There is a myriad of hotels, resorts and alternative accommodation options all along the Riviera Maya coast. Choosing the best accommodation in Playa del Carmen or Tulum can be overwhelming.
There are many different styles of accommodation for different travellers, from the all-inclusive beach resort to an isolated hut in the jungle.
Picking the wrong option could waste you a lot of time and money and badly impact your holidays. Hopefully, this article will help you select the best accommodation that will meet your needs!
All-inclusive resorts in Playa del Carmen and Tulum
If you have been on my blog before, you will not be surprised if I tell you that staying in an all-inclusive resort was not my choice for visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. If you want to get a cultural experience, an all-inclusive resort would not be the best pick for you. But some travellers like the comfort and the easiness of this option. Plus, there are some great deals to grab with all-inclusive holidays. If you’re in for this option, just make sure you choose the best resort for your holidays. If you find a cheap offer, do not underestimate the hidden costs.
My friends had two all-inclusive resort experiences during our trip. They loved the first one in the heart of Playa del Carmen, Grand Porto Resort (click here for more info*). They were in the town centre, very close to the lively 5th Avenue, with straightforward access to public transport for their visits. They could also use the Internet easily to look for information and make plans to visit places nearby. With six restaurants on-site, they did not have to worry about organising food for their big group. And it was suitable for people travelling with kids (club and babysitting services available). They had a great time: this all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen entirely met their needs.
They moved to another all-inclusive resort in Tulum for their second week as their group got smaller. This one was more isolated on the motorway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Their experience was very different than for their first week. The access to the Internet was expensive. Hence, they could not look for information and organise their visits. The tourist tours offered by the resort were costly and for large groups. Renting a car was more than twice the price we were being quoted for in town. They had to walk more than 20 minutes to catch public transport to leave the resort. And it was as long to reach the beach: the resort was near the beach, but their room was on the opposite end… and it is a big resort! This time, the all-inclusive resort in Tulum was not a good choice for them.
My friend described his all-inclusive resort in Tulum as “a tourist jail”.
By curiosity, I checked the online reviews for this resort (The Grand Bahia Principe Coba, click here for more info*). Families and older people seemed to love spending their entire days there. Some were coming back again and again. Accommodation is often a matter of point of view. This resort did not meet my friends’ needs, but for someone else, it is the best accommodation near Tulum and Playa del Carmen. This selection of all-inclusive resorts in the Riviera Maya may list the one that will be perfect for you!
Questions to answer before choosing your all-inclusive resort in Playa Del Carmen or Tulum
- Do I want to spend most of my time relaxing in the resort? If you have in mind to visit the region and experience the local culture (including local food), the all-inclusive resort is not the best choice for you.
- What is the size of the resort? Some resorts are as big as a small town. A big resort can provide more services and facilities for you to enjoy as part of your stay. Or it can mean you’ll spend too much time walking through the resort when you thought you were booking something near the beach. Make sure the size fits what you’re looking for!
- Do I plan to visit a few tourist sites? Make a list of contacts or even book some tours online (see Viator offers from Playa del Carmen and Tulum*) before you leave so you don’t have to stick to the ones offered at the resort that may not suit your needs and budget. Make sure they can pick you up at your resort or you can reach the pickup location easily (and not too costly). If you plan to hire a car, compare in advance the prices offered at the resort with the prices in town. Also, gather information about public transport and taxi costs to reach popular areas.
- What are the extra costs, non-included? All-inclusive does not always mean all is included. If you’re a digital addict or need the Internet to plan the rest of your trip, check how much you’ll have to spend to access the wifi – or plan to buy a sim card when you arrive in Mexico. If you’ll come by a car, check the car park tariffs.
- Who liked this resort? I like reading reviews about who enjoyed the resort on blogs or even TripAdvisor. It helps me picture myself there and find out if it’s for me. If I get the impression it’s a place that families and older people love because the pool, the beach and the bars were great, it raises a flag that as a young very active couple, it may not be our best option!
- Is it a responsible establishment? That part may be challenging to check. And if you notice non-sustainable practices where you are staying – let them know. Customers opinions do make a difference. First, there is a lot of green-washing happening in the tourism industry, plus a label “eco-resort” does not mean it’s supporting the local economic development. All-inclusive resorts do not sound like a responsible tourism choice in the first place: you do spend your money all in one place, and it often goes to foreign investors with minimal positive impact locally (and don’t even get me started on food waste with the buffets). But some all-inclusive hotels are better than others in the way they choose their suppliers, employ locals, act for the environment and give back to the community. The best way to check this is to have a look at their website: most of the time, you’ll find information on their efforts to preserve the environment and support local programs (like these pages for Hacienda Tres Rios or Vidanta, for example). Often, small local hotels don’t have the financial means to put in place complex systems for water treatment for example – so an all-inclusive resort willing to make efforts is not always the worse decision regarding sustainability.
Hotels in Playa del Carmen and Tulum
The choices of hotels in Playa del Carmen and Tulum are excellent: you’ll find different styles with different prices. For the cheapest options, search a hotel in the town centre rather than a beach-front hotel.
My biggest advice here is to consider the location of your hotel before you book. Those not used to travel may not feel very comfortable in a less touristy area. Those who chose not to rent a vehicle may prefer a hotel next to the restaurants and bars. Some visitors may want to escape the crowds and busy areas.
During our trip to Tulum, our friends stayed at Calaluna*, a small hotel right on the beach and next to many restaurants. They were happy as it had all they needed, but it didn’t inspire me when I visited it. I prefer my accommodation to be an experience when I am travelling, not just a nice room where I sleep. So our more isolated and nature-focused room further away from the lively area and closer to Sian Ka’an Reserve was a better choice for me. If you have the budget, check out this amazing hotel Azulik*, an eco-friendly accommodation in Tulum that beautifully connects Nature with Art and Culture for an experience that looks unforgettable.
Of course, it’s convenient to have restaurants and bars near your hotel. But we didn’t mind driving to get food as we rented a car for our entire trip. To be honest, I recommend going to the restaurants in town rather than the ones near the beach. Restaurants in the town centre are delicious, authentic and less expensive than the ones in the hotel area.
Questions to answer before choosing your hotel in Playa del Carmen or Tulum
- Is there a fan or aircon? It’s not something I would pay attention to in general – I got used to the heat now that I live in Queensland and barely use aircon or the fan at home. But I regretted not checking this for our stay in Tulum. It was boiling at night when we stayed there, and we did not sleep well without a ventilating system.
- How authentic is it? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but you may feel more comfortable with one or the other.
- Is it close to restaurants? How do I get there? If you’re looking for a quiet place or if, on the contrary, you want to have everything at your doorstep, location is essential.
- Is it a responsible choice? I hate realising that my travel choices have a negative impact on the destination I am visiting. I try to allow time to research information about sustainability before booking – especially if I am spending a few nights there. I’d prefer to find a place that makes efforts to protect the environment, reduce their waste and support the local economy (local managers and local suppliers). And if my choice does not meet my expectations, I’ll give feedback – maybe change can come from customers’ demand?
Guest Houses/Airbnb/Alternative accommodations in Playa del Carmen and Tulum
We picked this option for our accommodation in Playa del Carmen and Tulum. I did not like the idea of staying in a highly touristy zone, so the offers on Airbnb were a better fit for me. Plus, accommodation options from Airbnb are often more authentic and an opportunity to meet locals and get some great tips.
The small flat we had in Playa del Carmen* was just what we needed. The beach nearby wasn’t too busy, we had a couple of good restaurants not too far, and we could reach the town centre on foot (20-minute walk). We appreciated staying in a quiet area where there weren’t many tourists around.
We loved the originality of our room in Tulum, but we regretted how hot it got at night. A bit further away from the tourist area but still near the beach, the look and the atmosphere were perfect. It’s not available on Airbnb anymore.
If you’re looking for a less touristy place with some character not too far from Tulum, have a look in the direction of Macario Gomez (on the road that goes to Coba). The jungle experience* seduced us with its tranquillity (if you don’t mind the chickens!). You’ll need to drive a bit, but it will be a lot more authentic. Check out the Lumapi eco-lodge* for example; it’s managed sustainably by a Spanish family.
Responsible tip: Staying away from the most touristy areas is often a responsible choice to avoid overcrowding popular places and to support the locals living in the less frequented area. Infrastructures may be more limited – so be mindful of your consumption and waste – but the experience is often rewarding.
Where did you stay in Playa del Carmen or Tulum? Resort / Hotel / Airbnb? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Playa del Carmen/Tulum?
Playa del Carmen and Tulum are two sea-side towns located on the East Coast of Mexico, south of Cancun.
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