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Why traveling through the Yucatán Peninsula with kids is a must

Mexico is a lively country with a fascinating history and an interesting present. Traveling to Mexico with kids is a great idea. And a road trip through Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula a family favorite. If you’re looking for the best places to go, this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide is meant for you.

The Yucatán Peninsula is a popular tourist gateway to Mexico and as a result a very tourist friendly area. But, even though a lot of travelers visit the peninsula, there’s still enough to explore off the beaten path. You can see it all in 4 weeks, 5 if your family is fond of slow traveling. For those of us who don’t have that much time, I’ll close this article with a 3 week Yucatan Peninsula itinerary for families.

People watching at Lake Bacalar

Where is the Yucatán Peninsula located?

Before checking out this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide you might want to know where it’s located. You can find the peninsula in the eastern edge of Mexico. And while a lot of people think that it’s only the Yucatán state, that’s not true. The Yucatán is one of 3 states within the peninsula. Quintana Roo and Campeche are the other states. And that’s just in Mexico, it also stretches into the majority of neighboring country Belize and a part of another neighbor, Guatemala.

There is some debate on whether parts of Tabasco and Chiapas are part of the Yucatán Peninsula, most agree that it doesn’t. But as a bonus I added one of the must-see sites in Mexico, Palenque, to this Yucatán road trip itinerary. Palenque is located just over the border between Campeche and Chiapas. We snuck in two days to visit this ancient Mayan city and loved it so much, that I couldn’t leave it out.

What is the Yucatán Peninsula known for?

The Yucatán Peninsula is known to be the home to Mexico’s richest history. With its gorgeous landscapes, some of the best preserved Mayan ruins, Spanish colonial cities and idyllic beaches that’s hard to argue with!

Mayan Ruins

Let’s start with the Mayan empire. Much of the Yucatán Peninsula was once part of the Mayan lowlands. Lots of the sinkholes in this area, known as cenotes, where used for sacrificial offering by the Mayans. There are so many Mayan ruins in this region that you could visit one every day of your trip and then it’s still likely you didn’t see them all. The most famous is Chichén Itzá, one of the seven wonders of the world. Other amazing ruins can be found in and around Tulum, and you shouldn’t skip Ek Balam, Coba, Uxmal and Calakmul.

Beaches, islands and cenotes

This region is practically surrounded by sea. Bring your snorkeling and diving gear, because there’s lots to discover under water. You can visit the beaches all around the peninsula and visit some paradise islands like Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox and Cozumel. All idyllic islands with pristine white beaches. There’s a large network of caves in the Yucatán Peninsula, most connected via underwater rivers that lead to some gorgeous cenotes. The unique limestone base in this region is the reason for the large amounts of sinkholes and underwaters rivers. Many of which you’re allowed to swim in. You can enjoy the water practically every day of your trip.

Spanish colonial cities

The people here love color. Mix lively colors with Spanish colonial architecture and you get some stunning cities and towns. Valladolid, Campeche and Mérida are some examples.

Outside a colorful building in Campeche - Mexico

Best age to visit Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

A Yucatán road trip can be done with kids of all ages. Because of the heat it’s smart to do your exploring early in the morning. Lots of the interesting sights to see don’t have lots of shady areas. Like the Tulum ruins or Chichén Itzá. During the warmer hours find yourselves some shade and have fun in the pool, cenotes or the sea. Water is never far away in the Yucatán area.

You can find small shops selling essentials like fresh fruits, bread, milk and also things like diapers and baby wipes. Everything else you need, like medication, formula and sunscreen, can be bought at large supermarket chains like Chedraui, Costco and Walmart. This saves you a lot of room in your suitcases, doesn’t it?

In summary, Yucatan with a baby and with a toddler is easy to do! And the family friendliness of the area makes a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula with kids an awesome first dip into what Mexico has to offer. There’s lots to see and explore for all ages.

Yucatán Peninsula: a safe family travel destination

When we told people about our plans to do a Yucatan road trip the most asked question was: is Mexico safe for families? Mexico is generally safe for travelers. Just use common sense, research the area you want to visit and don’t flaunt with valuable items like jewelry, camera’s and smartphones.

Quintana Roo’s Riviera Maya welcomes the most foreign tourists. Mexico makes a lot of money from the the tourism industry and takes lots of measures to ensure everyone’s safety. Not once were we in a situation where we felt unsafe.

Read more about safety in Mexico here >> Ultimate Mexico with Kids Travel Guide

Renting a car

Renting a car in Cancun - Mexico

The Yucatán Peninsula is a great place to explore by rental car. The infrastructure is good and driving with a breeze. Unfortunately renting a car is not always a breezy process.

Lots of tourists got scammed when picking up a rental. Some examples of what may occur:

  • Forcing additional insurance on you last minute (print out proof of insurance)
  • Refusing to provide you with the car you rented, pushing you to go with a pricier option (book through an international car rental company and get them to help)
  • Rental prices are higher at Cancun airport and in the hotel zone (make sure you select a different area or take the ADO to Playa Del Carmen and pick it up there)

Read more about the do’s and don’ts when renting a car in Mexico in my free Mexico family travel guide.

Read more >> Ultimate Mexico with Kids Travel Guide

TRAVEL TIP: Instead of renting via a local rental company, book via an international car rental site like Discover Cars and get the full coverage. They work with local rental companies and there are no hidden fees. Note that oftentimes, the rental office will still try to sell you additional insurance at pick-up, so print out your reservation and show them that you already purchased it.

Avoid America Car Rental

We got scammed when picking up our car at America Car Rental in Cancun. After refusing and debating for over 45 minutes, we gave up and called Discover Cars. They couldn’t convince the clerk either and found us a car at Alamo. This car was in a higher price range, but we got the money reimbursed from Discover Cars (albeit months later, but still). And the service at Alamo was great!

Very long story short: avoid booking through America Car Rental. We were not the only ones at their office who didn’t receive the car they rented. They weren’t as lucky as we were and left without a car or paid hundreds of USD extra for an upgrade.

After all this information I’m sure you want to dive into the rest of this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide.

Road tripping the Yucatán Peninsula with kids

Backpacking through the Yucatan Peninsula with children

We already talked about backpacking by car on your trip to Yucatan and the rest of the peninsula. The infrastructure in the Yucatán Peninsula is great. Driving was a breeze and we never stumbled upon 4wd roads when it came to visiting the sights in this region. In my opinion it’s not necessary to rent a 4wd. Not only because all the sights listed in this Yucatán Peninsula guide can be reached in a 2wd car, but also because you don’t want to drive into unknown territory. Avoid running into coca fields by accident. We always felt safe driving in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Renting a car gives you the freedom to book accommodation outside of the touristy areas. We switched it up regularly. Staying at a hotel in the city center, renting a home away from the crowds and amongst the locals or staying at an AirBnB in a quieter part of the city center.

But if you don’t want to rent a car, that’s ok, you’ll have no trouble getting from A to B. There are many bus companies in Mexico, the most popular being ADO. They travel about anywhere in the peninsula. Mexico doesn’t have a network of passenger trains, so your options when taking a family tour through Yucatan and the Peninsula are limited to car, taxi, bus and plane.

Kid friendly Mexican dishes

Getting a delicious Marquesita in Playa Del Carmen - Mexico
Drinking peanut butter coffee at the Coffee Roasting Company in Cozumel - Mexico

No ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide is complete without talking food! Most of us have had Mexican food before. Taco’s, nachos, guacamole, marquesitas and quesadillas are famous examples. All of these dishes are very kid friendly. Our toddler is a picky eater but loved taco’s with chicken and ate his weight in fried corn tortillas dipped in guacamole.

Clean drinking water

You shouldn’t drink the tap water in Mexico. While outdoors or in hotels you can avoid buying plastic water bottles if you bring the LARQ bottle. UV-light cleans the water in the bottle and also cleans the bottle itself after you’ve used it. Get your own LARQ bottle and always feel safe drinking water from taps all over the world.

Follow That Dream sign in Tulum - Mexico

Best time to travel

December to April

The best time to travel to the Yucatán Peninsula is the dry season. The dry season starts in December and lasts until midway through April. This is winter in Mexico and that means its cooler and less humid, with temperatures between 20° and 25° Celsius. This is also the best time to visit the Yucatán Peninsula when you’re into snorkeling or diving. Waters are calmer and more clear. Dry season is the high season which means that prices are at its highest and you should prebook accommodation and a rental car.

Just a little warning for people who want to visit the Riviera Maya in March or early April. This time of year the Riviera Maya is filled with partying Spring Breakers.

May to October

Low season in the peninsula. Rainy season starts in June and ends at the end of October. June, September and October are the months with the most rain and the occasional hurricane. Lower prices, lesser crowds and temperatures between 23° and 33° Celsius.

We visited during this time of year and we could deal with the temperature because we used the mornings for sightseeing and the afternoons chilling in the shade, sea or pool. We saved visiting places with airconditioning (like museums) for the hottest times of day. Our Yucatán family road trip lasted 4 weeks and we only had one full day of rain and an afternoon, that’s it. We enjoyed it, since it was quite refreshing.

In July and August crowds are large and prices are as high as in the high season, so book ahead.

Planning a family road trip to Mexico

Getting your Yucatán Peninsula road trip with kids right involves some serious planning. It starts months before the trip, choosing the destination, planning the route, arranging visa, renewing passports or ID’s and checking if you need medical declarations. And don’t forget renting a car or camper and/or buying flight tickets.

Planning a family road trip can get pretty overwhelming. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with my eBook! I’ll be holding your hand every step of the way. Just to make sure your family road trip through the Yucatán Peninsula will go smoothly.

Get my FREE ebook >> The Ultimate Beginners Guide: Planning a Family Road Trip

How to get to the Yucatán Peninsula

This ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide starts and ends in Cancun. Unless you’re traveling to the peninsula from another part of Mexico or from Guatemala or Belize, chances are you’ll arrive at Cancun Airport. Cancun Airport is the second busiest airport in Mexico, third in Latin America.

But there are 2 other international airports in the Yucatán Peninsula. You can fly to and from Cozumel International Airport and Mérida International Airport from several US and Canadian cities.

My family and I like to use Expedia for flights. And we always opt to book a flight and hotel, at least for the first night. Just to ease the start of our family vacation. When arranging everything yourself, Expedia is a good starting point. But always compare prices by visiting more than one booking site.

How to get around in the Yucatán Peninsula

To book your transport for your family road trip Yucatan Peninsula with kids, whether by air, bus or ferry, we recommend using 12Go. This is a user-friendly website that will show you all the different price options and comparisons as well as reviews from fellow travelers.

There are many bus companies in Mexico, the most popular being ADO. They travel about anywhere in the peninsula. Whether you use them as an airport transfer or to get from one town to another, ADO is a way cheaper option than a taxi. And they’re always clean and have airco.

Powered by 12Go system

Epic Yucatán Peninsula family road trip

This ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide starts and ends in Cancun. It’s the best Yucatán itinerary for families who are looking to combine city trips, soaking up history, hiking in nature and chilling at the beach. You can find it all in this 4 week Yucatán Peninsula trip planner. If you want to follow this entire road trip itinerary of the Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo at a slower pace, opt for a 5 week stay.

Note that a Yucatan Peninsula vacation like I describe here is possible within the mentioned time frame when you make it a self-drive road trip. When using public transport it might take you longer. In that case you might need another extra week to do it all. The other option is to keep your visits to each location short.

Yucatán Peninsula Itinerary Map

An illustrated itinerary map of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in blue tones and colorful drawings

This ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide is a round trip that starts and ends in Cancun. See the Yucatán Peninsula road map above for all the locations we will touch upon.

First we work our way down south along the Mexican Caribbean coastline, starting with the Riviera Maya. After exploring Chetumal we work our way inlands to Xpujil. Then we take a short detour into Tabasco to check out Palenque, before driving back north. This time we follow the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. Your self-drive road trip ends by exploring the Yucatán state and by that time you’ve seen all three states within the peninsula. After a beach vacation at bounty island Holbox it’s time to head back to Cancun and return home.

Cancun

The beach strip in Cancun's hotel zone - Mexico

When visiting the Yucatán Peninsula the best starting point is Cancun. It’s also 1 of the 3 best places to base yourselves in while exploring the Riviera Maya with kids. Playa Del Carmen and Tulum are the other 2.

Cancun is known worldwide as a party town. And not just during Spring Break. Year round Cancun its Hotel Zone is filled with travelers looking for the next party. Not just at night, but also during the day.

If you’re here with kids, there are probably only 2 reasons to stay here. To spend some time at an all inclusive resort to get pampered and chill after the plane ride to Mexico or to spend one night here after a long flight to ease into the Mexican vibe, before starting your road trip.

When you’re not the resort type of family, then Cancun probably isn’t your cup of tea. All family friendly activities here are focused on beach and water activities.

Read more >> Where to stay in the Riviera Maya with kids: Cancun vs Playa Del Carmen vs Tulum

Cancun: a slice of USA in Mexico

As you might have guessed from my review of Cancun, in short: we were underwhelmed. We didn’t feel like we were in Mexico at all. Everything is pretty much catered to US travelers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing the USA or Americans! What I mean is that our family travels to get to know a country and its people. When that’s your goal, Cancun is not going to be your favorite destination in the Yucatan.

But that’s our personal experience. I’ve heard from lots of other families that they absolutely loved their time in Cancun. Especially with teens. Lots of the things to do are a lot of fun for kids aged 10 to 18.

Best things to do in Cancun with kids

The top things to do in Cancun with kids are:

  • stay at a family friendly resort with a water park, like All Ritmo Cancun Resort & Water Park
  • exploring the water, everything is possible: diving, snorkeling, parasailing you name it
  • enjoy Captain Hook Dinner Cruise
  • get tickets to Venture Park (an adventure theme park)

If these kind of activities aren’t your thing, keep your visit here short. Let Cancun be the city where you spend the night after a long flight, have a meal somewhere in the Hotel Zone, do some last minute shopping for your trip and hit the road.

Top tours in Cancun with kids

Playa Del Carmen

Strolling through Playa Del Carmen - Mexico
Strolling through Playa Del Carmen - Mexico

The second destination is Playa Del Carmen. It’s an hour drive from Downtown Cancun to Playa Del Carmen. A beach town with laidback vibes, swimming holes and some of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya.

It’s a town where you’ll find lots of digital nomads. Like Cancun you don’t really get to connect with the locals. French bakeries and burger joints are as much present as restaurants selling local cuisine. But the difference between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen is the vibe. Unlike Cancun, it’s much more relaxed, less loud and less big. And the other thing is, is that you’re closer to nature here. You get your first taste of what the peninsula has to offer and it kinda eases you into the experience you’re going to have in the coming weeks.

We loved it and got over our jet lag easily. Biking around, enjoying all that Playa has to offer in the morning and in the afternoon we’d hang by the pool or at the beach and didn’t do anything else but, swim, play, nap and eat. We had the best dinners here. Family friendly restaurants are everywhere, so you don’t have to worry about that. Kids are welcomed with open arms.

Chilling in the sand on a beach in Playa Del Carmen - Mexico

Best things to do in Playa Del Carmen with kids

The top things to do in Playa del Carmen with kids are:

  • stroll along La Quinta, aka 5th Avenue and buy a souvenir
  • rent a bike and explore the center
  • ride in a Colectivo
  • chill at a roof top pool and enjoy the views
  • spend some time at the beach amongst the locals
  • try a Marquesita
  • visit the Frida Kahlo Museum
  • explore the underground world at Rio Secreto
  • check out the Portal Maya Statue in Parque Fundadores
  • go on an eco friendly whale shark tour

Day trips from Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen offers a great base from where to explore some destinations and sites worthy of a visit. Let’s list some of the best ones:

  • day trip to Tulum
  • day trip to the island of Cozumel
  • visit to the Coba ruins
  • visit to nearby cenotes, like Cenote Jardin del Eden, Cenote Azul and Cenote Ik Kil
  • day trip to Chichén Itzá

Read more >> 10 Things to Do In Playa Del Carmen with Kids

Top tours in Playa Del Carmen with kids

Cozumel

Cozumel is one of the highlights in the Riviera Maya. An island only a ferry ride away from Playa Del Carmen. You can pack up your things and spend one or two nights at one of the many beach resorts or you can visit Cozumel with Playa Del Carmen as a home base. We did the latter.

There are 2 reasons to visit Cozumel. To visit Punta Sur Ecological Park where you can enjoy a tour and check out the natural habitat, like crocodiles and colorful birds. And secondly, to visit one of the many beach parks for a day.

The Central Plaza on the island Cozumel - Mexico
Playing in the sand at a beach park on the island of Cozumel - Mexico

Unfortunately we only had time to pick one of the two and since our boys really wanted to beat the heat and play in the water we opted to buy tickets to one of the many water parks. We bought our tickets for the ferry and the park 2 days in advance and I advise you to do the same. This way you know you have a spot on the ferry and get tickets to the park you wanted, instead of having to make a last minute decision on the pier in Cozumel, while being bombarded with offers from all the parks.

We bought ferry tickets with one of the 2 operators, UltraMar. The ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel took 35 minutes.

Peanut butter coffee

Before taking a taxi to the water park, we explored Downtown Cozumel for a bit and visited Coz Coffee Roasting Company.

Lisa Homsy influenced me into it. She kept raving about one of the coffees there. Peanut butter coffee. We tried it and can confirm: don’t leave Cozumel without having a hot peanut butter coffee. The creaminess of the peanut butter makes the coffee taste insanely good.

Kids pool at a beach park in Cozumel - Mexico
On the ferry from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel island - Mexico

Beach parks in Cozumel

There are many beach parks in Cozumel. We went with the one that we thought would be the best fit for our family and age range. Our choice was Playa Mia Grand Beach Park and had an amazing time, so we highly recommend them.

But let’s share some general info, so you know what to expect at either one of the parks. Tickets generally cost between $40 and $130, depending on the amount of add-ons you choose.

From kids’ pools filled with fun attractions to a floating park in the sea, there’s something for everyone here. Included in the ticket price are the pools, snorkeling and kayaking in the sea and the floating park. The massage tub and water bicycles can also be enjoyed without paying extra.

Add-ons you can choose from include snorkeling tours, parasailing and lounge beds. And when it’s time for a meal, go the restaurant for a reasonably priced lunch. We didn’t book any of the add-ons and we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything.

Top tours in Cozumel with kids

Akumal

Dreamy beach of Akumal

The stunning coastal town of Akumal is a 40 minute drive from Playa Del Carmen. With its white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush jungle surroundings, it’s not hard to see why it has become a popular vacation destination.

Like Playa Del Carmen, Akumal is the place to be if you want to relax, and soak up some sun. The sparkling waters that surround the town are home to sea turtles, rays and colorful fish. Snorkel and diving fans will have a great time here.

Yal-Kú Lagoon

If you’re looking for an off the beaten path experience in the Riviera Maya, a visit to the secluded Yal-Kú lagoon is worth it. This freshwater lagoon is a great snorkel spot. You can spot the many fish even before dipping your head in the water. Pay a visit to the Yal-Kú Lagoon if you are looking for a place away from the crowds.

Turtles in Akumal

But the main reason to visit Akumal is to sport turtles. The best time to see turtles is from May to November. Arrive at the small bay as early in the morning as you can and chances are high that you’ll spot more than one. Tour operators will try to tell you that you’re not allowed to go by yourself, but that’s not true. You can go as far as 45 meters, without a licensed guide.

Respect wildlife

While I hope it goes without saying, avoid touching the turtles and don’t get in their way. Be respectful of animals and let them be. Therefore, when booking a tour, please check out the reviews first to make sure you’re booking a tour that avoids touching and feeding the turtles.

Since lots of the things to do here are also on offer in Playa Del Carmen or Tulum, I would make your visit to Akumal short, but sweet. Visit it if you want the chance to sport turtles.

Top tours in Akumal with kids

Tulum

Next destination in this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide is one of the most famous places in the area: Tulum!

Sign of Tulum at the main road in town - Mexico
View of El Castillo at the Tulum ruins - Mexico

If you’re on Instagram and follow travel accounts, Tulum is a place you must’ve heard about. It’s arguably the most Instagram-worthy place along the Riviera Maya and maybe even the entire Yucatán Peninsula.

It’s a place filled with dreamy beach resorts with a bohemian vibe. With Mayan ruins, delicious food, jungle surrounding the beaches and cenotes to cool off in Tulum is an amazing place for a family holiday.

Stay in Aldea Zama

When you’re looking for a rental home with a pool, you’ve got thousands of options. With a shared pool and often your own plunge pool. We rented a home in the Aldea Zama area. It was located in an apartment building with about 10 to 15 apartments. The communal pool was never crowded and therefore a great place to avoid the heat. When it was to hot we used the plunge pool in our apartment, where the upper apartments made sure we could swim in the shade. We highly recommend renting an apartment in the Aldea Zama. It’s the perfect area to enjoy peace and quiet with lots of space and a pool to enjoy.

Playing with sand at a beach club in Tulum - Mexico
Accommodation with a plunge pool in Tulum - Mexico

Best things to do in Tulum with kids

The top things to do in Tulum with kids are:

  • visit the Tulum ruins
  • hit up all the Insta spots for some amazing family photos
  • visit Laguna Kaan Luum
  • dip your feet in a cenote or two
  • take a selfie with one of the many Black Spiny Tailed Iguanas
  • get tacos from a food truck
  • visit the SFER IK museum
  • have dinner at a private beach club at Tulum’s South Beach Road
  • check out all the colorful street art
  • take a catamaran cruise

Day trips from Tulum

Tulum is also a great base from where you can explore the area. You can easily stay here for a week and you won’t get bored.

Some of the day trips are also mentioned in the piece about Playa Del Carmen. That’s because Tulum and Playa Del Carmen are located only 50 minutes apart by car. If you only have time to visit one of these towns, then you can compare both lists to help you decide whether you want to base yourselves in Playa Del Carmen or Tulum.

  • day trip to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
  • day trip to Playa Del Carmen
  • visit to the Coba ruins
  • visit to Punta Allen
  • day trip to Bacalar

Read more >> 13 Things to Do In Tulum with Kids

Top tours in Tulum with kids

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Alligator in the water of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve - Quintana Roo - Mexico

After some lazy downtime, it’s time for some nature exploring. Next stop in this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. An oasis of tranquility offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in nature.

There are miles of untouched beaches to wander around and you’ll feel as if you have the whole place to yourself. We enjoyed one of the best family picnics in our life’s here.

If wildlife is your thing, Sian Ka’an is perfect for you. The reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife, ranging from colorful birds to majestic marine creatures. You can go on guided tours and learn about all the different species of birds and fish. If you’re really lucky you can spot animals like jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, and manatees. We weren’t but I hope you are!

Water activities are also popular in Sian Ka’an. You can try kayaking through the mangroves, or go scuba diving.

Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an is the last destination of the Riviera Maya road trip. We leave the Riviera Maya behind and move a little more inland for the next part of this Yucatán Peninsula trip.

Where to stay when visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

You can either stay in Punta Allen or take a day trip to Sian Ka’an while staying in Tulum

Top tours in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Bacalar

Swimming in the turquoise waters of Lake Bacalar - Mexico

While Mexico awards lots of cities and towns with the title Pueblo Magico (aka Magical Town), Bacalar truly is a magical destination. Once a little-known gem, at this point it’s high on every travelers list when visiting Quintana Roo. And locals also flock to Bacalar on weekends and holidays. Bacalar is a town where you can easily stay for a night or two. Spend one day at and around the lake and the other to check out the town and the Bacalar Rapids, or Los Rapidos Bacalar.

Bacalar Lagoon

The main attraction is Bacalar Lagoon, the Lake of Seven Colors. Those 7 colors vary from the lightest of greens to the deepest of blues. Stay at one of the lakeside resorts and feel like you’re in the Maldives. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a lake this beautiful.

An absolute must-do is a boat tour. Make sure that the tour you pick takes you to the best spots and that the guide can tell you all about the area’s history. We went on a private tour, and could pick the spots where we wanted to swim and felt like we were alone in the lake. It was magical.

So what are the best spots to check out while on a boat tour? Stops at Cenote Negro and Cenote Esmeralda. And also Cenote Cocalitos to check out the stromatolite formations. Bird Island is a great place to watch the sunset and see 1000s of birds arrive here. But it’s also a beautiful spot to check out during the day.

Boat ride on the turquoise waters of Lake Bacalar - Mexico

We had a lunch at La Playita. Here you can eat in the shade in a very picturesque setting and enjoy the view of Lake Bacalar. Do book ahead, because this place is always fully booked.

Pit stop at Cenote Azul

When it’s time to drive to the next destination in this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide, Chetumal, make sure you make a pit stop along the way. Just out of town, about 4km away from Bacalar, you’ll find Cenote Azul. For about 1 usd you can get in, take a dip in the refreshing cool water and after that have lunch at the restaurant. We had a great meal here! With a belly full you get back to the car and drive to Chetumal in about 35 minutes.

Top tours in Bacalar with kids

Chetumal

Seaside view from the promenade in Chetumal
Mini market with Coca Cola logo's all over the shop in Chetumal - Mexico

Chetumal is often used as a gateway into Belize. People explore Quintana Roo first and then cross the border into Belize for a week or so before they head back. Chetumal is the place where you can board the ferry to places like Caye Caulker and San Pedro. It’s also the last city you’ll pass by car, before crossing the border. So it’s also an ideal town to do some last minute shopping (Mexico is cheaper than Belize).

5 things to do in Chetumal with kids

But if you’re not in Chetumal to make the trip to Belize, what is there to do? There are some nice things to do in Chetumal with kids, you can easily enjoy yourself for a day or two, before resuming your road trip with kids.

  • learn about history at the Museum of Mayan Culture
  • check out the Oxtankah Mayan Ruins
  • visit the Manatee Sanctuary
  • eat local food at the Mercado de Chetumal
  • take a stroll along the Boulevard Bahia

Top tours in Chetumal with kids

Xpujil

Walking towards Structure II at the Calakmul Ruins in Mexico
Climbing down the Acropolis Chik Naab at the Calakmul ruins in Mexico

Next on this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide is a town in the middle of the jungle. The gateway to one of the most beautiful mayan ruins in the peninsula. Off the beaten path and for this reason it’s place that you and only a dozen other visitors will have to yourselves if you visit it early in the morning. Calakmul!

It takes about 2 hours to get from Chetumal to Xpujil. A nice little town with not a lot of tourists. We really felt like we experienced local life here. And while we stayed in a cabin in the jungle, we loved driving back into town to get some groceries and eat meat freshly grilled on the bbq.

After a day in Xpujil we went to bed early, because, while the drive to the entrance of Calakmul is only 1 hour, it will take you 2,5 hours to get to the site. The first hour envolves driving on the freeway. Then you get to the entrance. Thereupon you buy your ticket and after that you can drive about 60km – 80km an hour for the next 20km. After that it’s only 30km an hour, to keep all the wildlife safe.

You can easily enjoy Calakmul for a full day. There are lots of shady places, only when hiking up a temple ruin you’ll be exposed to the heat. Bring lots of water, hats and sunscreen and don’t forget to get yourselves covered in bug spray.

Calakmul entrance sign near Xpujil in the Yucatán Peninsula - Mexico
Climbing the Grand Acropolis at the Calakmul ruins in Mexico

Top tours in Xpujil with kids

Palenque

The Palenque ruins in Chiapas - Mexico
The Palenque ruins in Chiapas - Mexico

As I have noted at the beginning of this guide to the Yucatán Peninsula, there’s discussion about whether or not parts of the Tabasco and Chiapas state belong to the peninsula or not. And while the general consensus seems to be that it’s not, I didn’t want to leave out one particular site in Chiapas: Palenque. We cross the border between Campeche and Tabasco and then from Tabasco to Chiapas.

The drive from the border of Campeche to the border with Chiapas, takes about an hour. Here you’ll find modern day Palenque. Driving from the jungles around Xpujil this drive takes about 5 hours and 15 minutes. But this detour is worth it. In our opinion it’s one of the most beautiful ancient Mayan ruins we’ve seen during our trip.

It’s not as quiet and serene as a visit to Calakmul, buses unload 100s of tourists as early as 9am. But it’s a huge site and therefore it didn’t feel like we were there with as many people as we were.

Enjoy Palenque for a few hours, you can get inside a few of some of the bigger ruins which the kids loved.

Top tours in Palenque with kids

Campeche

Colorful buildings in Campeche - Mexico

Time to get back on topic, this is a ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide after all. We drive back to the coast. This time to the Gulf Of Mexico. Half of your trip is  already behind you, but there are still some absolute gems left on this Yucatan itinerary. Campeche is one of these gems. This is your last stop in the state of Campeche.

We absolutely loved Campeche! We stayed in the city center and from there you can walk to all the main attractions. The biggest one being all the colorful buildings. You instantly feel happy, walking around a colorful town like Campeche, otherwise known as Mexico’s Rainbow City.

The whole town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and you feel like you’re walking around in a fairy tale. The people here are relaxed and when they’re not working they hang out at the boulevard or parks or have a drink and bite at one of the many restaurants in town.

Dinner in the colorful streets of Campeche - Mexico

10 things to do in Campeche with kids

Our family loved Campeche. We stayed here for 3 full days and felt sad that we had to leave. As the youngsters say: this town is a vibe (I know my eldest will scold me for this cringeworthy comment by an old person)

Let’s share the top 10 things to do in Campeche with kids

  • get lost in the streets of the city center and admire the architecture and the colors
  • check out the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción
  • get tickets to the pirate light show at the Puerta de Tierra
  • have dinner on the street at one of the restaurants along Calle 59
  • wander around the Old City Wall
  • enjoy all the street art in town
  • watch the sunset on a stroll along the boulevard
  • book a room in the center of it all to make the most of your trip
  • visit Fuerte San José and its Museo de Arquelogía Subacuática
  • pause at a bench at Plaze De La Independencia and watch the locals go about their day

Top tours in Campeche with kids

Uxmal

Mayan ruin in Uxmal in Mexico

After a destination without Mayan Ruins, it’s time for our next fix in Uxmal. Get in the car and take the 2 hour drive to Uxmal. With its awe-inspiring architecture and rich history, it’s a must-visit destination for any traveler. From exploring the mystical pyramid ruins to admiring the intricate artwork, there is lots to explore for children and their parents.

The main reason to visit Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician. This stunning Mayan structure stands tall at over 35 meters high and is considered the most recognizable landmark in the city. The shape was different from all the other pyramids we’d seen before.

When here make sure to visit the Governor’s Palace. With its intricate stonework and ornate carvings, this palace is a testament to the incredible craftsmanship of the ancient Maya. The Nunnery Quadrangle and the House of the Turtles are also interesting to check out, if you can still stand the heat.

When you’re ready for a ruin break, get back to the city and head over to the local market to sample some traditional Mexican food and see (and maybe score) some handmade crafts.

Top tours in Uxmal

Mérida

Merida pueblo magico sign - Mexico

Another colorful Pueblo Magico in this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide: Mérida. Mérida felt like the big sibling of Campeche to us. It’s a town where you can easily stay for a week, when also using it as a base to visit nearby attractions like Chichén Itza, Los Colorados (the pink lakes) or even Uxmal.

The rest of the week you can enjoy all that the city of Mérida has to offer. Mérida is a city like we imagined all the cities in the Yucatan Peninsula would be. Big, colorful, lots of traffic, delicious food, but overall still a relaxed vibe.  We stayed 4 days in Mérida, because we went to nearby sites and towns separately. In 4 days you can get a good feel of the city.

The Municipal Palace of Merida - Mexico
Monumento A La Patria in Merida - Mexico

10 things to do in Mérida with kids

What are the best things to do in Mérida with children? Way more than the 10 I mention below, but we got to start somewhere.

  • get a selfie with the Pueblo Magico sign of Mérida
  • stroll around the Plaza Grande with an ice cream in hand
  • check out the Paseo de Montejo and walk around this huge roundabout
  • learn about history at the Gran Museo Del Mundo Maya
  • beat the heat and go shopping in the biggest mall in Southeast Mexico: La Isla
  • on Sundays rent a bike and enjoy Biciruta when Paseo de Montejo and Calle 60 are closed to traffic
  • check out worn down trains at El Museo de los Ferrocarriles Yucatan
  • relax at the Parque San Juan
  • bite into the best marquesitas in the Yucatán
  • visit chocolate museum C.A.C.A.O.

Top tours in Mérida with kids

Chichén Itzá

El Castillo in Chichen Itza - Mexico

At the present time, the town of Chichen Itza is not worth visiting in itself. You only come here to visit one of Mexico’s most visited locations: the archaeological site Chichén Itzá.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World

Mexico is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. And it so happens that you can find this world wonder in the Yucatán. I’m talking about what was once one of the greatest Mayan cities in the world: Chichén Itzá. Consistently part of every travelers Yucatán itinerary. And with good reason.

This city was at its economical height around 600 AD, its fall came 400 years later in 1000 AD. Back then Chichén Itzá was a place of pilgrimage for the Mayans. It’s amazing to walk around here and think about all the people who have visited this city. How many people walked where you walked?

There are lots of highlights to visit. The most famous being El Castillo, the Temple of Kukulkan. This is the pyramid we’ve all seen on pictures. And what a magnificent sight to see!

Things to see in Chichén Itza with kids

  • El Castillo
  • Temple of the Warriors
  • El Caracol
  • Temple of the Skulls
  • The Main Ball Court

Go as early as you can, to avoid the heat and the crowds. This was the busiest site we visited during our time in the Yucatán Peninsula. We arrived at 8am (when the site opens) and left at 10.30am. Around 10am the crowds suddenly doubled in size. For this reason: go early!

Where to stay for a visit to Chichén Itza

You can book accommodation in the town itself. But you can also take a day trip from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum. Or drive out there from cities nearby like Mérida and Valladolid. Valladolid is the closest of all the cities mentioned. We based ourselves there and drove 45km from Valladolid to Chichén Itzá.

Temple of the Jaguars in Chichen Itza - Mexico
El Caracol in Chichen Itza - Mexico

Top tours in Chichén Itzá with kids

Valladolid

Iglesia De San Servacio in Valladolid - Mexico
Colorful green and white shop in Valladolid - Mexico

The last city you’ll visit on this trip, excluding Cancun since you’ve been there already, is Valladolid. Valladolid is bursting with charm, with all its colonial buildings painted in vivid colors and cenotes everywhere.

In fact, we like to call Valladolid the city of cenotes. They can be found all over the city. If your accommodation doesn’t have a pool, you can always dip in a cenote (or two) after all the sightseeing.

5 things to do in Valladolid with kids

What are the 5 top things to do in Valladolid with children?

  • explore one of the many cenotes
  • have an awesome chocolate experience at Choco-Story
  • enjoy the hop on hop off bus driving through insanely small streets
  • visit the Cathedral of San Servacio
  • learn about bees at Xkopek Beekeeping Park

Pit stop at Ek Balam

If at this point you still can’t get enough of Mayan Ruins, there’s a chance to visit another one while traveling from Valladolid to Río Lagartos: Ek Balam. Our kids were done, in short: we didn’t win the battle and skipped Ek Balam. From all that I’ve seen on pictures, Ek Balam is stunning! When you’re family is up for it, pay it a visit.

Top tours in Valladolid with kids

Río Lagartos

Famous Flamingos of Rio Lagartos - Mexico

Río Lagartos is a beautiful town about 1,5 hours from Valladolid. The reason to visit this area is because of the beautiful nature and wildlife in the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.

5 things to do in Río Lagartos with kids

Here are 5 things to do in Río Lagartos with kids:

  • take a dip in the pink lakes of Las Coloradas
  • check out the flamingos: in the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve
  • visit the local fish market
  • check out the salt pans
  • hike through the mangrove forest

Top tours in Rio Lagartos with kids

Isla Holbox

Pelicans chilling on Isla Holbox - Mexico

We always end a family road trip with a little beach vacay. And since we wanted a place that’s near Cancun we chose Isla Holbox. And I’m glad we did.

If you’re looking for a slice of paradise, look no further than Isla Holbox. This tiny island is located off the coast of Cancun.

This island’s lifestyle is laid-back. It’s not a place for rushing around or feeling stressed out. For the most part you will relax and chill!

Holbox is relatively small, so you can cycle around the entirety of it in just a few hours. We loved exploring the island by bike. You’ll see wildlife at every turn, from birds soaring overhead to crocodiles floating in the lagoon.

You can also take a boat trip to nearby Yalahau Lagoon, a pristine natural pool surrounded by jungles and mangroves.

Some of the most popular beaches include Playa Punta Coco and Playa Holbox, but there are plenty of hidden coves and secluded spots for you to discover too.

Whale sharks

May and September is the best time to swim with whale sharks. These gentle giants visit the waters around the island every year, and you can book a tour to snorkel alongside them. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll never forget. We did it in Western Australia, and I promise you, it’s a magical experience. So if you’re here during the time they are too, then go for it!

Top tours in Isla Holbox with kids

Buying fruit from the car at a road side stall in the Yucatan Peninsula - Mexico

After your visit to Isla Holbox it is time to close off your holiday in Mexico with kids. Get back to Cancun, because it’s time to catch your plane home.

That’s it for this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide. But I can’t close this post off, without keeping a promise. This is a 4 week Yucatán Peninsula itinerary, or 5 weeks if you want to stay longer at a few of the places.

Not everyone has the luxury of this many vacation days. For that reason I end this post with 2 best of the Yucatán Peninsula guides. One for 3 weeks and one if you have 2 weeks to spend in this amazing region.

3 week Yucatán Peninsula itinerary

If you spend 3 weeks in the Yucatán Peninsula with kids then these are the must visit destinations in the region:

  • Cancun
  • Playa Del Carmen
  • Tulum
  • Bacalar
  • Xpujil
  • Campeche
  • Mérida
  • Valladolid (including a visit to Chichén Itzá)
  • Isla Holbox

2 week Yucatán Peninsula itinerary

If you spend 2 weeks in this region with kids then these are the must visit destinations from this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide:

  • Cancun
  • Playa Del Carmen
  • Bacalar
  • Xpujil
  • Campeche
  • Mérida
  • Valladolid (including a visit to Chichén Itzá)

That’s a wrap. If you’ve read this article from top to bottom, thank you very much and I hope this ultimate Yucatán Peninsula family road trip guide helps you plan your own ultimate family road trip itinerary.

When you need help planning your ultimate family road trip, you can download my ebook for free. For a fun Yucatan Peninsula bucket list, check out my free downloadables or hit the button below.

If you have any questions about a Yucatan road trip with kids, please by all means, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you asap.

Get my FREE ebook >> The Ultimate Beginners Guide: Planning a Family Road Trip

Did you enjoy this Ultimate Yucatán Peninsula Family Road Trip Guide?

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About me Sas Crossing Countries

Hi, I’m Saskia!

I travel the world with my family of 4 and write about our adventures.

Sas Crossing Countries is a family travel blog. It’s created to inspire other parents to travel the world with their kids. Gift your kids the world! It’s the most valuable present you can give them.

With all the experience I have as a traveling parent I’ve got lots of tools and tips for you. So on this site you’ll not only find family travel blog posts, you can also download FREE pocket guides, travel checklists and eBooks from my resources page.

All that I share can be used to plan your own ultimate family road trip!

above a couch you see 4 illustrated poster maps of different countries in the colors brown, blue, green and white. This picture leads to the shop page where you can buy illustrated poster mapsbanner image with the text get access to my free ebook with all the tools and tips you need to plan out and enjoy your ultimate family road trip. The title of the book is also shown and is The Ultimate Beginners Guide: Planning a Family Road Trip. A mock up is shown of a laptop, tablet and phone showing the cover of the ebook and 3 small images giving a sneak peak of 3 pages inside the book.Picture of an ancient city in Thailand. The text "get 15% off your Heymondo travel insurance until June 30th" is written on top of it.Visit our travel shop!Download my FREE printable packing listsBuy your 3D wooden world map @ Enjoy The Wood with 10% discount code SASCROSSINGCOUNTRIESUPBecome a member of my private family travel Facebook groupLink to shop The Adventure BookRent a car via Discover CarsGet my free downloadable family travel pocket guidesGet an eSim from AiroloA picture of blogger Saskia is accompanied by a picture of a coffee cup with a lid on it. The text invites people to buy the blogger a cup of coffee to support her work so she can continue to offer free family travel resources. Clicking on this image leads to a page where you can support by paying an amount of your choice in support of Sas Crossing Countries.Download my FREE printable bucket lists

Comments (26)

    Saskia posted on 23 Aug 2023 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for your kind words. It's always great to revisit a place you know once you have kids (no matter the age), don't you think? You often experience things differently when seeing a destination through their eyes. I wish you guys a great trip and I hope you'll beat the crowds. In popular places like Playa and Cancun that's always a challenge, no matter the time of year.

    Saskia posted on 06 Jul 2023 at 4:52 pm

    Thank you! And I hope you will too!

    Saskia posted on 06 Jul 2023 at 4:52 pm

    It is a great destination for kids, indeed.

    Saskia posted on 30 Jun 2023 at 4:05 pm

    While I would’ve loved to climb it and admire the view, I’m also glad the decided to protect it for the future

    Saskia posted on 30 Jun 2023 at 10:13 am

    Thank you so much. Yeah, a lot of people love Cancun, we are part of the minority I guess. I hope you get to explore this beautiful region of Mexico!

    Saskia posted on 30 Jun 2023 at 10:12 am

    Thank you. I hope you succeed in checking off that amazing bucket list item!

    Saskia posted on 29 Jun 2023 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks so much!

    Saskia posted on 29 Jun 2023 at 12:59 pm

    That is so kind of you, thanks for the compliment. I hope you get to visit Tulum and Mérida soon!

    Saskia posted on 29 Jun 2023 at 1:00 pm

    Thank so much, you're too kind. I hope you get to enjoy the beauty of Chichén Itzá someday.

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About me Sas Crossing Countries

Hi, I’m Saskia!

I travel the world with my family of 4 and write about our adventures.

Sas Crossing Countries is a family travel blog. It’s created to inspire other parents to travel the world with their kids. Gift your kids the world! It’s the most valuable present you can give them.

With all the experience I have as a traveling parent I’ve got lots of tools and tips for you. So on this site you’ll not only find family travel blog posts, you can also download FREE pocket guides, travel checklists and eBooks from my resources page.

All that I share can be used to plan your own ultimate family road trip!

above a couch you see 4 illustrated poster maps of different countries in the colors brown, blue, green and white. This picture leads to the shop page where you can buy illustrated poster mapsbanner image with the text get access to my free ebook with all the tools and tips you need to plan out and enjoy your ultimate family road trip. The title of the book is also shown and is The Ultimate Beginners Guide: Planning a Family Road Trip. A mock up is shown of a laptop, tablet and phone showing the cover of the ebook and 3 small images giving a sneak peak of 3 pages inside the book.Picture of an ancient city in Thailand. The text "get 15% off your Heymondo travel insurance until June 30th" is written on top of it.Visit our travel shop!Download my FREE printable packing listsBuy your 3D wooden world map @ Enjoy The Wood with 10% discount code SASCROSSINGCOUNTRIESUPBecome a member of my private family travel Facebook groupLink to shop The Adventure BookRent a car via Discover CarsGet my free downloadable family travel pocket guidesGet an eSim from AiroloA picture of blogger Saskia is accompanied by a picture of a coffee cup with a lid on it. The text invites people to buy the blogger a cup of coffee to support her work so she can continue to offer free family travel resources. Clicking on this image leads to a page where you can support by paying an amount of your choice in support of Sas Crossing Countries.Download my FREE printable bucket lists