Playa del Carmen or Tulum?

I’ve just booked a flight to spend 6 days/5 nights in Quintana Roo (late Aug/early Sep), and would love to get some advice on where to stay. I am thinking of staying 4 nights either in Playa del Carmen or Tulum, with the last night on Isla Mujeres.

My special lady friend wants to stay at an all-inclusive place with a beautiful beach. I initially was thinking PDC, but in looking at the hotels, they seem to be not unlike hotels in Las Vegas. In looking at Tulum, it seems to be more sedate and secluded, which I would prefer, and believe that I could sell her Tulum on that. The issue is the “all inclusive”. Tulum only has 3 or 4 of them, while PDC has dozens.

Que dices, Dopers?

I’ll offer my 2 cents, with a couple of caveats. I’ve stayed in Playa and Cancun, but never in Tulum. I’ve only passed though Tulum once. I’ve only stayed once at an all inclusive, and that was 15+ years ago.

That said, Playa definitely is touristy, though comparing it to Vegas is probably overstating it, the strip in Cancun is probably closer to that. Playa does have a lot going on, but it is relatively low key. You might want to check out some of the resorts between Cancun and Playa. I think all of them are all inclusive, are secluded (at least in the sense that they are not in town, or right next to other hotels), are a relatively short cab ride away from Playa if you want to head to town, and I think have varying levels of “luxury” depending on your taste and budget.

Tulum definitely is more secluded. It has a small site of ruins on the beach, is relatively close to the ruins at Coba (which I recommend), and has some nearby cenotes.

Finally, I love Isla Mujeres and would never recommend not seeing it. But it is a little bit of a hassle getting there, especially from the Playa area. So I’m not sure it’s worth it just for one night. Still, if you think you’ll have enough time to enjoy it, the island is terrific.

Bolding mine.

Last spring my Wife and I stayed at Secrets in Akumal. About half way between PDC and Tulum. We would both highly recommend this place. For All Inclusive, the food was very good and never got boring (Make sure to make reservations for the Japanese restaurant). We have been to about 5 all inclusives, and this is our favorite.

Beach is very nice (and you can snorkel and see sea turtles right there. Pools are great. It’s also adults only, but not in a Playboy Mansion type way.

The nightly entertainment was fun too.

We had a ‘swim up’ room on the first floor. So there was water right off our porch. Had a Jacuzzi in our room. Also a stocked mini fridge, and there was a tablet (a cheepo). If you want to stay connected.

I see you have booked your flights. I hope you are not flying into Cancun on a Saturday. It is absolutely insane at the airport on a Sat. Customs takes forever. I would change that if I could.

I live in the Yucatán and am familiar with those areas.

If you want to experience México you won’t find it at Playa or Tulum.

You could spend all your time at Isla Mujeres and be very happy. There are day trips to Isla Contoy. A National park. Beautiful beaches. And great food, live music.

Another option is Isla Holbox. No paved streets. It is all beach sand. Go barefoot. Not much live music. But very peaceful.

But if your "special lady friend " is not happy, you won’t be either.

If it’s a straight choice between the two then for me it’s Tulum. But if you enjoy massive nightclubs and giant touristy shops then stick with Playa.

Most of the resorts in Playa are nothing like Vegas. Many have an authentic jungle atmosphere and are very laid back, and depending which you choose you can feel miles from the real world. The hotels must stay under 4 stories (no taller than the trees) and are relatively small in terms of people staying there and staff to guest ratio. The all-inclusives can’t be beat and there are many to choose from, depending what you’re looking for.

PDC had always been cool little town where tourists who weren’t looking for the city vibe that Cancun has could relax and hang out on the beach. It’s grown a lot in the past 10 years or so, so the downtown has less of a small beach town feel and more of the Vegas Strip vibe, but it’s not at all overwhelming and there are enough small local bars, restaurants, and shops, to get away from that kind of thing.

We still enjoy it very much and are going back at the end of the summer :).

I haven’t been to Tulum but I hear it’s beautiful and the beaches are perfect. We might do a day trip if it’s not hot as hell when we’re there next.

Tell us what you plan to do. Do you want to sit at the hotel on the beach or by the pool, and be waited on? Do you want to do a lot of excursions? Snorkeling? Diving? Sightseeing? Really immersing yourself in the culture? If we know more about what the 2 of you look for in a vacation it will help.

I’ve been there a dozen times and managed to avoid both massive nightclubs and giant touristy shops. Yes, they are multiplying, but you can easily find lots of other things to do.

Landing in Cancun just after 10AM on a Thursday

We like a bit of nearly everything, tenacious j. The lady most definitely wants the pool and to be waited on, though she will join to sightsee, which I prefer. We don’t dive, but we’ll possibly be snorkeling. We’ll certainly be going to ruins. Good food and entertainment (live music?) is hoped for as well.

Is it advised to rent a car?

Thanks for the replies!

I don’t recommend renting a car. Car rental license plates have red numbers which flags checkpoints to ask for money. Doesn’t happen all the time. But always a possibility.

The Cancun airport has a first class (ADO) shuttle that goes directly to Playa. Once you get to Playa, a taxi can take you to your hotel. Your hotel can arrange tours, sightseeing, etc.

Much easier without a rental car.

Just curious about one thing…as I’m from the north, why does anyone go to a southern destination like Mexico in the summer??

I’m going to disagree slightly. I would not rent a car for the entire week that you are there. Use the buses/vans to get from the airport to and from the hotels. But if you are planning to check out Coba or other ruins, or the cenotes, then I would recommend renting one for the day. There are bus/van tours that your hotel will have that do those things, or you could hire a taxi. But having your own car gives you some freedom and flexibility to do what you like.

When I was there about 1.5 years ago, I rented a car in Playa for the day to go see Coba, Tulum and one cenote. The highways are in good condition and the driving was easy with little traffic.

I’ve visited the area a few times. Short answer is, Tulum.

PDC is great for an exciting, *small *city but if you want to relax there, you’ll need a boat, some expert, local guidance or a time machine. On the other hand, while the Tulum area is growing and getting more commercialized every day, it’s a lot sleepier and *junglier *than PDC.

Short answer - she wants the beach. Also, this area, specifically the Mayan ruins, is a bucket list item for me.

Last summer my wife and I stayed right next door to this Secrets at the Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort. Also all-inclusive but I believe it’s quite a bit smaller than Secrets. It is not adults-only, which we thought would be a deal-breaker for us while we were planning our anniversary trip, but everything else positive about the resort overruled that aspect and we weren’t disappointed. What we found regarding kids was that ABBWR isn’t really marketed as family-friendly, so while there were a few around and they had a few activities for them, it wasn’t completely overrun by them and we didn’t find kids/families to be intrusive during our stay.

We absolutely loved our resort (and also thought the Secrets looked nice). Beach was great and snorkeling was good; saw some turtles, ray, etc.

Food was great with a standard buffet option with mix of Mexican and other foods, snack bar open all the time, and 3-4 nicer restaurants open just for dinner. They also had a small sushi bar open for lunch.

As far as activities, ABBWR offered daily stand up paddle board lessons, various yoga and other fitness classes that we really enjoyed, a spa, and one-off type things like tequila tasting, cooking lessons, etc… Evening entertainment was less-involved than we’d experienced at other AI places, but we liked that. Just a different band each night set up in a common area. We’ve done the “Michael Jackson” impersonator, karaoke, drag people on stage type things and we enjoyed this more. There is a nightclub but we never went until the last night and it was dead.

The resort has 4 buildings each with 4 floors. We had a 3rd floor “penthouse” room that includes access to a private roof area where there is a jacuzzi, umbrella, and loungers. I think other rooms had jacuzzi on the balcony/terrace. The buildings are designed so that all rooms face the ocean/beach.

Akumal Bay is about an hour south of the Cancun airport and close enough to Tulum if you want to explore the ruins for a day trip. There is a small town north of the bay with some shops restaurants if you want to venture out. We thought Akumal was a perfect mix of “resort but not too resort-y” if you get what I mean. The Trip Advisor forum for Akumal was pretty active with some good info about the area and comparisons of the resorts.

We’re booked at El Pez. The restaurant looks excellent, which is nice.

We’ll likely take the ADO to PDC and then hop in a taxi to the hotel. Still on the fence about renting a car - though I’m sure that it would help for a day trip to Chichen Itza and some cenotes.

Looks like you’ve booked a place already, but just to add to the thread:

Stayed at Dreams Tulum 10 years ago for a friend’s wedding. Quiet. Full-service spa. All the amenities you’d expect from an all-inclusive resort. A half-dozen restaurants on-site focusing on different cuisines, including a sushi bar and an upscale French restaurant. It was super nice.

We rented a car but just to drive ourselves to the resort from the airport in Cancun and back. I never left the hotel to see the local sites, but my friends who did go out had a good time at the Tulum ruins and other sites around the area.


OP has already booked but in case anyone else cares to read a bit more, I vacationed in Playa del Carmen this past February.

Flying into Cancun from ORD was fine, no problems there. Customs and immigration inspections were effortless and breezy. I took the ADO bus to Playa and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. There’s a counter to buy a ticket immediately after leaving the customs area. There are a few different spots to wait for buses but they gave very goods instructions at the counter as well as ADO uniformed personnel wandering about to answer questions and help with luggage.

The bus station in Playa is in a pretty good location, right in the thick of things. We (five in total) stayed in a smallish hotel (about 30 rooms) right on 5th Street which is sort of the Bourbon Street of PDC, though not nearly that bad. There are plenty of great dining and drinking options up and down the street and within a few blocks parallel. I’d previously been to an all-inclusive in Cancun which was really nice but, for this trip, I feel like we’d have missed some very special little spots had we not wandered about.

Take the Ultra Mar fast ferry to Cozumel ($18 R/T) but have a plan before you get there. After arrival on the island, dodge the crowd of folks luring ferry passengers to rental cars, jeeps, scooters, tours and stuff to grab a cab to your destination. We went to the island twice, one place was sort of quiet and good for laying around on a sandy beach. The other (I can’t remember the name) was more lively and a great time. The first day, there was a fantastic band and it appeared to be mostly locals enjoying the Sunday evening. I had the best octopus I’ve ever tasted there. The second day, there were some HUGE cruise ships docked on the island. It was not quite so nice with all the people but we did some snorkeling which was truly amazing: barracuda, rays, anemones, bio luminescent … jellyfish(?), fish of every color except the dull ones, elaborate corals. It was like a Jacques Cousteau film and I’ll never forget it. Or that grilled octopus. Or my sunburned back. Or the loud American cruise ship passenger that got a sea urchin spine broken off under the skin of her finger…somehow.

One of the days were were there, we took the colectivo (sort of a bus system) south to visit Dos Ojos, a system of cenotes. We did a snorkeling tour there. It was awesome. Freshwater caves, sparkling fish, bats, impossible rock formations, really fun. The guide that drove us from the welcome center to the cenotes commented that we had arrived during the dry season and that the jungle that the dusty road cut through would explode with greenery after the rains and I do wish I could have seen that. The colectivo system seems well established and a lot of people were using it, though the vehicles seemed to be mostly minivans and small shuttle buses so our group got split up. My poor Spanish language ‘skills’ were tested on the bus but I came out just fine.

Every step of the way, I was touched by the kindness, warmth, patience, and humor of the Mexican people. English fluency was good or better in Playa, a bit more challenging further out but still manageable. The flight and room were priced fairly but, once on the ground, everything was very, very inexpensive. The peso:dollar was about better than 19:1, even on the street with fees and whatnot. Walk the beach, find a nice quiet spot, approach the loungers, pay 50 to 100 pesos for use of the chair (includes one drink!) and then 200 pesos for buckets of six beers, limed, iced and delivered. Motion to one of the roving abuelas for a cup with more mango than one person can possibly eat for 50 pesos, chile, lime, and salt included but optional. The colectivo ride was an insanely cheap 45 pesos, barely more than $2 for a 40 minute ride. Renting snorkeling gear beachside was about 15 bucks for all day on Cozumel.

OP: I have a demand. After the ADO bus drops your off, take the short walk to La Cochi-loka for the best goddamned torta you’ve ever had. Worth the walk, luggage and all. It is a little window in a hotel courtyard featuring cochinta pibil, a roast pork specialty of the region. Of all the excellent bites I had in Mexico, this was the best time & again. I ate there about 4 or 5 times. Bring your food to the adjacent Ranita bar. The lovely courtyard is in the back though the bar is great, too.

This time of year, because it’s lower in demand and higher in storm risk, the cost can be significantly lower. Those of us who can’t afford a mid to high range AI resort in the winter/spring can often do so in the summer/fall. Those of us without a beach within driving distance from home still appreciate being able to go. Doesn’t matter the time of year, though I’d love to get there when it’s not hot as hell sometime and do more excursions.

I agree with the no-car people unless you’re going where the colectivo won’t go. See if the hotel rents them; if so you won’t need to pay for one for the whole time.

We had lunch and drinks at El Pez in February. Nice place, perfectly good food, but the real reason to go there (or any of the high-end places on the water) is the beach view. It’s awesome.

The ADO buses are a perfectly decent way to get to Chichen Itza, unless the times don’t work for you. Cenotes would be more of a logistical issue without a car, though if you want to go to ones that are within walking distance of a main road, the colectivo drivers are happy to drop off there. Personally, when I’m on vacation I prefer to leave the driving to others.

Love it - thanks for the “demand”, jnglmassiv! Of course, it’ll have to approved by the boss.