So, you are thinking about heading to the Caribbean side of Mexico for vacation and know you want a smaller town with a chill vibe that is not as busy as Cancun or Playa del Carmen? Two great choices are Isla Mujeres and Tulum.
Isla Mujeres is an island located 13 kilometers off the coast from Cancun that is 5 miles long and about a half of a mile wide. Tulum is located a little less than 2 hours south of Cancun and is a coastal town known for its Mayan ruins.
Located about 100 miles away from each other, each town is laid back and less crowded, yet there are a few differences. Having traveled to both several times, here is a comparison of the 2 when it comes down to beaches, attractions, nightlife, vibes and expenses.
|Average cost of a|
|$2950 (For a couple)||$3385 (For a couple)|
|Known for👍||White sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, authentic Mexican culture, Laid-back vibe, Friendly locals||Lively white sand beaches, Lush-green jungles, Mayan ruins, Yoga retreat centers, Cenotes|
|Beaches🏖||Less commercialized unspoilt beaches with true Mexican charm||Highly commercialized beaches with amenities and plenty of family-friendly activities like surfing, paddleboarding, parasailing and snorkeling|
|Activities🏄🏼♂️||Snorkeling, Surfing, Scuba diving, Kayaking, Swimming, Fishing||History and Culture tours, Yoga lessons, Rejuvanating spas, Hiking, Nightlife, Snorkeling|
|Popular Tourist Attractions🏰||Playa Norte, Punta Sur, Kin Ha, Women’s Beading Cooperative||Cenotes dos Ojos, Tulum archaeological site, Cenotes Sac Actun, Gran Cenote, Laguna Kaan Luum, Tulum beach, Punta Laguna Nature reserve, Mayan beach|
|Best Place to Stay🏨||Playa Norte beach||Pueblo, Tulum beach|
Isla Mujeres Vs Tulum: Which is your Cloud Nine!
This is a tough one because it really depends on your budget and you can find high end luxury hotels and smaller hostel type accommodations at both places.
Isla Mujeres is way smaller and has less places to stay at, whereas Tulum has over 2,000 accommodations to choose from.
Overall, the median price of a place to stay is lower in Isla Mujeres. In fact, Tulum has become one of the more trendy vacation destinations in the world and prices have skyrocketed there in the past few years.
As far as food and drink, again, similar in that you can find dive type local bars at each, but Tulum tends to have more boujee high end restaurants where you can pay upwards of $25 USD for a margarita.
Below table shows the average cost of accommodation per person based on accommodation types
|Accommodation type||Isla Mujeres||Tulum|
|Semi-Luxury/ Luxury||$135- $240||$135-$450|
Winner: Isla Mujeres overall is the more affordable vacation option. That said, Tulum also has many budget accommodation options you can choose from.
Best hotels in Isla Mujeres based on accommodation type
|Accommodation type💵||Hotel🏨||Location📍||Best for👍|
|Budget||Nomad Hotel & Beach club||South beach||Solo travellers|
|Budget||Selina Isla Mujeres||Norte Beach||Solo travellers, Couples on a budget|
|Imperla Hotel||Norte Beach||Couples, Families|
|Hotel La Joya (🌮Breakfast included)||El Pescador Beach||Couples, Families|
|⭐️ Privilege Aluxes (All inclusive)||Playa Norte beach||Couples on a honeymoon, Families with kids|
|Luxury||Casa de Los Sueños (🌮Breakfast included)||Carretera a Garrafon Fracc||Families, Couples|
Best hotels in Tulum based on accommodation type
|Accommodation type💵||Hotel🏨||Location📍||Best for👍|
|Budget||Mayan Monkey Tulum (🌮 Breakfast included)||Av. Coba Sur S/N||Solo travellers|
|Budget||oOstel Smart Hostel||Calle Polar Poniente||Solo travellers|
|Hotel Biwa Tulum||Avenida Satelite Norte entre Calle 4 ote y Bubullek||Couples, Families on a budget|
|Mid-range||Elements Tulum Boutique Hotel(🌮 Breakfast included)||Tulum archaeological site||Solo travellers, Couples on a budget|
|Luxury||⭐️ Ahau Tulum (All inclusive)||Tulum beach||Couples on a honeymoon, Families with kids|
|Carretera Tulum||Couples on a honeymoon|
So let’s start with the star attraction… the beaches!
Being an island, Isla Mujeres is surrounded by beaches. Playa Norte is the most popular beach on Isla Mujeres and has super soft white sand that leads into calm, turquoise blue Caribbean waters. Another popular beach is Playo Central which is in the center of the island and a little less crowded than Playa Norte.
Playa Garrafon is located in the southwest part of the island within the Garrafon Natural Reef Park, and offers amazing snorkeling in pristine waters right from the beach. Most of the east side of the island has rocky cliffs with a few hidden beaches that may or may not have the dreaded sargassum seaweed depending on the time of the year.
The beaches on the west coast of Isla Mujeres are largely protected from the sea grass problem and are quite lovely.
The beaches of Tulum can be divided into 2 sections: the North Playas and the South Playas split by a single road that leads from Tulum town to the shore. The northern beaches in Tulum are some of the most beautiful in Mexico.
Playa Ruinas is the most northern and sits below the Mayan ruins on the overlooking cliff. Playa Paradiso is in the middle and Las Palmas is at the southern end of the North Playas. Underdeveloped with wide open sand, the North Playas are a bit less crowded than the south playas.
The beaches to the south are also very beautiful, but more crowded and accessible mainly through one of the several hotels and resorts that have sprung up in Tulum.
The main issue with the beaches in Tulum is the sargassum seaweed that washes ashore every day and can be quite stinky. The Mexican government along with the resorts are trying to solve the problem, but it can be really bad at certain times of the year.
Winner: Both Isla Mujeres and Tulum have incredible beaches, but when you factor in the possibility of seaweed in recent years, the western facing beaches of Isla Mujeres are the hands down winner when it comes to pristine beaches.
Isla Mujeres vs Tulum: Vibes🙌🏼
Isla Mujeres has a quaint, charming and more traditional Mexican laid back vibe, whereas Tulum has a more modern, new age, chill vibe. On Isla Mujeres think snorkeling, margaritas and flip flops. In Tulum think yoga, organic food and mojitos.
Winner: Another draw depending on what resonates with you. Both are amazing and definitely not the typical Cancun spring break party scene.
Isla Mujeres vs Tulum: Nightlife
There are several fun bars and restaurants in Isla Mujeres to enjoy a few cocktails after a day at the beach. Some of the best are The Rock Bar, Tiny’s Bar, Isla Brewing Company, Tiny Gecko and Kokonuts Restaurante and Sports Bar.
The bartenders cater to tourists and are sure to provide a fun time for all. Plus, it’s a tiny island so don’t be surprised to make new friends very easily.
Tulum nightlife is a bit different than in other Mexican cities. There are chill rooftop and jungle bars for the mellow traveler, but also a vibrant DJ and techno party scene.
Hipsters from around the world flock to Tulum for EDM music festivals that last all night. Full moon parties are some of the best outside of Southeast Asia.
Winner: This is a draw depending on your scene. If you like the more traditional Caribbean Jimmy Buffett type nightlife, Isla Mujeres is your spot. If you are into more of a mind expanding scene, Tulum is for you.
Isla Mujeres vs Tulum: Things to do
Isla Mujeres is all about the ocean and sea activities. Snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding and windsurfing are all popular activities. The island is pretty small so a fun thing to do is to rent a golf cart or bicycle and explore the island yourself which is easy to do in a day.
There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants to check out. Be sure to visit Punta Sur Park at the southernmost end of Isla Mujeres. This historic eco area has Mayan ruins, stunning views, trails and more.
Tulum has a plethora of activities for both land and sea lovers. When people think of Tulum the first thing that comes to their minds is the ancient Mayan ruins set atop a cliff overlooking the ocean.
This ancient complex has a limestone wall on 3 sides and several preserved archaeological sites, many of which were used in Mayan religious culture. There are several tour guides available that can explain the significance of each site and be sure to bring plenty of water and maybe a sun umbrella as it can get very hot there.
Some of the other attractions in Tulum include the incredible, award winning restaurants from around the world which have popped up in recent years and there are also several yoga studios you can drop in and take a class.
Finally, the Cenotes are the hidden gems of Tulum. Be sure to visit Kaan Luum Lagoon a short bike ride south of Tulum.
Winner: Without a doubt, Tulum! There are several snorkeling and water activities similar to Isla Mujeres nearby, but the Mayan ruins, the food and the Cenotes makes Tulum the clear winner.
Isla Mujeres Vs Tulum for a Family Vacation?
Isla Mujeres is hands down a better option for a family vacation than Tulum owing to its quaint small town vibe, immaculate sargassum free beaches, easy accessibility to the beaches, affordable beachfront accommodations and plenty of activities on and off the beach for kids and adults alike.
Tulum has skyrocketed in popularity in the recent years as a go-to destination for hipsters and digital nomads and for its world-class Yoga retreat centres and rejuvenating spas and so has the hotel prices.
That said, Tulum has much more things to do then Isla Mujeres and is just a few hours away from Cancun, make your stay at Isla Mujeres and take a day trip to explore the fabulous beaches and fascinating Mayan ruins in Tulum.
Isla Mujeres Vs Tulum for a Honeymoon?
If you are looking for a quaint small town vibe, with laid-back and serene beaches, mesmerising vistas, subdued nightlife and plenty of other activities to explore on the beach, then choose Isla Mujeres for a honeymoon.
If you are looking for a more lively honeymoon experience with vibrant beaches, loud and lively nightlife, rejuvenating spas, world-class Yoga retreat centres and explore ancient Mayan culture and history, then Tulum is your cloud nine.
Both are amazing places for a honeymoon, it depends what you are looking for, I suggest explore both these places, as they are only a few hours apart from each other.
You can make you stay at either of these places and easily take a day trip to explore the other.
Winner: This one has to be a draw. Depending on what you want, both are great places for a honeymoon.
The Final Verdict
Depending on your vibe and budget, both Isla Mujeres and Tulum are great options for a more laid back Mexican vacation. Since you can get from one to the other in less than 4 hours, why not try a few nights at both and decide for yourself!
🏖 You may also like: