Children Welcome On Mexico’s Caribbean Coast…
There’s been a bunch of newspaper and magazine articles lately discussing what’s perceived as “affluent, affected parents”. My quotes are from a Globe & Mail article by Siri Agrell entitled Leave The Kids At Home! - note the exclamation point instead of a question mark. Ms. Agrell suggests that stamps in children’s passports are merely status symbols for the aforementioned “affluent, affected parents”, and even quotes the godfather of travel guidebooks, Arthur Frommer, as questioning how children or parents benefit from family travel.
As someone who loved travel before having a baby, I created Have Baby Will Travel as much for myself as well as for other parents seeking information on how to continue traveling once Junior came along. In spite of the fact that she’ll remember very little, it’s my belief that our journeys to other places have instilled in our daughter a certain adaptability, as well as an appreciation for new places and faces, languages and food. Not only that, our family vacations have allowed us to spend precious, uninterrupted time together, away from our busy day-to-day life.
While I was still feeling ever-so-slightly defensive about my choices, an invitation appeared in my inbox from the Riviera Maya Tourism Board, to visit the area and experience what it has to offer families. I jumped at the chance!
Having previously enjoyed the Riviera Maya as both a single gal and a honeymooner, I was excited to learn more about the area’s family friendly accommodations, amenities and activities. It was a jam-packed 3 days, and traveling solo allowed me to concentrate without constantly being on toddler-alert. The other writers on the trip had brought their children, ranging in age from 6-13, so witnessing their experiences gave me good perspective as well.
The Riviera Maya starts in Puerto Morelos and ends just past Tulum – with most accommodations and attractions falling within a 20-90min drive from Cancun’s airport. Due to strict building codes and the need to preserve the area’s environment, there are no highrise hotels or thumping discos on the beach.
We visited three different all-inclusive hotels, all differing in size and style but offering kids’ clubs and family amenities such as high chairs, change tables in common areas, cribs or playpens and the availability of private babysitting. Our host hotel was the Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda, a large resort about halfway between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. At almost 1000 rooms and covering 180 acres, the resort is great for strolling with fussy babies but may pose a problem for those with mobility issues. You can arrange for golf carts to drive you to and fro, but walking made me feel like I was getting some exercise! The rooms are spacious, modern, and clean – upgrade to a suite and you’ll have either a private pool or Jacuzzi on your balcony – great for relaxing by during baby’s afternoon nap. The food is decent, with your usual buffets and a la carte restaurants that require reservations. The pool area is large, with an area that is shallow for little ones to play. The beach is lovely to look at but die-hard beach people may be disappointed by the squishiness and rocks that made frolicking in the sea a little difficult. Their kids’ club area is shaded, with a small climber and shallow pool, along with air-conditioned rooms that feature video games and crafts in one, and new cribs and change tables in the other. The kids’ club is included with your stay, available for children aged 2-12, and toddlers need not be toilet-trained to stay there.
We visited 2 other hotels during our trip, Dreams Tulum and Azul Beach. Dreams Tulum is a medium-sized resort roughly 30 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen. The almost 400 rooms and suites are spacious and modern, and offer conveniences such as a DVD/CD player and an MP3 docking alarm clock. Their “Explorer Club” is for children aged 3-12, offers different activities each day, and their friendly staff is all CPR-certified and trained in first-aid. One thing I found strange was that parents are not allowed to remain in the area once their kids are signed in and younger children and their parents aren’t able to utilize the play structures within the “Explorer Club” compound. But the kids all seemed to be having a great time and further on during our tour of the resort I was delighted to see more toddlers than I could count enjoying the beautiful beach, pools and gardens. We stayed for dinner and the main buffet was quite good, with a small area for little ones to help themselves. Dreams Tulum’s a la carte restaurants do not require reservations, but they advise that there may be a wait for a table during peak times.
Azul Beach is a boutique hotel of only 97 rooms just outside Puerto Morelos, a mere 15 minutes from the airport in Cancun. This small resort was the most expensive of the 3, but its luxury was in no way pretentious or intimidating. The rooms were no fancier than Blue Bay’s or Dreams Tulum’s, but the intimate surroundings and baby-welcoming touches would ensure a great time for even the tiniest visitors -and their parents! Free of charge, those traveling with infants are provided with a package including a stroller, playpen, change table/baby bath, bottle warmer and sterilizer, and baby monitor. They provide Mexican Gerber brand baby food, and the smoothie bar will prepare and puree fresh fruit and yogurt for your tiny tot. The only time that a buffet is an option is at breakfast, but the menus for all meals are extensive – even offering specialty meals for those following The South Beach Diet. None of the restaurants require reservations, so you can come and go as you please. The stunning beach is lined with beach beds and a couple of play structures, and there are ‘beach butlers’ at your beck and call for whatever you may need – a drink, a snack, sunscreen, you name it. The kids’ club is for children aged 4-12, and each day there are activities such as cooking classes, Spanish lessons and jewelry making.
If an all-inclusive resort is not your thing, there are a number of self-catering options throughout the region, and Playa Del Carmen is home to a couple of large supermarkets – a Sam’s Club and the Mexican chain Mega are located on the main highway that runs between Cancun and Tulum. In terms of getting around, public transport seemed fairly easy to navigate, car rental is plentiful (although rumour has it the better rates are found in Cancun), and the taxis are all newer, with functioning seat belts. If your child is still in a car seat, you may be best off bringing yours along, although I did come across a company online called Cancun Valet that offers rentals along with their transfer services to various parts of the region.
With this being my 3rd trip to the area, I was able to recall why I liked it enough the first time to return for my honeymoon. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds – the beauty of Caribbean beaches with the charm and flavour of Mexico. The Mayan influence is prevalent, and learning more about that ancient culture enriched my experience. The Riviera Maya has grown tremendously in the 10 years since I first visited, but now as a parent, I can appreciate how the growth and development has made visiting there a lot easier. In a future article, I’ll detail a few of the attractions and excursions available that are suitable for families: the natural aquarium Xel-Ha, X-Caret, the eco-archeological theme park, and the jungle crossing tour we took with All-Tournative Off-Track Adventures.