Explore Mexico’s cities. The capital, Mexico City, can be hot and overwhelming with younger kids. With older kids, make a beeline for the canals of Xochimilco, once an Aztec transport system now offering water-gondola rides, food and crafts stalls, and mariachi band music. It's here that you'll find the eerie Island of the Dolls, where toys hanging from trees commemorate a one-time tragedy in this spot.
Visit the Aztec ruins surrounding Mexico City, especially the vast site of Teotihuacan with its several large pyramids.
Don't miss the Tolantongo canyon about three hours north of Mexico City, where grottos emit volanically heated water that flows into small pools into which you can have a soak. There's also rappelling, spelunking and hiking on-site, and you can choose between hotels and campsites.
Explore the country’s second city, Guadalajara, about 470km west 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 to Go), 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. And you're within day-trip distance of the region's cenotes – underground caverns with subterranean lakes where you can swim, snorkel or dive.
Leave behind Cancún’s chain hotels and head south along the Yucatán Peninsula coast for miles of white-sand beaches and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Playa del Carmen and stunning Mayan Tulum have accommodation for all budgets plus the chance to snorkel or scuba-dive along the world’s second-largest coral reef.
Alternatively, 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. Just 45 minutes from Vallarta, those aged eight and up can swing through the tropical forest canopy of the Sierra Madre Mountains with Vallarta Adventures, who also offer a range of watersports in the area.
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 including waterparks.
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 villages. Though some of the waves attract budding surf champs, others 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.
Discover the the growing resorts of the Baja California region on the Pacific, to the north, which 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 and sea-kayaking.
With older children, venture into the wonderful mountains and deserts of the north-west.