CANCUN, Mexico -- A vacation takes on a whole new meaning here,
where families can combine activities such as beach time, golf and
shopping with visits to historical attractions and parks.
The following sites and activities are geared to visitors of all
ages, but especially to families with young children who need to be
One of the region's premier ecological parks, Xcaret offers
families a chance to interact with nature and experience Mayan
For more than a millennium, it served as a ceremonial and port
center for the Mayas. Today, families come here to swim with
dolphins, visit the Coral Reef Aquarium, scuba dive with exotic
fish and snorkel through underground rivers.
When night falls, Xcaret's El Gran Tlachco arena puts on a show
featuring the ancient Mayan ball games of Ulama and Ball of Fire, a
traditional Mayan festival and a folkloric ballet.
Admission is $49 for adults and $24.50 for children ages 5 to
12. The cost includes the entrance fee, access to all attractions
and shows, the services of a tour guide and roundtrip
transportation from Xcaret's bus center, located across from Plaza
Caracol. The buses return to Cancun at 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.xcaretcancun.com.
Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha) means "where the water is born" in
Mayan. Xel-Ha is on the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula,
about 75 miles south of Cancun.
Its 22 acres of lagoons, coves and inlets carved into the
surrounding limestone make Xel-Ha a popular snorkeling destination,
and trips here often are combined with a visit to the Mayan city of
Tulum, about seven miles south. In ancient times, Xel-Ha was a
sacred city in which rituals and dances to the different gods of
Mayan mythology took place.
One of the favorite activities here is floating on inner tubes
down a river that begins in a spring in the mangroves. You can stop
along the way to hike or snorkel. Xel-Ha also features several
freshwater cenotes and small beaches lined with hammocks. There
also is an area where visitors can swim with dolphins. Admission is
$25 weekdays and $19 on the weekend. Children ages 5 to 11 pay $13
and $10, respectively.
Visit www.xelha.com.mx for more information.
Coba and Pac-Chen
Alltournative, a local operator, takes visitors to two sites in
the heart of the Yucatan jungle: the Coba archaeological site and
Pac-Chen, a self-sufficient community of close to 100 indigenous
The first stop is the ancestral city of Coba, a recently opened
archaeological site hidden deep inside the rain forest of the
southeastern Yucatan. Visitors can climb the Nohoch Muul temple for
a view of the surrounding rain forest.
The trip continues to the Mayan village of Pac-Chen, where
visitors are invited into villagers' homes. The visit includes a
45-foot rappel into one of the area's famous cenotes (sinkholes)
for swimming; canoeing on a lake; and eating a lunch prepared by
The trip costs $84 for adults and $58 for children ages 10 to 12
(children under age 10 are not allowed). The cost includes
transportation to and from the hotel zone; canoeing and rappelling
equipment; entrance fees; lunch/drinks; and multilingual guides.
Visit www.alltournative.com for more information.
Families can expand their knowledge of Mayan culture with a trip
to Tulum, an hour's ride from Cancun.
With the Caribbean Sea serving as a backdrop, visitors can
explore this former Mayan trade center. Attractions include El
Castillo, a pyramid experts believe once served as a lighthouse;
Temple of the Frescos, where traces of colors still remain; and
Temple of the Dios Decendente, believed to have served as a way
station for the gods.
There's also a market for souvenirs and authentic Mexican fare.
Admission is about $2.50 per person.
Visit www.cancun.info for more information.
The King's Ruins
Cancun has its own Mayan ruins, a small site in the heart of the
Hotel Zone called Ruinas del Rey (the King's Ruins). Although it's
less impressive than the ruins at Tulum or Coba, it's worth a
visit, especially for clients who don't want to venture from the
immediate area. The site is believed to have been built by Mayan
fishermen as a ceremonial center and also as an astronomy
The platforms of several small temples are visible amid the
banana plants, papayas and wildflowers. The Hilton Cancun hotel's
golf course was built around the ruins, but there is a separate
entrance for visitors. The site is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is $3 weekdays and free on Sundays.
Visit www.cancun.info for more information.
AquaWorld, a local operator, offers a number of water-themed
tours that include scuba diving, snorkeling and mangrove treks. As
part of its tours, the company provides Aqua Ray personal
watercraft that enable visitors to explore Cancun's dense mangrove
system in the company of guides.
The firm offers commissionable scuba-diving packages that
include accommodations at the Park Royal Hotel in Cancun. A
five-night package costs from $787 for one person through Dec. 20.
It includes daily dives in and around Cancun, including dives in
cenotes and night dives.
AquaWorld's daily tours are priced separately. A mangrove tour,
for example, costs $41 per person. Tour participants must be 16
years old to drive the Aqua Ray and at least 5 years old to ride as
Visit www.aquaworld.com.mx for more information.
For a shopping adventure in the heart of the Hotel Zone, clients
can visit La Isla Shopping Village. La Isla is Cancun's newest
shopping center and includes a number of family-friendly
Designed to resemble a Caribbean village, it features 120 shops,
including internationally known boutiques and jewelers, plus a
movie theater with several screens.
Families can choose from numerous restaurants, including
American favorites such as Chili's, Johnny Rockets and McDonald's,
in addition to local favorites such as La Casa de las Margaritas
and El Arca.
For kids, La Isla features a number of attractions that promise
"authentic" Mexican and Mayan culture.
Children can explore Maya Aventura, an interactive attraction
that includes a labyrinth that re-creates stages of Mayan
civilization. Other kid-friendly attractions include an aquarium, a
climbing wall and a "haunted house."
El Garrafon Park on nearby Isla Mujeres makes a nice day-trip
destination. A 40-minute ferry ride from the pier at Puerto Juarez,
El Garrafon is located on the southernmost tip of the island and is
known for excellent snorkeling and diving.
At the park, visitors can follow the reef snorkeling trail,
scuba dive, "fly" high above the water on a zip line, kayak the
reef, take in the views from any vantage point along the numerous
hiking paths or enjoy a meal at a seaside restaurant.
Speaking of dining, the kids can play pirate for a day aboard a
dinner cruise offered by Pirate's Night Adventure.
Visit www.garrafon.com for more information.