Lodgings on the Yucatán Peninsula generally don't cater for travelers with disabilities, though some hotels and restaurants (mostly toward the top end of the market) and some public buildings now provide wheelchair access. The absence of institutionalized facilities, however, is largely compensated for by Mexicans’ accommodating attitudes toward others, and special arrangements are gladly improvised.
Mobility is easiest in the major tourist resorts. Bus transportation can be difficult; flying or taking a taxi is easier.
Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
Society for Accessible Travel (www.sath.org)
Most stores have set prices. You can do some friendly haggling in some arts and crafts markets, but don't get carried away – most of the artisans are just trying to make a living. Some hotels are willing to negotiate rates with walk-ins, especially during low season.
Hot, sunny and humid days are the norm for much of the year in the Yucatán, although the season of nortes (storms bringing wind and rain from the north) lowers temperatures a bit from November through February or March. During the rainy season, which runs from May through October, you can expect heavy rains for an hour or two most afternoons, but generally clear weather otherwise. The hurricane season lasts from June to November, with most of the activity from mid-August to mid-September.
Dangers & Annoyances
Despite all the grim news about Mexico's drug-related violence, the Yucatán Peninsula remains relatively safe for those not engaged in illegal activities. Most of the killings you hear about happen between rival drug gangs, so tourists are rarely caught up in the disputes – especially in the Yucatán, which keeps a safe distance from the turf wars occurring elsewhere in Mexico. Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum have all seen a gradual rise in drug violence, but major US cities such as New York and Chicago have higher murder rates than the entire state of Yucatán.
That said, purchasing recreational drugs or even engaging pushers in conversation can mark you as a target for interrogation or worse by police or gangs. You are best off avoiding this entirely.
Theft & Robbery
Crime against tourists here is rare; however, minimizing your risks will help ensure you have a problem-free vacation. Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are relatively minor risks in the Yucatán, but it's a good idea to stay alert on buses and in crowded bus terminals and airports. Mugging is less common than purse-snatching, but more serious: resistance may be met with violence (do not resist). Usually these robbers will not harm you: they just want your money, fast.
- Don’t go where there are few other people in the vicinity; this includes camping in secluded places. A simple rule: if there are families around, you’re probably safe.
- Don’t leave any valuables unattended while you swim. Run-and-grab thefts by people lurking in the woods are a common occurrence.
- If your hotel has a safe, leave most of your money, important documents and smaller valuables there in a sealed, signed envelope. Leave valuables in a locker when staying at a hostel.
- In the event of theft, make sure you have emailed yourself photocopies of your passport, drivers license, tourist card, international drivers license, and anything else that might be necessary for establishing your identity at an embassy. Having these documents on a USB key can also be useful in emergencies.
- Carry only a small amount of money – enough for an outing – in a pocket. If you do have to carry valuables, keep them hidden in a money belt underneath your clothing. Keep larger bills separate from your smaller cash so that if someone sees you paying for something, they don't know that you have other money somewhere else.
- Don’t keep money, credit or debit cards, wallets or bags in open view any longer than you have to. At ticket counters, keep a hand or foot on your bag at all times.
- Do not leave anything valuable-looking in a parked vehicle.
- Be careful about accepting drinks from overly social characters in bars, especially in tourist-heavy zones; there have been cases of drugging followed by robbery and assault. Products are available – ranging from drink straws to press-on fingernails – that allow you to test for a tainted drink.
- Be wary of attempts at credit-card fraud. One method is when the cashier swipes your card twice (once for the transaction and once for nefarious purposes). Keep your card in sight at all times.
- Another swindle is when you pay for something with a M$500 bill, the clerk palms it and instantly produces a M$50 (they are both pink), asking 'Where's the rest of the money?' You scratch your head and then pay the rest, thinking you accidentally used a M$50 instead of a M$500 note. The swindler keeps the change.
- Purchasing illegal drugs or activities can quickly end up going sour, so avoid putting yourself in danger.
Government Travel Advice
Reduced prices for students and seniors on Mexican buses and at museums and archaeological sites are usually only for those with Mexican residence or education credentials, but the following cards will sometimes get you a reduction (the ISIC is the most widely recognized). They are also recognized for reduced-price air tickets at student- and youth-oriented travel agencies.
ISIC (www.isic.org) Student card.
ITIC (International Teacher Identity Card) For full-time teachers.
IYTC (International Youth Travel Card) For those under 31 years.
Discounts & Peso-Pinching
- Discounts Many museums and archaeological sites have discounts for kids, while some hotels and bus lines offer good savings for online reservations.
- Colectivos Shared vans are a very affordable and efficient way to move around the peninsula.
- Hammocks Some hotels will allow you to hang a hammock on their property for a fraction of what it would cost to get a room.
Embassies & Consulates
It’s important to understand what your own embassy can and can’t do to help you if you get into trouble. Generally speaking, it won’t be much help in emergencies if the trouble you’re in is remotely your own fault. Remember that you are bound by the laws of the country you are in. In genuine emergencies you might get some assistance, such as a list of lawyers, but only if other channels have been exhausted.
Embassy details can be found at Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (www.sre.gob.mx) and Embassyworld (www.embassyworld.org).
Many embassies or their consular agencies are in Mexico City (including Australia, Ireland and New Zealand); Cancún is home to several consulates, and there are some diplomatic outposts elsewhere in the region as well.
Dutch Consulate Mérida
French Consulate Mérida
UK Consulate Cancún
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International access code||00; 011 from USA and Canada|
Mexican toll-free numbers start with 800, followed by seven digits; they always require the 01 long-distance prefix.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Immigration officers usually won’t keep you waiting any longer than it takes to flick through your passport and enter your length of stay on your tourist permit. Anyone traveling to Mexico via the USA should be sure to check US visa and passport requirements. US citizens traveling by land or sea can enter Mexico and return to the US with a passport card, but when traveling by air will need a passport. Citizens of other countries need their passports to enter Mexico. Some nationalities also need a visa. Flights, cars and tours can be booked online at lonelyplanet.com/bookings.
Visitors are allowed to bring the following items into Mexico duty-free:
- two cameras
- 10 packs of cigarettes
- 3L of alcohol
- medicine for personal use, with prescription in the case of psychotropic drugs
- one laptop computer
- one digital music player
- cell phone
You cannot carry more than US$10,000 in cash without declaring it.
See www.sat.gob.mx for more details.
After handing in your customs declaration form, an automated system will determine whether your luggage will be inspected. A green light means pass; a red light means your bags will be searched.
Tourist permit required; some nationalities also need visas.
Every tourist must have a Mexican government tourist permit, which is easily obtainable. Some nationalities also need to obtain visas.
- Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Norway and Switzerland are among the dozens of countries whose citizens do not require visas to enter Mexico as tourists.
- The website of the Instituto Nacional de Migración lists countries that must obtain a visa to travel to Mexico. If the purpose of your visit is to work (even as a volunteer), to report, to study, or to participate in humanitarian aid or human-rights observation, you may well need a visa whatever your nationality. Visa procedures can take several weeks and you may need to apply in your country of citizenship or residence.
- US citizens traveling by land or sea can enter Mexico and return to the USA with a passport card, but if traveling by air will need a passport. Non-US citizens passing (even in transit) through the USA on the way to or from Mexico should check well in advance on the US's complicated visa rules. Consult a US consulate, the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) or US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov) websites.
- The regulations sometimes change. It's wise to confirm them with a Mexican embassy or consulate. Good sources for information on visa and similar matters are the London consulate (https://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/reinounido) and the Washington consulate (https://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/washington).
Tourist Permit & Fee
The Mexican tourist permit (tourist card; officially the forma migratoria multiple or FMM) is a brief paper document that you must fill out and get stamped by Mexican immigration when you enter Mexico and keep till you leave. It’s available at official border crossings, international airports, ports and often from airlines. It's also available online. Important: at land borders you won’t usually be given one automatically (eg if crossing by car) – you have to ask for it; ensure you do.
A tourist permit only permits you to engage in what are considered to be tourist activities (including sports, health, artistic and cultural activities).
- The maximum possible stay is 180 days for most nationalities, but immigration officers will sometimes put a lower number unless you tell them specifically what you need.
- The fee for the tourist permit, called the derecho de no residente (DNR; non-resident fee), is M$533 (or US$27 equivalent), but it's free for people entering by land who stay less than seven days. If you enter Mexico by air, however, the fee is usually included in your airfare.
- If you enter by land, you must pay the fee at a bank in Mexico at any time before you reenter the frontier zone on your way out of Mexico (or before you check in at an airport to fly out of Mexico). Most Mexican border posts have on-the-spot bank offices where you can pay the DNR fee. When you pay at a bank, your tourist permit will be stamped to prove that you have paid.
- Look after your tourist permit because it may be checked when you leave the country. You can be fined for not having it.
Extensions & Lost Cards
If you lose your tourist permit, contact your nearest Instituto Nacional de Migración (National Immigration Institute; INM) office, which will issue a duplicate for M$500 (or US$25 equivalent). All international airports have immigration offices.
- Greetings A handshake is standard when meeting people for the first time. Among friends, men usually exchange back-slapping hugs; for women it's usually a kiss on the cheek.
- Conversation Yucatecans are generally warm and entertaining conversationalists. As a rule, they express disagreement more by nuance than by open contradiction. The Maya can be slightly more reserved in conversation.
- Getting directions Mexicans are very cordial and eager to please, so much so that some folks will steer you in the wrong direction rather than saying they don't know where a particular place is. It can be frustrating at times, but keep in mind that it's done with good intentions.
Mexico is more broad-minded about sexuality than many might expect. LGBTIQ+ travelers rarely attract open discrimination or violence, though it's still uncommon to see open same-sex affection in the smaller rural towns. Public displays of affection, even between heterosexual couples, are uncommon in countryside Yucatán, so same-sex affection may raise an eyebrow.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation has been illegal since 1999 and can be punished with up to three years in prison. Gay men have a more public profile than lesbians. Cancún has a small gay scene, and there are a number of gay-friendly establishments in Mérida listed at www.gaymexicomap.com.
Gay Mexico (www.gaymexico.com.mx) Useful online guide for gay tourism in Mexico.
International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (www.iglta.org) Provides information on the major travel providers in the gay sector.
Out Traveler (www.outtraveler.com) Helpful general resource.
In general, LGBT+ travelers will not have problems finding accommodations in Yucatán, nor do they have to seek out gay-friendly locales – any listing will welcome you.
Particularly in the Riviera Maya, LGBT+ diners are common and dining with your same-sex spouse, partner or significant other will not cause heads to turn. (In fact, if two guys or two women are dining together, the reverse may be true: the waitstaff may assume you're a couple even if you're not!)
Mérida hosts a fun, well-attended gay pride parade every summer.
Best LGBT Entertainment
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities such as scuba diving and motorcycling.
Mexican medical treatment is generally inexpensive for common illnesses and minor treatment, but if you suffer some serious medical problem, you might want to find a private hospital or fly out for treatment. Travel insurance typically covers the costs but make sure the policy includes such things as ambulances and emergency flights home.
Some US health insurance policies stay in effect (at least for a limited time) if you travel abroad, but it’s worth checking exactly what you’ll be covered for in Mexico.
You might prefer a policy that pays medical costs directly rather than requiring you to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, keep all documentation. There is a wide variety of policies; check the small print.
Worldwide medical insurance for travelers is available online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet cafes (which charge about M$10 to M$15 per hour) still exist in the Yucatán but are going the way of the dodo; increasingly, there's free wi-fi in public plazas, and often it's available in restaurants and shops as well. Same for hotels with a computer for guests: here and there, they're available (and big hotels always have a business center), but mostly it's just wi-fi.
Many places (hotels, bars and restaurants) have wi-fi, but in some hotels the signal only reaches the lobby. We use the wi-fi icon in our reviews if the signal reaches at least some part of the premises; an internet icon refers to establishments with internet-ready computers for guests.
Mexican law presumes an accused person is guilty until proven innocent.
- As in most other countries, the purchase of controlled medication requires a doctor’s prescription.
- It's against Mexican law to take firearms or ammunition into the country (even unintentionally).
- A law passed in 2009 decriminalized the possession of small amounts of certain drugs for personal use – including marijuana (up to 5g), cocaine (500mg), heroin (50mg) and methamphetamine (40mg). The law states that first-time offenders do not face criminal prosecution. Selling drugs remains illegal, and people found in possession may still have to appear before a prosecutor to prove that the drugs are truly for personal use. The easiest way to stay out of trouble is to avoid drugs altogether.
- Free city and regional maps are available at tourist offices around the peninsula.
- Quality regional maps include the highly detailed ITMB (www.itmb.ca) 1:500,000 Yucatán Travel Reference Map (US$13).
- Guía Roji also publishes maps of each Mexican state and a national road atlas called Por las Carreteras de Mexico (M$220). It’s widely available throughout Mexico and can be bought from the website.
- Can-Do Maps (www.cancunmap.com) publishes various Yucatán maps that can be purchased online.
- A good internet source is Maps of Mexico (www.maps-of-mexico.com), with detailed maps of all the states.
- DVDs Mexico uses region 4 (and sometimes region 1). Many DVDs sold in Mexico are illegal copies.
- Newspapers Mérida’s El Diario de Yucatán (www.yucatan.com.mx) is one of the country’s leading newspapers. Yucatán Today (www.yucatantoday.com) offers good English-language info on Yucatán state.
- TV Local TV is dominated by Televisa, which runs four national channels plus a satellite subsidiary; TV Azteca has another three.
ATMs are widely available in medium-sized and large cities. Credit cards are accepted in some hotels and restaurants, most often in midrange and top-end establishments.
- Mexico’s currency is the peso, usually denoted by the ‘M$’ sign. The peso is divided into 100 centavos. Coins come in denominations of five, 10, 20 and 50 centavos and one, two, five and 10 pesos; notes come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 pesos.
- International credit cards are accepted for payment by most airlines, car-rental agencies, many midrange and upmarket hotels, and some restaurants, gas stations and shops; they can also be used to withdraw cash from ATMs. Visa is the most widely accepted card in the Yucatán.
- Many businesses take debit cards as well, but you'll usually wind up paying the card issuer a 3% international transaction fee. Some credit cards tack on international surcharges, too.
- As a backup to credit or debit cards, always carry cash, especially when visiting remote towns with few or no ATMs available. US dollars, euros, British pounds and Canadian dollars are the most easily exchangeable foreign currencies in Mexico. Some hotels offer discounts for cash-paying customers. Many restaurants outside tourist centers accept cash only.
ATMs (caja permanente or cajero automático) are plentiful in the Yucatán and are the easiest source of cash, though a few tourist areas (like Río Lagartos and surrounds) still remain without. You can use major credit cards and some bank cards, such as those on the Cirrus and Plus systems, to withdraw pesos (or dollars) from ATMs. The exchange rate that banks use for ATM withdrawals is normally better than the ‘tourist rate’ – though that advantage is negated by transaction fees and other methods that banks have of taking your money. Use ATMs during daylight hours, and whenever possible, in secure indoor locations.
Banks & Casas de Cambio
You can change currency in banks or at casas de cambio (money-exchange offices). Banks have longer lines than casas de cambio and usually shorter hours. Casas de cambio can easily be found in just about every large or medium-size town and in some smaller ones. Some exchange offices will ask for your passport as a form of ID.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Should you need money wired to you in Mexico, an easy and quick method is through Western Union. The service is offered by many bank branches and other businesses in the Yucatán, identified by black-and-yellow signs. Your sender pays the money online or at a Western Union branch, along with a fee, and gives the details on who is to receive it and where. When you pick it up, take along photo identification.
- Hotels About 5% to 10% of room costs for staff.
- Restaurants 15% if service is not already included.
- Supermarket baggers/gas-station attendants Usually around M$5.
- Porters M$25 per bag.
- Taxis Drivers don't expect tips unless they provide an extra service.
- Bars Bartenders usually don't get tips so anything is appreciated.
Hours at some places may decrease during shoulder and low seasons. Some shops, restaurants and hotels may close for several weeks – or several months – during low season.
- Archaeological sites 8am to 5pm
- Banks 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday; some open 10am to 2pm Saturday (hours may vary)
- Cafes 8am to 9pm
- Cenotes 9am to 5pm
- Museums 9am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday
Keep in mind the following tips when shooting.
- Most Mexicans don't mind having their pictures taken but it's always a good idea to ask beforehand. Some indigenous people can be especially sensitive about this.
- Be forewarned that a fee for use of actual video cameras (starting from around M$45) is charged at many archaeological sites.
- In large cities such as Cancún and Mérida, you'll find shops selling everything from waterproof disposable cameras to camcorders and memory cards for digital cameras. Some even sell film (long live analog!).
- If your camera breaks down, you’ll be able to find a repair shop in most sizable towns.
For more information on taking travel photographs, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography.
- An airmail letter or postcard weighing up to 20g costs M$11.50 to send to the US or Canada, M$13.50 to Europe or South America and M$15 to the rest of the world.
- Delivery takes 15 to 20 days, or five to eight days if you pay for express service. (Or occasionally never all part of the fun.)
- If you’re sending a package internationally from Mexico, be prepared to open it for inspection at the post office; take packing materials with you and don’t seal it till you get there.
- For assured and speedy delivery, you can use one of the more expensive international courier services, such as UPS (www.ups.com/mx/es) or FedEx. Prices vary due to exchange rates and what you are trying to send.
Banks, post offices, government offices and many shops throughout Mexico are closed on the following national holidays.
Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day) January 1
Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) February 5
Día del Nacimiento de Benito Juárez (Anniversary of Benito Juárez’ birth) March 21
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) May 1
Día de la Independencia (Independence Day) September 16
Día de la Revolución (Revolution Day) November 20
Día de Navidad (Christmas Day) December 25
In addition, many offices and businesses close on the following optional holidays.
Día de la Bandera (National Flag Day) February 24
Viernes Santo (Good Friday) Two days before Easter Sunday
Cinco de Mayo (Commemorates Mexico’s victory over French forces in Puebla) May 5
Día de la Raza (Columbus’ 'discovery' of the New World) October 12
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) November 1 and 2
Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe) December 12
- Smoking Mexico has a ban on smoking in public indoor spaces, except in designated areas. Enforcement, however, is inconsistent.
Taxes & Refunds
Mexico’s value-added tax (IVA) is levied at 16%. By law the tax must be included in prices quoted to you and should not be added afterward. Signs in shops and notices on restaurant menus often state ‘IVA incluido.’ Occasionally they state instead that IVA must be added to the quoted prices.
Some hotels in the region do not include IVA and a 3% lodging tax in their published fares, so you might be paying an additional 19% in hidden fees.
Although largely off the tourist radar these days, locutorios and casetas de teléfono (call offices where an on-the-spot operator connects the call for you) still exist and can be cheaper than card phones. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calling such as Skype is a great money-saver. A final option is to call from your hotel, but hotels charge what they like for this service. It’s nearly always cheaper to go elsewhere.
Many US cell-phone companies offer Mexico roaming deals. Local SIM cards can only be used on phones that have been unlocked.
Using your own cell phone from home in Mexico can be extremely expensive due to high roaming fees. Roaming Zone (www.roamingzone.com) is a useful source on roaming arrangements. Alternatively, you can insert a Mexican SIM card into your phone, but your phone needs to be unlocked for international use. Some Mexican cell-phone companies will unlock it for you for a fee. The easiest option is to simply buy a new Mexican cell phone: they're inexpensive (a cheapo costs around M$500 and comes with free credit). You'll often see cell phones on sale in convenience stores, where you can also buy more credit. Cell-phone service providers Telcel (www.telcel.com) and Movistar (www.movistar.com.mx) have the best coverage in the Yucatán region. (But ask around, in case others have entered the market).
Like other Mexican phone numbers, every cell-phone number has an area code (usually the code of the city where the phone was bought). Here's how to make calls to and from Mexican cell phones.
- From local cell phone to cell phone, just dial the 10-digit number.
- From cell phone to landline, dial the landline's area code and number (10 digits).
- From landline to cell phone, dial 044 before the 10 digits if the cell phone's area code is the same as the area code you are dialing from, or 045 before the 10 digits if the cell phone has a different area code.
- From another country to a Mexican cell phone, dial your international access code, then the Mexican country code (52), then 1, then the 10-digit number.
Credit on Mexican cell phones or SIM cards burns fast, especially when making calls outside the phone's area code. Recently, however, competition has meant that there are some good short-term paquetes (packages) deals with unlimited calls and the like.
Una llamada por cobrar (a collect call) can cost the receiving party much more than if they call you, so you may prefer for the other party to call. You can make collect calls from card phones without a card. Call an operator at 020 for domestic calls, or 090 for international calls. The Mexican term for ‘home country direct’ is país directo: but don’t count on Mexican international operators knowing the access codes for all countries.
Some call offices and hotels will make collect calls for you, but they usually charge for the service.
Mexican landlines (telefonos fijos) have two- or three-digit area codes.
- From landline to another landline in the same town, dial the local number (seven or eight digits).
- From landline to landline in another Mexican town, dial the long-distance prefix 01, the area code and the local number.
- To make an international call, dial the international prefix 00, the country code (1 for the US and Canada, 44 for the UK etc), and the city area code and number.
- To call a Mexican landline from another country, dial the international access code, followed by the Mexico country code 52, the area code and number.
Long-Distance Discount Cards
Available at many newspaper stands, usually in denominations of M$100 and M$200, tarjetas telefónicas de descuento (discount phone cards) offer substantial savings on long-distance calls from landlines. You can use them from most public card phones.
Public Card Phones
These are no longer common but you’ll still find a few at airports and bus stations. The most common are those of the country’s biggest phone company, Telmex. To use a Telmex card phone you need a phone card known as a tarjeta Ladatel. These are sold at kiosks and shops everywhere in denominations of M$30, M$50 and M$100.
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services such as Skype (www.skype.com) are a very economical option for travelers who have a computer and the required software. You can also use Skype at internet cafes.
- The states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco and Yucatán observe the Hora del Centro, which is the same as US Central Time – GMT minus six hours in winter, and GMT minus five hours during daylight saving time (horario de verano, summer time), which runs from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.
- The state of Quintana Roo observes Eastern Standard Time, GMT minus five hours in winter.
- Clocks go forward one hour in April and back one hour in October.
Public toilets are rare, so take advantage of facilities in places such as hotels, restaurants, bus terminals and museums; a fee of about M$5 may be charged. It’s fairly common for toilets in budget hotels and restaurants to lack seats.
When out and about, carry some toilet paper with you because it often won’t be provided. If there’s a bin beside the toilet (nearly always, except in ritzy hotels), put soiled paper in it because the drains can’t cope otherwise.
Just about every town of interest to tourists in the Yucatán has a state or municipal tourist office. They are generally helpful with maps, brochures and questions, and often some staff members speak English.
You can call the Mexico City office of the national tourism ministry Sectur at any time – 24/7 – for information or help in English or Spanish.
Travel With Children
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.
Volunteering is a great way of giving back to local communities. In the Yucatán there are various organizations that welcome any help they can get, from environmental and wildlife-conservation NGOs to social programs. You can always look for opportunities at your local hostel or language school, some of which offer part-time volunteering opportunities. Most programs require a minimum commitment of at least a month, and some charge fees for room and board.
Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com)
Go Overseas (www.gooverseas.com)
The Mexico Report (www.themexicoreport.com/non-profits-in-mexico)
Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com)
Centro Ecológico Akumal (www.ceakumal.org) Accepts volunteers for its environmental and protection programs.
Flora, Fauna y Cultura de México You can help with turtle conservation in Xcacel from June to October.
Junax (www.junax.org.mx) Works with indigenous communities in Chiapas; volunteers must speak Spanish.
Pronatura Mérida-based environmental organization sometimes seeks volunteers to work on various projects in the Yucatán.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Mexico uses the metric system.
Gender equality has come a long way in Mexico, and Yucatecans are generally a very polite people. Still, women traveling alone may still be subject to some whistles, loud comments and annoying attempts to chat them up (even the impromptu marriage proposal or two).
The same precautions one would take anywhere make sense here. If something feels off, listen to your gut.
On the streets of inland cities and towns, such as in Mérida and Valladolid, you’ll notice that women cover up and don’t display too much leg, midriff or even their shoulders. This also makes it easier to keep valuables out of sight.