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.
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 if interest in the beaches starts to wane.
Children dig the experience of bicycling through a thick jungle among the ancient ruins, while a series of nearby cenotes make for a fun afternoon swim.
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) here.
- Isla Mujeres
With its shallow, swimmable beaches and a great little turtle farm, Isla Mujeres is a big hit with kids.
What kiddo doesn't like a chance to see wild flamingos and crocodiles, or build sand castles on the beach next to gentle ocean waves? Celestún is a bit of a trek but worth it for kids of all ages.
Yucatán for Kids
Few places offer more to see and do for youngsters than the Yucatán, from kid-friendly theme parks to kids' menus in nearly every restaurant, to the fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to clamber around ruins, see wildlife and birds most kids only know from books, and do things that bring wide-eyed wonderment. Horseback riding, snorkeling, ATVs, zip-lines, cenote swimming, and so on all rank way up there in the 'world's best vacation' list. So don't think your child will be thumb-twiddling.
Be aware that most online streaming services do not work the moment you cross over the border, so if your vacation bliss does depend on screen-based entertainment, make sure it's in a non-online form like an MP4 or DVD.
Health & Safety
You know your kiddo best, but the bottom line is, don't worry: this is a safe, fun, interesting place for kids of all ages, and if you run into anything unexpected, such as an injury, you'll be in good hands. If an emergency does happen, don't think you need to cut the trip short and fly home just to get stitches – Mexico has decent medical clinics and care. In fact, the hardest thing about bringing your kid(s) along may be the undeniably trying, often lengthy, and boring-for-all-ages wait in the customs and immigration lines.
That said, safety and comfort are the key things to keep in mind, and some activities may have inherent risks. At times, you may be quite far from a good hospital, so having an emergency medical kit (even a pre-made one) is a good idea.
Swimming, diving and snorkeling are obvious things to be vigilant about. Most dive shops, boat operators and cenotes have kid-sized personal flotation devices. All farmacias (pharmacies) have painkillers, cortisone creams, NSAIDs and so on. Less easily found are 100% DEET products or decent sunscreen, so you may want to bring these from home.
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.
Be mindful that children are more easily affected than adults by heat, disrupted sleeping patterns and strange food, and are sometimes less able to coherently express what's wrong.
Dangers are more likely to come from the accidental ankle sprain on uneven pavement or a cut from some sharp object – make sure tetanus and other vaccinations are up to date. If a sprain happens apply ice and a compression bandage immediately lest swelling puts your kiddo out of commission for days.
Car seats are compulsory for children under five, but if you'll be renting you may want to bring your own seat or booster from home, as agencies often add US$5 or even more per day to the cost of the car. Buses have comfortable seats, usually with onboard movies, and most (not all!) have bathrooms.
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); 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.
- Facilities for changing diapers can be found in some shopping centers and restaurants.
- Breastfeeding in public is not common in the Yucatán.
- 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.
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 and relatively tame iguanas that make a fun diversion.
- Croc-spotting, Río Lagartos Boat tours offer unique animal-spotting opportunities.
- Swim with whale sharks, Isla Holbox Massive whale sharks congregate around this island from mid-May to mid-September.
- Sail on a pirate ship, Cancún. 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.
- Theme parks, Riviera Maya Visitors can make their way through underground rivers and caves at Riviera Maya theme parks.
- Cruise the Jungle, Yaxchilán 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 are 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.
- See a doctor about vaccinations at least one month – preferably two – before your trip.
- 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.
- If you are a lone parent, you'll want to have a signed consent form or a notarized note of custody in the unlikely event someone views you as a trafficker.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children has lots of practical advice on the subject, drawn from firsthand experience.
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 rooms 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.
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. Regardless of whether it's required, having it can spare you needless hassle if you're stopped or questioned, so it's worth considering before you depart.