Forty miles south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula is Playa del Carmen, a former fishing village. Go South 90 miles through beach, jungle, and mangrove and you'll run into the laid-back town of Tulum. Along the way you'll see mostly family-friendly all-inclusive resorts.
With the help of a guide, learn about the fascinating Mayan architectural ruins of Tulum. Climb the former walled city's ceremonial buildings, including the Temple of the Descending Gods and El Castillo, perched on a cliff above the sea (mexicokantours.com/lang-en/tulum-tours.html). Take a dip in the water when the weather gets too warm; the beach is one of the prettiest in the Caribbean. Don't miss the valodores (flyers), men dressed in vibrant costumes and suspended from 150-foot poles by ropes tied to their ankles. Another highlight: the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO Heritage Site that's home to sea turtles and hundreds of bird species; families can kayak its wetlands (cesiak.org). For more fun with nature, snorkel at Xel-Ha, the largest natural aquarium in the world (xelha.com), or see stalactites and stalagmites up-close in the wondrous caves of Aktun Chen (aktunchen.com). Back in Playa del Carmen, head to Quinto Avenida to pick up a pareo sarong or a hanging lantern made from coconut.
Where to Stay
The 284-room Sandos Playacar Beach Resort has six restaurants, four pools, a video game room, tennis courts, and a teen club (sandoshotels.com). A seven-night, all-inclusive promotion starts at $1,617 for two adults and two kids under 12 years in same room. (Older kids pay adult rates.) With three properties—The Suites, 5th Avenue, and Beach Club—the Blue Parrot offers a mix of rooms and rates. For example, a spacious apartment suite at 5th Avenue starts at $166 a night. Teen-friendly fun includes include nightly fire shows and a dance floor on the beach (blueparrot.com).
Complimentary bicycles are often available at big resorts. Get your family's wheels spinning on a leisurely ride to Playa del Carmen.