Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula boasts lush tropical forests, beautiful beaches, crystal-clear cenotes (which are underground rivers and swimming holes), intriguing Mayan ruins, and endless sunshine. There are many family-friendly adventures in Yucatan to enjoy nature, history and unwind with some fun in the sun. Cancun has a reputation for late night parties — which may make you wonder – is this a good destination with kids? We think so, and have traveled there with kids multiple times. There are plenty of family-friendly activities in Cancun, and if you visit we strongly recommend getting down into the Riviera Maya and staying in other areas of the Yucatan region to really make the most of a family vacation. Early this year, we stayed 10 days in Yucatan, Mexico — including Cancun, Chichen Itza region, and Tulum. Here are some highlights that our whole family enjoyed – and some travel tips for each location and activities. Happy travel planning!
Depending on your travel style, there are several options for getting around the region, and this is something you’ll want to consider carefully, and plan in advance, from tour buses, private arranged transportation, to rental cars and a new transit system being developed. We prefer freedom while traveling and having our own vehicle is helpful in some locations. While it’s possible (and easy) to book tour buses to get to and from major attraction from hubs like Cancun and Tulum, you’ll spend hours (as many as 6) in a bus on a day trip — not what we would consider the best use of vacation time. And, you’ll be in the thick of crowds, always, guaranteed. Rental cars provide freedom — but there is a big catch when renting a car here — and it really surprised, frustrated us — to avoid surprises we’re sharing what we learned so you can be in the know and plan before you go — check out our blog on getting around the Yucatan region.
A Note about Safety
We strongly recommend checking with the state department regarding any travel advisories any time you travel abroad. This year there have been safety considerations for traveling to this region. While, in general, tourist areas are considered safe (and highly patrolled), we would recommend considering where you are traveling, and if you’ll be exploring after dark.
Now —the good stuff — top things to see and do!
There is a ton to see and do in the Cancun region and greater Yucatan area. We only had 10 days, so we will cover the following: Mayan ruins (Chechen Itza, Tulum, Coba and others); Cenotes, beaches, family-friendly entertainment in Cancun, like a pirate adventure cruise, and several adventure parks and experiences; Isla Mujeres.
Experience History: Mayan Ruins in Chichen Itza and Tulum
Step back in time when visiting Chichen Itza, an impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, and once the largest city in the Mayan empire. The stunning El Castillo pyramid of Chichen Itza will mesmerize, but there is so much more to this World Heritage Site. Walk the ancient village, and stroll the ball field of an arena where a curious game was played using rubber balls and small goal rings. It was more than just a game. It was also a ceremony and blood sport. During ceremonial games the winners (or the captain of the winners team) would be beheaded as a sacrifice to the Gods. Many sculptures of sculls hint to its brutal history.
If climbing the steps of a pyramid, or exploring within the ancient ruins is your goal – that won’t happen at Chichen Itza, but you can visit Coba to climb a pyramid, or stop by other lesser known Mayan ruins off the beaten path. During our trip we spontaneously happened upon Yaxunah and it a delightful discovery. This ancient village had many structures, people are allowed to fully explore, and we were the only ones there. It was such a special feeling to be strolling through this cultural, ancient site all alone. These moments strolling through history, and learning about this advanced and intriguing culture offers kids more than any history lesson in school could ever provide.
Tulum’s ruins are beach side — and the view of them up on the hillside overlooking the ocean is a stunning sight. Sometimes the beaches are open so you can plan to explore ruins and beaches here. The beaches were closed during our recent visit due to a major sargassum bloom (ugh!) And sea turtle nesting season (hoping those turtles made it safely through the seaweed). More on the seaweed issue below. The beach town of Tulum is very artsy with high-end resorts.
Even though Tulum’s beaches weren’t exactly what we had expected or hoped for due to the sargassum invasion, the cenotes nearby were EVERYTHING we could have imagined and more!
There are many incredible cenotes throughout the region. We made a point of stopping at many of them! Check out our blog on our favorite three cenotes in the region and tips for visiting each. A cenote is a natural swimming hole that’s formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, revealing the crystal-clear groundwater underneath. The cool, crystal clear waters were super refreshing on hot days. You can swim, snorkel, or even scuba dive in some of these natural wonders.
If your kids are looking for some nature and culture infused fun, then Yucatan adventure parks are the perfect choice. Xcaret is a delightful mix of wildlife, nature and archaeology. Float down a Cenote river, lounge on a beach, visit a butterfly garden and aquarium and take in cultural shows. A visit to Xcaret is a full day affair – give yourself plenty of time here (or even two days). If you stay on the resort, you’ll have easy access to this park and several sister parks that offer different, unique fun. Click the link to learn more about this parks offerings.
For an adrenaline packed day of fun, sign up for an adventure package with Selvatica. It is includes ziplines (10 lines!) — high up and flying through the forest! Ride a coaster zip, drive an ATV and zip on a line to splash into a cenote. Our kids are 8 and 11 years old, and there was no problem or restrictions for them to do this high-flying fun. It just requires courage, which are adventure seekers have in the plenty. Look for package deals. Our tickets were about $130 per person, which also included transportation to and from a resort in Cancun (about 45 minutes drive each way).
What kid wouldn’t love sailing on a pirate ship, being entertained by Captain Hook or Captain Jack Sparrow, seeing pirates fight with real swords, and being entertained all evening with comedy, dancing, singing and a lot of laughter? We loved it. Dinner is included. It’s a fun 3-hour excursion in Cancun.
There is nothing like the crystal clear blue green waters off Cancun and Isle Mujeres. There are many ferry operators and locations to board. Pay special attention to where you boarded (so you return to the same dock if that is your plan) and the ferry times. Some ferries run until 11 p.m. others the final ferry back to Cancun is 5 p.m. So plan carefully. We loved traveling on the top deck and spotting sea turtles!
We visited for a day trip only. If we could have stayed longer, snorkeling or scuba diving would be a must here. The island is undoubtedly quaint and charming during certain times of the year. We visited during Spring Break— it was jam packed with tourists and felt a little less charming. None-the-less, the most popular, and arguably the most beautiful stretch of beach Playa Norte had plenty of breathing room! And it definitely earns its reputation for most beautiful beach!
Getting around Isle Mujeres
If you plan to stay in the main part of town, and the main beaches, you can get there by foot – or rent a bike- no need to rent a golf cart (the typical/ most popular way to get around). But if you plan to explore the island and head to lesser touristed spots — a golf cart rental is the way to go! We rented one for half a day for $90 (Spring Break pricing — likely costs less during less peak season).
Our favorite spot was Kin Ha. It’s away from the crowds and just lovely. We had lunch on a deck overlooking the blue-green water. There is pier with a rope swings, and you can rent kayaks. There is a also a hotel here so you can stay a while if you like.
Beautiful Beaches — but also a seaweed problem.
We experienced magnificent beaches and crystal clear water while staying in Cancun in early April. But, we also saw extraordinary amounts of sargassum seaweed — especially in Tulum. This seaweed is an invader that isn’t supposed to be here (climate change and pollution are contributing factors to its explosion). It’s devastating many beach areas. That is our only word of caution for planning. We expected the picture perfect beaches in Tulum we experienced here 10 years ago. We couldn’t even access the beaches due to the sargassum during this recent trip.
The sargassum is known to be worse during certain times of year. And 2023 tended to be an exceptionally devastating one for the blooms. While travel planning, consider the timing for your visit — and check on sargassum status if a lot of beach time is in our plans/ hopes for your time in Yucatan.
Overall, there is a ton to do here — we recommend mixing it up with cultural and historical sites and experiences, taking a leap into cenotes, try some high flying adventures in the forests, and relaxing pool side or on a beach. This is a great place to explore as a family traveling with kids.