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5 Great Family Activities on the Mayan Riviera


I love Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. It was one of the first places we traveled with Tiny Traveler because it’s just so darn easy to get around and do things with kid if you want to, and to relax if you don’t want to do much.

Toddler sitting on a beachThe Riviera Maya has great beaches and the further you travel away from Cancun the calmer the water is and the better they are for young kid. But it also has fun and interesting activities to do with kids and teens. And all you need to get off the beach and explore are a pair of sturdy water shoes and a mild sense of adventure.

Tours are easy to find (hard to avoid?), but driving is very manageable in this part of Mexico. One main highway runs the length of the peninsula. It’s in reasonable condition and clear signs direct you to the major tourist destinations and resorts.

Note: Car seats are not required for kids in Mexico. The one we got from Hertz was older than I would have preferred and the staff didn’t know how to install it. If you still use a car seat this is one place I would recommend bringing your own.

Here are few activities worth considering for a family vacation.

5 Things To Do on the Mayan Riviera With Kids

Cenotes

The  Yucatan is dotted with natural water pools called cenotes. Some are underground or partly sheltered by rocks, others look like rocky, shallow ponds.

exploring Yucatan Cenotes with a toddlerYou can explore the cenotes both above and below ground, by scuba diving, kayaking or swimming, on our your own or via guided tours. They’re worth experiencing. How old your kids are and how well they swim will determine how you do it. No matter which you choose, be prepared for some very cold water.

When Tiny Traveler was 15 months we took her to Kantun-Chi , one of the more low-key “eco parks.” They had an underground river tour we would have liked to do but we thought it would be too cold for small child. Instead, we took life jackets and a map showing us a path through the jungle to more than half a dozen cenotes; some were ankle deep and others were crystal clear water 30 feet deep or more.

Tiny Traveler splashed in some of the shallow water, but she preferred wandering the trails and scrambling around on the rocks while we took turns swimming in the deeper pools. She napped soundly on the way home, always a sign of a good time.

Snorkeling

The Mayan Riviera’s coast runs parallel to one of the largest reef systems in the world. So if your kids are old enough to swim safely in deep ocean (7YO and up), make the effort to go snorkeling. Not that it will take much effort. Any hotel will run tours—probably leaving right from its own beach. You’ll take a zodiak a short way out to the reef, get your fill of snorkeling and be back in less than two hours. Be aware though, while the water near the shore is usually calm, there are strong currents and water can be rough out by the reef.

Ruins

Chichen Itza, a large complex of Mayan pyramids and ruins, was the highlight to my first Cancun vacation in high school. It’s also a a full-day trip that requires a long, boring drive into the jungle (and back again). It attracts crowds and you can no longer climb the pyramid. But it’s still a unique and spectacular destination. If you’re traveling with teenagers, go.

Tulum's ruins are a manageable trip with kids and teensTulum is a smaller collection of ruins right on the coast. It’s not sweepingly grand like Chichen Itza, but it’s an easy half-day trip and it reveals a lot about the Mayan way of life. It’s doable with school-age kids who can deal with a 45-minute tour. It’s also fine with a baby if you have a carrier and can protect him or her from the sun. If you need to cool off, there’s a small beach below the ruins where you can swim. It would a frustrating place to visit with a toddler or preschooler because so much of it is hands-off. Make sure to hire a guide who can explain what the ruins are and why they’re significant.

Eco theme parks

Xcaret (top) and Xel Ha theme parks are pricey and more than a little gimmicky. But each has a huge variety of genuinely cool eco-adventure activities all in one place. They’re a great thing to do if you’re staying in a vacation rental and want resort amenities and convenience for a day. They’re also very handy if you need to entertain kids of different ages. Preschoolers and toddlers will be happy with the playgrounds, wading pools and tamer wildlife attractions (Xcaret has a butterfly pavillion and turtles) while older kids and teens can rock climb, zip line, snorkel or swim with dolphins. They have packages that include meals and drinks, which are probably worthwhile if you plan to spend the whole day.

A less commercial option with kids and teens is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO site that offers bird watching, kayaking, fly fishing and small boat tours.

a playground in playa del carmenA handy little playground

If you’re in Playa del Carmen with kids under 10, head for the southwest end of town. Make your way passed the frat boy bars to the beach between Avenida Benito Juarez and the ferry dock. You’ll find Parque los Fundadores, a pocket park with a colorful playground. There are small climbing walls, swings and a twisty slide. It’s best on a cloud day and hot in the sun. Bring water and look for the cheap snack vendors nearby when you need to cool off. Tiny Traveler was too small for much of it but kids 5Yo and up will love the chance to climb and swing in a place just for them.

Where To Stay in Playa del Carmen

little kids play on the beach in playa del carmenWhen Tiny Traveler hit her school-age years we returned to the Maya Riviera to stay at an all-inclusive resort (read our review of Grand Bahia Principe). But with a toddler we didn’t think we’d get our money’s worth out of all the amenities at a big resort. We also wanted to be able to prepare food for her and perhaps for ourselves as well. We rented a vacation condo one block off the beach, just beyond the end of the main strip in Playa del Carmen and it was just the right thing. We rented a playard from an expat who runs a concierge service and shopped at the bodega on the corner (which had organic milk, fresh eggs and cheese and good tortillas). We made lunch and brought in dinner a few times, and we had a living room and large patio for hanging out after our daughter went to bed. Every time we went to the beach local kids came over to play with her, which was probably the best part of the trip as far as she was concerned.

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Mexico's Mayan Riviera offers lots of fun for a family beach vacation. Visit Mayan pyramids, swim in fresh water pools and more. Here are 5 things to do with kids. #mexico #mayanriviera #family #kids #springbreak #vacation #cenotes


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7 Comments

  1. April 21, 2017 at 4:48 pm — Reply

    […] Maya boasts endless opportunities for family fun, including miles of sugar-sand beaches, excursions through the jungle to Mayan ruins, and an array […]

  2. Mommamia
    February 3, 2015 at 10:09 am — Reply

    I happened upon this conversation today and couldn’t resist the opportunity to solicit your advice. In a few months my 3 girls and I will be taking our FIRST trip abroad. I REALLY want the trip to be fun AND educational. However, choosing from the myriad of tours offered is OVERWHELMING!!! We are resorting in Tulum so I’ve narrowed our choices down to a Tulum/Xel-ha day tour and a Chichen Itza day (12hrs!!) What do you think? Thanks soooo much!!!

    • February 3, 2015 at 11:37 am — Reply

      Hi there, congrats on venturing out with your girls! Hope it’s the first of many trips. I don’t know how old your kids are. I would not attempt Chichen Itza with kids younger than 10. It’s a long and very boring 3-hour drive (one way). If you are staying in Tulum and want to see ruins consider Tulum itself. Not as grand as Chichen Itza, but I think it has a lot to offer in terms of learning about the Mayan culture. and it has a nice little beach. There is also Coba, which is not as extensive as Chichen Itza but does have a big pyramid and is not as far. you can also spend an afternoon in Playa Del Carmen and consider visiting Cenotes or if all your girls swim try some of the excellent snorkeling. the trip might leave from your resort. if all are not old enough, maybe the youngest can go to the kids club while you take the older ones? Enjoy!

  3. Natalie Nevares
    March 2, 2012 at 9:16 am — Reply

    Claudia B,

    We go to the Mayan Riviera every year with our family and have tried a few of the excursions listed above, but we’ve discovered that the best family holidays for us are the ones where we do nothing but check into the resort and just hang out at the pool and beach, eating and snorkeling right there. We’ve gone every year since our kids were 1 and 3 (they’re 5 & 7 now). Last year we discovered the kids club and our kids love it so much they don’t want to leave when we pick them up. Though we’ve tried a few other all-inclusive family resorts, our favorite is the Gran Bahia Principe Coba, near Tulum, about 1.5 hours from the Cancun airport. Beach is perfect, water is calm, food is great great, they even have proper espresso drinks! Safety is NOT an issue at all.

    I book the hotel with http://www.cheapcaribbean.com, book Jet Blue flights directly, and take a private taxi from the airport. If you negotiate, a private taxi should be no more than $90 from the airport, vs. $35 pp for the group bus transfer offered by Cheap Caribbean. Typically the whole thing including air for 7-10 days for a family of 4 is about $3k.

    Enjoy!
    Natalie
    natalie@mommywise.com

  4. Simona D
    March 2, 2012 at 3:41 am — Reply

    Totally agree on the Mayan Riviera, have had 3 family vacations there over the past 6 years with our 3 kids while they were all under 4. Couldn’t advocate more for the location as a prime toddler/young child spot for relaxation and adventure.
    Fantastic post.
    Simona

  5. Claudia B.
    February 27, 2012 at 3:18 pm — Reply

    Terrific description of your trip. I am thinking of visiting the Mayan riviera this summer during our vacation. It must be awesome and even more beautiful than words can describe. I would only be a little nervous about crime since we’re traveling with our two young boys.

    Thanks for the post.
    Claudia B.

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