Family Vacations to Cancun, Mexico

Family Overview - Cancun, Mexico
Cancun offers superior shopping, white sand, and access to nearby scuba diving sites (Photodisc)

Cancun Family Travel Tips

  • Combine a waverunner and snorkeling trip to the Nichupte Lagoon.
  • Ride an underwater motor scooter getting eye-level with fish.
  • Swim, kayak, and lounge in hammocks at Garrafón Natural Reef Park on nearby Isla Mujeres.
  • Dive abundant reefs.
  • Bargain for take-home treasures, especially silver items.

Cancun's beaches bloom with high-rise hotels notorious for attracting wild college kids on break. Most travelers, however, still come for the turquoise seas, powdery sands, ample shopping, and endless nightlife. The Hotel Zone stretches along Cancun Island, a thin strip shaped like the number seven. Separating Cancun City, the business district on the mainland, and the Hotel Zone is the placid Nichupte Lagoon.

For some families, Cancun, even without the hordes of partying teens and 20-somethings, is too overrun with traffic and hotels to feel like a getaway. If that is the case, the better choice is the Mayan Riviera, a less-developed 75-mile region that begins approximately 18 miles south of Cancun. From the Mayan Riviera, many of Cancun's worthwhile attractions are easy day trips.

Two Cancun activities combine action and nature encounters, making these good bets for families with 'tweens and teens. On AquaWorld's Jungle Tour, zip through the mangrove-lined Nichupte Lagoon on a Waverunner until reaching Punta Nizuc, a shallow reef for snorkeling. Along with schools of fish, you may encounter the sea turtles that frequent the area. The Breathing Observation Bubble (B.O.B), which departs from Boulevard Kukulkan (Km 4) El Embarcadero in the Cancun Hotel Zone, offers a jaunt on an underwater motor scooter outfitted with a bubble-like helmet attached to an oxygen tank. Your face stays dry as you breathe normally, moving about ten feet below the surface of the ocean, and returning the stares of local fish.

Of course, as a major Mexican vacation destination Cancun offers prime shopping. Stores and vendors along the hotel strip sell T-shirts, hammocks, brightly painted pottery, and lots of silver bracelets, pendants, cuff links, and earrings. Remember, always bargain and know exactly what you're buying. La Isla, an open-air shopping and entertainment complex, mixes some high-end shops with souvenir places.

Divers frequently use Cancun as a hub. It's about a 30-minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres off Cancun's coast, where the attitude is laid back and the hotels modest. Spend the day at Garrafón Natural Reef Park, a good place for families with young kids, grade-schoolers, and 'tweens. Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, helmet diving, or simply lazing around in a hammock. You can also swim with or "meet" dolphins, or "fly" over the Caribbean on a cable zip line strung from a 50-foot tower.

From Isla Mujeres, divers head to Manchones Reef or to Caves of the Sleeping Sharks, a popular site located about three miles northeast of the island. Keep in mind, you're most likely to see the sharks from January to March—when the water tends to be rough. As always, be careful of strong currents when swimming or diving.

Tip: Most of Cancun's Hotel Zone properties line soft, sandy beaches. For those who prefer the calmest swimming waters, pick lodgings fronting Mujeres Bay on the island's eastern side, as the shores on the north get pounded by the rougher Caribbean.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 6 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Cancun


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