The Riviera Maya in Mexico is a place that has truly been blessed by nature. Its claim to fame is the turquoise Caribbean sea that embraces the coastline of the state of Quintana Roo. But there is more to this paradise than the ocean; natural marvels, ancient history, quaint towns, eco-adventures and more provide the perfect setting for the ideal travel plans where the whole family will have a fun vacation in a safe environment.
Just be careful, very careful, because you might run the risk of not wanting to come back home! I can tell you this from personal experience since I quit everything and moved to Playa del Carmen with my husband and lived there for a year before we moved to Los Angeles. It was very, very difficult to leave and we still dream about living there again, but now with our girl.
Where Is Riviera Maya, Mexico and how do we get there?
Riviera Maya is a tourism district given to the corridor that runs from the town of Puerto Morelos (20 minutes south of Cancun), past Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal, Tulúm and ends in Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
The best way to get there is to fly into Cancún and then either rent a car or take one of the many buses and shuttles that run through the corridor. Cancun is such a popular and safe destination that it´s easy to find great deals.
I personally recommend that, especially with kids in tow, you rent a jeep or any car and use it to explore the area on your own since it´s very easy to get around and it´s basically one stretch of a modern highway that connects you from town to town. Nothing like having the flexibility to just explore the area.
When should we go?
The best time to go is between the months of November through March when the heat and humidity have cooled down and the huge mosquitoes are gone. This is also high season, so hotels and airfare might be a bit higher, but your stay will be much more enjoyable when the weather cooperates.
Where should my family stay?
Riviera Maya is well-known for both its overwhelming offering of massive all-inclusive resorts as it is for its unique boutique hotels.
All-inclusives are definitely more tailored toward families with tranquil sandy beaches, kiddie pools and entertainment.
If you are a bit more adventurous and like to tailor your vacations to your own taste, I recommend renting a house or apartment from a turn-key vacation rental site. I prefer this option myself because it immerses children in the actual culture and makes them feel more at home. You can go as a family to the markets and shop for local foods to cook together and make the trip a far richer experience for all.
What is there for my kids to do in Riviera Maya?
This is a very loaded question! I don´t think people really realize how much Riviera Maya has to offer for kids and families and how much this experience will enrich our kids lives beyond the thrill of a ride or meeting a character. This is culture, adventure, thrills, nature-exploring, language immersion (Spanish AND Mayan) all at once.
I will write another post with a more detailed list of activities for your kids to serve as a blueprint, but, for now, these are my top 4 must-do´s with kids in Riviera Maya:
An impressive eco-archeological park (they might have coined the phrase!) located in the middle of the Riviera Maya corridor in 12 acres of jungle and seashore. Your kids will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fun and immersive learning to be had. Think of your favorite theme park blended in with a jungle safari, an aquarium , a museum, a water park and a Vegas-style show all in a paradise setting.
Xcaret was created so “visitors all over the world can enjoy the splendor of Mexico’s biodiversity and cultural heritage.” Your family can get the chance to swim with dolphins and even sharks; learn about marine turtle conservations; participate in traditional Mayan and Mexican ceremonies; go on Sea Trek adventures or snorkeling in underwater rivers and sinkholes known as cenotes; observe regional wildlife in its habitat and so, so many more enriching experiences.
Kids don’t get to have all the fun, parents also get to relax in a traditional temascal (sweat lodge) or at the Xpá (Spa).
The highlight of the day (because you should plan to stay there all day, there´s just that much to do) is the Tlachco Mexican dinner night show. The setting of the performance itself is amazing and you will leave there wanting to explore the rest of Mexico to get a personal taste of its cultural richness. If you go, tell me if I´m the only one that cries when they perform Luis Miguel´s Mexico en La Piel? I´m sure I´m not.
This sister-park of Xcaret is coined as the “most beautiful natural aquarium in the world” and, in my opinion, what water fun is truly about. ”A unique set of inlets, lagoons and cenotes, arising from the longest underground river in the world” where kids under 4 are admitted for free and there´s plenty for them to do all day long.
This park is a lot more laid back in the sense that you can just chill on the beach all day and take in any water activity you like. The highlight is definitely their dolphins swim programs since it´s as close to swimming with them in their natural habitat as you can get. I have yet to do this, but it´s something I´m definitely investing in next time we visit.
The Sea Trek is an amazing experience to immerse yourself in the beautiful Caribbean marine life. You need no special training (you don´t even need to know how to swim!) because the helmet and guides will allow you to walk on the ocean bed.
There’s also snuba (a combo of snorkeling and scuba diving), snorkeling, manatees to swim next to, a spa to rejuvenate in, and a paradise to discover and meet the most amazing flora and fauna in a natural habitat.
Ah…Tulum…What was once a major defense port for the Pre-Columbian Mayan city of Cobá is now an idyllic archeological site that kisses the ocean. The only known ruins next to the sea, Tulum is a beautiful family experience that is easily accessible and small enough for children to take in. No other Mayan ruin allows you the privilege of learning about its mystical ancient past and then head to its beach to cool down from the coastal heat.
Plan on taking comfortable walking shoes, a bathing suit, towels and an extra outfit. You can spend 3-4 hours there and then head a couple of miles down to the town of Tulum or any of the gorgeous beachfront cabañas for a barefoot-in-the-sand meal.
Since this beach town is my own secret refuge, I would plan to stay a night in one of the cabañas in Tulum just to delve in its peacefulness and truly disconnect from it all. Yes, even kids can appreciate that.
This is one of the newer parks and I still haven´t visited since I haven´t been back to Riviera Maya in two years (but planning my comeback very soon!). From what I see on the site, it´s recommended for children six and above because it´s more tailored to the adventure and thrill seekers.
Kids love zip lines and these hover over the wild Mayan jungle and then plunge underground into caves and grottoes giving it some extra spice.
The Mayans believed that the underground world was sacred and now we can explore the rivers, cenotes, stalactites and stalagmites in a raft or a swim. I can just imagine what a serene and impressive experience this would be for our kids!
As I mentioned before, these are only four well-known activities you can plan to do with your kids during your stay in Riviera Maya. Sometimes, though, the best plan in these laid-back towns is to have no plan at all. To just lay by the beach, then walk around La Quinta in Playa del Carmen and shop in its cute boutiques and have lunch at one of the many unique and delicious restaurants that give this place an unforgettable sabor.
Here are some useful sites and articles you can visit for more info on planning a family trip to Riviera Maya and/or Cancun:
Share: If you´ve been to the Riviera Maya, what was your favorite family activity? If you haven´t gone, would you like to? Why?
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. I am also being invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own.