It seems impossibly easy to choose from Mexico's numerous tourist areas, but TripSavvy has collected five of its favorites, all of which qualify as some of the most enticing, family-friendly vacation spots in Mexico. The country is a good bet for its delectable food, stunning coastlines, indigenous culture, friendly locals, and impressive archaeological sites. Your dollar is likely to go a long way here, so take the family south of the border for some sunshine, rest, and relaxation at any of our five favorite destinations.
The 81-mile coastal strip on the Yucatan Peninsula between Cancun and Tulum is known as the Mayan Riviera and is a favorite family vacation spot in Mexico. It offers popular all-inclusive resorts and an array of activities for all ages. At the center is Playa del Carmen, a former fishing village that has become a hub for family-friendly resorts. Highlights of this region include fascinating Mayan ruins in Tulum, the second-largest barrier coral reef in the world, the "eco-archaeological" theme park Xcaret, lagoons full of colorful fish, and pristine cenotes (natural pools of clear water that are lovely for swimming).
Be sure not to miss the valodores (flyers). These men dress in vibrant costumes and suspend themselves by ropes tied to their ankles atop 150-foot poles. For limitless shopping, head to Quinto Avenida back in Playa del Carmen. Visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Heritage Site, which is home to sea turtles and hundreds of bird species. Snorkel at Xel-Ha, the largest natural aquarium in the world, or view stalactites and stalagmites up-close in the Aktun Chen caves.
Where to stay: The "gourmet inclusive" Azul Beach Resort offers multiple a la carte restaurants so you never have to eat at a buffet. There are also three pools and a toddler's club for kids under 5. Partnering with Fisher-Price, the toddlers' club, called the Azulito Kids Club, offers kid-friendly diversions like balloon fights, building sandcastles, face painting, and treasure hunts. And for the entire family, there are Spanish lessons, yoga, and live entertainment. Families can also take to the warm Caribbean waters in kayaks or Hobie cats. This resort is conveniently located just 20 minutes from Cancun International Airport.
At the southern tip of the long Baja California peninsula, which extends about half-way down the west side of Mexico, sits this popular family vacation spot. Los Cabos is collectively made up of two capes: the lovely, quieter San Jose del Cabo, and the vibrant Cabo San Lucas. Cabo San Lucas is where you want to shop; here, vendors sell embroidered clothes, pewter earrings, and aromatic vanilla extract, among other local delights. It's also where you want to eat. On the other hand, San Jose del Cabo is a laid-back town; at its center is the historical Mission of San Jos del Cabo Anuiti. Before you leave Los Cabos, make sure you catch a spectacular sunrise, which is just as vivid and thrilling as the sunsets.
Close to downtown Cabo San Lucas is Playa El Medano, popular with families because of its musicians, food stalls, and pick-up volleyball games. The whole family can snorkel with hundreds of species of fish at the eco-reserve Cabo Pulmo Marine Park nearby, or everyone can hop onboard the pirate ship-inspired Buccaneer Queen, which anchors in Chileno Bay.
The two towns are connected by a 17-mile oceanfront strip lined with swanky resorts and cactus-studded golf courses. Los Cabos offers whale-watching in winter, horseback riding, and sightseeing in the artists' town of Todos Santos. Los Cabos is known for water sports such as kayaking, waterskiing, windsurfing, and parasailing, but be aware that many beaches have strong undertows and sudden drop-offs. Families should choose a resort with a beach that is a designated safe spot. Consider Santa Maria Bay, where the water is calm and teeming with reef fish, making it ideal for snorkeling with kids.
Where to stay: Surrounded by eight championship golf courses, Dreams Los Cabos delivers a luxury, all-inclusive beach experience with superior service and food that's several cuts above average. Meals offer a choice of buffet options and multiple a la carte venues. The clientele is a mix of families and couples and other groups. For children ages 3-12, there's the fully supervised Explorer's Club for Kids; activities here center around science, nature, and exploration, and kids can even camp on the beach. With three swimming pools, one exclusively for adults, there's something for everyone, including movies under the stars, Spanish lessons, archery, and beach and pool volleyball.
About halfway up the west coast of Mexico, with its 26 miles of luxurious, soft sand, is yet another one of the best family vacation spots in Mexico: Puerto Vallarta. South of Mazatlan and north of Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta is a historic town that's nicely set between the ocean and mountains along the horseshoe-shaped Banderas Bay. Here, the family might explore the cobblestone streets of Viejo Vallarta (Old Town), or view the Baroque-style Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is topped with a golden crown. Or everyone can be serenaded by mariachi bands in palm-shaded plazas. Better yet, stroll along the seaside boardwalk, known as the Malecón, and people-watch. Buy leather huaraches or sarapes at the main flea market, and find authentic Mexican fare on Basilio Badillo (Restaurant Row).
Watersports, including snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, parasailing, and sports fishing, as well as excursions for jungle and canopy tours nearby, are big family draws here. If the family is up to it, take an hour-long boat ride to Las Caletas and relax in beach hammocks for views of stunning vistas.
For a bit more local flavor, hang out at Playa de Los Muertos, where musicians and dancers perform for free.
Where to stay: Hyatt bought an erstwhile Dreams resort, invested millions, and relaunched it into the Mexican all-inclusive market as the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. Children ages 4-12 will love the KidZ Club for its indoor and outdoor games, arts and crafts activities, and cultural discoveries, while the four pools give everyone the chance to make a splash. Gourmet chefs in the restaurants, yoga classes, and a sports complex grace the grounds of this family-friendly resort.
Most major airports in the United States offer travelers no-drama, no-fuss access to Cancun. With its iconic, gorgeous white sand beaches, Cancun is powered by its 15-mile Hotel Zone of double waterfront (ocean and lagoon).
At this family-friendly Mexico vacation spot, walk among the open-air markets, such as Coral Negro and Ki-Huic, and shop for safe bets like blankets and jewelry, but be prepared to haggle. At Xcaret, an eco-park nearby with a swimmable underground river, visit Papantia Flying Men performances, archaeological marvels, and wildlife like jaguars, manatees, butterflies, and monkeys.
The entire family should stop by the small Mayan ruins of El Rey, an archaeological site near the southern end of the Hotel Zone, to see the colorful peacocks and hundreds of iguanas lazing nearby
Where to stay: There are many kid-friendly, all-inclusive resorts to choose from in Cancun. However, blessed with an ideal location on a peninsula at the south end of the Hotel Zone, Club Med Cancun Yucatan, lined by three beaches and situated alongside the world's second-largest coral reef, offers 60 oceanfront suites, a playground, a famous circus school, and a flying trapeze. Parents have three choices of age-appropriate kids' clubs (ages 2-17) to choose from, where children can engage in everything from herbariums and pastry-making sessions to group games and activities. Families get to snorkel together or attend archery school as a unit at Club Med Cancun Yucatan.
Prefer authentic culture to beaches? This colorful, completely walkable, graceful southern colonial city offers gorgeous, centuries-old Spanish architecture and green mountain vistas.
Walk around leisurely at Zocalo, which is the square a the heart of the city; observe the herb vendors, grasshopper merchants, jugglers, and guitarists. Visit the museums, galleries, and handicraft stores, where you can shop at places like Mercado 20 de Noviembre for local produce or Casa de las Artisanias for jewelry, pottery, and textiles, among other delightful items. Dozens of artists from around Oaxaca hold weekly markets in the surroundings of the city, so check with locals to venture off the beaten path.
At some point, the whole family can board a trolley and catch a ride to the historical district to experience the 17th-century Santo Domingo Church. Or for a low-key, outdoor experience, saunter together through Paseo Juarez el Llano Park and enjoy the fountains, gardens, birds, and trees. Don't skip the merchants who line up to sell books or the artists who sell their artwork in the park.
Adults get to go Mescal tasting at La Mezcaloteca in Oaxaca, and foodie families will love this destination, the heart of the Land of the Seven Moles (pronounced MO-lays, a nod to the variety of delicious sauces). Learn Zapotec rug weaving or take a family cooking class at a Mexican culinary school. Don't leave without visiting the majestic Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban, where warriors are carved from stones.
Where to stay: The Holiday Inn Express Centro Historico Oaxaca has an unbeatable location in the historic district and is within walking distance to the Cultural Center as well as the Temple of Santo Domingo. Walk to the Andador Turistico, the tourist center where families can stroll leisurely to enjoy craft markets, galleries, museums, and restaurants. Back at the hotel, take a siesta in the sun loungers and hang out by the pool. Be sure to start your morning with Holiday Inn's free breakfast buffet.