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If you are considering taking a trip to the Mexican Yucatan this year, you might be feeling amped up about all of the amazing colonial cities, archeological sites and stunning beaches that you are going to see, while simultaneously worrying about whether this is a suitable destination for families with kids.
Sound about right? While an itinerary of going from one archeological site to another and another might be a bit too much for the little ones, rest assured, there are plenty of fun and affordable things to do in the Yucatan with kids that even parents will enjoy.
This article has been written by a Travel Writer based in the Mexican Yucatan so rest assured, you are in good hands here.
15 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan with Kids in 2024
Explore Gorgeous Yucatan Beaches
There are dozens of gorgeous beaches throughout the Yucatan peninsula that the whole family will enjoy – whether you are looking for spots that offer all the amenities, or more secluded stretches of coastline.
Most people who head to Southeastern Mexico are familiar with the popular beaches around Cancun and the Riviera Maya, and perhaps even quieter Caribbean coast beach resorts like Mahahual and Akumal. However, some of the “best-kept secrets” in this part of the country are the picture-perfect beaches that run along the “Ruta Esmerelda” – a 98km stretch of coastline that runs along the Gulf of Mexico in the Northern Yucatan.
Many of the beaches here offer golden sands and crystal-clear waters and would rival the beauty of the more popular spots in the Riviera Maya. Better yet, many are completely devoid of crowds so you can easily have a little stretch of paradise all to yourselves.
For gorgeous beaches with plenty of restaurants, stores, bathrooms and facilities nearby, check out Progreso, Sisal, Chicxulub, and Telchac Puerto. For something more secluded, add Chuburna, San Bruno and San Crisanto to your Yucatan checklist.
Most of the small towns and villages in this area have little convenience stores selling things like sand buckets and spades, armbands, inflatables, etc, so its easy to find toys to keep the kids entertained.
Want to go whale watching? Find out here where to look for whales.
Swim with Pigs in Yucalpeten
In the little village of Yucalpeten, just 4km away from the Yucatan beach town of Progreso, you will find “Pig Beach”. This beach takes its name from the six little Vietnamese piglets that call the sands here their home after they were found abandoned here a couple of years ago.
Local animal groups care for the pigs and have built them a pen, and despite the hot, humid jungle climate being a far cry from their natural and usual habitats, the animals thrive and love it here. The pigs are free to wander out of their pen as they please and if they are not busy having a siesta, you will often find them going for a swim in the warm, clear waters.
In some ways, Yucalpeten is a bit like Exuma in the Bahamas and kids will love swimming beside the pigs or dropping snacks and treats into their pen. You will find a little snack bar here selling light bites, ice cold cervezas for mom and dad and ice creams, as well as a souvenir store selling lots of adorable pig-themed t-shirts and merchandise.
All proceeds go towards caring for the pigs on the beach.
See the Flamingoes in Celestun
Celestun is a beach town in the far western corner of the Yucatan state. While its Playa Norte beach is definitely a beauty, the main draw of coming here is to see American flamingos in their natural habitat in the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve.
Between November and April every year, more than 30,000 flamingoes flock here to mate and you can take a little wooden boat through the mangroves to observe them. The boats get close enough that you can see the flamingos, while still maintaining a respectful distance.
There are of course, other animals to see in the reserve, including pelicans, dozens of species of native and endangered birds and, most exciting of all, crocodiles! You can pre-book a spot on a Celestun tour if you want or simply head to the reserve and organize a boat on arrival.
The tour boats accommodate 8-9 people and cost 1,800 pesos (circa $105 USD) per boat. You will easily find other travelers lurking around the port to split the cost with, or of course, you can have a private boat tour if you prefer.
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Visit Sendero Jurrasica
In the northern part of the Yucatan state on the Gulf of Mexico coast awaits the quaint little seaside town and fishing village of Chicxulub. Chicxulub is not on most travelers’ radars when they visit Southeastern Mexico but it played an important role in history as it was here where the Chicxulub meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs crashed into the earth some 65 million years ago.
Chicxulub itself is a nice little place to spend an afternoon – the town beach boasts soft, powdery white sands and cerulean turquoise waters and sees a fraction of the tourists you see at beachtowns along the Riviera Maya. There are some great seafood restaurants perched by the waterfront and the dishes are prepared with fresh fish caught earlier that same day.
(If you get here early in the morning, you can see the local fishermen pushing their wooden boats out to sea). Kids will love the dinosaur statues scattered randomly throughout the beach area, but better yet is a trip to the nearby Sendero Jurassica park.
This park, which gives out major Jurassic Park vibes, is located right beside where the meteor crashed. A walking trail leads you through the mangroves and the jungle, past giant sculptures of different dinosaurs, while information boards tell you about the traits and characteristics of each dino.
Did you know that chocolate was actually invented in Mexico? There are various different theories about whether it was the Aztecs, the Olmecs, or the Mayans that first produced choco treats but the sweet definitely has Mexican Mesoamerican roots.
At the Choco Story Museum close to the Uxmal ruins, you will learn about the history of chocolate and its importance in Mexican traditions and culture, and get to try various samples. As well as tasting different chunks of chocolate infused with different regional treats (like chocolate with maize from Sinaloa, or xcatic chili from the Yucatan), you will be treated to a hot cup of an ancient cacao drink known as Chokoj Ha.
At the end of the tour, your guides will perform an ancient ceremony known as the Cha-Chaac, where the rain god Chaac is asked for his help in bringing rains to help the cacao plants grow.
Have Dinner On Board Captain Hook’s Boat Tour
In both the city of Campeche and in Cancun, the whole family can enjoy a swashbuckling dinner on board a pirate ship that departs from the port and sets sail along the coast. The Captain Hook pirate boat in Cancun, is particularly fun, and sees an amazing nighttime pirate show performed by actors onboard a replica of an 18th century Spanish galleon.
The cast of waiters and actors fight, and swing overhead on ropes as you dine and tuck into delicious traditional Mexican and American delicacies. The Cancun tour departs every day at 6.30pm.
In Campeche, the boat leaves at 5pm from the El Foro del Morro seafood restaurant beneath the San Miguel fortress on Saturdays and Sundays.
Experience the Uxmal Ruins Sound & Light Show
The 200 or so Mayan ruins in the Yucatan can provide kids with a far more interesting and engaging history lesson than could ever be experienced by browsing through the pages of a textbook or listening to a school teacher drone on in monotonous tones. From Chichen Itza to Mayapan, Uxmal and everywhere in between, Mayan cities are fascinating to explore.
The Uxmal ruins are particularly great for families because by night, they play host to a sound and light show. The show sees all of the various pyramids, shrines and structures of the site illuminated with multicolored lights as a narrator said to be the rain god Chaac tells the story of the Mayan civilization.
It is a very interactive show designed to get the whole family involved (e.g. chanting to call on Chaac and ask him for rains, fun games for the kids), and street vendors at the site entrance sell glow sticks and illuminated hats and accessories.
Experience a Pok-ta-Pok Ball game
If you head to the Merida cathedral on a Saturday night at 8pm, you can catch a re-enactment of the Mayan ball game Pok-ta-Pok. In the days of the Ancient Mayans, this game would be played to settle debates and arguments and sometimes the losing team was sacrificed!
The aim of the game was for players to whack a sturdy rubber ball through a hoop mounted high on the wall using just their hips. You will see the sunbleached remnants of old Pok ta Pok ball courts in various Mayan cities and the re-enactment is a fun history lesson.
Other performers join in the event, most notably fire eaters and people that juggle fire. Fortunately, on Saturday nights these days, the losing team is not sacrificed!
Visit the Parks and Fairs of Merida
The Yucatan capital of Merida is a gorgeous colonial city which is home to several charming parks and plazas. Plaza Grande, Parque Santa Lucia and Parque Santa Ana are essentially the main squares in the historic center, but if you are willing to go a little off the beaten path and head into East Merida, little ones will love Parque Aleman.
By day, Parque Aleman is pretty quiet and not really much to write home about aside from a few charming brunch spots that encircle the main square. In the early evenings and at night, however, it really comes to life as families and groups of friends come here to have moonlit picnics and hang out on the grassy banks.
(Since it is often super hot here, people often avoid the sun/heat in the day and head for walks in the evenings). Tons of street vendors set up stalls selling everything from elotes and esquites (delicious cups of sweet corn topped with mayo, cream, cheese whizz and chili), to marquesitas (Yucatecan crepes) and ice creams.
The whole family will love experimenting with street food, while kids will love the old-fashioned fairground rides and games here – like hook-a-duck, the dodgems, an old fashioned carousel, etc. You can also rent little battery powered cars for the kids to drive around the park in.
See the Dancing Fountains at Merida’s Parque a la Plancha
Parque a la Plancha is a brand new park that opened up in Merida in late 2023. This stunning recreational space has been built on the grounds of the old abandoned Merida train station and connects the city center to the new Tren Maya station in Teya.
The old trains have been renovated, given a new lick of paint, and converted into quirky stores selling souvenirs, raspados (iced sodas) and street food snacks. Theres a stylish indoor street food market, water fountains and pools that the kids can play in, as well as a “dancing fountain” show in the evenings where mariachi music plays out over the speakers as the fountains “dance” in the colors of the Mexican flag.
Spend a Day at Ventura Park
Water parks are always a fun way to cool down when you are on vacation in hot places and in the Yucatan peninsula, there’s Ventura Park in Cancun. “Ventura Park” actually consists of three different themed water parks, in a similar style to parks you would expect to find in Orlando or California.
The various parks offer rides and attractions for kids (and adults) of all ages and adrenaline levels and with multi-day passes available, you can spend days here.
Aaah! Ventura offers fun for adventurous, older kids in the form of zip-lines, a bungee swing, and a “sky walk” where you are secured with a safety harness and have to cross a series of shaky bridges and moving platforms like a contestant on a survival show.
Meanwhile, Wet & Wild, like its American counterparts, offers waterslides of all shapes and sizes, wave pool, a lazy river and tobogganing. There is also a “Grand Prix” Go Kart circuit that even parents will enjoy.
Go Snorkeling in Isla Mujeres
If you have slightly older children or teens who are already pretty strong swimmers, you will definitely enjoy taking them on a day trip (or longer) to Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Quintana Roo state. The paradisical island is home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – a 700 mile long reef network that is the second largest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Here are some of our favorite snorkeling gear.
The reef is divided into separate sections with Manchones reef, El Farito, Bandera and Sac Bajo being among the most impressive. In these shallow depths and calm waters, you will find everything from colorful coral and fish, to crabs, lobsters, seahorses, and cool underwater rock formations.
Various dive schools in Isla Mujeres and elsewhere in Quintana Roo offer classes and guided tours for swimmers of all ages and abilities. You can also teach your own kids to snorkel.
Hang Out at Lake Bacalar
In the southern part of Quintana Roo state, you will find Lake Bacalar, a Mexican pueblo magico and the second largest freshwater lake in the country after Lake Chapala. Bacalar is affectionately known as the “seven color lagoon” due to the way that the waters here shimmer in seven different shades of blue, green and turquoise.
This is thanks to the mysterious microorganisms known as stromatolites that live beneath the surface of the water as they have done for millions of years. There are so many fun things to do in the waters of Lake Bacalar that you could easily spend a whole week here.
For the best views and convenience, opt to stay in a hotel that is set right on the banks of the lake. Many hotels allow you to rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and other equipment so you can set out into the lake and enjoy the nature.
A lot of small independent companies also offer Bacalar tours where they take you to hidden spots within the lake where pirates used to hang out, an eerie abandoned hotel that was built for the mega-rich and never used, cenotes, and bays that are great for swimming in.
If you have older kids, you can take them to “Los Rapidos de Bacalar” – a 30km long waterway north of Chetumal where you can sit in a rubber ring or a kayak, and the super fast rapids whizz you through the natural scenery.
Take a Dip in a Refreshing Cenote
One of the major highlights of any Yucatan itinerary is spending a day swimming and relaxing in cenotes. Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with water that were created when the Chicxulub meteor smashed into the earth millions of years ago.
They are only really found in Southeastern Mexico and it is estimated that there are more than 7,000 of them throughout the Yucatan peninsula. The Ancient Mayans used many of these cenotes for spiritual purposes and believed them to be a connection to the underworld. (“Xibalba”).
Today, they are used for swimming and cooling down on hot days, but many still contain red-painted hand prints that the Mayans left. The water is transparent and often quite shallow in cenotes, which is great, even if you/your family are not super strong swimmers.
Check out the Santa Barbara cenotes in Homun, or cenote X’Batun and Dzonbakal near Merida. Free life jacket rentals are provided for use during your visit.
Visit the “Racoon Island” of El Corchito
Just 10 minutes away from Progreso, you will find the “El Corchito” nature reserve – a small ecological reserve that is home to hundreds of mischievous racoons, or “mapaches” as the locals call them. To get to the reserve, you need to take a little boat across to a tiny island in the middle of the mangroves.
The racoons here are friendly and pretty accustomed to seeing visitors so you don’t need to worry about them being aggressive or anything like that. Pack your swimsuits as there are three lovely cenotes where you can go swimming here.
Helechos cenote, Corchito cenote and cenote “pajaros” (parrot cenote) are all great places to swim. The good thing about coming to El Corchito is that you can pair it with a visit to Progreso, and it is mostly locals that travel here, so you don’t have to share the cenotes and nature trails with tons of other travelers.
Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico. She has contributed to numerous high profile travel publications across the globe and runs the website www.mexicotravelsecrets.com where she encourages travelers to explore Mexico off the beaten path.