A Little Adventure… 3 Weeks with 2 Kids on an Epic Yucatan Road Trip

Last updated on August 15, 2023

Road tripping the Yucatan with two kids includes boat rides!
We headed to Celestun on our Yucatan road trip so the kids could explore the biosphere reserve.

It was the accessibility of both fun and culture that convinced me Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was an ideal place to road trip with my two nephews. A road trip with kids requires a place with a lot of family-friendly things to do, and it had to be close, since I wasn’t keen on a 14-hour flight to Asia for a trip of less than a month.

Long-time readers will remember the epic homeschooling adventure I undertook with my niece Ana. Hard to believe that we left in 2011. Ana had just turned 11-years-old and instead of entering the 6th grade, she and I spent nearly seven months traveling Southeast Asia.

As my two nephews neared that same age, it was time take them on adventures too. In fact, the day my nephew Eric turned 11 years-old, he informed me that it was “his turn,” and so what did I have planned? He put me on the spot. And a Yucatan Peninsula road trip with the kids seemed like the best option since my nephews live in Florida.

Why Road Trip the Yucatan Peninsula With Kids?

road trip yucatan mexico with kids
A highlight reel of our favorite moments from our Yucatan road trip.

My two nephews, Vic and Eric, are 10- and 11-years-old. I had to ask: What would be a good trip for the three of us? I’m not brave enough to travel with both kids for seven months. But I wanted a place that would—like Asia did for Ana—inspire them to dream of other places and find interests outside of their tiny lives in Florida. Mexico has long been one of my favorite places.

The Yucatán Peninsula in particular has a unique mix of Maya culture and ancient ruins. And the region’s miles of sandy beaches are also perfect for two active (and naughty) little boys. I won’t lie, having a lot of kid-friendly activities for them was a big consideration. I was a tad terrified to travel with both kids solo. The plan took shape earlier this year; I passport-ed them both and secured their travel documents before I left for Japan in the spring.

In the weeks leading up to my Yucatan road trip with kids, I used Google image searches to show them the possible adventures. Both kids exclaimed over the Maya temples, begged to zip-line high over the Mexican jungle, loved the idea of seeing wild animals, and dreamed of swimming in the icy blue waters of the sunken cenotes.

With three weeks and a rental car, my nephews and I spent the bulk of July driving a winding route around the Yucatán Peninsula. We backtracked at points to visit family. We drove two extra hours to return for a beloved pair of forgotten swimming trunks. There were hairy moments when I knew I was crazy to road trip alone with the two kids. But we also had adventures—man, did we have some adventures.

A few months out from the trip and I still can’t imagine a better place than the Yucatan Peninsula to have road-tripped with my nephews. The Yucatan is made for family vacations. Readers often email me asking how I choose when and where to visit—they want to know the reasoning that goes into picking each new place.

That question likely goes doubly so when traveling with kids, so here goes. Four main things factored into why I picked a Yucatán family vacation when traveling with the two boys:

Everything is condensed and close.

Driving days on the Yucatan are never longer than three to four hours, and even that long is rare. (Unless you backtrack for beloved swimming trunks… … …   :::facepalm::: )

Spanish culture and language are accessible.

intergenerational family vacation yucatan
We were an intergenerational bunch for a week of our trip when my aunt joined our family vacation across the Yucatan.

They both loved practicing the new words and Eric is taking Spanish classes in school this year. Plus, two young kids are hard work and I speak Spanish, so helped ensure a smoother trip.

Places like Japan are fascinating, but add an extra layer of difficulty. I would have dealt with their culture shock and my inability to speak the language, on top of juggling two kids who have never left the country. Mexico—and the Yucatan Peninsula, specifically—seemed like a solid first adventure for us all.

There’s a huge range of cultural and kid-friendly activities.

cenotes with kids on the Yucatan for families
My nephew does a flip into the clear waters in the Cenotes in Cuzama—this was absolutely one of their favorite days traveling the Yucatan.

The Yucatán has a well-developed tourism infrastructure. It’s safe and has a diverse range of things to do in every area: swimming, beaches, ruins, wildlife, walkable towns, and even theme parks.

In fact, let’s break down the things families can enjoy in the Yucatan.

First, the outdoor adventures, including snorkeling, scuba diving, zip lining, and hiking through the lush jungle.

Then there are the wildlife encounters; kids can get up close and personal with exotic animals at the many nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries located throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.

And let’s talk about those beautiful beaches that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and playing in the sand.

The Yucatan is affordable for families.

prices are affordable for families vacationing on the yucatan
Just $3 for a plate of vegetarian enchiladas? Yes, please!

My nephews live in Florida. It was a quick skip over the Gulf of Mexico, and once we arrived, I could afford to keep us flush in tacos and fun kid-friendly activities. Let’s face it, when you planning a family vacation, you’re buying many dinners, drinks, and hotel rooms every single day. You want a place where you can travel well without spending a ton.

The Yucatan Peninsula is safe.

Kinich Kak Moo in the yucatan with kids
Even as virtually the only tourists stomping all over the ruins of Kinich Kak Moo in Izamal, an off-the-beaten path stop, I felt completely safe traveling as a family.

Safety is tough question to pin down as either, “Is the Yucatan Peninsula safe, yes or no? Safety can mean physical safety, or safety from passive pickpocketing, or even safety from corruption.

Mexico’s Yucatan does have some concerns—there are numerous reports for years of cops targeting foreign motorists for bribes when stopped—but on physical safety, the Yucatan is far safer than other areas of Mexico, and even safer than some U.S. cities.

You should always exercise caution, of course, but true lasting harm is less likely to come to you in the Yucatan than any other region of Mexico. That said, cars may get broken into if there are visible valuables, and opportunistic crimes are present anywhere there is poverty alongside tourism. Carry travel insurance. I use and recommend IMG travel insurance for families—here’s why.

After my trip with my niece Ana, many readers emailed me to say although seven months was too long, that you’d love to do something similar with your own nieces/nephews/kids.

Here it is, an alternative family vacation idea. Three weeks of family-style (mis)adventures all through Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. This is more of a photo-journey through our road-trip with stories. We started on the beaches of the Riviera Maya, then wound our way inland to the cultural heart, and ended at a biosphere reserve.

For the nitty-gritty and how-tos, I posted detailed Yucatan travel planning resources on our driving route, the places we stayed, and the companies we used to make it all come together.

Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade highly recommend it!

Best Yucatan Road Trip Destinations with Kids

These are the places we visited and loved. I have been to the Yucatan before, so I pre-vetted many of these places when I traveled there solo. Others I ruthlessly researched for ideas of what I could do on a family vacation specifically, since my elderly aunt joined us for a week, and my parents for one day as they docked on a cruise.

Side note: Pay attention at ATMs!

Before we left the mainland for Isla Mujeres, I’ll also own to a travel n00b mistake that I can only blame on being totally overwhelmed. It took hours to secure the rental car. It was a headache navigating into the Cancun at rush hour.

Once checked in, we headed out to a great park I knew from a previous trip, Parque de las Palapas. I was hungry, the boys were hungry, and they were also humming with excited energy. So we headed to the ATM and then planned on getting food. 

Sheer chaotic excitement is the only explanation I have for my nephew Vic. He grabbed the fat stack of cash from the ATM, fanned it out and waved it around the glass booth (which faced the busy street), and exclaimed in sheer elation, “MONOPOLY MONEY.”

family vacation shenanigans on the yucatan peninsula
Look at these two characters hamming it up on Cozumel. Can’t you just imagine the youngest, the blond one on the left, running around waving hundreds of dollars in pesos? #truestory

I was so startled that I left my ATM card in the machine, which promptly ate the card and left me without a debit card mere hours into the start of our family vacation.

And yeah, if you follow my travels, I’ve done that move before

I can look at this now and see the humor. Mexican pesos are colorful and he’s never seen them before. It’s funny, right? Right? Sob. Anyway, it set the tone for three weeks of road trip shenanigans.

With only the pesos I had just withdrawn and a small safety stash of U.S. cash, I tried hard not to wig out. I was lucky my dad hadn’t yet left on his cruise. Since he’s on all my accounts (precisely for situations like this), he wired me money. Walmart wire transfer is fantastically cheap by the way (#thingsIwishIdidntknow). Schwab, my bank, which I love dearly, mailed me a new card asap and my parents brought it with them since we were meeting up six days later in Cozumel.

Crisis averted. And with an alarming amount of cash in my purse (and a stern conversation with the kids about ATM behavior), we began the adventure.

Isla Mujeres

visiting isla mujeres turtle farm
Traveling with the boys was fun because they are fearless and were eager to dunk their hands into the water and touch the various sea-life.

Isla Mujeres is just off the coast of Cancun and it’s dead simple to get there once you land in the Yucatan. I rented our car (at a great rate, I might add, through RentalCars.com) right from the airport, so one one of the first thing we did was actually park near the ferry it for our long weekend on Isla Mujeres.

The Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm was a highlight of the entire trip and it was the perfect way to start our travels. Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun, but it’s a world apart from the vibe of Cancun.

Ferries run all day between Cancun and Isla so we ditched the frenetic party atmosphere and ritzy hotel boulevard in Cancun. Within an hour of leaving Cancun, we found ourselves in a great apartment just a block off of the shallow beach waters.

My Seattle-based aunt was jonesing for the tropics, so she joined us at the start of our family road trip. The four of us golf-carted around the sweet little island. We spent three days sipping coconuts and digging in the sand.

We bought two pool noodles at the Walmart in Cancun—they proved fun and useful as we moved from pools to shallow bays to sometimes more unpredictable waters. My aunt is a swim instructor and it was fun to watch both boys soak up her advice on how to better their strokes and become stronger swimmers.

The icy blue waters of Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres on our yucatan family road tirp
The icy blue waters of Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres. This waters here are tranquil and waste deep for ages. It was the perfect spot for all of us to relax—I felt comfortable giving the boys free range to wander pretty far from me. Any my Auntie used the shallow waters to teach Vic some more advanced swimming moves so he’d be more confident throughout our road trip.

Although we’re from Florida, my nephews don’t have a pool at their house and I’ve long worried about their weak skills. This trip was an invaluable chance for them to spend a lot of time practicing (and in a place where it doesn’t feel like forced practice!).

This was an excellent way to start the road trip because the main town on Isla Mujeres town is small and navigable, and the waters in Playa Norte are shallow for a hundred meters at least.

Much to my amusement, Vic was a little entrepreneur on the island. He is convinced he could have launched a thriving coconut selling business and made millions if we had stayed—he talked one local hammock vendor into buying his coconut for an impressive 75 cents. It was endlessly cute.

turtle shells on isla mujeres
Gorgeous colors and patterns on the shells of these turtles at the Tortugranja, or rather Turtle Farm. The Turtle Farm releases thousands of turtles back into the ocean every year and has pools around the complex with turtles at every stage of development.
tortugranja farm mexico
The larger pools near the ocean had turtles and small sharks swimming around the pools of turquoise waters.

Isla Mujeres Tip for Families

Rent a golf cart at least one of your days on the island. This is the easiest way to transport your group around the island, and it’s how we visited the Turtle Farm, as well as some of the coastal beaches outside of the main touristy section. It’s super easy to rent one in town and it’s way cheaper than paying for transport around the island to see the various spots further afield, which can all be visited in one or two days of exploring.

Kids selling coconuts on Isla Mujeres
Local coconut vendors on the island eagerly macheted open a coconut and slipped a straw into it while we drove around the island in a golf cart. The kid vendors were highly impressed by the boys and helped Vic and Eric pick out shells to buy.


My mum and the two boys after her cruise ship docked for the morning in Cozumel. It was such a fun treat to have all of us in Mexico, even if briefly! And the boys were full of stories for my parents as we ate, snorkeled, and explored.

Cozumel was the island of fun coincidences and meetups. The boys and I timed our Cozumel trip to meet my parents the morning their cruise ship docked.

Having already explored the island for two days, the boys and I took them to a hole-in-the-wall spot for Mexican street food. Together we all wandered through the town squares and capped it off with a snorkel.

The time passed all too fast before we brought them back to their ship and waved goodbye. But the fun continued and I owe a big thanks to Tam. She is a friend, blogger, and A Little Adrift reader, and she welcomed my unruly gang to her home in Cozumel for the afternoon.

In our days on the island, it was the sea life that won out with the kids. Eric raved about his snorkel north of Money Bar; he saw all kinds of fish and sea-crawlies. 

cozumel tide pools in the yucatan peninsula
Vic just loved digging around in the tide pools. Many of the beaches near downtown Cozumel have rocky areas with ocean water and trapped fish waiting for the tide to return. Vic would collect a handful of snails and then bring them to me to examine. Once I had exclaimed over them, they were returned to their pools.
in the yucatan peninsula
Eric was pretty proud of these two snails, one stuck to the shell of the other!

In the evenings, we wandered the shores near downtown Cozumel; the boys skipped rocks and dug through all the tide pools looking for snails.

I’ll likely never claim it’s my favorite spot in the region, but we found beautiful underwater sea life and had a wonderful time visiting friends and family. As my parents continued through the Caribbean, the boys and I journeyed back to the mainland—we had some Maya temples to find!

Sunset on Cozumel as a family on vacation
Sunset on Cozumel. We all practiced skipping rocks in the fading light of day. I am pretty good from a lifetime of having four older brothers, but Vic won. When it all shook out, he had the longest with seven skips—he was quite proud!
blogger friend in cozumel
Tam invited us to her house after our breakfast at Monkey Bar. She has a beautiful spot near the beach and Little Eric had the best snorkel of his life.

Playa del Carmen & Xplor Theme Park

But first, before the Maya temples, we had a theme park to explore. My nephews have spent their entire lives living in south-central Florida—they’re adrenaline junkies. We have a dozen parks within an hours driving distance of my hometown. They live and breathe theme parks. I don’t know where they get it from, I’m terrified of roller coasters.

Gorgeous underground river
The underground river at Xplor Park in the Riviera Maya. This is one of their stock shots as my camera was tucked away safely in the locker.

Two things coincided though. They found out I took Ana zip-lining in Thailand years back. And they found images online of the dizzying number of adventure parks in the Yucatán.

I felt confident traveling the interior once we were poking around through Mexico’s small towns and community based organizations—that’s my thing—but I never neared the theme parks on my last trip to the region. Marhuata and Leo from Xplor teamed up to take my nephews on a day that they continue to recount at speeds a mile a minute.

Slide! fun yucatan family vacation with kids
This was Eric’s favorite ride in the park and you can see from his expression he is loving it. It’s a pretty steep slide, so you pick up some good speed as you descend, and then you splash into a huge pool of water.
The boys together zipping over the jungle at Xplor park in the yucatan peninsula
The boys zipped over the jungle together. Usually they had to ride with an adult so that they would have enough weight to make it across the ziplines, but this time they said the boys could do it together.

We headed out to Xplor early in the day, the theme park plays off of the natural landscape. It’s actually built into underwater rivers and cenotes—with ziplining, of course, that was paramount to the boys.

The park was beautiful—prettier and more integrated into the natural landscape than I was expecting. We paddled through a natural underground river, sped across the tree canopy on zip-lines, and generally got our thrills out.

The heart is at the center of the park and an easy meeting spot if anyone in the family gets lost, that’s the right meeting spot.

I’m usually that aunt. The who gives books and educational toys on holidays. So they were justifiably psyched that I agreed to a Mexican theme park.

And as a plus, it also scored me a trade-off promise that they would each read age-appropriate information on Maya culture. Win. It was good fun; it’s a fantastic thing to do with kids and the other nearby parks have varying types of activities. I reviewed the park’s rides, pros, cons, etc at Xplor here.

Hidden bonus? The kids wolfed down dinner and then passed out cold that day. Who am I kidding, I did too. :)

ATV Time is a fun thing to do with kids in the yucatan
The ATV course was rough and tumble as we flung ourselves around corners, sloshed through rivers, and generally sped around the obstacle course.


tulum ruins on the Yucatan's Riviera Maya with kids
The ruins at Tulum back right up the ocean, with gorgeous ocean views from all the spots. The Maya understood real estate, because this spot is just stunning. It was sunny and hot as hell, but pretty.

We began to shift the tone of our trip in Tulum. While we spent our early days on beaches and with family, Tulum marks the beginning of the history and culture part of the trip.

We could have been on any white sandy beaches in the world in the first week of the road trip. We couldn’t help but know we were in Mexico once we reached the sprawling Maya temple complex at Tulum.

These Maya, they sure knew some prime real estate.

Tulum’s ruins run right up to the water’s edge. Grey stone temple complexes all but tumble into the Caribbean waters.

The boys’ fascination with the Yucatan’s iguanas continued here; but I’d be lying if I said the boys loved Tulum. It was a scorchingly sunny day at the ruins. While I wandered and read about Tulum, the boys camped out in the shade near several massive iguanas and soaked in the vibe.

Tulum beach in the yucatan peninsula
Usually Tulum beach is known for its pure white sands, but we were unlucky. The entire beach was covered in thick, mush sargassum seaweed that washed in from the Caribbean. It makes for a pretty picture, but a bit off-putting to swim in. Also, the boys flung it at each other, of course. This sargassum seaweed is an ongoing problem for the coast and you may face this on your own Yucatan road trip—check local news sites to know how bad the problem is when you plan to visit.

The beach waters were also too rough for them, so we passed through Tulum en route to the verdant heart of the region. Next up was Valladolid and the tiny Mexican towns awash in culture, food, and history. (Side note: Tulum is where we left those beloved swimming trunks I had to backtrack for… I am still doing a facepalm that I actually returned for a pair of shorts. I can only say that after the despair we had over losing a pair of beloved goggles on Cozumel, it just seemed easier).

the boys exploring the ruins
We were glad for our hats (I was carrying Vic’s) after a couple of hours at Tulum. The Maya complex was a major trading port along the routes between Mexico and Guatemala, with one of the best sea-accesses of any of the other temples yet uncovered.
iguana at tulum
Vic and Eric just loved the iguana that baked themselves in the hot sand and sun. There are no shortage of these creatures, and they thrive in the Mexican climate, growing fat and huge.

Looking back now, I wish that I had slowed down one bit more and actually done the Akumal turtle swimming experience, which we would have done between Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

Instead, I thought we needed some history in our trip and skipped it. That was a #fail for me. Lesson learned. Perhaps they would have enjoyed the ruins more if we had started with some sea turtle interactions.

Valladolid: Ek’ Balam & Chichén Itzá

My auntie was still with us for the Ek’ Balam part of the trip; the four of us made it to the top of the highest pyramid at Ek’ Balam, and on a clear day we would have been able to see all the way to Chichen Itza.

The vibe definitely changed when we reached Valladolid, a Spanish colonial town dating back to the 1500s. This is also when we got down with some serious street eats. I was able to find more of the informal food that I usually eat in Mexico as a vegetarian.

Before that, the beach towns tended to cater to tourists. The good street food was farther from the tourist areas than we could easily travel on foot. But here, we booked a place on the Plaza Central and used this as a base to go temple-hunting and cenote swimming.

Chichén Itzá and Cenote Dzitnup

Chichén Itzá is one of the most iconic stops on any family vacation in the Yucatan, and you can’t skip it. There’s a lot of fascinating history, and you can even beat the crowds if you visit when it first opens, or at the end of the day. My guide to visiting Chichen Itza shares my hard-learned tips from visiting it as a family with the kids, but also solo on a day trip from Cancun.

Yes, I was one of those hordes of tourists that descend after 10am, but clear out by early afternoon. But the best vibes are on the shoulder hours.

chichen itza pyramid
Eric at Chichen Itza, the most famous Maya temple complex in the Yucatan Peninsula. There are very cool features at the site, including a ball court. This pyramid was used for bloody sacrifices, a fact the boys loved learning.
cenote dzitnup
Cenote Dzitnup with a shaft of light coming in through a hole in the cave. The light illuminates the cold, deep blue waters. At first the boys were freaked out to swim in a cave, especially once they spotted the catfish in the water, but eventually they found the diving platform and loved it.

We all marveled at the echoing acoustics built into the ball court. Vic fixated for ten minutes on mastering the clap that would travel down the expansive ball court and then bounce back as an echo. He was thoroughly impressed when finally managed to get the echo to sound out.

This is worth visiting with the kids, and then head over to the cenote to cool off before you get back in the car and continue exploring.

Ek’ Balam

ek balam archaeological park in the yucatan peninsula

The real winner is Ek’ Balam. The site is far less touristed than nearby Chichén Itzá. There are ruins that you can climb up and see high views of the region. The relief work on one of the tombs is also impressive and the best in the entire region—among the best restored in all the known Maya temples.

It turned out as our favorite of the temples in the area. Perched on the top of the Acropolis at Ek Balam afforded views hundreds of miles in the distance. Like most Mayan sites, these are partially excavated ruins.

On the right and left of the photos above mounds of trees slightly taller than the rest. These are buried temples forming the rest of the ancient city. The boys raced to the top of the temple, scaling the 100+ steps lightening fast so they could see above the jungle floor.

jaguar relief at ek balam
This is among the most important relief carvings left in the Maya empire. This jaguar mouth has been restored, and it gives a glimpse as to what the temples might have looked like before they became overgrown and crumbling. The reliefs depict scenes of heaven and hell, with creatures and symbolism aplenty. Vic was rapt with attention as the guide explained various parts of the carvings.
racing up the steps of ek balam
That’s Vic in the center. He is quick as lightning and ran ahead of us, charging up the tall, steep steps so he could see the sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

They had a blast exploring here since they could climb all over everything, and there is a pretty awesome Jaguar mouth carved into the Acropolis with giant teeth and a gateway to the underworld pictured, according to the Maya.

A huge jaguar mouth sits open with carvings on all sides—serpents, winged men, and hellish creatures. This was a hit with the kiddos. It’s been restored, which makes it easier to see and imagine what these temples might have looked like at the heyday of the Maya kingdom. I

t was a small complex, so we headed to the sunken cenotes after, the water cool and refreshing in the heat of July in Mexico!


izamal parque central
The horse-carts are a popular way to see the small city of Izamal, with their hooves clip-clopping along the cobblestone. They line up at the parque central, with the Izamal Monastery in the background.

All of us agree, there is just something special about Izamal and there’s no way to put our finger on it. If we had only used our guidebook, we might have skipped this tiny, sleepy, yellow Mexican town. But I turned to a friend for travel planning advice—he lived in the region for years—and he said this was a must-do.

We had planned to spend two days. We ended up settling in and spending four days doing little more than playing with new Dutch friends and eating street eats in the central plaza.

Vic spotted a vendor selling dragon fruit juice and was in love. They add sugar and lime, giving it a pleasant citrusy flavor and, of course, that amazing color.

And yet.

The boys loved it. Horses clomped through the cobblestone streets, the boys understood the small town’s walkable layout, and they loved the nightly pork sandwiches. The photos perhaps say it better than I can express. It’s just a magical little spot in the heart of the Yucatán.

These are the faces you get when you convince your kids to try a local Mexican snack. We grabbed a bag of sour green things (totally don’t remember the name) and they were TART. I was the only one who continued snacking, and even then I was only able to eat a few before my mouth was puckering too hard to continue.
Vic lived for these pork sandwiches. He said the flavor was perfect. I wouldn’t know, as I was instead snacking on fruit and quesadilla, but both boys ate these every single night that we were in Izamal.
We got caught in the rain and decided to just go with it. I had a bag for my camera, so I let the boys splash and play in the rain as we ran home.

izamal dog show
They pet every single dog we found. Street dogs or people’s pets, it didn’t matter. They were enamored with all the dogs around during our entire road trip.
sunset in Izamal
The boys made fast friends with a pair of similarly aged Dutch boys. They had such a good time swimming in the pool and exploring the city with their new friends.
horse cart in izamal
We took a few laps around the town in one of the pretty horse-drawn carriages. The horse sped us through the town’s narrow streets, past the yellow facades, and then looped back to the parque central.

Cuzamá Cenotes

cenote chacsinicche with kids in the yucatan
The view upwards from the beautiful Cenote Chacsinicche. It’s the prettiest of the three swimming holes.

En route to Celestún, we broke up the drive with a horse-drawn carriage ride out to a trio of cenotes. Cenotes are underground cave sinkholes.

The limestone bedrock in the Yucatán Peninsula is so porous that all lakes and rivers are actually underground. They are the best way to cool off in the interior and you will pass a lot on any road trip—so you have your pick.

A local community based organization operates the Cuzamá cenote. This CBO ensures profit-sharing among the families near this rural and offbeat tourist attraction. Getting to Cuzamá is half the fun too. If you hadn’t yet woven through the pothole-strewn back roads of Mexico, you will en route. 

Notable is that there is a scammy business just before you reach the CBO. If you’re driving, keep driving until you reach a sun-drenched and informal spot at the end of the road. Men will be waiting there ready to whisk you to the swimming holes. The horse ride was good fun, and the third swimming hole, Cenote Chacsinicche, was by far the best for the kids. They delighted in cannon-balling from the ledge into the cool, clear blue water.

horse cart cuzama with the kids
A family at our Izamal guest house recommended the cenotes of Cuzamá and they were good fun. The horses speed along the old railroad tracks and a local community based organizations share profits from the cenote tours.
traveling the yucatan with kids means fun kids on railroad tracks
After all the swimming and jumping into the cenotes we stopped and snacked on mango before heading back to the car.
blue waters of cenote chacsinicche is a must visit in the yucatan with kids
Eric was a big fan of the snorkeling and swam all over the cenote looking down through the clear waters.
cenote chacsinicche is so fun for older kids on vacation in the yucatan
Vic taking a daring and huge cannonball into the icy blue waters of the cenote. He was fearless and did flips off it, twists, turns, and just jumped and jumped until it was time to go.


We came to Celestún for the flamingos and crocodiles—it was all about visiting the Celestún Biosphere Reserve. Eric loves animals, and his one big request for the trip was seeing crocodiles in the wild.

flamingos at celestun
Flamingos are a sure sighting at Celestun, so you can promise the kids that!

The Celestun Biosphere Reserve has flamingos year round, though the bulk of the flock does migrate to Rio Lagartos at times during the year. We sped through the waters and enjoyed the beautiful late afternoon sun as the flamingos rested in the water.

The boat trip to see the flamingos includes a trip through a gorgeous mangrove tunnel. We were told there was a chance we would see crocodiles here, but we didn’t until we were in another area of the reserve. And let me tell you, those two were looking, so if there was a croc to be found, we would have. :)

mangrove tunnel celestun—the kids stood on the bow of the boat to investigate
My kiddos search the mangrove tunnel for a crocodile sighting from the bow of the boat.

In the end, we only saw one baby crocodile, but he was so distracted by the flamingos, birds, and swimming holes that he never noticed (I wondered after if we would have had more success at Río Lagartos :-/  ).

The town of Celestún is low-key and tiny. I mean little. It’s a Mexican vacation spot more than a tourist spot, so there wasn’t much English spoken. Most of the families (umm, all of them) were Mexicans taking in the summer vibes.

boys at sunset
They loved riding the bow of the boat as we coasted at low speeds in the biosphere reserve.
mangroves celestun mexico
It was here in this area that we found a tiny baby crocodile in the blue waters. He was hard to distinguish from a log, but our guide spotted him and we watched him rest for a bit before continuing along the walkway.

The kids had a blast digging deep holes in the sand, and their industriousness attracted the other kids who helped them dig and collect worms from the sand—an activity that apparently needs no spoken words.

The shenanigans continued here, too, lest I paint too rosy a picture of it all. The boys found a small, beached boat and attempted to drag it out to sea while I procured Gatorade for us all. I sent them back to the sand digging, pulled my sunhat lower, traded my Gatorade for a Sol, and was just glad they hadn’t gotten in the boat and headed for Cuba.

celestun biosphere reserve with kids in the yucatan
Such beautiful blue waters. The water was cold but perfectly clear. Alarmingly, it actually wasn’t very far up stream from here that we spotted the baby crocodile. I was a bit perturbed by that.
Our tour group was all families traveling the Yucatan, but mostly mexican families.
The boys were charmers and the group of Mexican women just loved them. After they jumped into the water and searched for crocs together, we decided on a group shot.

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sunset in merida in the yucatan peninsula

One of the sweetest towns in Mexico, Mérida has a vibe all its own. Each area of town boasts its own central park area, but the main one near the touristy areas is abuzz in activity every night of the week.

There isn’t a lot to do in Mérida with kids, per se. My nephews were scarcely interested in the museums. They did, however, find the markets intriguing, the parks filled with other children, and plenty of street food and ice cream to keep th

clown in merida
Oh man, the kids just loved these balloons, I couldn’t say no. They held onto them fiercely all night and wielded them like weapons as they battled in the parque central.

em chugging along as we toured the various churches and architectural sites.

They were little champs most of the time. The three weeks had passed in a blur and Mérida and Celestún were the last stops on our trip. By the third Saturday, we were wheels up on the airplane by 9am and I had them deposited back to my brother soon after.

I welcomed the break. Traveling with them gave me a fresh perspective on all the work that goes into juggling two kiddos on the road. But it was a good tired too, for the most part.

sunset merida
The last slashes of light on the streets of Merida.
streets of merida
The colorful streets of Merida, Mexico. Like other areas of Mexico, there are horse-drawn carriages for those who wish to explore that way. We walked everywhere because the touristy stuff is rather close together.

On the whole, I had long hoped to share a travel experience with my nephews, and this tripped served in that capacity. With the mix of food, culture, and beach-fun time, it was the perfect place to take two active little boys.

Many of my readers have pondered taking a niece, nephew, or sibling overseas, but the logistics can seem overwhelming. In this case, I am so happy I had the chance to show those two kiddos a small part of why I love traveling the world. It wasn’t always easy—they were exceedingly naughty—but I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

For readers who have long followed this journey, you may wonder about where Ana was while her brother Vic and cousin Eric went on an adventure? While we road-tripped across Mexico’s Yucatan, my niece Ana met up with Dani, a friend Ana and I last traveled with in Cambodia.

Dani and Ana have stayed in touch over the years, and since Ana continues to beg for the chance to explore other places, Dani invited her to NYC for a week. They palled around the city, sending me Snapchats and texts. I was so glad she had her own adventure, too.

And I am happy to report that Ana, now graduated from high school, has stayed interested and curious about the world. I hope, if nothing else, this trip ignited in my nephews a lasting curiosity about the people and places outside their home bubble, and that they continue to use that curiosity to finish school and travel more.

So, whatdya think? I felt crazy at times for going solo with them, but it was an adventure. Do you have any plans to travel with kids/siblings/nephews? 

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Yucatan Travel Guide

A download on everything I know about traveling the Yucatan after several trips—from solo backpacking to a family road trip, here’s what you need to know when planning a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

24 thoughts on “A Little Adventure… 3 Weeks with 2 Kids on an Epic Yucatan Road Trip”

  1. Regarding safety in Mexico with kids, I am so glad you wrote. I had visited the Yucatan as a solo female back in 2010, and it’s one of the main reasons I decided to take two rambunctious boys there. It felt safe. Now, yes, there are cartels there, but reports you read are clear to note that they operate with near zero violence because there aren’t harsh rivalries like in other Mexican States, just routes north. It’s incredibly touristy on the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan government fiercely protects the tourism industry. Once you go inland, it’s a tad less touristy, but the road signs are all there and we had no issues at all. We stayed in the charming and tiny town of Izamal and felt safe walking home after dark — not even a whiff of danger in the air. We never once felt unsafe exploring the various cities and ruins that we chose. Now, I didn’t drive at night, but that was never an issue because the distances are not far. You could drive at night, I don’t think it’s patently unsafe, but I just never quite like the idea of having a breakdown in a foreign country in the dark. If you were looking to be safe, I would recommend that — plan any longer driving days for daylight hours, so that you are firmly in your next town/guesthouse by dark. And buy a SIM card when you land, or have T-Mobile/roaming, but basically be sure to have internet so you can easily navigate.

    Also, my nephews and I met a Dutch family road-tripping with their similarly-aged sons and they also reported having zero issues on their entire monthlong trip, which included Campeche, which I did not visit (and we all still keep in touch with them, we met great people at our hotels). Mexico is misunderstood. There are VERY dangerous areas. The Yucatan is not one of them. While there are no guarantees in travel, and I can’t promise safety like if you were visiting a place like Norway, on the danger scale, I don’t rank the Yucatan up there. I think you and your kids can have a wonderful experience.

    Normal developing world issues are an issue — you might get robbed. Leaving iPads and valuables in the car would invite it. If your kids walk around Cancun with their iPhones in their back pocket, or leave it on a beach blanket, or a purse strewn casually on a restaurant chair — do that, and someone might quietly relieve them of their valuables. But not much beyond that.

    Happy travels! :)

  2. Sounds like you had fun in Mexico! I love Mexico and I want to take my grandkids to visit there someday.

    • We had a fun trip and I highly recommend Mexico — and the Yucatan/Chiapas in particular — when you take your grandkids. It has a rich culture, but a good tourism infrastructure too!

  3. Great post and we used many ideas for our month here in the Yucatan area so thanks. Loved Tulum,Merida and Izamal. Now heading back to Puerto Morelos for a week before Oaxaca for a month:) Again thanks for great info.

    • So glad you found it helpful for your own family adventure! I am actually living in Oaxaca right now, so although I haven’t written about it yet, I am happy to share any tips if you need them! :)

      • I did just read that after sending this earlier. Two of my fave bloggers are there — Legal Nomads and you:) My 10 and 13 year olds and I are taking a couple of weeks of Spanish at Oaxaca International School plus hoping to do some short volunteer opportunities. We have an apartment they offered also. The 26year old chef (he’s worked at top places in Dubai and Atlanta) is hoping to find links to any restaurants just to volunteer/intern for a couple of weeks (he speaks decent Spanish). So if you guys happen to know or have any links or ideas to do that it would be really appreciated and I know he will cook a great meal in return:) We ask him to make HIS tacos here in Yucatan sometimes instead of eating out — he’s that good.

        • That’s a tough one Kate — I will ponder, but I’ve mostly been eating street food here so I don’t know of any restaurants that will fit the bill. Hope your last week in the Yucatan goes well!

  4. What an amazing article, the kid in me wants to experience the adventures of Mexico. Your clicks show how fun and exciting your adventure trip was. Since, it’s a great place for kids, I would plan a surprise trip for my nephews on their next school break. Thank you for sharing this information as I had no knowledge about the various places in Mexico.

    • Thank you Savar, so glad you found the Mexico experiencing inspiring enough to consider visiting with your own nephews! It’s a wonderful region of Mexico and we had such a good time — I have no doubt yours will too. :)

  5. I loved following your travels with our nice as I too have travelled extensively with my niece. She lived with me in Australia for 5 months and I took her on many exciting road trips and adventures. To renew her visa I took her to Japan which we both loved. Now it’s my nephew’s turn. He’s 14, hasn’t got her independent spirit and he loves big cities. I’ve been putting off the journey with him for a while, but after reading your post about travelling with your two nephews (very brave!) I am all fired up. I’ve just returned from Bangkok and I think, that’s where I will take him. It’s got enough shopping malls to allow him to recover from excursions into local life. Thanks for kicking my butt so to speak, to own up and give my nephew his turn! Love your blog and if it weren’t so far, I’d take him to Mexico, no doubt!

    • So glad to hear that my trip over the summer sparked you to take your nephew on his turn! I agree that Bangkok could be great. The infrastructure is good but still so much food and culture, if we had been closer to Asia I surely might have done that too, I love Thailand. Have a wonderful trip and thank you for following along on the journey. :)

  6. We are making our way down to Mexico for January, and although we have no little adventurers in tow, we are super pumped (and will be using your tips!)

  7. Lucky boys! I’m an only child so no official nieces and nephews, but your trip with Ana along with Ottsworld’s Niece Project have me inspired to travel with my friends’ kiddos once they get old enough – although I have a feeling that they’ll be just as naughty as yours were, so I might bring mom along for support :-) They already call me Tia so planning a trip to Mexico or Central America seems like a perfect way to encourage more Spanish learning before then!

    • I love that you’re planning to travel with friends and their kids. Often our friends are as strongly bonded as family. And Central America region sounds like the perfect spot, and if the mum will come along then even better! Naughtiness is exasperating at the time, but that monopoly money moment is also one I’ll tease him about for years! :)

  8. What a brilliant post it is. It seems that people must visit to Mexico to experience all these adventures as kids did. For many readers, Mexico might have become a favourite place to visit.

  9. Amazing – looks like the kids had a great time exploring Yucatan. I’m so pleased to see bloggers like you celebrating travel with kids. It makes me feel enthusiastic about having a family, rather than paranoid that it would tie me down!

    • Thank you Amy! It changes the travel experience, that is for sure, but it also opens so many new doors on the road too. New kindnesses and conversations that I am not privy to when I am solo, but the kids are like a walking conversation starter — I have found people love seeing children traveling and so it will be a fun and interesting next phase for you, definitely doesn’t toll the death knell for your travels. :)

  10. Looks like such a fun trip! We loved the Yucatan so much and it was fun to relive some of my favorite experiences/places, like Cuzama, through your eyes with your nephews. But now I have a few new places to explore when we return. I’m super intrigued by Izamal! I hadn’t even heard of it but will definitely have to check that out! Those pics do speak for themselves! We’ll actually be in the Yucatan for the first few months of next year and after seeing how much fun you had with your nephews, I’m now inspired to invite my 10-year niece for a visit. So thanks for all the travel inspiration!

    • Yessss, you have to visit Izamal. So small and charming. How great that you will be there for a few months (I’ll actually be in Oaxaca early in the New Year for a few months if you plan to do some traveling). I think if your sibling is open to it that you guys could have an amazing time with your niece — and it’s such a good age to imprint travel and culture experiences.

  11. Kudos to you for planning and executing what looks like a fabulously fun trip! Many of my close friends have started having kids, and I am already plotting the adventures I can take them on once they’re older — this goes a long way to inspiring my confidence to do so. Also, I love those photos of Izamal and Merida! I’ve never heard of either place, but they look fantastic xx

    • Thank you Veena! I love that you plan to play auntie too! It’s really one of my favorite things, to show these younguns in my life what it’s like to get out there and travel. And if you make it to the Yucatan, Merida and Izamal are truly wonderful! :)

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