Xel-Ha photo credit - Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Eco  Park Xel-Ha. Photo credit: Angela Tiffin / History Buff Traveling Mom

Located along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mexican Riviera Maya is an 81 mile stretch of white sandy beach with tropical landscapes and family-friendly accommodations but sun and sand is not all this destination has to offer.

1. Your family can actually learn something about another culture

Although this area was conceived and developed for tourism there are still many cultural opportunities to be had.  Unlike many other tropical destinations, Mexico is rich in both ancient and modern history.

The Quintana Roo state is named after Andrés de Quintana Roo, a hero in the war for Mexican independence, but the region is best known for ancient Mayan archeological sites and there are many tours available from Cancun, Playa del Carmen and most of the resorts along the Riviera Maya or you can rent a car and explore on your own.

Chichen Itza - Photo credit Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Chichen Itza. Photo credit: Angela Tiffin / History Buff Traveling Mom

The ruins may be ancient but the culture is not:  Approximately 20 percent of the state’s population is still considered part of the Maya culture and speak the local Maya dialect in addition to Spanish.

Operated by the Instituto Nacional de Archeological, the most convenient and popular sites to see from the coast are:

Tulum

Chichen Itza

Coba

Tickets can be purchased at most visitor centers at most resorts and hotels and many provide packages that include lunch and additional attractions.

And don’t forget, just bringing your family to a country whose first language is not English can be a culturally stimulating experience, so take advantage of it and learn some Spanish before you go.

2.  You can relax in the lap of luxury

If you are in the mood to be pampered, this destination is currently at the forefront of the luxury family travel movement in Mexico.  These modern all-inclusive resorts have recognized that that even the smallest guests enjoy the good life and offerings like kid-specific spa treatments and children-sized robes and slippers are becoming more prevalent.

As a luxury to parents, some resorts offer complimentary supervised kids club activities that are more than just babysitting.  Activities range from water parks to age-appropriate discos as well as activities aimed at teaching children about Mayan culture.

3.  You can live like the locals

If luxury is not your kind of thing (or not in your budget) there are many alternative accommodations along the coast.

In Tulum, and other destinations along the peninsula, you can disconnect in beach side Mayan-style cabana accommodations that have no tv, air conditioning or even electricity.  There are also eco-friendly options with solar-powered energy, and other modern amenities for those that require some creature comforts but want a more rustic atmosphere.

Photo credit: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo credit: Angela Tiffin / History Buff Traveling Mom

A little too primitive for you?  The peninsula also has many affordable smaller hotels and condos to rent where you can shop and eat at locally owned restaurants.

Puerto Adventura is a gated community that has a variety of time share condos that surround a small harbor filled with dolphins.  Shops, restaurants and cafes are all within walking distance of these properties.

4.  Much more to offer than a beach or the pool

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) is a marine region that stretches over 1000 km from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula all the way down Honduras. It is home to numerous species that live in or around the reef system including: coral, sea turtles, crocodiles, over 500 species of fish, and it is home to one of the world’s largest populations of manatees.

As a result of its proximity to the MBRS, Riviera Maya has some of the best eco-tourism around.  Families with children of all ages can explore its underground river systems, jump into Cenotes, snorkel, swim with dolphins, zip-line and kayak along a nature reserve.

The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza is where ancient Mayans sacrificed objects and even humans as a form of worship to the Maya rain god, Chaac.  Understandable, since the area around Chichen Itza can get really hot there on sunny days.  Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

The most popular eco-attractions are:

Sacred Cenote - photo credit: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Sacred Cenote. Photo credit: Angela Tiffin / History Buff Traveling Mom

Excaret

Xel-Ha Park

Xplor Adventure Park

Aktun-Chen Natural Adventure Park

Eco-Park Kantun-chi

Rio Secreto Natural Reserve

Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve

TIP:  In order to protect the marine fauna, most parks require visitors to wear only chemical-free sunscreen.  You can purchase it there but it’s always cheaper to get it at home.