The Best Family Adventures on the Riviera Maya

A young boy swims in the kiddie pool in Playa del Carmen. Russ/Flickr
Yes, it’s true—the aquamarine sea is astonishingly clear and warm, the sand is powder soft, and family visitors, in particular, are greeted with genuine hospitality along Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. But this popular swatch of Mexico offers far more than just fun in the sun. It gives vacationers a chance to introduce their children to fascinating ancient history, and in a fun way, to boot. The Mayan Riviera is also wonderland for nature lovers, and many of its best attractions are set up to give kids an up-close-and-personal encounter with the region's natural wonders. Read on for our picks of the very best family adventures.
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Children float through an underground river at Xcaret Curtis & Renee/Flickr
Admission is pricey and commercialization inevitable, but this all-in-one Riviera Maya eco park supplies full immersion in Maya and Mexican culture and regional flora and fauna in one exhausting and exhilarating experience. Highlights include macaws, jaguars, manatees, and butterflies, and an underground river ride (pictured), one of the country’s finest folk art museums. The flourishing Xcaret operation includes the neighboring adventure park XPLOR.
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Dancers entertain at Xcaret in Mexico. Curtis & Renee/Flickr
Be sure to build in time to stay for Xcaret's thrilling nightly folkloric music and dance show.
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Snorkeling at Punta Nizuc My Cancun Tours MX/Flickr
Mixing thrills with a glimpse of the natural environment, this Cancún classic puts you at the helm of a small speedboat or WaveRunner to zip through Nichupté Lagoon and its wildlife-rich mangrove estuaries, ending up in the Caribbea for snorkeling at Punta Nizuc.
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Deer eat leaves at Crococun Gorisenne/Flickr
Going nose to nose with iguanas, spider monkeys, surprisingly endearing baby crocodiles, and other native fauna is a surefire hit with kids and equally captivating for adults. Veterinary students, who volunteer as guides, share their knowledge and their passion for protecting these creatures.
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A sea turtle swims throught the sea near Akumal Nathan Siemers/ Flickr
You don’t even need to snorkel to spot the sea turtles that swim year-round in the bays at this low-key vacation spot. A nearby reef protects the calm, shallow water, and it’s easy for the smallest swimmers to splash about and catch a glimpse of graceful juvenile green turtles in their natural habitat. The adjacent museum has sea turtle exhibits and offers nighttime summer beach walks to watch lumbering mothers dig nests in the sand and lay their eggs.
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Zipliners dangle over the water at Selvática near Puerto Morelos Eleasaid/Flickr
This adventure outfit along the Ruta de Cenotes, inland from Puerto Morelos, will get the whole family’s adrenaline flowing on 12 of North America’s longest and fastest zip lines; cool you off in a cenote, or sinkhole (which you can enter by still more zip lines); and feed you a hearty lunch.
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A street perfomer in Playa del Carmen Missie/Flickr
Head for the central plaza of just about any town in the evening as families gather to end their day with gossip, snacks, maybe a little music, and a chance for children to run out their excess energy. Especially on weekends, it may take on a carnival atmosphere, filling with food carts, balloon vendors, and street performers (pictured)—or even puppet shows or trampolines.
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Swimmers in the aqua waters of Chankanaab National Park J Chessma/Flickr
You can easily spend a full day snorkeling, diving, and paddling a see-through kayak with the fishes in this Cozumel park’s lagoon. Landlubbers can explore the nature botanical garden, archaeological replicas, and Maya house, or simply swing in a hammock beneath a shady palapa.
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The beach and ruins at Tulum. Graeme Churchard
Of the many fascinating ancient ruins along the Mayan Riviera, Tulum may be the most "kid-friendly" because families can mix playing Indiana Jones among the archeological sights with beach time.
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