Family Travel Survival Guide: Cancun

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SEEING BLUE: The watery expanse of Cancun, well beyond the tourist hordes (George Diebold/Photodisc/Getty)

Cancun Interactive Aquarium
The waters surrounding Cancun are filled with all kinds of interesting creatures, but unless you're diving or snorkeling the Caribbean depths, close encounters will be limited to small fish near the shore—and Cancun's Interactive Aquarium. Along with fascinating marine life exhibits that allow you to both view and touch, the aquarium offers opportunities to swim with dolphins and feed sharks.

Whether you observe from the sidelines or jump in with the big fish, the experience is both fun and educational. If you do plan to get wet, be prepared to pay—the dolphin dive is $115 and shark feeding is $70. Otherwise, admission is just $13.

After you've seen all the marine life, be sure to check out the macaws in the bird sanctuary. The beautiful birds are very friendly and will perch right on your shoulder for a good photo op.

It's not Mexico's most acclaimed venue for man vs. beast battles, but the action in Plaza Del Toro is the real deal: One-ton toros charge cape-waving matadors with the intent of impaling their taunters with sharp, pointed horns. A frenetic crowd cheers on both opponents with excited cries of "Ole!" as they watch the drama unfold.

The faint of heart (both kids and adults) should beware: bloodshed and gore (and goring, for that matter) are real possibilities (most bullfights end with the ceremonial death of the bull). What might be considered cruel in the States is viewed as an admirable display of skill and bravery here.

But there's much more to this extravaganza than just the duel. Mexico's bullfighting tradition, which dates back to the 12th century, is infused with cultural customs—the bullfighters' flamboyant costumes, folkloric dance performances at the start of the show, and charros who entertain the audience much like rodeo clowns.

Performances take place every Wednesday afternoon from January to August and last about two hours. Tickets cost about $37 U.S. per person.

Jungle Tour
Don't let the name fool you. What sounds like a trek through dense rainforest is actually an adrenaline-inducing excursion on the Caribbean—provided you and your kids don't mind high speeds or easily get sea sick.

Start by riding in a mini-speedboat through zigzagging green mangrove channels (hence, the jungle reference) of the Nichupte Lagoon, out to open turquoise waters. Once there, you can jump in and snorkel part of the second-largest reef in the world.

Most outfitters lead tours to the coral reef at Punta Nizuc, though a few stop at the less crowded Angel Reef. No matter where you end up, the experience is both a rush and a relaxing time on the water.

Tours begin at a marina in the Hotel Zone at various times during the day. For the best snorkeling, opt to go early, when the reef is still undisturbed. This trip is no secret, so even though plenty of companies offer it, be sure to book in advance, either through your hotel concierge or by swinging by the marina and letting your kids pick out their favorite boat.

Linda Samuel is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

Published: 22 Apr 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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