Isla Mujeres Vs. Tulum – Which To Visit On Your Next Vacation in Mexico

choosing between Isla Mujeres and Tulum for a Mexico Vacation

There are so many amazing places to visit in Mexico that it may be hard to decide where to spend your time.

If you have limited your search to beautiful beach towns, chances are you’re debating between Isla Mujeres and Tulum.

These two places are very similar offering stunning beaches and are sure to deliver your dreams of a tropical beach destination. 

Isla Mujeres and Tulum are two of the most famous places in Mexico. They are both located on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.

Isla Mujeres is a small island just off the coast of Cancun while Tulum is a small town on the mainland 81 miles/131 km south of Cancun, about an hour and a half from the Cancun Airport.

Below I’m diving into these two Mexico destinations to help you decide which area to visit on your next Mexico vacation. 

Isla Mujeres – Top Things To Know

Isla Mujeres is a small island on the coast of Cancun in the. It is 4 miles/7 km long and home to some of the nicest white sandy beaches in Mexico.

This is where the true meaning of island time comes into play with no one being rushed on the island.

Isla Mujeres is one of the best islands near Playa del Carmen, offering a unique charm that sets it apart.

If you’re looking for lazy days of salt, sun and sand, Isla Mujeres is the destination for you.

Isla Mujeres is known for having a laid-back vibe, exceptional beach locations with great snorkeling and scuba diving, and many many golf carts.

Since the island is so small cars have difficulty in the small streets. Golf carts are much smaller and more fun in this tropical destination.

Is Isla Mujeres worth visiting? In short, absolutely. This small island has a huge personality and charm.

We recommend getting to the island early in the day and renting a golf cart to fully explore the island. Look for the best places to stay on the island here.

Isla Mujeres Mexico or Tulum for vacation

How To Get To Isla Mujeres

The easiest way to get to Isla Mujeres is by ferry on either an UltraMar or Jetway speed boat.

This quick 15-minute boat ride has sailings every 30 minutes until 4 pm and every hour after until 11 pm.

Ferry Options from Cancun:

  1. UltraMar
    • A one-way ticket costs $231 MXN for an adult ($176 MXN for a child)
    • A round-trip ticket costs $462 MXN for an adult ($352 MXN for a child)
    • You can bring a bag of up to 25kg along with you on the ferry.
  2. Jetway
    • A one-way ticket costs $195 MXN for an adult ($150 MXN for kids)
    • A round-trip ticket costs $380 MXN for an adult ($309 MXN for a child)
Isla Mujeres Mexico compared to Tulum

Best Things To Do In Isla Mujeres

Your ferry ride to Isla Mujeres will drop you at the northern end of the island. From here one of the first things you’ll want to do is head to Playa Norte beach.

This public beach deserves all the hype it gets. This stunning white sandy beach is lined with lounge chairs and umbrellas that you can rent for the day.

There are a few options for restaurants and bars in the area so you can easily spend your day here. 

The biggest draw to Isla Mujeres is not on the island at all, but instead in the waters surrounding it. This is one of the most popular scuba diving and snorkeling locations in Mexico.

Thanks to the Underwater Museum of Art located in this area, there has been a lot of attention in this area.

There are also many reefs in the area that are great to explore as well as a shipwreck. If diving isn’t your thing, there is lots to be explored with snorkel trips in the area.  

Isla Mujeres is one of the best wildlife spots near Cancun. Visitors can spot dolphins, colorful fish, and various bird species while exploring the island’s natural beauty.

Isla Mujeres is also a home to whale sharks. If you find yourself in the area in July and August, be sure to look into a snorkeling trip to swim with these giant animals.

Another popular activity is to check out the La Tortuga Granja, a hatching ground for sea turtles in the area (update: this small aquarium is temporarily closed).

If you’re visiting between May and September you can watch the turtles come on shore to lay their eggs in the sand.

If you are there between August and October, you can watch the hatch and release of the turtles into the open ocean.  

One of the best things to do in Isla Mujeres is to rent a golf cart and drive south down the island towards Punta Sur. Here you will find the beautiful Ixchel ruins.

This area is also home to Garrafon de Castilla, the reef adventure park.

Isla Mujeres is an incredibly walkable island. Most people stay in Centro area. Walking around this area is a thing to do in itself.

There are tons of shops in the area and in the evening there is even more with evening markets in the area.

The streets of Isla Mujeres are colorful with street art and sea murals all over the buildings.

Isla Mujeres Mexico things to do - see turtle hatch

Tulum – Top Things To Know

Tulum has been coined as a boho paradise and attracts a young crowd.

If you have Instagram, chances are you’d recognize a lot of areas in and around Tulum from the stunning photos. This place attracts an influencer crowd.

Tulum has an authentic feel to it with the city integrating the existing jungle into the development plan.

While you’ll find no shortage of hotels in the area, all the hotels place importance on keeping the jungle feel in the area. 

Tulum is split into two areas. Tulum town is where you will find a lot of the amenities including grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, and even Starbucks.

The town is about 3 miles/5 km inland and away from the Hotel Zone and public beach areas.

Getting from town to the water requires a 12-minute taxi ride or an hour-long walk each way.

The most popular mode of transport in the area is by bike which you can rent from most places that people stay in the area. Bikes allow you to get there in about 20 minutes. 

Tulum Versus Isla Mujeres vacation in Mexico

If you are looking to splash in the water, we recommend getting a day pass at one of the all-inclusives and using their amenities.

One of my favorite memories here is doing yoga on the beach in Tulum! 

Tulum is also surrounded by a lot of great cenotes. Cenotes are underground caves that are full of fresh water you can splash in, scuba dive, or snorkel in.

Due to the underground river systems in the area, there are a lot of cenotes around that you can visit.

Tulum acts as a hub to many nearby attractions and you will find a lot of popular areas to visit.

For those interested in Mayan Ruins, about 30 miles/50km away you will find the impressive Coba Ruins that are well worth a day trip.

A 25-minute drive north along the coast will get you to the nearby town Akumal where you can swim with sea turtles from the beach. 

How To Get To Tulum

Most people coming to Tulum fly into Cancun International Airport. Tulum is roughly 73 miles/120km south of the airport.

Getting to Tulum is fairly easy as you will spend most of your time driving along the coastal Highway 307. Along your route, you will pass through Playa Del Carmen.

This road is along the tourist path and is deemed fairly safe to drive along. 

To get to Tulum, there are a couple of different travel options. The cheapest way to get there is to see if your hotel includes a transfer.

It is quite common for places to include transportation in the price. If not, renting a car is a great option.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, the Ado Bus Company has buses that can take you from Cancun to Tulum. 

What To Do In Tulum

One of the most popular things to do in the city is to see the Tulum Mayan Archeological Site.

The archeological site is located right on the coastline allowing for stunning views throughout the ancient ruins.

This one factor may be the reason some people prefer to visit Tulum ruins vs. Chichen Itza. You can choose to hire a guide to tour the area or walk the ruins at your own pace. 

The beaches are very popular and a great way to spend your time in Tulum. The white sand in Tulum is covered with seaweed washed ashore.

The all-inclusive hotels in this area do a good job of cleaning their beaches but it is not without effort.

If you decide to stay in Tulum, you will have the benefit of being close to the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve and Bacalar Lagoon.

These are both destinations we highly recommend visiting if you have the time.

When deciding between Bacalar and Sian Kaan, consider the unique beauty of each destination.

Bacalar is known for its stunning lagoon with 7 different shades of blue, while the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve offers incredible biodiversity and untouched natural beauty.

Both offer different but equally captivating experiences.

You can do a day trip boat tour with pickup from Tulum to the Sian Kaan Nature Reserve or Bacalar Lagoon.

Isla Mujeres Vs Tulum – Deciding Which Is Best To Visit

So now that you know a bit about the two Riviera Maya destinations, you are probably still wondering which one is better.

Below is a dive into a comparison of Isla Mujeres and Tulum.

1. Transportation

I would not say that Isla Mujeres is close to Tulum. Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun while Tulum is situated on the mainland roughly 91 miles/148km south of Isla Mujeres.

Including the ferry from Isla Mujeres to Cancun, the commute will take around 3 hours depending on traffic.

If you are planning to explore around Tulum, we recommend getting a rental car for convenience but you can easily arrange for tours to get you around as well.

You do not need a car in either Tulum or Isla Mujeres.

where to go Tulum or Isla Mujeres in Mexico

2. The Beaches – Better In Tulum Or Isla Mujeres?

If long stretches of pristine white sandy beaches are your thing, Isla Mujeres is a must on your next trip to Mexico.

The beaches in Isla Mujeres are far more relaxed and pristine than what you will find in Tulum, especially if you’re only considering the public ones.

Both areas have resorts with private beaches.

While both coasts are plagued with seaweed covering their shorelines, the public beaches in Isla Mujeres are cleaned daily and much better maintained than those in Tulum.

The best ones in Isla Mujeres are located on the north side of the island where the water is calmer.

Playa Norte is the most popular public beach on the island. You can snorkel from the beach in this area. You can rent lockers, beach chairs, and umbrellas as well as water toys at the beach. 

The beaches in Tulum are also very nice. There are quite a few public ones that you can visit.

While these are all typically covered in seaweed, the views of the jungle meeting the ocean are unbeatable. You can also buy a day pass into an all-inclusive to enjoy their clean beaches.

It is worth noting that the beaches in Tulum are not near the town. The town of Tulum to Tulum beach is a 3.6-mile/5.8km trek away. 

3. Accommodation Options

You will find stunning all-inclusive resorts in both Tulum and Isla Mujeres. In both areas, these resorts will likely be beachfront.

If you are looking to stay in Isla Mujeres in a regular hotel, these will likely be located inland and not come with a private beach.

That shouldn’t prove to be an issue as the small size of the island will mean you are never too far from the Caribbean sea. 

If you are looking to stay in Tulum, you will be staying in Tulum town, not Tulum beach.

This means that you will be about a 15-minute drive from the coast, and the same distance from the restaurants if you’re staying in an all-inclusive in the hotel zone on the beach. 

There are no cookie-cutter hotels here, every one of the hotels along the Hotel Zone is unique and intricately designed with a specific theme.

There are even accommodations on the jungle side to choose from!

Where to stay in Tulum

4. Food In Tulum And Isla Mujeres

For foodies coming to the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ll be happy to know that both of these places have great food!

There are many restaurants in Isla Mujeres that offer many different types of cuisine.

Whether you’re looking for authentic Mexican food, Italian cuisine, or health-focused plant-based food, you’ll find it all on this tropical island. 

Tulum is home to a lot of yoga retreats and attracts a health-conscious traveler. The restaurants in the area showcase this with lots of vegan and healthy food options.

You will find everything from street vendors serving up skewers and local cuisine to 5-star health food restaurants. Tulum houses no shortage of food options. 

5. Things To Do & Nightlife Compared

Isla Mujeres, being an island, offers far fewer amenities and things to do than Tulum.

While both areas are what I’d consider a small town, Tulum’s mainland location means that you have access to a lot of great areas nearby. 

While both areas have a lot to offer, I have to say that there is more to do in Tulum.

With the Mayan ruins, the great scuba diving, the many cenotes, and the jungle location, you can easily fill days with action or relaxation. 

If you’re in Tulum, consider a side trip to discover Valladolid attractions like Cenote Oxman and the stunning Convent of San Bernardino.

It’s a charming colonial town with colorful buildings and a relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss the chance to explore this hidden gem while you’re in the area.

In terms of nightlife, Tulum’s recent rise to fame has allowed for lots of high-end bars and nightclubs.

There is quite a music scene in this area with lots of live music events taking place in the town.

Whether you’re looking to dance until sunrise or enjoy some casual beer in the jungle, Tulum is home to it all.  

For such a small place, the nightlife scene in Isla Mujeres has a lot to offer.

While the nightlife consists more of bars than nightclubs, you will have no problem meeting people and having great nights on Isla Mujeres. 

6. Overall Cost To Value When Visiting Tulum & Isla Mujeres

In terms of which area is a better cost to value, I would say that you will get more out of your trip to Tulum than you would Isla Mujeres.

While Isla Mujeres is a must-see in Mexico, there isn’t enough to do to justify a long stay there.

If you’re looking to get the most from your trip, I’d recommend staying about 2 days in Isla Mujeres and longer in Tulum.

On the other hand, if you are looking to spend more time in the water than out, then Isla Mujeres makes for the perfect tropical beach getaway. 

If we were asking: “Which is nicer – Cancun or Tulum?”, the answer would be easier leaning toward Tulum.

Despite Isla Mujeres close location to Cancun, it feels like another world away.

things to do and food in Tulum and Isla Mujeres

How To Choose Between Tulum And Isla Mujeres For Your Next Vacation

So, which is better – Isla Mujeres or Tulum? Well, that depends on what you are wanting out of your trip.

If you’re wanting a white sand beach vacation on a tropical island that lives on island time, Isla Mujeres is your place.

If boho-hippie vibes with small street vendors selling dream catchers in amongst health food restaurants sound more your style, Tulum is a great option. 

Now that you know the key differences between Isla Mujeres and Tulum, which is more your type for a destination?

If you’re looking for a laid-back vibe with incredible snorkeling and scuba diving options, Isla Mujeres is the place for you.

But if you prefer a boho vibe, with trendy beach clubs and restaurants and a town filled with health food options and boutique shops, Tulum might be more up your alley.

If the Yucatan Peninsula is a place you would like to explore more, we’ve got a ton of other guides to help you plan your trip.

Aside from visiting the Mayan ruins and relaxing on the beautiful beaches, Yucatan things to do include exploring the cenotes, indulging in traditional Yucatecan cuisine, and strolling through the charming colonial towns.

There are also opportunities for wildlife watching and visiting local markets for unique souvenirs.

Have you been to Tulum or Isla Mujeres? Which area was your favorite? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

How Does Tulum Compare To Playa Del Carmen?

When comparing Tulum to Playa del Carmen, it offers a more laid-back and natural setting with its stunning beaches and Mayan ruins.

Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, is a bustling resort town with a lively nightlife and a more developed infrastructure. Both destinations have their own unique charm and appeal.

Is Cozumel Or Cancun Better Overall For A Vacation in Mexico?

When it comes to a comparison of Cozumel and Cancun, it ultimately depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation.

Cozumel offers a more laid-back and relaxed atmosphere, perfect for diving and snorkeling. On the other hand, Cancun is known for its vibrant nightlife and bustling beaches.

Does Cozumel Or Isla Mujeres Offer A Better Caribbean Experience?

When it comes to Cozumel vs. Isla Mujeres, both offer unique vacation experiences.

Cozumel is known for its incredible diving opportunities and vibrant nightlife, while Isla Mujeres boasts stunning beaches and a more laid-back atmosphere.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to individual preferences.

Is Holbox Or Isla Mujeres Better For A Vacation?

When it comes to Holbox vs. Isla Mujeres, both destinations offer stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a laid-back atmosphere.

Holbox is known for its tranquil, rustic charm, while Isla Mujeres boasts vibrant nightlife and a wider range of amenities.

Is Holbox Or Tulum A Better Destination In Mexico?

When deciding between Holbox and Tulum, both offer unique experiences. Holbox boasts pristine beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, perfect for relaxation.

Tulum, on the other hand, is known for its ancient ruins and vibrant nightlife. Ultimately, the best destination depends on individual preferences.

Use our recommended travel resources to plan your trip:

Isla Mujeres Vs. Tulum - Mexico destination comparison

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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