Whether you’re looking for a family fun in the sun at an all-inclusive resort or a day trip to see Mayan ruins, there’s always WOW-factor just around the corner when you visit Mexico with kids. From the Cancun Riviera and Cancun Hotel Zone to the stunning Riviera Maya and Tulum, get ready to learn more about the beautiful beaches, authentic Mexican food and awesome activities to make your stay a memorable one.
Over the years, we’ve had to dispel a lot of myths about travelling to Mexico with kids. Just like any place on earth, if you use good common sense there are lots of ways to stay safe, have fun and try new things — yes, even if you (gasp!) leave your gated resort.
We’ve done Cancun with kids at least four times, and we’ve also taken them to resorts in the Mayan Riviera and to some of the most incredible attractions off the resorts, too, during various day trips from Cancun and other hot-spots. We’ve had only positive experiences and I can’t wait to share all of the things you may want to add to your own family trip to Mexico.
After so many trips to Mexico with kids, here’s my list of must-dos, focused primarily around the Cancun, Riviera Maya, Puerto Morelos and Tulum areas. Make sure you read all the way to the end, because I saved the most important recommendation for last!
PLEASE USE THIS POST FOR #TRAVELDREAMING INSPIRATION AND RESEARCH; IF YOU ARE ALREADY VACCINATED, BE SURE TO CAREFULLY FOLLOW ALL STATE/PROVINCE LAWS AND PUBLIC HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS AT YOUR DESTINATION.
Mexico with kids: 1. Stay somewhere fun!
If you’re going to be in Mexico with kids, you want a resort that will deliver family fun on the daily. We really enjoy both Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
There’s also the Riviera Cancun, an area that encompasses more than just the famous Cancun Hotel Zone. It’s in Quintana Roo, which is a Mexican state on the Yucatán Peninsula, and offers more sunshine, white sand and warm water than you could possibly soak up in just one visit.
First, choose what’s more important to you: an outstanding beach or a resort that has a ton of built-in activities. So far, we haven’t found one resort in Mexico that offers both.
If you’re after perfect sand, turquoise water and stellar ocean waves, I’d suggest sticking to the Cancun Hotel Zone, which offers dozens of hotels and resorts along a prime stretch of beach. I wouldn’t hesitate to take my kids to the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun; although there’s an onsite kids’ club for those age four and up, it’s definitely geared toward the age 4-6 crowd and too much of it takes place indoors, in my opinion. There isn’t a whole lot else going on here for the elementary school-aged child, but tweens and teens will probably enjoy the more grown-up atmosphere, killer pools and artisan cuisine. Plus, the beach. You just can’t beat the beach you’ll find in this part of Cancun.
We’ve also stayed at Beach Palace, but we didn’t love it. (You can read my Beach Palace Cancun review to find out why.) We spent a day at the Royalton Cancun Suites hotel here as well, and — though beautiful and sitting on this amazing beach — it’s not somewhere my kids thought they’d want to stay.
Just 10 minutes from the Cancun Hotel Zone is the Cancun Riviera, where there are two outstanding all-inclusive family resorts you should consider. But take note: the beach here is subpar to what you’ll find in the Cancun Hotel Zone. It’s rockier, more prone to sargassum, and the water is almost never clear. I’m an ocean girl through and through and very, very rarely go in the ocean when we stay in the Cancun Riviera.
But what it lacks in ocean fun, it more than makes up for in resorts that have a never-ending supply of on-resort activities for families. another resort nearby that’s also really family-friendly: the Royalton Riviera Cancun.
From waterparks to arcades and more food choices than even your pickiest eaters will be able to complain about, both the Royalton Riviera Cancun and The Grand at Moon Palace deserve to be short-listed for your vacation. Both are as ideal for strollers as they are for teens who are comfortable strolling resort grounds on their own and meeting up with new friends. We’ve stayed at both resorts twice and they never fail to impress. We’d return to either in a heartbeat.
One of the best Mayan Riviera resorts also happens to be one of the best resorts we’ve ever visited anywhere in Mexico and the Caribbean: Grand Velas. You’ll find this is sort of a hybrid between what you find for families in Cancun and the Cancun Riviera; it’s got a more chill vibe while being incredibly upscale and exclusive. It’s on a very pretty beach that’s more perfectly sandy like Cancun but with ocean water that can be unpredictable like the Cancun Riviera. And there are certainly resort activities for kids and families but in a more understated way than the in-your-face-all-activities-all-the-time approach than you’d get at The Grand.
My Grand Velas Riviera Maya review is a must-read if you’ve got a healthy budget to visit Mexico with kids.
Mexico with kids: 2. Play in the ocean.
I know, I know. This is pretty obvious. But if you’re staying somewhere like the Cancun Riviera and you’re an ocean snob like me who prefers seaweed-free turquoise water, it’s worth a day trip to a great beach if your resort doesn’t have one. That’s where staying somewhere like The Grand at Moon Palace has extra benefits, since you have free access to other Palace Resorts during your vacation. Just hire a taxi to take you to and from one of its sister properties, like Beach Palace, and you can use the resort as your own — including the restaurants.
The waves in the Cancun Hotel Zone can’t be beat and the water is usually perfectly clear and really warm.
Mexico with kids: 3. Visit the Mayan ruins.
Although I appreciate a good all-inclusive resort vacay where the goal is to simply get some sun and fun, there are plenty of reasons to leave your resort and take your kids to see more of what Mexico has to offer. There isn’t anything much more quintessentially “Mexico” than the Mayan ruins.
If this is your first trip to Mexico with kids, you might feel most comfortable using your resort’s activities desk to book a tour; it’s usually a one-stop-shop where you pay a flat fee per person that includes your transportation, meals and entry fees. But that convenience does come at an inflated cost compared to doing it on your own.
CID Private Transfers can help you customize day trips from Cancun, including a stop at the ruins of your choice. We wanted to do the ones in Tulum and rolled some other fun into a day away from our resort. You’ll need to take Mexican pesos with you (not American dollars) so you can pay to get into the ruins, eat lunch along the way and tip your driver, but the overall cost of your personalized day trip will be far less than booking a typical resort tour.
Wear good walking shoes and bring sunscreen and hats — there isn’t much shade to be had at the ruins and spending time in Tulum with kids is a lot nicer when those kids are protected from heat stroke.
You’ll also need pesos if you need to visit a public washroom beyond your resort walls. It’s only 5-10 pesos but if you need extra toilet paper, you’ll be charged extra. And, yep, you get your toilet paper handed to you on the way into the washroom! Another strategy might be to grab a roll from your hotel room and pop it in your day-pack to bring it with you.
As an aside, we also hire CID Private Transfers for all of our airport transfers when they aren’t included in our resort package.
Mexico with kids: 4. Swim in a cenote.
Unless your resort has a cenote onsite (and there are a few that do), this is an amazing experience that my kids still talk about years later. We folded this into our day trip wish-list and spent an afternoon at a cenote near the Tulum ruins. Just don’t forget to bring towels and swimwear.
A cenote is basically a natural swimming hole — some are bigger than others, and the water is usually freshwater (rather than salt water) and quite cool. It’s unlike swimming in the ocean and if there’s a “tunnel” to swim through that connects one end of a cenote to another, there may be bats up above. That takes some getting used to, but I’ve never had one fly anywhere near me. Cenote swimming is a brilliant way to cool down on a super-hot day in Mexico.
If you have room in your luggage for swim googles or even a full-face snorkel mask, these would be great to bring for your cenote visit, too.
Looking for a carry-on only packing list for your family vacation? I’ve got you covered.
Mexico with kids: 5. Go to a foam party.
One of the reasons you absolutely must get a new daily activity guide from your resort’s front desk (or kids’ club) is to watch for a foam party. Obviously not every resort is going to offer this, but it’s worth looking for. We went to one at the Royalton Riviera Cancun and it was sooooo fun! Bring along your goggles and keep your mouths shut (soap doesn’t taste good), and get ready for the cleanest fun you’ll have in Mexico.
Mexico with kids: 6. Build a sandcastle.
What would a beach vacation with the kids be without sandcastles? This is the free stuff that make some of the most lasting childhood memories.
Mexico with kids: 7. Eat ice cream for breakfast.
You’re on vacation, right? So those strict food rules you have at home can relax a little — or be thrown out the window completely. When we’re at home, my kids know that dessert is a weekend treat. But when we’re on vacation, we’ve been known to eat ice cream for breakfast. Just because.
It’s OK because this is what moderation is all about: if your seven-day vacation out of your 365-day year results in eating dessert for breakfast or having a liquid lunch by the pool, so be it. I guarantee your kids will remember how you bent the rules with admiration.
Mexico with kids: 8. Do family karaoke.
Even if your resort doesn’t have its own family-friendly karaoke bar like The Grand at Moon Palace does, you can bring along a cheap bluetooth karaoke microphone and have a private karaoke party in your room (just use your smartphone and look up karaoke songs with lyrics on YouTube).
Mexico with kids: 9. Be adventurous together.
Encourage your kids to try new things — whether that’s eating a local food they haven’t tried before or braving an activity that makes them a bit nervous, tackling something together can strengthen our family bonds.
Mexico with kids: 10. Eat the churros. Drink the smoothies.
I have had many-a-churros in my day. But nothing like you’ll find in Mexico. If you’re out and about off the resort, you can even find them warm and freshly sugared, right out of the deep fryer. A street vendor in Puerto Morelos also drizzled his churros in what must be described as condensed milk heaven. (And it was less than a dollar for eight of them.)
Needless to say, you can’t be the only one ruined for churros for the rest of your life, so make sure your kids try them, too.
And while you’re having your churros and eating them, too, we need to talk about resort smoothies. Oh, sure, they may be sugar-laden sleep-stealers, but if your kids aren’t ordering at least three a day from the swim-up bar, are you even doing your family vacation right?
PRO TIP: One way to reduce the sugar content in all those smoothies is to nab some bananas from breakfast and keep them in your beach bag. When your kids want a smoothie, encourage them to take a banana with them to the bar and ask for it to be blended in with no additional sugar or simple syrup. The banana will sweeten it up nicely!
Mexico with kids: 11. See a show. Or be in the show!
The quality of evening entertainment at resorts varies wildly, but kids are easy to please and rarely the critics we think they’ll be. So take them to the shows each night, even if YOU think they sound kind of lame. You might be surprised when a fire-dancer or circus artist blows you away.
At a lot of resorts, there are also opportunities throughout the week for your kids to get involved and be in a show, too. In some cases, they will rehearse all week with the entertainment staff, while in others they may just get invited up on stage spontaneously. Even shy kids may be more likely to participate in something like this on vacation, where there’s no fear of being laughed at or teased by classmates in the crowd.
Mexico with kids: 12. Eat at a swim-up bar.
It might not feel too comfortable donning a towel and sitting down for your resort lunch in wet swimwear, so every visit to Mexico with kids must include eating at a swim-up bar! You might have to ask for menus, but chances are good that a four- or five-star resort will offer meal service right to your swim-up barstool.
This is the ultimate in both fun AND efficiency.
Mexico with kids: 13. Walk on the beach.
Is there anything better than sand beneath your toes and warm water lapping at your feet? (No. The answer is no.)
Well, if you love long walks along the beach, Cancun’s Hotel Zone will totally be your jam. From our home base at the Hard Rock Cancun or Beach Palace, for example, we could walk for two hours in either direction and still not reach the end of the beach!
Beyond great exercise, this also gives you a chance to check out some of the other properties along the way for future visits. I like to use these walks for individual one-on-one time with my kids, where we have hours to just talk.
Mexico with kids: 14. Go to a waterpark.
If you aren’t staying somewhere with a great waterpark like the Royalton or The Grand, consider getting a day pass for a resort that has one. Day passes can be a more cost-effective way of customizing your vacation itinerary; maybe your budget doesn’t allow for a full week at The Grand, so perhaps a day pass is a good use of your money.
Just remember to make sure it includes food and beverages, and maximize your time at the resort by arriving as early as possible and leaving as late as you’re allowed to.
Mexico with kids: 15. Watch the sunrise.
My kids are generally pretty early risers, but they’re never awake on their own before sunrise. So I frequently pick one morning of our vacation to wake one or both of them up to come out onto the balcony or the beach to see the sun come up over the ocean.
There’s always something special about those first cracks of pink and orange light fusing and breaking through the night sky. It’s important that kids see and appreciate the dawning of a new day, even if you do it in complete silence. Being the first ones down at the beach also has its benefits if you’re at a resort where saving your loungers each morning is de rigueur.
Mexico with kids: 16. Play video games. (Yes, really.)
Yeah, yeah — you’re here to be outside in the sunshine, playing in the fresh oceanside air. I get it. But sometimes it’s OK to take a break from all that outdoor time or to fill your nights with things your kids love to do at home.
And my kids LOVE video games. So we usually find ourselves at resorts that have at least an arcade game — though some have full-blown XBOX or PlayStation studios or even multi-level game zones that would make a carny drool. We carve out time just for video games because this is their vacation, too.
Mexico with kids: 17. Have a cannonball competition.
Let’s say your resort doesn’t offer an Insta-worthy beachfront. That’s OK! You can have loads of fun in the pool — even if it doesn’t have a proper deep end.
Enter the family cannonball competition! As long as you have a good five or six feet of depth to play with, cannonballs are everyone’s friend. Set up different rules for the kids versus parents, create a unique scoring system or have a prize for the best cannonball of the day — no matter how your competition goes down, be sure to capture it all using the slow-mo and burst options on your smartphone so you can re-live the fun again and again when you get back home.
Mexico with kids: 18. Go snorkelling in Puerto Morelos.
I’m a certified SCUBA diver, so it’s not often that I suggest snorkelling as an excursion. However, for a US$25 taxi ride into Puerto Morelos down the Riviera Cancun’s coastline (or about $40 if you’re coming from Cancun proper), you’ll save a pile of money by organizing this on your own rather than booking a snorkel tour through your hotel.
There’s a great little dive and snorkel shop in Puerto Morelos called Wet Set. For US$35 per person, your adventure includes a life vest, snorkel and mask, the boat ride, cost of admission into an unmarked marine park and two fully guided snorkel sessions.
The water is quite shallow, so it actually feels like you’re snorkelling in an aquarium. And all of the coral is still in fantastic shape, so you’re guaranteed to see lots of sea life. I even came face to face with a big green turtle!
Kids who aren’t confident or experienced snorkellers have the option to swim with a guide, holding on to a ring for extra safety.
PRO TIP: If you have a mask and snorkel that you love, bring them along. The ones Wet Set offers are very basic.
Once you return from snorkelling, you can walk about 25 feet toward the beach and land at Don Ernestos — an open-air, thatched-roof beachfront bar where you can enjoy lunch.
Oh, sure, you can get other drinks, too, including virgin cocktails for the kiddos, but if the owner is there, ask for an education in tequila. From reposado to mezcal, we learned what is and isn’t tequila, how it’s aged and why there are different colours.
The ceviche and chicken wings are fantastic, the pina coladas are enormous, and you can’t beat the salty breeze running through your ocean-tussled hair.
Mexico with kids: 19. Eat real tacos.
Not far from the Puerto Morelos beach where your snorkel adventure will conclude is Colonia. This essentially means “the village,” and it’s where the locals live, shop and dine. While there were few tourists around, it still felt completely safe — because we went there with a couple of locals as well as ex-pats who live in Puerto Morelos several months a year.
And this is where you need to eat real Mexican tacos. Just be sure to ask about the current safety climate before you leave Wet Set. Remember: you want to use good common sense when you leave your resort, especially when visiting Mexico with kids. There are even places in Toronto I wouldn’t visit alone or after dark, for example, and things can change in Mexico from one visit to the next in certain areas. So ask for the lay of the land every time you go. You can’t be too street-smart.
Los Mezquites is a concrete slab of a restaurant in Colonia. There are no doors or walls. And with no more than eight tables, and seating for perhaps eight more around the grill, we probably would have driven right past it had our hosts not told us it was our destination.
The chef was cooking marinated meat — pork, chorizo, beef, chicken — like a boss. It was non-stop. I asked him how much meat he cooks every day: 40 kilos (that’s more than 88 pounds).
After inhaling three whole tacos and sharing one magical taco-like creation full of meat and melted cheese, it wasn’t hard to understand why the joint is busy from the time it opens in late afternoon until it finally closes down around 4 or 5 a.m.
The bonus? It cost less than US$3 per person to eat. (We paid double, because that extra bit of money for us is nothing, but it can do a lot for a family in Mexico.)
Mexico with kids: 20. Do a professional family photo shoot.
OK, I told you I was saving the best for last. And that’s a photo shoot! Inevitably, one parent is the resident picture-taker — and that means there are few photos of that person as a result.
Relying on other guests’ (a) kindness to stop and help take your family photo and (b) ability to take one that you’d want to frame is iffy. Many resorts have onsite photographers and you can get some amazing shots for a pretty reasonable investment.
In our experience, it’s been cheaper to do a family photo shoot on vacation than it is at home with local photographers. The shoot itself is usually free and you pay for the individual shots you love, discarding the rest. There are also almost always package deals that make getting a bulk number of photos cheaper the more you select.
No matter what you pay, the result is priceless because your entire clan will be caught in that moment in time forever, together.
DISCLAIMER: We have occasionally been invited to stay at various resorts to facilitate reviews. Many of our vacations and the additional activities on those vacations, however, are self-funded. In either case, opinions are my own and honest recommendations are my raison d’être.