of the Turtle” in Mayan, and true to its name, green sea turtles, an endangered species of turtle, are a common site in the waters off Akumal. The months from May to November are nesting season for the turtles, when they come closest to the beach to nest, and to feed on the sea grass that grows in Akumal’s shallow bays.
Many of the popular attractions in Akumal revolve around the turtles and other marine wildlife. Snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming tours of the bays are very popular. The bays are protected by a coral reef, and the water is calm and shallow, so even novice divers can feel comfortable. The turtles are used to human presence, and generally will let divers get close to them.
Watching wild sea turtles swim around, go onto the beach, and feed on seagrass is an incredible experience that is well worth the trip. If you are planning on swimming with the turtles, you should try to get to the beach as early as possible, as crowded tour groups that come later in the day will start to kick up sand from the bottom of the bay and decrease visibility.
There are two beaches in Akumal, one situated on each of the bays. Both beaches are very similar, with soft white sands, calm waters, and plenty of hotels and restaurants in the area.
Besides the beaches and the turtle tours, popular attractions in Akumal include day trips to the local cenotes, ATV and buggy tours through the jungle, ziplining through the jungle and other adrenaline tours, sailing, cruises, paddleboarding, windsurfing, and more.
Popular sites in Akumal include:
Aktun Chen: National park in the jungle with spectacular cenotes, dry caves, ziplining, and more. Tours of the caves are well worth it.
Yal-ku Lagoon: Large, tropical lagoon with stunning turquoise waters. The lagoon is full of fish, and is a great place for swimming and snorkeling.
Akumal Monkey Sanctuary: Sanctuary and zoo where you can see spider monkeys, capuchins, and other animals, like deer, goats, and parrots.
Casa del Sol: Hostel with a rooftop terrace, breakfast provided, and snorkel gear and bike rentals available at the front desk.
Playa Condesa: Waterfront accommodations located within 2 miles from the ruins.
Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort: all inclusive boutique hotel. Located on the beach. Adults only resort with easy access to the ruins and nearby golf courses, cenotes, and parks.
Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa: Beachfront resort with luxury suites, indoor and outdoor pools, adults-only sections, beautiful views of the ocean, and easy access to the ruins.
Playaakun: Oceanfront villa situated 30 minutes from the Tulum ruins and 30 minutes from the most popular cenotes and cave sites.
Del Sol Beachfront Hotel and Condos: Beachfront condos on Half Moon Bay. Great amenities, outdoor pool, and reasonable prices.
Hotel Akumal: Low-cost hotel with nice rooms, bicycle rentals, and easy access to the snorkeling and scuba diving sites in Akumal.
Akumal Bay: – Beach & Wellness Resort: Beachfront resort with incredible views, luxury suites, personal outdoor balconies and jacuzzis, and fine dining.
Sunscape Akumal Beach Resorts & Spa: Luxury beachfront resort with fine dining, bars and lounges, excellent pools, and luxury suites.
An important factor when comparing Akumal vs Tulum is the cost of each. A week in Tulum costs approximately $1,890 USD per person. A week in Akumal costs approximately $1,410 USD per person.
The Bottom Line
When comparing Akumal vs Tulum, the most important factors to take into account are what you want to do, where you want to stay, and how much you are willing to spend. Keep in mind that Akumal and Tulum are only 17 miles apart, so whichever one you choose, it is certainly possible to make a day trip to the other. Your decision on where you want to stay should be based on what you are more interested in doing.
If you are mostly interested in seeing the Mayan ruins, relaxing on the beach, and partaking in watersports, then Tulum will be the better choice. If you are more interested in enjoying a calmer, stiller beach with more wildlife tours, and a relaxed environment, Akumal will be the better choice for you.