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A Taste of Mexico with Kids - 7 days in the Yucatan Peninsular

As part of our Central American adventure in 2022 with our three young children (Max, 7, Quinn 3 and Willow, 10 months) we spent 7/8 days in the Yucatan peninsular. We would have loved for this to be around 3-4 weeks for the perfect trip, but as our research grew we realised our 9 week opportunity to explore a corner of the world we had never been to before would be best spent as taster sessions for 7 nations of Central America. Therefore, we cut it back to the bones. On reflection, I think we did really well and ticked off everything we were desperate to see and do. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to return one day and explore outside of the two beautiful states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, but for now we have put together a summary hit-list of the very best the Yucatan Peninsular has to offer (with kids in tow) as well as links to more specific blogs with details you’ll want to know before you go.

If interested, you can see how this week or so fits in with the wider 2 months backpacking trip here.

Day 1: Travel

It took us exactly 24 hours and £2,500 door to door to reach our Air Bnb flat in Playa del Carmen from our home in Wokingham, Berkshire, UK. The less said about that the better…

Day 2: Akumal Beach

We eased ourselves into our 9-week travels by spending our first day in Mexico at the pool and at the beach. In the morning we got a taxi from the Air Bnb to the car rental in Playa del Carmen town centre, picked up our supplies for the week in Walmart and then the older two hit the pool with Dad while baby had her lunchtime nap and I made a picnic tea and firmed up the beach plan…

We had read a lot about the “best beaches” and decided to be as flexible as possible and consult the “Sargasso Seaweed Updates Riviera Maya” Facebook group here.

Sargasso seaweed has blighted the area for the last few years, clogging beaches to the point where you simply can’t get to the water. This group provides daily updates and Q&As regarding the condition of the sand, sea and seaweed on the various beaches. We had shortlisted Akumal and were excited and grateful to see photographic evidence of the beautiful turquoise waters and soft sand seaweed free! In the afternoon we headed down to the beach for a wonderful afternoon relaxing in the Caribbean sea at last!

Day 3: Coba, Choo-ha, Sian Ka’An Bioreserve

As lovely as Day 2 was, sod easing into it, we ain’t got time for that! Today we levelled up the pace and adventure to the absolute maximum and hit the Coba Ruins, Cenote Choo-ha and the Sian Ka’An Bioreserve in one day. You can check out some more detailed advice by following the links below.

Coba ruins and cenote Choo-Ha: This less visited complex is home of the tallest Mayan temple in the peninsula, in the middle of dense jungle. To our joy it was very peaceful and quiet, we trekked a few km up to the main clump of buildings which included an ancient version of a basket ball court of sorts. We also got some fabulous food, best juice of my life and our first cenote!

During our lockdown-round-the-world-homeschool lesson series, Max watched an Octonaughts mini film and subsequent documentary about the magical cenotes, and became obsessed by these beautiful curiosities. Cenotes (see-no-tays) are limestone cave systems of the Yucatan and Belize whose roofs have partially collapsed and filled with fresh rainwater. I spent possibly the largest chunk of research time selecting a few from the hundred or so in the region, trying to find a secret cenote, less popular but nonetheless spectacular, and Choo-ha absolutely did not disappoint. The kids loved it; the baby really enjoyed squealing to the sound of her own echoes around the cave, and Max told us it was the best day of his life, what a morning.

Sian Ka'an Biosphere: We put the baby’s lunch time nap to excellent use (and stayed out of the most intense heat of the day) and drove another 2 hours to Tulum, a Bohemian instagram paradise filled with young mostly naked Americans. Not to our taste or price range at all, but it is home to the one of Mexico’s most heavily-protected natural areas, and this outing takes you into its heart. We hired a boat looking out for dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, crocodiles many species of birds and tropical fish, and other wildlife along the journey. We were privileged to spot five manatees, something none of us have ever done before. I’d say the highlight was the two massive crocodiles, curled up in the mangrove roots.

Day 4: Xcaret park!

We were very indecisive about whether to visit Xcaret or not. Part of a complex of 6 or so beautiful oceanfront nature & cultural theme parks built around natural wonders, it is exceedingly expensive (£350 for two adults and one half price child!!), busy and not particularly adventurous. However, so many people had told us to do it, that is it the perfect activity for young kids, we blew the budget and went - it did not disappoint! For a full run down of the day and hints/tips to improve your experience please check out the full article here.

From the moment we entered the park and greeted by flamingos and macaws the kids were hooked! The highlights included a cultural tour through Mexican history show (explaining more about that crazy ancient ball game), when we spotted Dos Oraguitas (If you know, you know!!), the largest aviary I’ve ever seen, jaguars, a huge underground paradise lazy river to bring you from one side of the park to the other through the pre-existing cave system, a “kids ceynote” (which didn’t disappoint considering how much we loved the real thing) and the moment a coati jumped out of a bin as I went to throw something away I will say that you can pay to swim with dolphins and I have since written to them about the ethics of this and the size of their enclosure which we avoided completely - otherwise, a contender with Disney for the best theme park ever, absolutely 100% recommend.

Day 5: Chichen Itza and Ik Kil cenote

The magnificent Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza were named one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2007. It was on the must-do list and we found it to be surprisingly kid friendly with its wide open spaces, not too much walking and push chair friendly grassy areas. We left at 6:00 to enjoy the atmosphere quietly before the tour coaches arrived which was 100% worth it as it was completely rammed by 10am, at which point we headed to Ik Kil ceynote. This one was very different to Choo-ha ceynote which only had a tiny slit in the roof to access, and covered with stalactites and stalagmites. Ik Kil was 100% open to the elements and as such had these beautiful vines draping from way up high right down into the water below. Really cool (if a lot busier and built up than the previous) and again a super refreshing swim after the blistering 35 degrees around the ruins. Max was utterly fearless, repeatedly jumping in from up flights of stairs, putting hesitating adults to shame! We got back to our air bnb early to relax, write our diaries, do some homeschool and take care of a few jobs. Click through here to a more detailed blog for specific advice on these must-see places.

Day 6: Playa del Carmen and rest day

A pretty dull one from us today; we tend to plan a chill day every 3-5 days to recover some energy and do kid-friendly nothing but swimming and playing games. There are significantly less of them than usual on this jam packed adventure but today we didn’t do much. Max and I explored Playa Del Carmen on a self-guided graffiti/street art walking tour and then the whole family did activity books, swam and chilled at the air bnb. One interesting point was I went on a hunt for any kind of vegetable today, which was unsuccessful! I can’t say I’ll ever get sick of burritos, nachos, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas etc but jeez there is nothing green but avocado or the odd pepper here at all.

Day 7: Transit day to Bacalar and cenote Azul

After driving hundreds of miles around Yucatan we returned our rental car, left our gorgeous Air Bnb flat and caught four hours of buses down south to the beautiful Bacalar. You can read more about how we got around via car and bus in our more detailed Mexico background info blog here. Ado bus are brilliant.

We changed in Tulum which was a great stop over to mooch about, have lunch and explore some side streets of this boho expensive Instagram town.

Bacalar has a ginormous inland freshwater lagoon, which we plan to visit on Day 8. However, our first stop in Bacalar was Cenote Azul. I grouped cenotes into three types - cave type with little sunlight, underground with stalactites etc (I selected Choo-ha), underground with big, wide ceiling collapse (choice was Ik Kil) and Azul was my pick of the third variety - ground level open air sinkhole type cenote. It looks even more stunning from the air. You can read more about how we found cenote Azul and where we stayed here.

Day 8: Laguna Bacalar

The glorious waters of akumal and the beautiful cenotes ain’t got nothing on Laguna Bacalar! This will be a tough one to beat! In terms of excitement and expectation it was sitting in the #2 in the entire 9 weeks spot for me and it did not disappoint! Anyone who sees a photo of Laguna Bacalar falls in love with its gorgeous turquoise waters.

If the hammocks and swings hanging in the water weren’t enough this is also one of only a few locations in the whole world where one can find Stromatolites. These are flat and circular stone-like formations, formed by bacteria that were the earth’s earliest signs of life. Some of the dead/fossilised ones are 3.6 BILLION years old (the earth is only 4.5 billion years old). These here at Cocolitos are 2,000 years old and may be the largest sized living freshwater organism on earth - 10km (we’re just seeing the sprouts upward in these photos). They really just look like funky rocks but they are incredible. Again, if you want more info, have a look at our run down of Bacalar here.

After Cocolitos it was sadly time to say goodbye to Mexico and head onwards to Belize. To find out all you need to know about the overland border crossing at Santa Elena/Chetumal then please click here.

In Summary

Wow, what a wonderful place, we will certainly be back here again one day, and yet I feel like we didn’t miss much from the must-do list for this area. If we had more time we would have added an island such as Mujeres or Holbox to the list, as well as the cultural city of Merida, but sadly these will have to wait. I’m so glad we fit in a stop at Bacalar as it’s rocketed up to the top ten best places I have ever been, and the kids are still talking about it now.

Total spend: coming soon

Total distance: 813 km

Number of tacos: 1,469,201

I will shortly be adding a detailed breakdown of our budget, but in the meantime, I hope this has been useful to you as a starting point to base your own adventure. Any questions at all please do get in touch via the comments or contact page.

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