Swimming in Cenotes (natural sinkholes filled with freshwater) is a must when visiting Yucatan. Even though there are other places in the world where you could enjoy a swim in one of these, there is nowhere else where you can find such an abundant choice of these underground caves and natural pools than on the Yucatan peninsular. Some of these have been turned into major tourist attractions, with all the comforts of public swimming pools, like showers/toilets and lockers, whereas others do not even offer a place to change into your swimming suits. Make sure you bring swimming suits, life vests/armbands, towels and snorkelling equipment as some of them offer amazing views underwater. Be careful, the water can be quite cold and steps might be slippery. The bigger sites near the main centres can be very busy so expect that, these may also offer adventure sports such as zip wires, or abseiling, which teenagers may wish to try. We preferred the more natural slightly off the beaten track Cenotes that gave a real feeling of swimming in the jungle.
The east coast all the way from Cancun to Tulum is almost one long beach. Despite this, getting to the beach might prove quite difficult at times, as the whole coast is built up and fenced in by large resorts or private landowners. Technically the beaches cannot be claimed as property so you can walk along the beaches, but if you have no way of getting to them from the main road they are inaccessible. Where the local roads do reach the beach they also might charge you fees to park your car and/or get access to the beach. We found Tulum beach to be quite disappointing, but around Akumal (where even the smallest children can see turtles in the sea albeit for the price of hiring a buoyancy aid) and near Xcacel (great beach for building sand castles) the beaches made up for it.
Along the north and west coast there are also plenty of options and access to the beaches there are much easier but here the water is much murkier as the rivers drain into the sea on this coast and there are many mangroves. Be aware that the remote beaches might be covered in seaweed and the sea can be much wavier than on the west coast. There are some resorts, for example, we enjoyed the beach at Celestun. There maybe flag warnings at the larger resorts but do not expect lifeguards on most beaches so do keep an eye on less experienced swimmers in your family.
A visit to see the Mayan ruins should be on top of your list if travelling around the Yucatan peninsular. Presented in the context of a climb around the ruins can make the history far more accessible to children. Chichen Itza is the most famous site, but it might also be one children can find overwhelming and quite boring as it is large and very busy. Try to introduce them to the Mayan culture and history through one of the smaller sight, for example, Ek Balam and Izamal are both great options. In many of the smaller sites children (and adults!) will be able to climb up the pyramids, which makes it much more fun than just walking between piles of stones. Tulum is another great option, as you could break up the visit by spending some time on one of its two beaches and it is smaller. Make sure you get to sites early to avoid long queues and the masses of people from tour groups, lunchtime and later afternoon can also be quieter than the peaks of the day.
Go for a boat ride at one of the nature reserves on the peninsular to see flamingos, other birds and even animals like snakes and jelly fish if you are lucky. Both Celestun and Rio Lagartos are great for a boat tour. Depending on the time of year it might be easier to see large flocks of flamingos at either of these two locations, the largest groups are in the mating season. If you happen to be in the area of Holbox and Cancun between the months of May to September you could try and take a whale shark tour. These gentle giants congregate here to feed on plankton but can be hard to see. Make sure you go on a responsible tour and do not scare these beautiful giants, this means only a few swimmers plus a guide in the water at one time. Holbox Island Tours is an option.
Child friendly museums:
Train fans will be delighted to see the large selection of old Mexican trains that are on display at the train museum in Merida. Some of them can be climbed onto and even entered. Unfortunately a number of them are not in the best of conditions any more but still worth seeing.
There is a chocolate exhibition in a small museum in Valladolid in the Cala de Los Frailes which allows a taste of real cocoa and is interesting for the little ones.
The Mexicans love to celebrate and children will love the colour and sounds of their festivals if there is one happening when you are in town. Expect colourful stalls, food to taste, and music in the town square on feast days and often on Sundays too. Watch for local adverts or check where you stay for information.
Sound and light shows:
Many of the towns and sights on the Yucatan peninsular have sound and light shows. We saw the sound and light show at Valladolid (21:00 at the Convento de San Bernadino de Siena) and they are a fun way to learn more about the history of these places. Most of them are in Spanish first, followed by the English version and free of charge. Ask at your hotel or sights about show times.