Tulum vs Cabo: Which of these two premier Mexican tourist destinations is right for you? Located on opposite sides of the country, there are some major differences between Tulum and Cabo, which you should take into account when deciding to visit one or the other. The right choice for you will depend on what you are interested in doing, seeing, spending, and more. Here is a chart comparing Tulum vs Cabo, followed by a detailed breakdown of how the two locations compare.
Mayan ruins of Tulum, Mayan ruins of Coba, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, secluded beaches, swimming, snorkeling, authentic Mexican restaurants and markets
Beaches, Arch of Cabo san Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, deep sea fishing, ATV tours, whale watching horeseback riding, camel riding, nightlife
Food and Drink
Excellent, authentic Mexican food, good international options, great cafes, and a variety of vegan and vegetarian options. Fine dining at all-inclusive resorts
Excellent seafood and Mexican food, wide variety of restaurants and cafes, good international choices, fine dining at all-inclusive resorts
All-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, international chains, and villas and condos to rent concentrated in the beachfront "Hotel Zone"
Variety of beachfront all inclusive resorts, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and villas and condos for rent
Frequenty direct flights to Cancun from most major US cities, followed by 90 minute trip by bus or car rental to Tulum. Shorter flight for travellers located on East Coast.
Frequent direct flights from most major US cities. Shorter flight for travellers located on West Coast.
78.3 °F average annual temperature. Long dry season followed by rainy season from June - October
75 °F average annual temperature. Rainy season in August and September. More mild rainy season than most Mexican resort cities
Attractions and Activities
The first thing to note when deciding between Tulum vs Cabo is the differences between the major attractions at the two locations. In Tulum, the majority of the visitors come to see the Mayan ruins. Tulum and other sites in the area are famous for having some of the best-preserved and most accessible Mayan ruins in the country.
Tulum’s old city is surrounded by a stone wall standing 10-16 feet in height, constructed by its original Mayan inhabitants. In the city, the three best preserved Mayan buildings are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. All are within a couple minutes of the Hotel Zone and are easily accessible.
El Castillo (the castle) is a pyramid-like structure sitting on a hill just off the water’s edge. The structure aligns almost directly with a gap in the barrier reef surrounding Tulum’s shores, and it is believed that it once served as a beacon to mark the safest way into the city for trading canoes.
The Temple of the Frescoes is a two floor building in the center of the city that was used as a type of observatory for the Mayans to track the movement of the celestial bodies. It may have also served as a temple of sorts, as it is covered in frescos showing gods and goddesses, animals, flowers, and ears of corn.
The smallest of the three ruins, the Temple of the Descending God is a one room structure with a staircase leading to its entrance. It gets its name from a sculpture above the door that shows the likeness of a mysterious god positioned upside down. This god is called the “Descending God” or “Diving God” and other likenesses of him can be found in frescos all over Tulum, although what exactly he represents is unclear. Some archeologists believe that he may be the Mayan god of bees and honey, Ah-Muzen-Cab.
Aside from the Mayan ruins, the modern city of Tulum has plenty of other attractions that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Tulum’s beaches are pristine, with white sands and turquoise waters, and are much less crowded than the beaches at other major Riviera Maya destinations, like Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Popular activities on the beach or in the ocean include snorkeling and scuba diving at Tulum’s reefs, kiteboarding, sailing and yachting, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, and more.
Off the beach, popular activities in Tulum include trips to the local underwater caves, called cenotes, which are popular swimming spots; ATV tours of the jungle; wildlife tours to see the local monkeys and other fauna; hiking; bicycling; ziplining; and more. Downtown Tulum has plenty of great places to shop, and a variety of clubs and bars for those interested in the nightlife.
Cabo is a municipality that is divided into two towns and an area called “The Corridor,” which connects the two towns. Located a 30 minute drive apart, the first town is called San Jose del Cabo, and is the “Old Town,” or historic district, where many old buildings and some new resorts are located. The second town is Cabo san Lucas, which is the major tourist destination. “The Corridor” between the two towns consists of the highway connecting them, and the surrounding golf courses, resorts, and rental villas and condos.
The main attraction in Cabo is the beaches, which are long, with soft, yellow sands and cool blue waters. Located on the Pacific ocean, the beaches in Cabo are quite different from the Caribbean beaches of Tulum. Many of the beaches in Cabo have deeper and rougher waters than the beaches at Tulum. This means that some of the beaches at Cabo are better for watersports, like surfing, jet skiing, parasailing, etc. but less ideal for swimming.
The powerful waves at some of Cabo’s beaches have created rock formations and arches right on the water’s edge that are absolutely stunning to see in person. Popular beaches like Lovers Beach in Cabo san Lucas are renowned for their natural beauty, and are also very swimmable.
Other popular waterfront activities in Cabo include kayaking, fishing, boating, paddle boarding, whale watching, and snorkeling and scuba diving.
Off the beaches, Cabo is famous for its golf courses, shopping centers, spas, and its great tours and excursions. Horseback riding, ATV tours, buggy tours, and hiking and walking tours are all popular ways to explore the area. When the sun goes down, Cabo’s reputation for nightlife goes into full swing. Beachfront bars, nightclubs, and lounges are popular spots for those interested in experiencing Cabo’s nightlife.
Cabo is located on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, in a region that has a tropical desert climate. This means that even in the winter, the temperature rarely drops below 65 °F, and the area never freezes. The hottest months are June – October, although the temperature rarely goes over 85 °F. There is also a brief and comparatively mild rainy season in August and September.
In Tulum, the climate is tropical savanna. The average temperature is around 75 for the whole year, without much variation from winter to summer. The rainy season goes from May to November. The ocean water and groundwater in the cenotes remains in the mid to high 70s year round.
When considering Tulum vs Cabo, you will want to factor in the accommodations you would like to stay at. Most of the hotels, resorts, and rentals in Tulum are concentrated along the beachfront “Hotel Zone.” In Cabo, there is a wider variety of areas to stay at, including a hotel zone in Cabo san Lucas, a hotel zone in San Jose del Cabo, and many resorts and hotels in the Corridor between the two cities.
A large percentage of the visitors to Cabo prefer to stay in the all-inclusive resorts in Cabo san Lucas, which typically have beachfront access, raised pools, fine dining, luxury suites, hotel-organized tour groups, on-site golf courses, and more. Some of the nicest high-end resorts in the city include The Resort at Pedregal, Las Ventanas Al Paraiso, Paradisus Los Cabos, and Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa. Nice budget hotels in Cabos include Estancia Real Los Cabos and Seven Crown Express & Suites.
In general, Cabo is more expensive than Tulum. As the busier tourist destination, with over 3 million tourists per year, the prices for accommodations, dining, and tours in Cabo can be quite high. Comparing apples to apples, Cabo is more expensive than Tulum in all these areas, with an average cost per person per week of $2,389 vs $1,890 in Tulum. Of course, it is possible to find a lower budget hotel or condo to stay at in Cabo that will be cheaper than most accommodations in Tulum. But generally speaking, Cabo is the more expensive destination.
Food and Drink
The food in Tulum is excellent, with a more authentic Mexican taste than the more tourist-friendly and Americanized food found in Cancun and other Riviera Maya cities. The seafood is also great, and there are many restaurants serving authentic Yucatecan cuisine, such as papadzules, huevos motuleños, and cochinita pibil. There are also great international options, including Thai, Italian, and Japanese restaurants.
The food in Cabo is also excellent, with many authentic Mexican options, and great, fresh seafood. Popular in the region is cuisine known as Baja Med, which is described as a fusion between traditional Mexican dishes and Mediterranean cuisine, using fresh produce and seafood from the Baja California Peninsula. Popular dishes include tempura fish tacos, camaron enchilados, fried marlin, and risotto with prickly pear cactus and octopus. Cabo also has plenty of international options, including French and Italian food.
The closest airport to Tulum is Cancun International Airport, which receives frequent direct flights from most major cities in the US. Once you land in Cancun, you can take a bus or rent a car and drive to Tulum. The trip takes about 90 minutes on the highway, and is an easy, safe drive. If you live on the East Coast of the United States, flying to Cancun is shorter, with a nonstop flight from NYC taking about 4 hours, vs 6 to get to Cabo.
There are also frequent direct flights to Cabo from most major cities in the US. Los Cabos International Airport is just outside San Jose del Cabo, so if you are staying there, you will just need to take a taxi right to your hotel. If you are staying in Cabo san Lucas, it takes about 30 minutes to drive there from the airport. If you live on the West Coast of the US, flying to Cabos is easier, with a flight from LA taking about 2.5 hours, vs 4.5 for a nonstop flight to Cancun International Airport.
The Bottom Line
If you are considering Tulum vs Cabo for your next vacation, you have no bad options. The right choice for you will depend on your interests, budget, and location. If you are primarily interested in historical sightseeing, visiting ancient ruins, and experiencing calm, tranquil Caribbean beaches, but still having the option to go on plenty of adventures to the scuba diving sites, cenotes, jungle, and more, then Tulum is hard to beat. If you are interested in a wider variety of activities and sights to see, stunning beaches and natural rock formations, unique food, and a great nightlife, then Cabo is the right choice.