Places to visit in Mexico
Mexico offers ancient ruins, colonial cities, glorious beaches, wildlife experiences and plenty of outdoor time in stunning natural surroundings. With many activities being water-based, thus keeping the children happy, Mexico is a superb destination for a family adventure holiday.
The Yucatan Peninsula is one of Mexico’s best-known regions partly due to the development of its Caribbean coast resorts around Cancun. It is the main hub for our family itineraries, however, there are many other areas we can arrange trips to.
Here are some of the top spots that can be included in a family trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
The Riviera Maya extends along Mexico’s Caribbean coast from Playa del Carmen just below Cancun down to the cliff-top ruins of Tulum. Such famous resorts such as Cancun (with its easily accessible airport), Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel are renowned for an endless choice of hotels, shopping malls and entertainment centres.
But there are still some quieter places for all the family to chill such as Holbox Island, protected with mangroves and lovely beaches, marine wildlife and birds. Akumal has white sands, coral reef and warm waters rich in marine life, including turtles (and even a water-theme park for those that absolutely must make a splash). There are also a number of ‘natural parks’ such as Xel-Ha, Xcaret and Actun Chen where water activities take place alongside zip-wiring, caving and jungle hikes.
Chichen Itza is arguably Mexico’s most impressive Mayan site and will stun even the most reluctant of young sightseers. Dominating the centre of the city is the Temple of Kukulkan, often referred to as El Castillo (the castle), which is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. In the Great Ball Court kids will love testing the acoustics by whispering at one end and seeing if parents can hear them 500 feet away at the other end (kids, whispering?!). At Tzompantli or the Skull Wall guides will regale colourful stories of human sacrifice as children listen wide-eyed and stare at the reliefs of skull racks and skeletonised warriors. Bedtime stories will never be the same…
Merida, capital of the Yucatan, is an imposing colonial city full of impressive neo-classical mansions, once home of sisal barons. The key attractions are grouped around the Central Plaza such as the Governor’s Palace and the country’s oldest cathedral. Families will love cruising the Paseo de Montejo, Merida’s Champs-Elysees, by horse and carriage. Children can enjoy bartering in the lively handicraft markets with their street performers, folklore dancers and live bands playing the traditional Salsa and Son music. In Merida you can stay in boutique hotels in town or in lovely haciendas in the surrounding countryside. You can also enjoy a cookery course here – the perfect place to swot up on your nachos, enchiladas, quesadillas and tortillas!
Tulum is an iconic Mayan site with its dramatic cliff-top setting. It is also one of Mexico’s most relaxed beach resorts, with a slightly hippy vibe and dozens of small boutique hotels offering thatched cabanas and hammocks slung between palm trees.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere
Close to Tulum lies a stunning area of coastal wetlands and sparkling lagoons. Sian Ka’an is both a World Heritage site and natural biosphere reserve. Here you take an exciting boat trip on the lagoon and don a lifejacket to float along the crystal clear waters of the Mayan canal, cut through the mangroves – crocodile-free we hasten to add.
On the southwest side of the Yucatan peninsula, the port of Campeche is a World Heritage site replete with well-restored classic colonial architecture, old forts and a big central market square. Families will get a good sense of Mexican life here with a visit to the San Miguel Fort and, a sure-fire winner for kids, the pirate ship tour of the bay.
The World Heritage Site of Uxmal is one of the most important in Mexico and one of our favourites, primarily because it sees a fraction of the number of visitors that throng to the more accessible sites like Chichen Itza. The ruins are very extensive and you are free to wander and climb anywhere (again something that is not allowed at other sites) which makes them very child-friendly. Older children will enjoy scaling the somewhat precipitous pyramid for dramatic views over the surrounding jungle whilst younger children will spend hours happily playing hide and seek.
Celestun Natural Reserve is a 146,000-acre conservation site in north-western Yucatan. A combination of coastal scrub, estuary, and mangrove provides an excellent habitat for a variety of wildlife although it is best known for its huge flocks of pink flamingos. Of equal interest is the superb seafood restaurant nearby, where you can take a dip in the sea before sitting down (toes in the sand) to a huge plate of fresh cerviche and lobster. Scrumptious.
The Palenque Archaeological zone (technically in the state of Chiapas but an easy addition to a trip to the Yucatan) is a worthy addition to any family holiday to Mexico. Children will love exploring these fabulous Mayan ruins surrounded by lush jungle packed with howler monkeys and screeching parrots. A tour here can be combined with a visit to the waterfalls and caves of Misol-Ha and the multi-tiered limestone falls of Agua Azul where the youngsters can cool off with a refreshing swim.
Cenotes are found across the Yucatan and are essentially ancient sink holes now filled with beautiful turquoise water and just made for a cooling swim. Children will love them. Some can only be accessed by abseiling in, others are open to the sky, others are found underground…..but they are all stunning.
The Selva Lacandon is the last piece of untouched rainforest in Mexico and although a fair journey inland, worth it for those wanting to experience pristine nature and native traditions. From Corozal you will travel by canoe to Yaxchilan to visit the archaeological site of Bonampak, in the middle of the Lacandon jungle. Continue to the Lacandon-Indian community of Lacanja-Chansayab where you can spend the night in traditional forest cabins. You can enjoy a day trek into the jungle where your Lacandon guide will explain about the flora and fauna. Children will be fascinated to learn about the medicinal purposes of seemingly incongruous plants and love falling asleep to the exotic sounds of the jungle. This is an ideal add-on if you are visiting Palenque and the heart of the Yucatan.
Beyond the Yucatan, Mexico City is now an exciting, must-visit metropolis. There are museums, galleries, cafés, a canal network, and Baroque architecture side by side with uber-modern skyscrapers. Don’t miss the world-class Anthropology Museum, the ideal preparation for all the family before exploring nearby Teotihuacan.
To the west, Mexico’s Pacific coast is home to the resort towns of Puerta Vallarta, Manzanilla and the famous Acapulco.
In the northwest, the Baja Peninsula is a region completely different to the rest of the country, with desert scenery and fantastic marine opportunities such as kayaking with whales. The Copper Canyon in the far north has trekking and the famous train ride to Chihuahua.
Finally, the central highlands showcase the country’s stunning natural scenery, as well as indigenous cultures and historic silver towns. The gastronomy in places such as Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas is renowned. Please contact us to discuss further possibilities.
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Mexico in pictures
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