Join the Crespi/Sparks clan on their first vacation abroad as they experience the natural and historical wonders of Mexico’s Yucatan coastline in the beach village of Akumal.
The east coast of Mexico, stretching for miles along the Yucatan peninsula, boasts a string of resort hotels and villages for the beach-seeking vacationer. Our destination, with two children under the age of four, was Akumal, where we were joining our brother and sister-in-law, long-time winter visitors.
Our caravan must have formed a comical sight. Armed with all sorts of caveats about traveling to Mexico, we had pared down our necessities to a mere eight pieces of checked luggage! Included were some true essentials–such as a baby backpack (leave the stroller home), a port-a-crib, car seats (a rental car is a must), and a flashlight to navigate your way on moonless nights. Many other items, however, including a suitcase full of kid-approved foods, could have been purchased locally.
Akumal, about 60 miles south of Cancun, more than met our expectations for a beach retreat that was informal and welcoming. To call it a town conjures up an image grander than it is–a smattering of condominiums and private homes, anchored by the Hotel Club Akumal Caribe (800/351-1622, 915/584-3552), and a few businesses to service the seasonal tourists and families who reside there year-round. What it lacks in traditional Mexican village charm, it more than makes up for in convenience and practicality.
Akumal Caribe’s Family Welcoming Condos
Our balconied accommodation at Las Casitas condominiums overlooking Akumal Bay was a modern, two-bedroom, two-bath condo furnished simply but adequately. It included a kitchen, dining area, and a living room ample enough to accommodate a constant supply of toys and games. Daily maid service insured that this was really a vacation; even a sink-load of dishes was clean by the time we returned home. (For information, contact Akumal Vacations at 800/448-7137; rates for a two-bedroom unit through the end of 2010 run about US$212-$US342/N depending on season.)
The town is situated on Half Moon and Akumal Bays, both offering easy access and gentle swimming for even our very young children. Other activities abound–scuba diving lessons and expeditions from the three dive shops, relaxed dining at several excellent restaurants, and snorkeling in Yalku Lagoon. Perhaps most welcome to travelers with children are the Super Chomak Grocery Store and the Kids Club. The Super Chomak surprised us with its selection of imported and local foods–everything from fresh produce, meats, and poultry, to peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, juice boxes and Froot Loops. The store also carried a limited selection of disposable diapers, so we were glad we had brought our own.
The Kids Club is the well-equipped drop-off center at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, another good family lodging with simple, spacious brick “bungalows” (with three beds), a modern three-story hotel wing, a pool, and a friendly open-air restaurant. The Kids Club is stocked with art supplies, books, games, videos, and a crib, and has an enclosed outdoor playground surfaced with sand. It opens from 9am to 2pm for infants and children up to age 10, and again in the evening for all ages. One night we squeezed in a private dinner at the hotel by dropping the children at the center and having our waiter deliver pizza and drinks to them while we dined! The Kids Club has an hourly rate of about $8 per child. At our visit, a daily pre-paid charge gave you unlimited use of the Kids Club’s morning and evening sessions.
Touring the Yucatan Peninsula with Kids
In the vicinity of Akumal are numerous attractions, several of which we were able to visit. Since our children had given up formal napping in the excitement of the trip, we planned early departures and returned to our condo after lunch. Naturally, the kids fell asleep on the ride home every time! For those interested in Mayan architecture, the ruins at Tulum are barely a half-hour’s drive south along Route 307. While considerably less extensive than the famous ruins at Chichen-Itza¡, 4-5 hours away, Tulum features a host of well-preserved temples and public buildings on a breathtaking site overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
About 10 miles south of Tulum is the World Heritage Site Sian Ka’an, a habitat reserve of more than a million acres established in 1986. The area, which protects 70 miles of coastal reefs and over 350 species of birds, is noted for saltwater fly-fishing, hiking, and beaches. It is located off an extremely pitted dirt road, but the children were entertained along the very slow route by counting the iguanas sunning in the road. We were all rewarded at the end with a completely deserted beach splashed by rugged surf that allowed for raucous wave jumping and body surfing.
Xelha National Park is on a large lagoon just a few minutes south of Akumal. The contrast between Xelha and Yalku Lagoon (Akumal’s beach area) couldn’t be more striking. Yalku has been left in its natural state, secluded and quiet, with a challenging (for young children) entry over a rocky shore line. Xelha has been fully developed for the tourist trade with lounge chairs, rest rooms, shops, snack bars and, most important to sensitive feet, stepped docks descending to the water. Because it attracts busloads of day tourists from Cancun, you’re as likely to see another snorkeler underwater as you are some exotic fauna, but these facilities do add to the convenience. (Note: To protect the ecosystem and keep Yucatan waters clear, regular suntan lotions are not allowed. Biodegradable tanning product is available for purchase on the property. Bring extra cover-ups to wear in and out of the water.)
Our biggest anticipated fear, turista, was happily unfounded. We drank bottled water and followed the local advice to buy Microdyn from the Super Chomak to soak our fruits and vegetables. Reputable restaurants, we were assured, take similar precautions. So, in a leap of faith, we ate the salad, dipped our chips, and drank fruit punches, all to no ill effect.
Our favorite dining experience was found on the road to Tulum, at Casa Cenote. Under a huge palapa (little more than a thatched roof supported by beams) right on the beach, they serve generous portions of tasty Mexican and American fare. You can also snorkel or scuba dive in the cenote, an underwater cavern where manatees are reputed to live, and let the children play in the sand if they get restless.
As our introduction to Mexico — and our first foray abroad with our children — we found Akumal an ideal destination. Less expensive than many of the West Indies, Akumal and its environs along the Yucatan coast delivered a child-friendly beach vacation in a lovely Caribbean setting.
Sheila’s Akumal Travel Tips
- Safety: Keep shorts and T-shirts for the kids in your carry-on luggage. If you put them into the same bright colors, they’ll be easier to spot in Cancun’s crowded airport while you wait to pick up your rental car or await a departing flight.
- Shopping: Experienced Akumal-hands drive to the Sam’s Club near the Cancun Airport to stock up on diapers and other essentials before heading south to Akumal.
- Laundry: Same day laundry service is very reasonably priced at Akumal’s Mulgrew Laundry. Bring your own stain remover for pre-treating clothes.
- Baby-proofing: Many Akumal condos have terraces that are enclosed with lattice, leaving gaps large enough for young children to slip through. Bring safety netting, or request a 1st floor unit.
- More information: Two travel guides we used are the “Moon Cancun and Cozumel: Including the Riviera Maya” by G. Chandler and L. Prado and the “Frommer’s Cancun, Cozumel, & The Yucatan.” S.C.
Sheila Crespi is a New York mother of two, and a wanna-be-again frequent flyer.
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