Snorkeling in caves, playing on the beach, running amok in the jungle…kids will find plenty of ways to keep busy in the Yucatán. And as elsewhere in Mexico, children take center stage – with few exceptions, they're welcome at all kinds of hotels and in virtually every cafe and restaurant.
Yucatán for Kids
Watching scenery go by doesn't go over too well with most kids, so try to do your traveling between towns in smallish chunks. Distance between towns in the Riviera Maya is short and sweet.
Most 1st-class Mexican buses show nonstop movies on video screens (many in Spanish), which diverts kids above toddler age, and most of the movies are pretty family-friendly. Children under 13 pay half-price on many long-distances buses, and if they're small enough to sit on your lap, they usually go for free.
Car rental is a practical alternative to buses. If you need a child safety seat, the major international car-rental firms are the most reliable providers. You will probably have to pay a few dollars extra per day. Car seats are compulsory for children under five.
Of course, some forms of traveling are fun – there are boat trips of many kinds to be had, plus you'll find bicycles, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and horses for rent.
- Cots for hotel rooms and high chairs for restaurants are available mainly in midrange and top-end establishments.
- It’s usually not hard to find an inexpensive babysitter – ask at your hotel. Some top-end hotels provide the service at an additional cost.
- It's a good idea to book some accommodations for at least the first couple of nights, even if you plan to be flexible once you've arrived.
- Make sure when reserving a room that the establishment accepts children – some are adults-only.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children has lots of practical advice on the subject, drawn from firsthand experience.
Health & Safety
Children are more easily affected than adults by heat, disrupted sleeping patterns and strange food. Be particularly careful that they don't drink tap water or consume any questionable food or beverage. Take care to avoid sunburn (don't forget sunhats), and cover them up against insect bites, and ensure you replace fluids if a child gets diarrhea.
See a doctor about vaccinations at least one month – preferably two – before your trip. Once there, don't hesitate to go to a doctor if you think it may be necessary. In general, privately run hospitals and clinics offer better facilities and care than the public ones. Make sure you have adequate travel insurance that will cover the cost of private medical care.
Child safety provisions in Mexico may be less strict than what you're accustomed to. Check out things such as toddler pools, cribs, guardrails and even toys so that you're aware of any potential hazards.
Facilities for changing diapers can be found in some shopping centers and restaurants. Breast-feeding in public is not common in the Yucatán.
The peninsula has an exciting variety of different places to stay that should please most kids – anything beachside is usually a good start, and rustic cabañas (cabins) provide a sense of adventure (but choose one with good screens and mosquito nets).
Many hotels have a rambling layout and a good amount of open-air space – courtyards, pool areas, gardens – allowing for some light exploring by kids. The most family-oriented hotels, with expansive grounds and facilities such as shallow pools, playgrounds and kids clubs, tend to be found in the big resorts.
Family rooms are widely available, and many hotels will put an extra bed or two in a room at little or no extra cost. You can find a room with air-conditioning nearly everywhere, and most midrange and top-end hotels have wi-fi access and child-friendly channels on the TV and/or DVD players for when your kids just need to flop down in front of something entertaining.
In most restaurants in Mexico you will see entire families and their kids eating together, especially on weekends. Waiters are used to accommodating children and will promptly help you with high chairs (silla para niños or silla periquera), and in some places they will bring crayons or some other toys to keep them entertained.
The Yucatán has plenty of eateries serving up international comfort food should Mexican fare not sit well with your children. Along the Riviera Maya you'll find many Italian-owned establishments preparing pizzas and pastas, while in gringo-friendly Cancún, there are so many restaurants doing burgers and the like that it'll seem like you never left home. Yucatecan antojitos (snacks) such as sopa de lima (which tastes like chicken soup) and salbutes (lightly fried tortillas topped with shredded poultry and other fixings) are fairly neutral options for experimenting with local flavors.
The closer you are to tourist centers, the better chance you have of finding more diverse and child-friendly menus. If your kid is a finicky eater, consider packing a lunch when visiting small towns where menu options may be more limited.
The spacious open-air character of many Yucatán eateries conveniently means that children aren't compelled to sit nicely at the table all the time. Some restaurants even have play areas or small pools to keep kids busy while the grown-ups have a drink.
Best Regions for Kids
- Riviera Maya
Kids can splash themselves silly in the Riviera at family-friendly beaches and cenotes. The area also has many theme parks, which will burn a hole in your pocket, but they'll keep the little ones entertained for hours on end.
Cancún was made with children in mind. From pirate-ship cruises and hotels with kids clubs to a wide offering of water-related activities and tours, boredom is simply not an option (especially if mom and dad are willing spenders).
- Isla Mujeres
With its shallow and swimmable beaches and a great little turtle farm, Isla Mujeres is a big hit with kids. Nearby is Isla Contoy, which offers the thrill of visiting an uninhabited island, and the kids can do some snorkeling there as well.
Apart from the ruins, beaches and swimming pools, you’ll find excellent kid-friendly attractions such as amusement and water parks, zoos, aquariums and other fun places on the peninsula. Kids can also enjoy activities such as snorkeling, riding bikes and observing wildlife. Archaeological sites can be fun if your kids are into climbing pyramids and exploring tunnels. The Tulum site has a pretty beach.
- Spot crocodiles and whale sharks Boat tours at Río Lagartos and Isla Holbox offer unique animal-spotting opportunities.
- Sail on a pirate ship A replica Spanish galleon stages nightly swashbuckler battles off the waters of Cancún. Pirate ships sail in Campeche too.
- Snorkel in the Caribbean Many beaches on the Yucatán's Caribbean coast provide calm waters and colorful marine life for beginners.
- Swim and explore Visitors can make their way through underground rivers and caves at Riviera Maya theme parks.
- Cruise the jungle Reach the ancient cities of Yaxchilán by an adventurous riverboat trip.
- Selvática An award-winning zip-line circuit through the jungle near Puerto Morelos, with its own cenote (limestone sinkhole) for swimming.
- Cobá This jungle-surrounded ancient Maya site near Tulum has pyramids, a zip-line, and bicycles for pedaling around the network of dirt trails.
- Aktun Chen This park near Akumal features a 60m-long cave, a 12m-deep cenote, 10 zip-lines and a small zoo.
- Boca del Puma Near Puerto Morelos, Boca del Puma has zip-lining, horseback riding, wall climbing and a cenote to dip into.
- Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm Has hundreds of sea turtles, both big and small, and there's an aquarium, too. The staff is very friendly and will take the time to explain how and why the farm protects the turtles.
- Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún Take a boat tour through the mangroves of Ría Celestún, home to flamingos and harpy eagles.
- Crococun Zoo Visitors can interact with the animals at this zoo near Puerto Morelos. You get an up-close look at crocodiles and wild spider monkeys.
Under-18 Air Travelers
To conform with regulations to prevent international child abduction, minors (people aged under 18) traveling to Mexico without one or both of their parents may need to carry a notarized consent form signed by the absent parent or parents, giving permission for the young traveler to make the international journey. Though Mexico does not specifically require this documentation, airlines flying to Mexico may refuse to board passengers without it. In the case of divorced parents, a custody document may be required. If one or both parents are dead, or the traveler has only one legal parent, a notarized document may be required.