Taking the family to Mexico doesn’t have to mean it’ll be a bland, sanitized vacation at an all-inclusive resort, totally devoid of any real Mexican culture. Step outside the Americanized tourist hangouts on your next trip south of the border, and check out some of these fun cultural experiences for kids.
One of the most accessible Mayan ruins, the city of Tulum was constructed in the thirteenth century. Located about 80 miles south of Cancun – and even closer to the Riviera Maya swath of resorts – the gorgeously preserved ruins are perched on a cliff above an impossibly beautiful stretch of blue-green ocean. Visitors are allowed to walk amidst the ruins from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but make sure you arrive early – the ticket line can get long and the midafternoon sun can be brutal (there is very little shade to be had on the site).
Old Town Puerto Vallarta
With the magnificent spire of Our Lady of Guadalupe calling the way, a wander around the Old Town portion of this resort-heavy Pacific tourist town will give the kids a more authentic feeling for Mexican culture. From the architecture to the brick streets to the glorious variety of food, a couple hours strolling through this part of town will be a highlight of your vacation. There’s even a weekly Art Walk and—if you’re lucky enough to be in town then—an annual 12-day Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with music, food and entertainment.
Cuadra San Francisco Equestrian Horses
To a certain set, Cabo San Lucas evokes drinking and aging rockers, but there are a lot of great family activities here, too. One such adventure is to spend a day learning about how horses are trained at a professional equestrian center. Cuadra San Francisco specializes in private rides and riding school. Both beginning and advanced riders can be accommodated, and the Center’s roots go back to the early 1990s. There are more than 50 horses here–Lusitano, Andalusian and Azteca breeds.
This Mexico City park is a gem for families. Being one of the largest city parks on the continent, you can easily spend a day or two wandering around and enjoying its treasures. Check out the Chapultepec Castle ruins, visit the Museum of Anthropology, and spend some time in the Chapultepec Zoo. The El Papalote children’s museum is another popular spot for families to explore.
A short 15-mile drive north of Puerto Vallarta, Entre Amigos offers volunteer opportunities for adults and kids in the surrounding San Pancho community – no Spanish skills are required. The organization is always looking for help doing things such as organizing the library, helping with recycling efforts, gardening, doing office administration work, and teaching computer skills and English to local children.
The tip of Baja California is home to five types of sea turtles (all endangered): Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, and Loggerhead. Join a two-hour tour where your family will get to help release baby sea turtles into the wild and help maintain these amazing creatures at sunset. Due to hatching patterns, the tours are only offered from the end of August through the beginning of December.
If you’ll be staying anywhere around Cancun, you’ll see ads for a variety of cenote tours. They’re worth the visit! These water-filled underground caves and tunnels are enchanting, and you can even swim, snorkel and dive in many of them safely. There are an estimated 30,000 cenotes that dot the landscape in this part of Mexico! Tours generally give a nice geological history of the area and take you to several different cenotes.
Written by Paul Heney