Mexico is so chockfull of calendar-worthy vacation spots that it's nearly impossible to run across one that's less than perfect. Some destinations in this colorful country, however, are more suited for families than others.
Navigating a foreign territory with kids in tow is rarely easy. Bustling metropolises like Mexico City are thrilling, but perhaps too chaotic for small children or big families. Luckily, there are a slew of all-inclusive resorts, laid-back beaches, and quaint towns that are rich with culture without all the commotion.
The 81-mile strip of coastline that runs along the Yucatan Peninsula between Cancun and Tulum is known as the Riviera Maya. Dotted along the white-sand beach are a number of popular all-inclusive resorts and activities suited for all ages. In the heart of it is Playa del Carmen, a former fishing village-turned-resort town. Highlights of the region include the Mayan ruins in Tulum, the second-largest coral reef system in the world, an eco-archaeological theme park called Xcaret, lagoons of colorful fish, and pristine cenotes (natural pools of clear water that are popular for swimming).
Flying pole dancers soar above the palm trees, beckoning crowds below. Tourists can visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO Heritage Site that is home to sea turtles and hundreds of birds), snorkel at the largest natural aquarium in the world, or journey into the Aktun Chen caves.
Where to Stay
The Azul Beach Resort has a Gourmet Inclusive option that includes beach butlers and rooms to accommodate five or more. Parents are sure to enjoy the programs at the Azulito Kids Club—balloon fights, sandcastle building, treasure hunts, and the like—as much as their little ones. There are kid-friendly pools, on-site Spanish lessons, and kayak rentals, too, all just 20 minutes from Cancun International Airport.
The Baja California Peninsula occupies 1,247 kilometers of coastline and at the southern tip of it sits Los Cabos. This tourist-friendly municipality encompasses two capes: blissfully quiet San Jose del Cabo and the vibrant Cabo San Lucas. Cabo San Lucas is a mecca for shopping—you'll find embroidered clothes, pewter earrings, and aromatic vanilla extract, among other local delights—and dining. San Jose del Cabo, on the contrary, is best for kicking back and enjoying a sunrise, kayaking, horseback riding, and more.
Playa El Medano, near to downtown Cabo San Lucas, is always alive with music, food stalls, and pick-up volleyball. The whole family can snorkel at the nearby Cabo Pulmo Marine Park or hop aboard the pirate ship-inspired Buccaneer Queen. Los Cabos is famed for whale watching during winter and water sports during summer. Some beaches in this region can be rough, so families should choose a resort with a designated safe spot.
Where to Stay
The clientele at Dreams Los Cabos is a diverse mix of families, couples, and golf goers enjoying the surrounding eight championship courses. There's a supervised Explorer's Club for 3- to 12-year-olds and activities surrounding science, nature, and exploration on-site. After enjoying a movie under the stars, kids can even camp on the beach.
About halfway up the west coast, south of Mazatlan and north of Acapulco, is a historical town wedged between the ocean and mountains along horseshoe-shaped Banderas Bay. Visiting Puerto Vallarta warrants a walk along the cobblestone streets of Viejo Vallarta (Old Town), people watching at the esplanade (known as the Malecón), and dancing to the mariachi bands that play in the palm-shaded plazas. The Baroque-style Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a major tourist attraction, while Playa de Los Muertos is where you'll find local flavor.
There's Mexican fare for all ages on Basilio Badillo (Restaurant Row) and no shortage of water sports—snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, parasailing, and you-name-it—to make it even more fun. Nearby jungle and canopy tours are big family draws here, as are the boat rides to Las Caletas.
Where to Stay
The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta is a playground for all age groups. Adults come for the gourmet chefs, yoga classes, and sprawling sports complex; youngsters come for the KidZ Club's extremely popular turtle release program, an experience they're guaranteed not to forget.
Cancun is an easy destination for the countless US travelers who flock to its iconic white-sand beaches year after year. Its accessibility is perhaps why the city has become a major hangout for spring breakers, but rest assured it isn't only a party place. Cancun is powered by its 15-mile, double-waterfront Hotel Zone, which has an abundance of family-friendly activities of its own. There are open-air markets like Coral Negro and Ki-Huic and the eco-park Xcaret with its swimmable underground river. At the southern end, there are the Mayan ruins of El Rey, where colorful peacocks and iguanas by the hundreds laze.
Where to Stay
Among Cancun's many kid-friendly, all-inclusive resorts, there's Club Med Cancun Yucatan at the south end of the Hotel Zone. It's conveniently wedged between three stunning beaches and situated alongside the world's second-largest coral reef. It's also home to a famous circus school and a flying trapeze. There are three kids clubs where everyone from tots to teens can enjoy herbariums, join pastry-making sessions, and more. Families may even bond over bows and arrows at the archery school.
For those prioritizing an authentic cultural experience over Mexico's many beaches, this colorful, colonial city is known for its centuries-old Spanish architecture and green mountain vistas. One could simply spend hours strolling the square, dubbed Zocalo, just watching herb vendors, grasshopper merchants, jugglers, and guitarists go about their days. Oaxaca's museums, galleries, and handicraft stores are sure to keep visitors busy when there isn't a market being held somewhere around the city. Trolley rides to the historical district are a hit for the kids. For an outdoor experience, the gardens and fountains at Paseo Juarez el Llano Park are as entertaining as the merchants who sell books and artwork amidst them.
Adults will love mescal tasting at La Mezcaloteca while foodie families may rather sample the sauces in the so-called Land of the Seven Moles. Tourists can learn Zapotec rug weaving or take a cooking class at a Mexican culinary school. No one should leave without visiting the Zapotec ruins at Monte Albán, where warriors are carved from stones.
Where to Stay
The Holiday Inn Express Oaxaca-Centro Historico occupies prime real estate in the historic district and is within walking distance to both the cultural center and Temple de Santo Domingo. The Andador Turistico, where families can peruse craft markets, galleries, museums, and restaurants, is also walkable. Back at the hotel, the kids will be happy to cool down with a dip in the pool.