Five family adventures in the Riviera Maya

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For kids who go wild over beach days and adventures, the Riviera Maya has an astounding variety of child-friendly day trips, once you know where to look. With just a little knowledge of the region, you can give your kids the opportunity to explore the jungle, experience local traditions and make sand castles on some of the world’s most breathtaking beaches.

A girl stands in the shallow water of a turquoise oceanWith stunning beaches and plenty of adventures for the whole family, the Riviera Maya is a great place to take your kids © Olga Melhiser / Getty Images

Children’s World at Xcaret Park

The Riviera Maya’s most well-known theme park, Xcaret, earned its fame for the massive number of attractions that can easily fill an entire day of your vacation, and then some. The park serves as a protected habitat for regional animals like macaws, flamingos, butterflies and sea turtles, which are scattered throughout the beautiful environs and aquarium, while the rest of the park has heavenly beach coves and elaborate displays of authentic Maya and Mexican culture. The vast majority of the park is stroller-friendly, making it easy to explore with a baby or toddler.

Four people paddle board through mangrovesXcaret has everything from swimming holes and slides for little kids, ropes courses and paddle boarding for big kids and safe habitats for the Yucatan’s amazing wildlife © Stockam / Getty Images

Xcaret also has Children’s World, a hidden-away area especially for kids 12 and under. Older kids can venture through the jungle ropes course with water slides, waterfalls and rope bridges, while babies and toddlers can enjoy the kiddie pool, sandbox area and water jets.

Punta Esmeralda, where the cenote meets the beach

One of the Riviera Maya’s best family beaches can be found where a natural cenote springs that connect to the peninsula’s massive underground river system– joins the Caribbean Sea. Punta Esmeraldasits at the northern edge of Playa del Carmen and has become a favorite weekend spot for locals. The completely open cenote looks like a natural splash pool, the perfect place for babies and toddlers to cool off. (Just keep little ones away from the area where the cenote connects to the underground river.)

People enjoy the shallow water and white sand beach under palm treesThis hidden cenote on the beach is a local favorite and a perfect place to let little ones splash in the water © Laura Winfree / Lonely Planet

This white sand beach also has a playground area with slides and monkey bars. Keep in mind that you won’t find public restrooms, loungers or umbrellas for rent so you might want to bring your own. Punta Esmeralda fills up on Sundays with local families who have the day off from work and school, so try to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

An easy stroll on Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue

Locals call it La Quinta Avenida, or just “La Quinta” for short. This supremely strollable street runs parallel to the beach through downtown Playa del Carmen, starting at the upscale outdoor mall Paseo del Carmen and continuing north through Calle 44. What makes this avenue such a great place to bring the kids? It’s pedestrian-only, so you can enjoy a walk without worrying about cars or even bikes.

colorful sombreros with flowersStroll down La Quinta in Playa del Carmen and check out all the colorful souvenirs © Katja Kreder / Getty Images

The street is stroller-friendly, and younger kids will be mesmerized by all of the color and excitement of La Quinta’s souvenir shops, shopping centers and restaurants, so you can easily spend several hours entertaining little ones with a simple walk along the avenue. For even more fun, stop by one of the many ice cream shops, or better yet grab a Maya chocolate dessert at local café Ah Cacao.

A taste of local life at Parque Fundadores

At the southern end of La Quinta is the iconic Parque Fundadores(Founders’ Park); just look for the little white church. Playa del Carmen locals head to this park each afternoon to watch the sun set over the ocean and play some beach soccer by the towering Portal Maya statue.

A mermaid statue serves as a gate to a pirate-themed playground on the beachHang out at Parque Fundadores to watch the sunset with the locals © Shakzu / Getty Images

You can catch Papantla Flyer shows throughout the day, a colorful and thrilling ancient Mexican ceremony where men spin off the top of a tower attached only by a rope. Right by the beach is a large playground area, free of charge, and there is a row of fruit stands lined with brightly colored snacks on the north side of the park.

Leaping into Cenote Azul

Just a 20-minute drive south of Playa del Carmen sits one of the loveliest cenotes in the Riviera Maya: Cenote Azul. For older kids who can swim, head to the deeper side with a small cliff where children and adults can jump into the crystal clear pool of water below. The other half of the cenote has shallower water and beautiful snorkeling. Take care if you bring a baby or toddler to the cenote since the rocks can be very slippery.

A boy jumps off a ledge into clear deep waterJump into a cenote with your kids at Cenote Azul © Iren Key / Shutterstock

The cenote is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and costs just 100 pesos ($5) to enter (60 pesos for kids ages 4-8), cash only. Optional snorkel masks and life jackets are also available to rent. Just keep in mind that this is a natural setting with pristine water, so sunscreen and lotions are not allowed and all bug repellents must be biodegradable.

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