Sunday, May 19, 2024

Beyond the beach: Why Mexico’s cities are great for family vacations

When planning a family vacation to Mexico, most people only think of hitting the beach. And why not? Mexico’s beaches are beautiful, fun, easy, and inherently kid-friendly. But have you ever considered taking your family to Mexico City or any of the other great Mexican metropolises? 

Since moving to Mexico in 2015, our family has spent nearly every school holiday exploring Mexico’s interior cities and towns. Our first trip was to Guadalajara when our daughter was three years old, and our most recent was to Morelia and Pátzcuaro over the winter holidays. Our travels have also taken us to Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, Zacatecas, Santiago de Querétaro, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, and Mérida, plus countless small mountain towns

Morelia set up a free ice skating rink right next to the Metropolitan Cathedral over the winter holidays.

Every time we go someplace new, we are blown away at how family-friendly and accessible Mexican cities and towns are. There are always events, parks and activities – many of them free – that cater just to kids, and we have never been given the stink eye for bringing our daughter to a fancy restaurant. 

Exposing our daughter to the beautiful bustle of Mexican cities has helped open her eyes (and ours) to the sheer magnitude of amazing art, architecture, cuisine, history, and cultural celebrations that exist. 

Over the years, we’ve come up with some ways to help her enjoy the experience even more. We think of something new to try each trip and enjoy it just as much as she does. As a result, we have developed a deep appreciation for Mexico.

So, if swapping a Mexican beach for a Mexican city rises to the top of the list for your next family vacation, here are some ideas for making the experience even better for you and your kids.

“Yes day” included copious amounts of popcorn and the new Wonka movie.

Plan a “Yes Day”: You may have seen the Jennifer Garner movie with the same name. A “yes day” is a day when your kids get to decide the agenda and parents can’t say no. A movie and the zoo on the same day? Definitely. Popcorn for lunch? Sure! Let your kids plan a fun day where they get to do and eat pretty much whatever they want (within reason). You may find you have just as much fun as they do.

Appreciate architecture through art: What better way for your kids to appreciate Mexico’s amazing architecture than by drawing what they see? Kids love to create art. So bring along a small art kit – or purchase supplies at a local papelería (a fun activity by itself) – to give your kids a reason to slow down and appreciate their surroundings. We always plan time in a picturesque plaza or courtyard to draw and color. Now that our daughter is older, she’s getting into journaling, which warms this writer’s heart. So we always bring our journals too.

Plan a scavenger hunt: A great way to help kids learn their way around the city and observe its uniqueness is to plan a scavenger hunt. We like to come up with a few things for our daughter to find (she does the same for us) for a small prize, such as a statue, historical landmark or mural, or something fun and funny – like a dog wearing a sweater (you wouldn’t believe the doggie outfits in Mexico City), a hot air balloon (which frequently fly early in the morning in San Miguel de Allende and Teotihuacan) or her favorite street food cart. We also let her navigate to wherever we are headed using our phones.

Street treat day: You won’t have to plan this, your kids will already be begging to try all the goodies they see for sale from street vendors, such as freshly fried potato chips, fruit cups, paletas (popsicles), churros, tostilocos and more. Mexican street food is a kids’ dream when it comes to treats and snacks! A street treat day can make snacking less about kids begging for goodies and more of a culinary experience for the whole family. You can make it a fun taste test, daring kids (and yourself) to try things they normally wouldn’t. Charales (tiny fried fish), anyone?

Trying some of Mexico’s dazzling array of street snacks makes for an entertaining day for the whole family.

Maker magic: Mexico is bursting with hand-made arts and crafts and every town has its specialty – alebrijes in Oaxaca, glass in Tonala, and textiles in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. It’s mind-boggling how many different handicrafts are made in every corner of the country. If you plan ahead, you can often find an artisan or workshop where you can watch the items being made or try to make them yourself, which is infinitely more interesting for kids than dragging them through art boutiques and museums. When we were in Pátzcuaro, we arranged to visit mask maker Felipe Horta in Tocuaro and the Fuente family in Capula who make catrinas for Día de Muertos. 

“Splurge” on affordable attractions: Attractions that might break the bank at home – amusement parks, aquariums, zoos, and even the movies – are a lot more affordable in Mexico, so you can splurge a bit when you are here. For example, the Guadalajara Zoo, which is one of the most amazing zoos I’ve ever seen, is just 410 pesos (US $24) for adults and 315 pesos (US $18) for kids for a “diamante” ticket that gets you into all the attractions and special exhibits. Compare that to $72 adult and $64 kids tickets for the San Diego Zoo. We’ve been to countless zoos, movies (complete with popcorn & drinks), live performances, museums, and more in Mexico for a fraction of the price it would have been in the U.S. 

Connect with other families: Sometimes your kids need a break from you (and you from them), or they just want to make new friends. Mexico has some great city parks where other families gather – or try finding families to meet with through a local Facebook group. You can also tap local Facebook groups for tips on things to do and see with kids. We’ve also done city trips with other families, which gives kids instant friends and spreads the parenting duties around.

Don’t miss: Other family-friendly features of Mexican cities worth checking out:  

  • Public parks: Mexico’s public parks are a step above those in the U.S. Not only do they have playgrounds, but many also have arts & crafts stations, food carts, toy vendors, small rides, lakes, rental bikes and boats, and more. The best we’ve seen are Bosque de Chapultepec and Parque México in Mexico City.
  • Mercados: Mexico’s bustling food and artisan mercados are explosions of colors, scents, and tastes that will make grocery and gift shopping an unforgettable experience for the whole family.
  • Pedestrian Sundays: Several cities close down their main thoroughfares on Sunday mornings to car traffic and the street fills with walkers, bikers, joggers, strollers, and skaters. Slip into your sneakers or rent bikes and join the parade of pedestrians!

I hope these ideas inspire you to think beyond the beach and visit one of Mexico’s great cities. You may be surprised by how much your family will love the experience, maybe even more than the beach!

Debbie Slobe is a writer and communications strategist based in Chacala, Nayarit. She blogs at Mexpatmama.com and is a senior program director at Resource Media. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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