If you're thinking about a family vacation in Mexico, getting the lowdown from a local parent can make all the difference. We asked Suzanne Barbezat, Mexico Travel Expert, for her best tips on taking a family vacation in Mexico.
Insider Tips from a Mom in Mexico
About.com Family Vacations: Does a child need a passport to travel to Mexico? What other entry requirements should families be aware of?
Suzanne Barbezat: For travel by air to Mexico, everyone needs a passport, including children. For travel by land or sea, a passport is still recommended, but there are a few instances where it’s not strictly necessary—a passport card will do, or for children 16 and under, a certified birth certificate may do in some cases.
Besides a passport, a minor traveling unaccompanied by either parent (either traveling alone or in the company of someone other than the parents) must carry a document proving the parents gave permission for the child to travel. For a child traveling with only one parent, I recommend bringing along either written consent from the child’s other parent or proof of sole custody, as well as your child’s birth certificate to prove your relationship. These documents may not be required but they can certainly help speed things along if the immigration officer has any questions about your child’s custody and eligibility for travel.
Is it Safe to Travel in Mexico with Kids?
About.com Family Vacations: In recent years abductions and violence have put security in Mexico in the news, yet millions of Americans visit Mexico every year without incident. As a resident of Mexico, what is your advice to families considering a family vacation in Mexico? Are there areas that travelers should stay away from?
Suzanne Barbezat: In general it is safe to travel in Mexico, but there are a few areas where you should exercise particular caution, and a few locations that you may prefer to avoid altogether. You can find the latest security information by checking the Mexico travel warning from the U.S. State Department. The warning contains a list of Mexican states and details about the security situation in each. Don’t be too put off by what you read there, remember that bad things can happen anywhere, even in your own hometown, but it is a good idea to have a general idea of what to watch out for in your particular destination.
Mexico’s popular tourist destinations, such as Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, as well as most of the colonial cities like Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City have not been affected by the drug violence that is most prevalent along the border with the United States, so you should have no hesitations about visiting those areas.
Which Destinations Offer the Best Mix of Fun and Culture?
About.com Family Vacations: Many families visiting Mexico stay at all-inclusive beach resorts where they can enjoy myriad activities without ever leaving their resort. While beach fun is a natural attraction, families may overlook the less obvious attractions of Mexico's colonial cities, villages and ruins, which are often exotic and truly fascinating to kids. Can you recommend two or three picks for family vacations that mix fun and culture?
Suzanne Barbezat: The city where I live and am raising my children, Oaxaca, is a great option for family travel. There are lots of things to do that are fun and also educational, from playing with local children in the main square to visiting archaeological sites like Monte Alban and Mitla, and learning about traditional handicrafts in nearby villages. Family members can try their hand at carding and spinning wool in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, or painting carved wooden animals in San Martin Tilcajete.
Merida is another city that is very appealing to families with kids. It’s close to amazing Mayan archaeological sites like Chichen Itza and Uxmal, and there are also some small Mayan towns nearby that are well worth visiting, as well as natural attractions like the Celestun Biosphere Reserve where you can see huge flocks of flamingos.
Although Mexico City isn't usually the first place to come to mind when you think about traveling with children, I consider it a great choice for a family vacation. It has many cultural offerings that appeal to people of all ages. It’s a very big city but if you can get over its intimidating size, you’ll be impressed by what you find there.
Which Attractions Near Mexico City are Best for Kids?
About.com Family Vacations: What three attractions in Mexico City should be at the top of a family's must-do list?
Suzanne Barbezat: Chapultepec Park is a must-visit for families, and it has multiple attractions that are interesting for the whole family. This huge park has a zoo, a lake with pedal boats to rent, an amusement park and the Papalote children’s museum. The National History Museum is also here, and is housed in a 17th century castle. Children may particularly enjoy seeing the rooms that are furnished the way they were at the time when Emperor Maximilian and the Empress Carlota lived there.
Teotihuacan archaeological site is also a great place to visit with kids. It is really big so take your time exploring and imagining what the site may have looked like when it was in its heydey in the 6th century. Older kids will enjoy climbing up to the top of the pyramids, but with really little ones, you may prefer to enjoy the view from the ground level.
Kidzania’s La Ciudad de los Niños is a theme park designed as a city for children. Kids get “jobs” for which they earn kidzos (the currency of the Ciudad de los Niños) with which they can purchase goods and services. For adults it may sound an awful lot like day to day life, but kids really enjoy pretending to be grownups for awhile. Young people who are learning some Spanish will find lots of opportunities to practice in this interactive park.
Where Can Families Go to Explore Mayan Culture?
About.com Family Vacations: For families wishing to learn about Mayan civilization and culture, which destinations offer the biggest wow factor?
Suzanne Barbezat: Although many visitors to Cancun are mainly interested in fun and relaxation, it can be a excellent place to learn about Mayan culture and civilization. The best place to start is the Museo Maya de Cancun, a modern and well-designed museum that also has an archaeological site on its grounds. From there you can take day trips to sites along the Riviera Maya.
Merida is also a great base from which to explore the Mayan area, and ideal for those who want to avoid the glitz of Cancun. Besides the archaeological sites in the area, you can also visit sisal plantations, cenotes and small towns such as Izamal and Valladolid.
The main thing is to be sure to get away from your hotel or resort and explore archaeological sites and Mayan villages. Swim in a cenote and think about how the ancient Maya considered them passageways to the underworld. Be sure to sample some of the local Yucatecan food, which is quite different from the cuisine of the rest of the country.
What Foods Should Kids Try in Mexico?
About.com Family Vacations: Traveling to another country is a great opportunity for the whole family to try some new foods. What traditional Mexican foods do you recommend beyond tacos and burritos? Also, what beverages and desserts should kids look out for on menus?
Suzanne Barbezat: Adventurous eaters will find many new and unusual foods to try. One of the traditional foods that you shouldn’t miss are tamales, which come wrapped in corn or banana leaves. If your kids aren’t put off by the ick factor, they may enjoy trying chapulines (grasshoppers) or huitlacoche (corn smut).
As for drinks, kids will probably enjoy fruit-flavored aguas frescas (sweet drinks made with a variety of different kinds of fresh fruit); horchata, which is made with rice and cinnamon; or agua de jamaica, cold hibiscus tea.
Desserts to try include arroz con leche (Mexican rice pudding), flan, and helado (ice cream). Kids visiting Mexico might also like to sample some Mexican candies, which can be very different from what they may be used to. Many of these candies have both sweet and spicy flavors, as well as tangy ones like you’ll find in candies made with tamarind.