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Mexico family holidays

Cancún beachCancún beach© Rachel Neathey
Grand Pyramid at Chichén Itzá Grand Pyramid at Chichén Itzá © Rachel Neathey
Capital City Mexico City
Flying Time 11.25hrs
Carbon Footprint 10.3 CO2
Timezone GMT -6
Currency Mexican Peso

Today

Overview

Mexico is exotic, fascinating and beautiful and yet a relatively safe – and affordable – option for family holidays, having hosted hordes of American visitors over the years. It's also one of those places where you can opt for full-on adventure or indulge in the ultimate in Caribbean beach life – or both.

From Cancún in the east to Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast, it's possible to get very good family package-holiday deals at one of Mexico's huge choice of quality, child-friendly resorts. But it's not just about all-inclusive fun – Aztec and Mayan ruins, colonial cities, and the mountains and deserts of the north-west all make for wonderful destinations to explore with older kids, especially if they're studying the Aztecs at school. 

Things to do with kids in Mexico

Spend part of family holidays exploring Mexico’s cities. The capital, Mexico City, can be hot and overwhelming with younger kids, but the Aztec ruins surrounding it are worth a visit, especially the vast site of Teotihuacan with its several large pyramids.  

Explore the country’s second city, Guadalarjara, about 470km northwest of Mexico City. A lot easier to visit than the capital, the birthplace of tequila and mariachi groups is full of Mexican cowboys. 

Go to the beautiful, UNESCO-listed colonial city of Oaxaca about 450km southeast of Mexico City, for handicrafts shopping, trips into the mountains and markets where you can enjoy the regional cuisine with its pre-Hispanic influences, including chapulines (fried grasshoppers) and mole negro (sauce with chocolate and chilli). The city is also one of the best places to head to for the Day of the Dead celebrations (see When and How), and there are wonderful archaeological sites in the vicinity.

Head east of Oaxaca to the Yucatán Peninsula with its extraordinary Mayan ruins, including the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichén Itzá, voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Play Indiana Jones in the lush jungle, climbing over crumbling towers and peering through the vegetation to discover altars once used for human sacrifice.

Visit the beautiful Caribbean beaches around the Yucatán/Mayan Riviera resort of Cancún, even if you can’t face the city itself. In its favour, Cancún’s status as an über-resort means it has plenty of family-friendly activities and enough waterparks to keep everyone entertained. Wet ‘n’ Wild is good for older kids, combing waterslides with the chance to interact with dolphins. For younger children, Cancún’s small interactive aquarium has sharks, dolphins and rays. Further along the coast towards Playa del Carmen, Croco Cun Zoo is a place where kids can hold and feed a whole range of animals, including spider monkeys, snakes, deer and crocodiles.

Leave behind Cancún’s chain hotels and head south along the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula to discover miles of white-sand beaches and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Playa del Carmen and stunning Mayan Tulum offer accommodation to suit all budgets as well as the chance to snorkel or scuba-dive along the world’s second-largest coral reef. At Xel Ha and Xcaret Ecopark children can swim with dolphins in their natural habitat.

Or experience Mexico’s Pacific coastline. Puerto Vallarta is great for families, especially on Sunday nights when its boardwalk comes alive with free shows, mime artists and souvenir sellers. At the nearby Sea Life Park, kids can catch a sealion show or swim with dolphins, while just 45 minutes from Vallarta, those 8 and up can swing through the tropical forest canopy of the Sierra Madre Mountains with Vallarta Adventures.

Try Acapulco down the Pacific Coast for unadulterated fun, but stop your children emulating the famous high-divers. Like Cancún, Acapulco is well-equipped with family-friendly attractions. CICI Waterpark offers dolphin swims, toboggan rides and a small wave-pool, while Magico Mundo Marino has waterslides, sealion shows and plenty of pools to splash around in.

Go surfing mad on the Pacific’s undeveloped Costa Chica or ‘Little Coast’ south of Acapulco and Oaxaca, where vast deserted beaches are punctuated only by somnolent sleeping villages. Though some of the waves attract budding surf champs, you can find others that are gentle enough for beginners, and there is also canoeing in lagoons and estuaries, turtle and crocodile viewing tours at the remote, paradisiacal Playa Ventanilla, and tours of the National Mexican Turtle Center, a conservation centre where you can see all of the country’s sea turtle varieties. Just be wary of riptides along this coast: don’t swim if nobody else is. 

Also on the Pacific, to the north, the growing resorts of the Baja California region offer a less-developed alternative to some of Mexico’s more famous resorts. Los Cabos at Baja’s southern tip offers a number of family-friendly all-inclusives, but be aware that the waters that attract laidback surfers make many of the beaches unsuitable for swimming. On the eastern coast, near La Paz, there are opportunities for watching whale birthings, swimming with dolphins and sea-kayaking.

The mountains and deserts of the north-west are also wonderful, but better attempted with older children.

Eat

Mexican cuisine hardly needs an introduction, but though popular internationally it’s at its best eaten in its home country. The staples, tortillas, frijoles (beans) and chillies, are eaten throughout the country, with many regional varieties and subtle differences. 

There are many places to eat a blander international cuisine for those on family holidays with fussier children, but the fabulous fresh fruit and desserts should encourage kids to experience at least a taste of Mexico. Seafood is fabulous here, but only eat it on the coast. Don’t miss ceviche: marinated raw fish with a sublime lime, onion, chilli, garlic and tomato sauce.

When to go to Mexico

Mexico has two high seasons, the first between December and April, then a second peak during the school holidays in July and August, though you may wish to avoid coastal resorts during the hot, humid months from May to September, particularly on family holidays with very young kids. Inland, temperatures get decidedly chilly between November and February.

The Day of the Dead celebrations on 2 November are one of Mexico’s most colourful and magical holidays. Dancing skeletons, chocolate coffins and Day of the Dead bread are just some of the sights that entrance kids and adults alike.

Cities are especially busy at Easter. The most impressive Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations take place at Iztapalapa, when the whole city enacts the Passion of Christ, drawing crowds of up to 4 million people.

How to get to Mexico

It’s an 11hr flight from the UK to Mexico. Among airlines running regular scheduled flights between London Heathrow and Mexico City are the child-friendly British Airways. Regular charter flights operate from London and some regional airports for those taking package deals.

Mexico is 6hrs behind the UK, so expect some jetlag.

Cost

The currency in Mexico is pesos; many tourist shops and suchlike take US$ but this will increase your chances of being ripped off. A full lunch or dinner in a reasonable restaurant averages £9-15. Never order in a place where the menu is not clearly marked with prices.

Expect to pay from about £1500pp for all-inclusive package family holidays to Cancún, including flights and transfers, interconnecting rooms, and many activities. 

By Zannah Ingraham

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