Both Tulum and Cancun are located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but they offer many different things for traveling families. If you’ve narrowed your vacation choices to these two cities, you may be wondering what makes one better than the other.
These cities are located on beautiful beaches and are only 80 miles apart. The airport, however, is in Cancun; there is no separate airport in Tulum. So, regardless of which city you choose, you will fly into Cancun. The airport has shuttle buses that make regular trips to Tulum. If you book them in advance, they can drop you off at your hotel.
Even if you plan to visit both cities, you will want to choose one as your home away from home. For families with children, you need to know which is better, Tulum or Cancun?
Here at The Family Vacation Guide, we know both destinations well and can help you make this decision.
Tulum vacations with kids
Tulum is a beautiful city to visit because it has stunning beaches, crystal clear waters and plenty of history to explore. There is beauty in the natural surroundings, but also plenty to keep your family busy.
Whether your family wants to relax and soak up the sun or spend time learning about Mayan culture, Tulum has something for everyone.
Accommodations in tulum
Tulum has many hotels that will best suit your family. Staying at a beachfront hotel automatically grants you access to the beach, so you will want to consider this when booking your stay.
Posada Margherita is a boutique hotel with non-smoking rooms and an on-site restaurant. This convenience means you don’t have to leave the hotel and surrounding beach on some days, so your family can enjoy all it has to offer. There is also no loud music or nightly events, so you can put the kids to bed without distractions.
Another wonderful hotel is Villa Las Estrellas. You can book a room or if you want more privacy, an entire villa. The hotel restaurant serves freshly cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you spend time at the beach, you can take advantage of the sun loungers and outdoor showers to keep the kids from bringing sand back into the room.
Of course, you’re not restricted to on-site restaurants when you’re in Tulum. There are delicious options all over town, such as Casa Banana. This restaurant is open for dinner and drinks, so you may want to reserve a table early in the evening to bring the kids. The fine dining menu offers fresh seafood and vegan options.
Hartwood is a trendy restaurant in Tulum. Like Casa Banana, it is only open for dinner, but does not stay open late. Therefore, this might be a better option for dining with your children. The menu changes every day depending on the seafood they get, which guarantees that you will have a fresh meal.
Attractions in Tulum
For days when you want to get out instead of relaxing on the beach, you’ll want to experience Tulum’s attractions. Tulum has plenty to see and do for families with children, from fun activities to impressive ruins.
The Tulum ruins are located on the site of the last known Mayan city. Once a popular seaport, the merchants of Tulum had excessive amounts of jade and turquoise on hand. A thick limestone wall preserved the ruins so well that tourists will feel transported back in time.
El Castillo, a castle on the coast, is a place that is sure to catch your children’s attention. You’ll want to climb the steep stairs carefully, but the view from the ruins is worth it.
The Temple of Frescoes is incredibly well preserved, with a large intact mural inside. Carved figures decorate the temple doors. It’s fun to ask your children what animals these chiseled, winged and tailed creatures resemble. These questions are a great way to learn about the Mayan deities represented in the temple.
Coba Archaeological Site
While exploring the ruins, the archaeological site of Coba is a must-see. It is believed to have over 6500 structures on the grounds, but archaeologists have only discovered a few. You can see the Nohoc Mul pyramid, which is the tallest on the Yucatan peninsula, and climb the stairs to the Great Pyramid.
The site is in the jungle, so you can experience nature while viewing the ruins. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys, birds and butterflies that make the jungle their home. Even if you don’t see any animals, your children will love the wild noises of the jungle.
You can explore the archaeological site of Coba on your own on foot or by bicycle. If you want a guided tour, you can even choose to ride in a rickshaw.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve has a little bit of everything, from Mayan ruins to beautiful plants and wild animals. When you visit, you can choose different packages to make sure you don’t miss anything. There are nature encounters where a guide helps you see many animals in their natural habitat. You can also snorkel and spot dolphins, turtles and fish that live in the Mesoamerican Reef.
The reserve has saltwater lagoons that are home to fish such as bonefish, tarpon and triggerfish. You can book a morning or full day fly fishing excursion that your kids won’t forget. You can rent fishing equipment and learn from a guide who has been fishing his whole life.
This insider knowledge means you’ll go to places only locals know about and have access to excellent fish.
Even if you’re in a city with access to beautiful beaches, sometimes kids want to have fun at a water park. For parents, it can be nice to visit an enclosed area and know that their children can be entertained for hours. There are three major water parks near Tulum that you can visit for a day to please the kids.
Xel-Ha is a park that adults will love as much as the kids. The 98.5-foot-tall lighthouse not only offers a breathtaking view of the crystal blue waters, but also has a huge water slide that wraps around it. You can relax in an inner tube, zip-line across the water or snorkel in caves.
The entrance fee to Xplor Park includes all activities, so your family can zip-line as many times as you want, as well as swim in all the pools. There are hikes to the caves where you can go spelunking and then explore the subway world.
There are many outdoor activities that don’t require a day at the beach. Exploring Tulum by bike is a great way to get out and get active while taking in the sights. Bike paths run through town so you can find your own way or book a guided tour.
Cenotes are sinkholes formed when limestone collapses. This hole exposes the subway water, which is fresh and beautiful. The water is so clear that you can see the fish and plants that live there. The unique experience of swimming in a cenote is something your family won’t want to miss.
There are cenotes all over the Yucatan Peninsula, including near the archaeological site of Coba and the ruins of Tulum. Plan ahead to bring swimsuits when exploring these sites and take a refreshing dip after sweating it out climbing the pyramids.
Whether hiking, biking or swimming, it’s always fun to try to spot iguanas. The black iguana is native to Tulum and roams freely around town. Baby iguanas are bright green and easy to find, but adults are gray and can be better camouflaged.
- Less popular than Cancun
- More family friendly than Cancun
- Many natural attractions to explore.
- Large hotels and restaurants to provide beach access.
- Easy access to Cancun and other Yucatan attractions
- No local airport, so you must travel from Cancun
- Not as many attractions for families as in larger cities.
- No sidewalks, so keep your kids close when you walk around
Cancun: the big picture
Cancun has a reputation for being an exciting beach town, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ideal for families with children. Cancun is a party town, with nightclubs open at all hours and people always out on the streets.
If you are traveling with children and are not interested in the drinking culture, you may be wondering what Cancun has to offer. Our list gives you a good idea about this wonderful city.
Cancun is such a tourist destination that you will have no problem finding accommodations for your family. The biggest problem will be booking the rooms you want when you want them. With that in mind, it is best to avoid spring break in Cancun. Whenever the universities are closed, you’ll be competing with countless other tourists for hotel rooms and restaurant tables.
If you have a big vacation budget or are willing to splurge, Moon Palace Cancun has you covered. This all-inclusive resort is incredibly family friendly. There is a water park on site so your kids will always have entertainment available. There are plenty of restaurants on property as well.
Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun is a good choice if you want to experience some of the local culture while keeping your kids in their comfort zone. In addition to traditional Mexican cuisine, your kids can choose pizza and snacks they are familiar with. There are special play areas for children and a Teens Club for older kids, as well as pools and live entertainment for all ages.
While there are Hard Rock Hotels in the United States and around the world, staying at the Cancun resort is fun for you and your little rockstars. The Hard Rock Roxity Kids Club gives your kids a chance to make music and do arts and crafts while parents take a break. For kids 12 and up, Music Lab gives them the opportunity to make music with others or learn how to DJ.
There are many amazing restaurants in Cancun, from fresh local cuisine, like El Oasis Mariscos and La Casa de Los Abuelos, to American favorites you know your kids will eat at, like Johnny Rockets and Hard Rock Cafe.
But one of the options you should take advantage of is Picnic to the Beach. This picnic delivery service will bring a delicious lunch to your family on the beach. Choose from classic, Mexican or brunch options for a unique dining experience.
Why not check out our guide to the best all-inclusive family resorts in Cancun for more ideas?
Attractions in Cancún
Cancun has beautiful beaches, as does Tulum. However, since it is a popular tourist destination, you will find more people on those beaches. You can still find a spot on the sand and swim all day, but it is not as relaxing as in Tulum. Therefore, you may want to look for other things to do in Cancun, especially since you are traveling with children.
Because Cancun is so tourist-friendly, there is always plenty to do, from fun entertainment to delicious restaurants and exclusive boutique shopping. A large audience of American tourists means that many of the restaurants are chains, which can be good if you’re traveling with picky kids.
Playa Delfines, or Dolphin Beach, is a stretch of beach in Cancun that is not blighted by hotels and restaurants. It is also known as El Mirador, which means The Lookout. You’ll get a breathtaking view of the Caribbean Sea from the beach, and there are excellent photo backdrops along the way.
This beach is definitely ideal for families: you can rent chairs and umbrellas on site instead of transporting your own, along with your kids and everything they need. There is also a playground on the beach so they can have something else to do if they get tired of the sand and water.
Food carts and vendors are set up along the beach so you can stay all day without having to pack a picnic or leave and find your way back. It’s also a great place to play fetch and find with your kids: you may see dolphins in the water and iguanas love to sunbathe on the sand.
While Playa Delfines is a beautiful place to relax, Playa Ballenas offers a different twist on a day at the beach. This beach is close to major resorts such as the Hard Rock Hotel, Secrets and Marriott. Each hotel has a section of the beach cordoned off for their guests, so the public access areas draw a crowd.
Once you find a spot on the beach, you may want to venture out for some fun excursions. You can rent jet skis on site and take a family ride out to sea. You can also go horseback riding along the waterfront, which is sure to be a memorable experience.
La Isla Cancun Shopping Mall
La Isla is more than a mall; it is a shopping village with stores lining the streets and canals. Therefore, you won’t be trapped inside when you stroll around La Isla, you’ll be outside enjoying the weather. There are many well-known stores such as Calvin Klein, Diesel, Lacoste and Louis Vuitton.
But La Isla offers more than just stores. There is a large interactive aquarium that your kids will love. Visits to the aquarium include the chance to swim with dolphins and sharks. If your kids don’t want to swim, they will love the fountain where they can splash around.
There are plenty of places to eat or grab a snack, such as Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s. Since it’s on a canal, you can stop for lunch at a waterfront restaurant. But if nothing catches your eye, La Isla is close enough to downtown that you’re not far from countless other dining options.
Dolphin Discovery Cancun
Dolphin Discovery Cancun is an interactive experience your family will never forget. When you book the opportunity to swim with the dolphins, you get so much more. You can shake fins, give kisses and have them push your feet while you ride a boogie board. Lunch is included, and there are pools and showers so you can make a full day of this experience.
In addition to the dolphins, you can interact with other aquatic mammals such as sharks, rays, sea lions and manatees. Don’t forget your camera when you book an excursion at Dolphin Discovery Cancun.
Captain Hook Cancun
Captain Hook Cancun is a fun adventure that everyone in the family will love. You will have the opportunity to live like a pirate for a night. A pirate ship takes you out to sea for several hours for dinner and a show. Your children can interact with the pirates in the show, making sure they will never forget this night. There are also games the kids can play if they get bored.
- The airport is located in Cancun.
- Lots of different attractions due to popularity.
- Countless accommodations in terms of hotels and restaurants.
- Beautiful beaches to relax outdoors
- Unique experiences for your children to enjoy during the trip.
- Area is too urbanized to have much culture or personality.
- Big party town that can get crowded after college ends
- May have trouble finding rooms in certain seasons
Tulum vs Cancun: Which is better for families with children?
Choosing a vacation destination is difficult when hosting a family with children. There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a place that is more developed and has a lot of entertainment to offer. However, finding a secluded place and enjoying the natural beauty is also a relaxing time.
Both Tulum and Cancun are beachfront towns in Mexico, but that’s where their commonalities end. If you are trying to decide which is better for families with children, Tulum is the overwhelming winner.
Cancun is beautiful and has a lot to offer, but it is the more popular destination of the two. The beaches are more crowded and it can be hard to keep up with kids in that environment. Cancun is also known for its nightlife. If you want to spend time as a family, the sprawling clubs won’t appeal to you.
Tulum has amazing beaches that are not as crowded as Cancun, so your family can relax away from the others. There are plenty of restaurants to eat out, and even a few nightclubs if you want to steal the kids away for a night. But in general, the city closes late at night. Families with kids are used to going to bed earlier, so you can rest up and get up early to go to the beach.
Keep in mind that Tulum and Cancun are separated by a little over an hour’s drive. Your family can get a hotel in Tulum for a quiet vacation and take day trips to Cancun to enjoy the best of both worlds.