Take your family south of the border to score sweet deals and have some fun in the sun.
By Laura Manske
Most major airports in the United States offer easy access to Cancún, making it a top choice for families in search of a no-fuss trip. It's tempting to spend your entire vacation at the pool, especially if you're staying at one of the hotels on Zona Hotelera, the barrier island where most resorts are located. But the coolest thing about this hot destination is the range of activities available on the mainland.
Get in touch with nature at nearby Xcaret, a verdant eco-park with a swimmable underground river, archeological digs, equestrian shows, Papantia Flying Men performances, and wildlife like manatees, monkeys, jaguars, and butterflies (xcaret.com). Or explore the jungle with adventure outfitter Selvática; you'll zipline through the trees, ride a Segway over the dirt, and cool off in a cenote swimming hole (selvatica.com.mx). Back in town check out open-air markets like Coral Negro and Ki-Huic for lace or woven blankets; conduct business Mexican-style and be prepared to haggle. (Don't accept the first price—or even the third!) Eat at Calypso's, a hard-to-spot restaurant in the Hotel Zone, featuring fresh seafood and outdoor seating (calypsoscancun.com). An absolute requirement: Time-travel back thousands of years by climbing the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza (chichenitza.com). Book a tour so you can kick back rather than stress during the five-hour round-trip from Cancún (mycancuntours.com). And definitely plan a day at Isla Mujeres, a 5-mile island reachable by ferry; rent a golf cart—each one seats four people—and cruise the peaceful landscape.
Where to Stay
At the 379-room Dreams Resorts & Spa, families can explore more than seven oceanfront acres. There's a Core Zone Club for kids 13 to 17, as well as five restaurants, a lagoon of dolphins, a trampoline, live shows, and Spanish classes (dreamsresorts.com, from $223 per person). The privately owned condos of Villas Marlin have two bedrooms and full kitchens, giving families plenty of room. The complex is right on the beach where sea turtles tread in summer; there are three pools, a grocery store, and tennis courts (rivieramayacondos.com, $999 for seven nights for a room that sleeps six).
For a brief peek at the Mayan past, stop by the small ruins of El Rey (the King), an archeological site across from Playa Delfines, near the southern end of the Hotel Zone. Be sure to check out the colorful peacocks and hundreds of iguanas lazing nearby. (Admission is just $2.)