Why we booked it
We wanted to go away for some guaranteed heat/sun during peak season – leaving between Christmas and the New Year – and prices for the Caribbean islands (Antigua, Barbados etc.) were looking astronomical. We’d always wanted to go to Mexico (we had to cancel a planned trip when we found out Kirsty was pregnant with Leo) – we speak a little Spanish, the food looked great, plus it offered a great mix of beach and culture. A week on the coast followed by a couple of days at Chichen Itza seemed like a good way of mixing the two and seemed kid-friendly enough, with only a couple of 2-3 hour drives between them. No jabs or malaria pills are needed, which was a pre-requisite for taking Leo and Genevieve. BA had started a new route to Cancun and were offering flights at good prices during their summer sale, so I snapped some seats up and took it from there. (NB: Virgin have just started on the route too, meaning more competition and some good deals).
Where we stayed
As ever, I spent a long time researching accommodation and was excited to come across the Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen (read my TripAdvisor review here). It offers beachfront cabanas, so we could nip back inside if we needed to get something or go to the toilet; plus with Genevieve still napping, it meant one of us could sit on the terrace and still enjoy the beach whilst she slept. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that, for the entire week we had planned to be there, a huge dance music festival was happening on the beach around the hotel. The thumping beats from 10am to midnight drove me crazy and after 5 nights we jumped ship – at great expense – to the Fairmont Mayakoba – a 5 star resort which offered a completely different experience and some lovely comforts (private butler! – see my TripAdvisor review). At Chichen Itza, we stayed at the Hacienda Chichen, which we found on i-escape.com.
What were the highlights?
The Mayan temples: both Tulum and Chichen Itza were great with the children. Tulum has a beautiful setting on the cliffs with a much-photographed beach. The grounds were big and good for exploring; and the beach meant some fun in the waves to as soon as any boredom set in. Chichen Itza is similarly spacious and offered plenty of opportunities for the kids to run (or crawl) about. We actually even managed to hire a guide and listen to him without too many distractions.
The beaches: soft white sand that goes on for miles and brilliantly turquoise water. What’s not to like?
Sopa de lima: a delicious soup, made from stock with shredded tortilla in it and flavoured with lime. Sensational – almost worth the trip alone.
What wasn’t so good
Surprisingly, the weather: the Yucatan is not as hot as some of the Caribbean Islands in the middle of winter – it’s further north, on a par with Cuba. However, I was expecting better than we got (admittedly, they were experiencing a ‘cold snap’). Temperatures were in the low 70s during the day and when the sun wasn’t out (which was quite often) it could be almost chilly. These conditions helped with everyone sleeping, of course, but we couldn’t help thinking that we could have gone to the Canary Islands and got the same!
The time difference: at -6 hours, it’s not the easiest of destinations for children to acclimatise to. Leo and Genevieve would predictably wake up early in the morning and then struggle to make it through to dinner in the evening – making evening meals out a fairly trying experience for everyone.
The flight: it’s long! Nearly 11 hours on the way out, about 9 on the way back. With a wriggly toddler on board, we survived but were dying to get off by the time we got there. Night flight back was better.
The waves: It’s fairly rough along the Caribbean coast. You get big waves, which are great fun – Leo absolutely loved them – but you need to be on your guard all the time and that’s not overly relaxing.
The beach parties: not for us. Be wary – Playa del Carmen and Cancun are party towns. Next time, as much as I like wandering out to restaurants and not being stuck in an all-inclusive, I’d think twice about staying in either.
Some practical advice
Whilst you only really need one night at Chichen Itza itself, I’d suggest staying for at least two just to minimise the stress of travelling. The hacienda we stayed in had lovely grounds, a pool and we managed to while away the time.
We arranged taxis to take us from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza and then from Chichen Itza back to Cancun. It’s fine to do this once you’re there, although be sure to vet the vehicle – one of ours was fairly decrepit.
We loved Mexico and will look back on it fondly. But to be honest – beach raves aside – I think it is a place to take slightly older children. If Genevieve had been slightly older – walking about – she could have played in the waves like Leo, but as it was, the sea was rather rough and meant she needed constant holding. There are loads of cool attractions – ecoparks with ziplining and caving and swimming with dolphins – that would be amazing for older children but that were off limits for us. Also, we were a bit unlucky with the weather, which was probably not much better than the Canary Islands – so we perhaps could have saved ourselves the long flight to get our dose of warmth.