Beyond the Resorts: Taking the Kids Off the Beaten Path in the Riviera Maya.

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Clear waters at the Gran Cenote

The Yucatan is a great destination if you’re considering international travel with children. It’s relatively safe, easy to navigate by rental car, and has plenty of activities for all ages. On top of all that you can get there from the U.S  without an absurdly long plane ride. Most people head to the Riveria Maya because of it’s endless resorts and tourist attractions but it you have a healthy sense of adventure it’s easy to get away from the crowds and enjoy the region’s  stunning natural beauty and tranquility.    We spent a week exploring the region with our boys, ages 5 and 3, and were pleasantly surprised to discover how hidden amongst the resorts and theme parks are a multitude of lesser know gems.

Do:

  • Crococun Zoo– we normally don’t do amusement parks or zoos but we were told by numerous people that this was worth checking out. A small zoo located outside of Puerto Morelos you are led by a guide through the zoo and they allow you to interact with the animals while giving you some basic information about the different creatures.  It was definetly more engaging than your typical zoo and a great way for the fam to learn about the different animals in the Yucutan. Plan on spending about 2 hours here.
  • Ek Balam Ruins– this was a highlight of the trip. It’s one of the only ruins that allows people to climb on them. Big plus if you have kids like ours that love climbing and hate signs telling them “do not touch.” We made the mistake of arriving during IMG_5034the midday heat and I would recommend trying to explore the ruins during a cooler time of day. However, we did discover a small cenote that you can access from within the grounds of the ruins. You’ll see signs and a kiosk where you can pay a small entrance fee and you can also opt to pay for a bike taxi to take you to cenote. If you want to save a few pesos or get a little sweatier you can walk the approximate 3/4 of a mile down the dusty road. Be warned, this is not the most picturesque cenote but it is an opportunity to cool off and relax.  Once you get to the cenote there is a place to change and a small, basic restaurant. One of the most eye-opening experiences for my five year old was seeing the workers in the restaurant cooking over a fire and hand rolling the tortillas. Bring cash.
  • Gran Cenote– A well known cenote near Tulum it was one of the kids favorites. The water is crystalline, there are tons of fish, and even a few turtles. It’s popular with scuba divers who dive deeper into the cave system. The boys were fascinated watching the divers disappear into the dark depths of the cenote. We had wetsuits for the kids which helped them stay warmer longer since the water in the cenote is a little chilly. Not necessary but definitely kept the kiddos happily snorkeling longer.
  • Playa Punta Esmeralda- Beach paradise for kids! A pretty beach that is popular with locals ( aka expect some trash) and a refreshing break from the crowds of tourists. There is a small cenote on the beach that gives kids a large wading pool without waves.  If you have visions of your children playing with local children this is the place to go.
  • Puerto Morelos- this fishing village has a large population of ex-pats but it also stays true to it’s roots with the occasional wandering dog and noisy trucks selling fruit. Start the day with the best Belguin waffle you will eat on your vacation at El Nicho then let the kids burn off the maple syrup at the park in the town square. Rent beach cruisers and explore the dusty streets or head to the beach and find a place in the sand. If you head left on the beach you’ll get away from the boats and on a calm day there’s decent snorkeling.

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    Cenote at Ek Balam ruins

 

Stay:

Piedra Escondida:  A boutique hotel in Tulum. Tucked away in a little cove it has the benefits of being on the beach but without all the traffic of people walking up and down the beach. The ground level rooms have a few hammocks and chairs on a small patio which allows you the possibility of relaxing in the shade while your little ones occupy themselves with sand play. #parentbliss. The hotel restaurant is delicious, though don’t expect budget prices, and right in the sand. The boys could quickly chow their tacos then return to playing in the sand while my husband and I lingered over an icy margarita.  If you want the quinsenntial wide sandy beaches of Tulum then you might want to consider staying further south on the main beach road.

Genesis Eco-Oasis Ek Balam: Truly an oasis, this small lodge is beautifully landscaped and has a pool that is fed by a natural spring. Each room is uniquely decorated and the staff was happy to share their knowledge of the area.  Be aware that mosquitos can be an issue. Our boys shared a bed with a mosquito net, which was a new and exciting experience for them, but they still ended up with some bites in the morning..

Puerto Morelos: Our AirBNB was nothing special but it did seem like there was plenty of other rental options. Stay close to the beach and the main town square for easiest walkability.

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Pool paradise at the Genesis Oasis Eco-Resort

Gear:

  • Hats
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Repellant
  • Water proof phone case/ holder or camera
  • Wetsuits for kids ( good for keeping toddlers warm in cenotes.)
  • Life jackets for non-swimmers
  • Sand toys (we just pack a few basics)
  • Sturdy shoes for climbing ruins
  • Water bottles (most places were able to refill our bottles with purified water)
  • Snorkel gear (many cenotes will have rental equipment available but it’s nice not to have to hassle with adjustments/fitting)
  • Car seats (We’ve had mixed luck getting quality car seats from car rental agencies in Mexico)

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