Top Tips for Yucatan, Mexico | Things to do with Children on the Yucatan Peninsular

Top Tips for your stay on the Yucatan Peninsular with kids

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Cenotes:

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.

travel with children kids mexico chichen itza cecote ik kil

Valladolid mexico with children kids cenote zaki swimming

Valladolid mexico with children kids cenote zaki swim

travel with children kids Yokdzonot Cenote

Beaches:

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.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach life

travel with children kids mexico tulum playa beach

Mayan Ruins:

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.

Valladolid with kids children ek balam pyramid climb steps

Valladolid with kids children ek balam acropolis steps up

Valladolid with kids children ek balam snake mouth entrance

Boat rides:

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.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun secret lake

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Travel with children kids mexico rio lagartos boat tour

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.

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum steam train

Festivals:

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.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua festival

Travel with children kids mexico merida sunday market plaza grande toys

Travel with children kids mexico merida pinata shopping

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Travel with children kids mexico merida oaxacan festival

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.

Travel with children kids mexico valladolid sound light show

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Practical Tips for Travelling with Kids (and Adults) on the Yucatan Peninsular, Mexico

Tips and hints for travelling with babies and children in Mexico

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Some parents might worry about taking their children to Mexico, because of safety and the necessary preventative vaccines, although there has been much progress and thankfully the country has recently been Malaria free. Despite this it is worth checking what is essential well before you travel.

The country is vibrant and exotic and there are some jabs recommended by the heath authorities, including tetanus, polio and diphtheria. Some people assume that Malaria tablets need to be taken as a cautionary measure but we were ensured that the risk is very low and we did not need to take any.

Travel with children kids mexico merida sunday market plaza grande puppets

In Yucatan we also found there is no need to worry about safety. Police are ever present which does not necessarily mean a place is safe, however from our experience walking around the streets and villages, even at night, no one approached us and we never once felt uncomfortable. If this still does not convince you, there are plenty of big scale hotel complexes that you would not even need to leave, and safety there is one of their highest priorities. We saw plenty of families, even with the smallest of children and babies during our stay there.

In this post my aim is to give parents an idea of what to expect and some of the key facts that most guidebooks do not mention, especially if you travel on your own itinerary as we prefer to do.

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Baby Food:

I would always advise to bring a certain amount of baby food with you, at least for the first 48 hours, until you have settled and found the closest supermarkets. Local corner shops and convenience stores will almost certainly not have any baby food as they only sell drinks, crisps and in some cases a small selection of fruit and vegetables. Larger supermarkets in the bigger towns will have baby food, but do not expect the same brands or tastes that you are used to back home.
Milk and Breastfeeding:

Mexico has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Latin America. The government has tried to encourage mother there to breastfeed more. Despite this most Mexicans will not bat an eye at someone doing it in public and you are probably more likely to get stares from fellow travellers. As always recommended try not to do it too publicly, cover yourself or find a quiet corner away from prying eyes.

Milk formulas are popular in Mexico and available in supermarkets and some pharmacies. Again, like baby food the same brand of formula might not be available so if your baby is really fussy about what it drinks bring your own. Always use bottled or cooled boiled water for the formula or baby drinks, as the tap water is not always safe for babies! For adults the water is safe enough for basic use but we found it rather chlorinated and not ideal for drinking.

Drinks for Babies and Children:

Mexicans love sugary drinks, you might have read that a sugar tax was introduced in 2014. Unlike in many European countries we found it almost impossible to get healthy drinks in the corner stores apart from still water. We found most of the ice cream stalls, cafes and some shops sold fresh pressed juices though. Many of the ice cream shops had amazing ice lollies made from pure juice that children will love. Another popular drink is agau fresca, a refreshing drink that can be found in restaurants, taco stands and street stalls. Agua frescas are usually made of water and juice and some might contain sugar, I would therefore recommend asking before ordering how they make it if you are concerned. In tourist centres bottled water is mostly used for ice, but elsewhere it is likely to be tap water although we took ice in drinks with no problems anywhere.

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Food for Older Children:

We always assumed Mexican food would be rather spicy but we found this not always to be the case. In restaurants we were usually offered the chillies and spicy sauces as extras on the side, especially when ordering tacos and other wraps. Jerome enjoyed eating various tacos with meat fillings, Sopa de Lima (a slightly sour soup with chicken), some kids also might like the black beans that are served with many dishes. Of course all children will love the fresh local fruit, which can be purchased at many market stalls or even from roadside stands all over the country. A lot of restaurants we went to also served western influenced dishes like steak and fries so finding food to suit even conservative tastes should be no issue. We did not see many children’s menus, but most hosts we found would be happy to serve smaller portions or adapt dishes to taste.  Sometimes sharing the food between everyone was a great way not to over order and to try the many flavours available.

Convenience and corner stores, which are found all over Mexico, sell mainly snacks like crisps and soft drinks. Unfortunately they are not a great option to pick up some basic food unlike in other countries as their selections are very restricted. Mexicans still buy their fruit and vegetables at streets stalls or the local markets, which can be found in all larger villages/towns and then buy dry goods from the larger super markets.

Supermarkets offer a wide range of groceries, dry goods and every day basics. Sadly though, they sell much less fresh food, unless you visit a superstore.

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Nappies and other baby essentials:

I would advise you to take enough of a supply of nappies etc. with you to last at least two or three days.   Nappies and other baby essentials, like wipes, can be found at drugstores and larger supermarkets in Mexico so you should have no trouble finding what you need, although brands may differ.

Should you take a pushchair or baby carrier?

Navigating the narrow uneven pavements of Mexico’s cities and villages might prove a bit harder with a pushchair than you are used to. So unless you are planning to be out for most of the day and need the push chair to allow your baby to sleep it can be better to rely on a child carrier backpack or cling. I would never recommend taking a pushchair to the beach or the Mayan sights as they are hard to get around. A baby sling/carrier or back pack carrier is therefore always useful to have and can come in handy at the airport if you have to check in your pushchair, or if you plan to visit any of the Mayan sights, explore the towns and villages or other sights that might have a lot of steps.

I would not bring a car seat in case you are planning to hire a car, you can rent one for a small fee with no problem but do book it in advance.

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Public toilets:

Public toilets basically are uncommon on the Yucatan Peninsular, locals typically will take a coffee or drink as a way to access a café facilities. Saying that, at tourist sights you will find toilets by the entrance. We found these to be fairly clean most of the time if a bit basic. Restaurants, market halls and major bus stations will also have toilets. On the beaches or at cenotes, depending on where you are you might/or might not find public facilities. If you are planning on going for a boat ride to explore the nature reserves make sure that your child goes beforehand as there most likely will not be able to go during the ride.

Baby changing facilities:

Do not expect any baby rooms at any of the sights or places to visit. It will be useful to bring a travel-changing mat alongside your changing bag and all your changing things.

Travel with children kids mexico tizimin school

Entry to sights and travel tickets with children:

In many places and on most transport young children and school students will get free or reduced entry/tickets. Depending on the age children might get free or reduced entry to most sights.

Where to stay:

Yucatan offers a wide range of accommodation. If you travel with children it might be easiest to rent an apartment on Airbnb or similar websites, this is usually a great option in terms of value for money and space. It has the advantage of flexible travel and you can cater to your child’s tastes, plus have the advantage of separate rooms, albeit for the loss of service.   You should be able to find plenty of hotel options, especially along the Caribbean coast. There are plenty of large scale resorts, some specifically cater to families, if this is not your cup of tea, go for smaller hotels in the smaller towns or villages, but make sure they will provide beds/cots for children/babies. Older children might also enjoy the option of sleeping in a hammock, which is both comfortable and fun too.  A few hotels are adults only so also check this before you book.

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travel with kids children mexico playa del carmen hotel hm

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen hotel hm suite

Akumal, Mexico | Swimming and Snorkelling with Turtles

Our magical experience of swimming with turtels on Akumal beach

 

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Who has not dreamed of snorkelling or swimming with turtles in the open sea? When I read that this was possible on Akumal beach before coming on our trip to Yucatan, I had put it on our list of must do. Jerome has been somewhat obsessed by sea life and seeing fish while snorkelling in the last couple of years. Turtles are one of those creatures that have fascinated us all though and Jerome was lucky enough to spot some small ones when we were in the Maldives the previous year, but that was the only time we had seen them in the wild so far.

Akumal is a small fishing village on the Riviera Maya, half way between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It is one of the rare places that has still kept its charm along the coast, probably because of it is popularity with local Mexicans. We were told to avoid the beach on the weekends for just this reason as the local population flocks to Akumal on Saturday and Sunday to spend their free time on the beach. Bus tours are not allowed to come down to the beach, due to the lack of parking, narrow roads plus the risk of overcrowding and for the safety of the turtles. Turtles love this spot because of the sea grass on the seafloor on which they feed.

It took us about half an hour to drive over from Playa del Carmen. As soon as we approached the centre of Akumal we were pestered by guides to park in one of the parking lots along the road in the village. We had decided, rather than going to the main beach at Akumal that we would try our luck on the beach to the left of Akumal main beach called Half Moon Bay. The road let us along the back of the coast, past colourful apartment blocks. We crossed a security gate, but no one seemed to ask us any questions or care about us driving along this road. Past Restaurant La Lunita we found a spot, next to an unused, overgrown lot where it was possible to walk along a narrow path to the beach. We were able to park our car right in front and took our belongings to the beach.

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

The sand was powdery white and on the edge of the water there were all kinds of dead coral lying around. There was no one around apart from a couple who lazed on sun loungers at one of the apartment buildings further along and an occasional jogger from one of the houses. We could spot two snorkelers far out at the edge of the reef. The boys were super excited and could not wait to get into the sea hoping to spot colourful reef fish and turtles. I stayed on the beach, watching our clothes and valuables, just in case. The sea was very calm compared to the day before at Tulum as the reef protected the bay. Now and again I looked if I could see them swimming, at times they were so far out that I could not spot them anymore. After what seemed like ages to me, reading on the beach, the boys returned. They looked a bit disappointed, no turtles in sight but there were a lot of interesting fishes between the coral.

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

We were hungry and Restaurant La Lunita seemed the obvious place to go for lunch. On the way there we passed a section on the beach, which was marked as a nesting area for the turtles. So the turtles did come there to lay their eggs. Restaurant La Lunita had a great spot, just above the beach, with tables and chairs in the sand. The menu offered a selection of Mexican dishes, including ceviche, but also some international options like burgers, which is what the hungry boys went for. I took the black shrimp ceviche, which was delicious and more than enough as a main course.

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

After lunch we walked back to the car and drove over to main Akumal beach in order to see if we would be luckier in spotting turtles there. We parked the car in one of the car parks we had avoided that morning and paid 100 pesos to the guard. We strolled down, past shops and hotels to the beach. There was a huge sign informing us about wildlife refuge area here in Akumal. It showed us pictures of the three different turtles that can be found in the sea. It also mentioned other marine species, which are under protection, like corals and even some sea grass species. The sand felt rather hard, more like concrete and not ideallic like the beach in the morning. We found a free space in the shade of the palm trees and laid down our blankets. We could see a cordoned off area in the sea heaving with snorkels and people everywhere.

Again, the boys went into the water first, swimming out next to the cordoned off area. Jerome came back out after a few minutes to tell me that there were turtles everywhere. Of course I wanted to go in and see them as well. Chris came out to swap with me, but first I got a life vest from the dive shop next behind us. In fact the various stalls encourage all visitors to hire a vest before going in the water. Jerome and Chris are amazing swimmers, even though I am able to swim for quite a time I feel more comfortable if I have some buoyancy. Chris also told me that one of the guides of one of the snorkelling groups had told them off for not wearing one. Apparently they are obligatory on the beach here as it stops stupid tourists diving down to touch the creatures and other marine wild life, which given some tourists, it is probably a good rule even if the hire prices seem expensive.

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

I put on my vest and waded into the warm seawater. I could see patches of sea grass underneath, Jerome asked me to follow him. I could not believe my eyes, a few meters in, I could have probably still comfortably stood there with my head above water, and I was able to see them gliding though the clear sea. The turtles would dive down to the sea grass, feast on the leaves. When they needed oxygen, they would just swim up to the surface of the sea, gaping for air, their heads above water and then immediately back down again. It looked rather funny, their heads popping out of the water every now and again. There were smaller turtles and a few big ones with feeder fish on top of their shells. Most surprisingly they were completely oblivious to the masses of people around them. I guess they were so used to being surrounded by us humans. This still does not give us the permission to touch or feed them. We could see that some tourists ignored the rules of keeping distance to the animals and tried to touch them or get too close. Guides were around and would police the activity.

There are three types of sea turtles that can be found in the area, Green, Lockerhead and Hawksbill. We were only able to spot the first two. I wish I could have taken photos of them, but unfortunately we had forgotten to pack our Go-pro camera when we left Merida after charging it overnight and therefore were unable to take photos of these amazing creatures. Jerome was over the moon to see so many of the turtles and he could have stayed for hours in the sea watching them. Even small children would enjoy seeing them, even if they cannot wear a snorkel they should still be able to see them through the water’s surface or with goggles on. As I mentioned earlier you also do not have to go very far into the sea in order to be able to watch them swim around and feed.

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Time seemed to fly by really fast while we watched these incredible animals. I had to return my life vest before 17:00 and then we went back to our car. At the car park we bought some fresh coconuts to drink on the ride home to Playa del Carmen.

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

Travel with children mexico akumal turtle beach

travel with kids children mexico akumal fresh coconut

Sadly I spent our last evening here in Mexico in bed, we think I had caught food poisoning from eating the raw shrimps at lunch time, but we cannot be sure, it is always a small risk with travel. It was bad – I felt freezing cold at first, which by the middle of the night turned into sweating. Chris and Jerome got me a fever thermometer from one of the late night pharmacies and I had a fever of 40C. The fever ran until I boarded the plane the next day for our flight home, I still do not know how I found the energy to get up and go to the airport, thanks to some Immodium and Paracetamol I lasted the flight home. I was maybe the first time I ever slept on the plane, ever.

Despite this end to our holiday we loved our time on the Yucatan peninsular, especially our time in Valladolid. We cannot wait to go back sometime and explore more of the beautiful Mexican country.

Tulum, Mexico | The Mayan Ruins and an Afternoon on the Beach in Tulum

Our visit to the Mayan ruins at Tulum and an afternoon on the beach

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For the day ahead we had planned a visit to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, followed by the afternoon on the beach. We had realised on our visits to Chichen Itza and Ek Balam that it was important to be at the ruins at just after opening if we wanted to be through the site before the crowds of tour buses. We therefore got up fairly early to have breakfast at our hotel, the HM Playa del Carmen. After our stay in the Airbnb villa in Merida we were glad of the large selection of hot and cold food at the breakfast buffet. Even though I would have loved to enjoy my cup of coffee on the balcony outside for a little while longer I knew that we had to make a move to get to Tulum before the big bus tours arrived as it is possibly the most popular Yucatan site.

We drove back along the coastal road we came the day before on our way over from Merida. It took us about half an hour to reach the car park at the ruins and there were already a few cars parked. Even this early, vendors had already set up their souvenir stalls for the day ahead. We picked up an information leaflet about tours that was handed to us at the road that led us to the sites entrance. Children will love a ride on the shuttle train that goes from the car park to the entrance every few minutes. We did not want to wait, even though Jerome probably would have enjoyed the short ride. The queue for tickets was already surprisingly long but moved quickly. We animatedly watched a tame coati walk between the queuing people, I think Jerome was quite keen on getting closer to it as it was really cute. One of the guards told us not to touch or feed them though as they do sometimes bite.

Travel with children kids mexico tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

The Mayan ruins of Tulum must have been an important port town during its heyday. Archaeologists believe that the Mayans must have sailed up and down the coastline and maintained trading routes all the way down to Belize. The city must have once served as a fortress, surrounded by ramparts on three sides (with the forth side the sea). We could see parts of these walls, which were several meters thick and between three and five meters high and to get onto the main ground of the site we walked through a hole in the wall.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Most residents of Tulum used to live outside of these walls and the ceremonial buildings and palaces we visited there were only for the ruling class. We very much liked the Tulum ruins for its location on the rugged coastline, the little beaches in between parts of the buildings and its smaller size of the overall site. It might be the best place to introduce Mayan culture to your little ones here, rather than being overwhelmed by the size of Chichen Itza or some of the other ruins. Also if the beaches are not closed off, which they were during our visit due to turtle nesting season and strong winds, you would be able to spend some play time in the sand as a break mid-tour. Make sure to bring something to drink and eat though as there is not opportunity to buy these on or near the beach or in the site. There are plenty of narrow paths, which can be fun to walk and run along, providing the crowds let you. Jerome also liked spotting the iguanas in the weirdest of places on the rocks and ruins.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

At the heart of the complex we saw the El Castillo, the tallest structure of Tulum. On its wall we could see the God in the middle of the façade and the serpents, which reminded us of Chichen Itza. We walked along the back of El Castillo, the rough jade-green sea beneath us, to the spot where we got the famous view of the Templo del Dios Viento. Another note worthy building is the Templo de las Pinturas where we could just about make out some of the beautiful murals rescued by the archaeologists, besides seeing the columns and carvings on the outside of the temple.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

The stream of visitors started to increase at a rapid pace as we returned through the ruins, with some of the early bus tours arriving. We then walked back to the car and drove into Tulum. Tulum is divided into two zones, the old town centre which feels more like a truck stop as it is located along the highway, the other part is the Zona Hotelera, along the coast. We headed here first as we wanted to find a quiet beach and a place for lunch. We had read in one of the guidebooks that the Reserva de Biosfera Sian Ka’an would be an off the beaten track place to visit in the area. After we left the long stretch of posh and eco hotels behind us, we found ourselves on a dirt track with one pothole after another. Jerome thought it was funny as Chris drove through the water filled holes, not knowing how deep they would be and making our car jump at times. We kept looking out for a watchtower that would supposedly give us a great view of the reserve, which consists of jungle, mangroves and a vast lake separated only by a few meters of land with the sea. We never found the tower, even though we drove along the road until after the end of the lake, which by the way cannot be seen from the car and only be accessed at one or two points from the road.

travel with children kids mexico tulum playa beach

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

In the end we found a deserted abandoned beach bar/restaurant. We ignored the Do Not Enter signs as there was literally no soul around and it was not properly fenced off. We went for a brief break on the beach. The sand here was powder fine but we could see that no human had been on the beach for a long time. There were dead coconuts and palm leaves everywhere but they did not spoil our break.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

travel with children kids mexico tulum playa beach

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins

We had noticed, like on our drive to Playa del Carmen the day before, that it was almost impossible to go to the beach unless you were in a hotel complex or restaurant. This really had started to annoy us about this coast. It was the same thing in Tulum and here, on our drive back, we saw most of the land behind the beaches fenced off, some of the grounds belonged to huge villas, others to hotels. When we arrived back at the Zona Hotelera we stopped at the Italian restaurant, Posada Margerita, as Jerome did not want to face another Mexican meal. We took our seats outside on the terrace, overlooking the beach and sunbeds. The restaurant had a very rustic feel, but in an arty way with lots of old doors and windows made into the front of the building. I must say we were quite a bit shocked when we saw the prices for a pasta dish, averaging at 20US$, we felt more like being back at home in London rather than being in Mexico. Everywhere else where we had stayed, the three of us ate for the same price of one dishes here at Posada Margerita. I have to say that Tulum in general felt like a rip off, I had originally wanted to book a hotel here but they were so expensive in comparison to other places on the Riviera Maya and Cancun coast so do research any stay you plan carefully. Most of the time the prices did not even seem justified. I am normally more than happy to book a luxury hotel and pay the price for it but not when it feels like I get a beach cabana with no air conditioning.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Anyway, the plate of pasta was generous and delicious and the sea view definitely made up for the disappointment about the higher prices. After lunch we ordered another jug of agua fresca and took it down to one of the beach beds. I am conscious of the fact that if we would have gone somewhere else we probably would have needed to pay to get a sunbed, so it was not all that bad in the end. The sea that day was quite rough, too rough for my liking but Jerome and Chris spent hours braving the waves and hand surfing. It made a great break from all the sightseeing in the past week.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

We drove into the old town centre after having spent most of the afternoon on the beach at Posada Margerita. The village of Tulum felt more like a busy motorway junction and was not a place we wanted to linger for long. On both sides of the highway we found plenty of eateries and shops that were charging ridiculous prices for their souvenirs compared to other places we had been to. Even Playa del Carmen seemed more reasonably priced than Tulum. It was interesting to see the contrast of the posh hotel zone along the beach and the grubby village centre though. We much preferred our little hotel HM in Playa del Carmen.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Having said that, Playa del Carmen is not the small and quaint fishing village it once was. The town has fallen into the hands of the builders and big tour companies, with large scale projects, converting it into another tourist hub, where it is all about sports bars, condos, shopping centres and chain hotels and holiday apartment blocks catering to mostly cheap and cheerful US tastes. It surely is a place where people go to be seen, rather than an off the beaten track place where we normally like to stay. For us our hotel was an excellent choice there, we also went back to the Venezuelan restaurant Kaxapa, where we had another delicious dinner, a highlight of good food away from the middle of the glitz.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico | Xcacel, an Off the Beaten Track beach along the Yucatan Coast

Our drive from Merida to Playa del Carmen with a stop on the beach at Xcacel

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We left Merida and our beautiful Airbnb house behind us heading back to the other side of the Yucatan. There were parts of our stay in Merida that we had loved, the market and Day of the Dead celebrations especially. On the other hand, we felt Merida was rather too busy and hectic for a relaxing holiday. We much preferred our time in the more laidback town of Valladolid.

We drove towards our last stop on our autumn holiday, Playa Del Carmen, where we would stay for three nights before heading back home to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  Most of the drive was uneventful; we stopped in Valladolid at our favourite restaurant there, Yerbabuena for a delicious healthy lunch in their back garden. The rest of the drive to Tulum we did not see much, apart from the odd village along the long straight road through the jungle.

When we got closer to Tulum we saw many souvenir and craft shops on the roadside. Giant dream catchers and blankets seemed to be the most popular items here. I now regret not having stopped to buy one of the dream catchers; one would have been the perfect accessory for our bedroom.

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen dream catcher

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen souvenir handicraft

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen altar day of the dead

Our plan for the afternoon was to go to a beach along the coast between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Once we had turned onto the coastal highway, we realised that it would not be as easy as we had thought to find a suitable beach. Most of the roads with access to the beach along the stretch of coast either belong to hotels or are private roads with security guards blocking the access. According to my research before our trip we should have been able to access the coast at Xcacel. The exit off the main road was not easy to spot though and we missed the first road luckily turning into the second one. For about 100 meters we drove down a bumpy dirt track and ended up at a hut where we had to pay a fee of 50 pesos so we could enter and park our car. There were a few caravans and mobile homes dotted around the car park, obviously a popular place with the hippie crowd and casual travellers.

The beach was almost deserted, apart from a few couples in the beach bar and a kite surfer braving the waves. We found a shady spot, where we laid out our blanket and towels. The sand was very fine and white, bringing out the turquoise colour in the water. The boys hit the sea first, Jerome was especially happy to be jumping in the waves, completely immersed in his favourite element. I am more for lazing on the beach and enjoying the sun on my white skin (always protected by suntan cream of course), especially when the sea is rough. I do recommend coming to this amazing hidden piece of Caribbean coast, away from the tourist mayhem and a great spot for building sandcastles with the little ones if you are in the area and looking to avoid the big tourist compelxes.

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen kite surfing

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach times

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach life

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach boat

After several dips in the surf, the sun started to drop behind the palms and we started to feel the wind chill making it the perfect time to move on to Playa del Carmen and to check into our hotel. First we had to queue the last kilometre into town, even here rush hour holds up the traffic at certain times a day. As soon as we stepped into hotel HM Playa del Carmen we felt at home.

travel with kids children mexico playa del carmen hotel hm

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen hotel hm suite

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen hotel hm mobile

The building surrounds the pool area on all four sides and the interior of the hotel was just to my taste. The style was modern but with Mexican traditional influence. I immediately fell in love with the Acapulco hanging chairs to either side of the pool and the giant mobiles and dream catchers made of driftwood and shells hanging around the poolside and bar. Our room was more than spacious enough, Jerome had his own little corner and the best part was the generous terrace along the length of our room. After dropping our luggage we went straight to the pool, Jerome occupying one of the hanging chairs and Chris and I enjoyed a cocktail before going out for dinner.

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen hotel hm roof terrace

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen hotel hm hammock chair

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen hotel hm

That evening was the first time for us to try Venezuelan food. We had found restaurant Kaxapa almost by accident when seeking a local place on the web and we enjoyed our dinner there so much that we came back the next evening too. That evening we went to bed fairly early in order to get up in time for an early breakfast to beat the crowds at the Mayan ruins at Tulum. More on that in my next post.

Celestun, Mexico | Lunch on the Beach, Boating through the Mangroves and Birdwatching

Lunch on the beach, followed by a boat tour to see the wild life of the lagoon

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Celestun is on the list of many travellers and locals who visit the Yucatan as it is one of the best spots to see the flamingos. We had already been lucky to spot a few of these gracious birds on our trip to Rio Lagartos during our stay in Valladolid. There literally were only a few and Jerome was desperate to see more of the pink birds and other wild life. Celestun is a sleepy fishing village to the west of Merida. The drive there took just under two hours, leading us through many villages with the last stretch through low jungle and Mangrove swamps. Before we reached the outskirts of Celestun town we crossed the bridge over the Ria (river) Celestun, in the heart of the Reserva de la Biosfera. The main tourist centre and guided boat tours leave just after the bridge on the left hand side.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun sign

Travel with children kids mexico celestun side street

Travel with children kids mexico celestun cow

We had left Merida late morning and arrived just in time to go to the beach and have lunch in one of the many restaurants that line the beachfront there. We saw a few people on the beach and in the water, the sea quite calm and with the sun shining through a thin layer of clouds. We could have changed into our swimming costumes, but we were not here to laze on the beach.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun beach boat tour

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Travel with children kids mexico celestun beach restaurant la playita

Food came first, so we chose a table in the sand under at restaurant La Playita for lunch. Jerome had fried fish with chips, Chris had calamari and I ate a delicious shrimp ceviche with avocado and tomatoes. There were locals walking around and trying to sell hammocks and pastries while we ate, which we found rather odd. Apart from the hawkers we really enjoyed our lunch, with a view of the sea and a slight breeze on our skin.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun beach restaurant

Travel with children kids mexico celestun beach restaurant la playita ceviche

Travel with children kids mexico celestun restaurant la playita

Travel with children kids mexico celestun hotel restaurant

We could have taken a guided boat tour right here from the beach, but that would have added another half an hour to the trip as they have to drive south before being able to enter the Ria Celestun and the Reserva de la Biosfera. The boat tours from here are also more expensive due to the longer tour times. Unless you want to see the coast and the beaches from the boat, I would advise you to take a guided tour from the Parador Touristico at the bridge that crosses the river Celestun. Which is where we were headed after eating. We left our car parked at the tour centre and walked along the jetty between the boats and soon enough were approached by one of the guides. He asked us if we wanted to join another group, but we told him that we would rather have a boat to ourselves instead. This is slightly more expensive, on average one person would pay around 200 pesos for the tour, we paid 1000 pesos to have the boat just for us. When Angel asked us what we would like to see, we told him, that of course we came for the flamingos, but were happy to see other birds and animals too.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun entrance hut boat ride

Travel with children kids mexico celestun boat tour egret

Travel with children kids mexico celestun tour boat

Travel with children kids mexico celestun boat tour

We sped down-river in our boat, passing others on the way. We spotted comorants and pelicans, but there were no flamingos to be seen. Our guide then steered the boat towards the edge of the river and into the underbrush of the mangroves. He said he had a surprise for us. When he tied our boat to one of the trees, we could see another, smaller boat through the trees. He went to get it and asked us to get in. This boat was just a small one and had no motor. Instead he used a long stick to punt us through the Mangroves. For a few minutes, we gently glided through the calm brownish water until we turned a corner and looked out over a vast lake.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun speed boat

Travel with children kids mexico celestun comoran

Travel with children kids mexico celestun tour guide

Here they were, at the far end we could see hundreds of flamingos slowly moving through the shallow water. We were really excited to see so many of them and felt special that the guide had taken the time and effort to show us. The guide told us that they came here to feed, as the water was calmer and there was no danger of crocodiles. He was very careful to not scare them and did not get too close. He also told us that if they get scared and flew off, they use up a lot of energy, which they would then need to make up by eating even more. Our guide in Rio Lagartos had deliberately scared them off, probably to make the tour more exciting for us. We regretted not having known before and that we should have avoided doing so. We told Angel about our boat tour in Rio Lagartos and he said that the flamingos migrate to Rio Lagartos in February for mating season. The rest of the time they mainly spend here in the lagoons, hidden away.

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Travel with children kids mexico celestun secret lake

Angel rowed us back to the speedboat and we transferred back into the bigger boat, we then turned around, up the river and under the road bridge near the parking. The water was quiet high against the bridge, as the tide was coming in and therefore we had to slow down to get underneath.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun boat tour spoon bill

Travel with children kids mexico celestun boat tour pelikans

Once through we sped up again and ended up in the famous mangrove tunnel, part of every tour. The mangroves here have left a tunnel just high enough for the boats to glide through. Quite eerie, as it was a lot darker in the tunnel, due to the thick growth of the trees and the leaves. The guide showed us huge termite nests up in the branches of the trees, there were a lot of them. We also spotted a kingfisher ahead, one of Jerome’s favourite birds. These tiny birds are quite hard to see and whenever the boat got too close it flew away.  Other small birds were in the trees and if you looked carefully you could see some small frogs.

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We moved on to see one of the freshwater springs, called ojos de agua that rise under the swamp. The boat stopped at a jetty, where a wooden walkway led us into the trees, about a meter above the water line. At the end we found what looked like a pond, where we could see water pushing up and breaking through the still water’s surface. There is no surface water on the Yucatan peninsular due to the calcareous nature of the rocks, the natural incline of the strata pushes the water towards the coast in form of underground lakes. Here at Ria Celestun and Rio Lagartos the water rises in what is known as ojos de agua and form fresh water sources for the lagoons. It was certainly something we had never seen before. Normally tour guests are allowed to swim in the freshwater lake but the fast high tide coming in merged the murky brown water with the freshwater and the guide did not recommend going in. On the short walk back to our boat we spotted another kingfisher between one of the mangrove roots, this time I got lucky and actually got a useable photo of it.

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Just after we got back in the boat our guide suddenly slowed and steered the boat close to the trees and he pointed out a boa constrictor to us, lying in the tree branches, completely unfazed by us looking at him. It could have been quite scary to be so close to a snake, but Jerome thought it was cool.

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All in all, we were very glad to have taken this extra tour in addition to the one we had already completed in Rio Lagartos. It was well worth the additional money and the guide Angel had given us a brilliant insight into the biosphere of the lagoon. We also saw many different animals and birds compared to our visit in Rio Lagartos, not only the snake and kingfishers but also birds such as spoonbills that we had not seen in the wild before. We were very pleased and happy to have come, especially Jerome.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun boat tour routa flamingo

Travel with children kids mexico progreso hut

Travel with children kids mexico celestun huipiles

On our drive back to Merida, we stopped in one of the villages along the road. Chris bought some oranges from a stall and I bought a traditionally embroidered top from a lovely old lady who sold her items in her front yard. The day was an excellent end to our visit to the Merida area of the Yucatan.

Izamal, Mexico |The Train Museum and the Yellow City of Izamal

Old trains at the museum and a visit to the convent and pyramid of Izamal

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Since Jerome was little he has been obsessed with trains and when I did my research for this trip to Merida, I had discovered that there is a train museum near the old train station. Originally, we had wanted to visit the museum the day before but it is closed on Sundays.

Our plan for the day ahead was to visit the yellow town of Izamal but before we drove that way we visited the train museum. We were there for 10:00, just at opening time and therefore we were the first visitors that day. To call this train museum, a museum in our opinion is a bit of an exaggeration, as it looked more like a train graveyard! The closer we got to the trains the more you could see how old and decaying they were. There were plenty of them, mostly diesel engines but also a few old-fashioned steam trains. Some had their history inside on a plaque but most sat rusting on the sidings in the long grass.

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum steam train

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum diesel

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum carriage

Jerome liked to climb up the sides of the trains to have a look into the driver’s cabin. We walked through, what once must have been a luxury passenger trailer, the leather seats in bad condition and too dirty, to even consider sitting down. The air in the trailer was hot and sticky, we were barely able to breath and therefore did not linger much longer. Back outside we walked between other trains engines, some so rusty that we thought they would most likely collapse in the near future. It was such a shame to see the trains in such bad condition, but Jerome enjoyed seeing them anyway, as they were very different to the trains he had seen before in Europe and Japan, plus the chance to climb over them at will undisturbed is unusual in a museum. We do hope that a train lover with a lot of money might turn up and pour some funds into the upkeep of the museum one day before the rust gets much worse.

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum rust

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum graffiti

Back in our car we made our way east, towards Izamal. The first bit outside Merida we drove on the dual carriage but we left the main road at Hoctun and drove through many little villages. One of the villages, Kimbila, is famous for its traditional embroidery. There were plenty of shops with huipiles (traditional dresses) in the shop windows but they did not look very attractive to me. I had already bought a few huipiles for myself and decided that I preferred to buy them off a street or market stall, rather than a formal shop.

Once we reached the outskirts of Izamal we immediately understood why the town is called “La Ciuada Amarilla (The yellow city). The houses were all painted in a sunflower yellow hue. They made a great contrast against the blue sky and were a pleasure to look at and take photos. Izamal used to be the centre of worship for a Mayan sun god, in ancient times.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal streets

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal architecture

We parked our car on the side of the main road shortly before we got to the town centre. We walked the last few blocks into Izamal. When we reached the plaza, we realised that there must have been a fiesta later on that day. There were food stalls, carousels and other fairground rides, plus the colourful bunting we had seen as part of celebrations in Valladolid, hung over the main plaza. The stalls and rides were all still closed but we could see some of the owners relaxing on the benches or chairs next to them.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal festival

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua

We walked on to the most dominant building of Izamal, the convent de San Antonio de Padua. The Mayan temple on which the convent was built was destroyed when the Spaniards conquered Izamal. The convent’s buildings were built with stone from a major Mayan temple that once stood on its site. Even nowadays if you look closely enough you can spot stone’s under the arcades with a maze like design. When we walked up the steps to the middle of the entrance of the convent, we could see the beautiful arches that surround the monastery on three sides.

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Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua

Inside the grounds we found a large grass area and on the opposite side of the main entrance a church and other smaller buildings belonging to the convent. The church unfortunately was closed when we visited due to renovations. We did have a look into the little courtyard behind though, where we found an interesting sundial to one side of the roof. Back outside in the large courtyard we saw some nuns in their black tunic and veils walking by.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua church

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua candles

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua courtyard

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua nun

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua huipil

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua

We strolled down the northern side exit and through the maze of closed fairground stalls and rides, although one enterprising stall owner demonstrated his Mexican tombola to Jerome for a few pesos. We walked along Calle 30, where we stopped now and again to pop into one of the many craft shops here in Izamal. We had lunch at Restaurant Kimich Izamal where we ate a variety of Yucatecan cuisines. The food tasted good but we felt it was overpriced with a definite big group tourist feel.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua festival

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal festival ride

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal local bar

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal streets

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal local bike

After lunch we went to see Kinich-Kakmo, one of the five remaining pyramids that used to dominate the town. There used to be twelve in total, but the other seven pyramids were all destroyed by the Spaniards. Kinich-Kakmo was dedicated to the sun and fire god and is the most impressive of the remaining pyramids. At 34 meters in height, it is the third highest pyramid on the Yucatan peninsular. The best thing about the Kinich-Kakmo pyramid was that we were able to climb it for free, all the way to the top. Be careful though the steps are irregular, as many stones are missing or damaged. Also bring some water to quench your thirst once you have reached the top in the Mexican heat. On the lower level of the pyramid some trees have grown between the stones though and they provide a welcoming shade and make a great place for a picnic.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal kinich kakmo pyramid

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal kinich kakmo pyramid

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal kinich kakmo pyramid

From the top of Kinich-Kakmo pyramid we had an amazing panoramic view. We could see the yellow houses below, the convent on the hill ahead and lush green jungle surrounding the town with the odd water tower popping up in between.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal kinich kakmo pyramid view

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal kinich kakmo pyramid view

Back down on the cobbled streets we walked towards the convent and turned left in front of it, past the colourful waiting horse carts. If you walk along Calle 26 you will find another pyramid, the Pyramide de Itzamul. We skipped this one and walked around the back of the monastery, where we realised that the building was not completely painted in the yellow hue as the rest of the town. Shortly after we got to the archaeological site of Habuk Izamal, which as Jerome put it, was just another pile of old stones and in this case we had to agree. Still Chris and I walked around the site but it was rather small. We could feel that Jerome was bored and exhausted by the heat. We had thought there might be a cenote to cool off but there was none in town.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal horse carts

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal street decoration

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convent

Jerome would have loved to stay on in Izamal to go to the festival, which was part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. We did not want to wait for hours though as the festival would not start until the early evening and therefore drove back towards Merida.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal plaza festival decoration

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal street decoration colourful bunting

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal street decoration bunting

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal street decoration locals

For the route back to Merida we chose the slower route along the 180 through the villages of Cacalchen and Tixcokob. In the centre of Cacalchen, the next big village outside Izamal we spotted a tiny sign with CENOTE hand written on it. We made the quick decision to follow the sign and go for a swim. The road turned into a dirt track and we wondered if we were going the right way. Sure enough, we came to a stone with the name of the Cenote, San Fancisco. It felt like driving down someone’s backyard. At the end we found a little hut and a small group of locals. We paid 20 pesos each and descended a wire staircase into a whole in the ground. At the bottom we found a surprisingly large underground lake, which was lit up by light bulbs. Jerome was very excited about getting into the water as it felt a bit like a secret discovery. It was not easy to get into the lake though as there was only one slippery step, but once we were in it felt very refreshing and the light in the cave and under water was beautiful. Jerome stayed in the longest, I felt cold almost immediately. Back upstairs the guard asked us if we had enjoyed our swim and where we come from. We think that not many tourists visit this hidden gem of a cenote, as it is not marked on any map or in any of the guidebooks as far as we know.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal cacalchen cenote

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal cenote cacalchen

When we returned to the centre of town we saw some children flying their kites on the village green. Children flying their kites was common sight here in Yucatan we had noticed, we even saw a boy in Valladolid who sat on the rooftop of a house with the kite so high up in the sky that it was literally the tiniest of red dot.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal cacalchen kite flying

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal cacalchen kite flying

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal cacalchen locals

Izamal is one of the 111 villages that have been promoted by the Mexican government to offer visitors a magical experience. We definitely agree that it was one of the most beautiful places we had visited on our trip through the peninsular and is worth the detour from Merida.