Kids and Mexico
Bringing kids to Mexico is a fantastic opportunity to have some concerted family time while exploring a different culture. Children of any age are a challenge though so I will be making some recommendations based on 3 kids and nearly two decades coming to Mexico. I will also be soliciting advice and suggestions from other parents who have made the journey with their kids.
In general I begin with saying that you as tourist will
garner more positive attention when you bring your kids with you than if you
were only two adults traveling alone. Mexicans love kids and you will get a
great opportunity to interact with the natives when you bring your family with
you. Make sure you purchase
prepaid phones for your family before you head to Mexico so you can
keep in touch when traveling abroad and you don't get hit with roaming charges!
Documentation, Accommodation, Schooling
We have written an extensive packing and documents section in our website; however I will emphasize that while it does cost money to obtain, a passport is the best and easiest form of identification once you and your family are here. If the children are NOT your birth kids, ensure you have a letter from the missing parent notarized before you leave.
If you are staying at a hotel ask before you leave, ask if they have high chairs, playpens, cribs etc and plan accordingly. For those of you who are planning to “hotel it”, consider accommodation other than an all inclusive resort. Of course they are handy, but your family will probably not experience other restaurants and your resort and eating schedule seduces you to stay put. Hey what are you coming to Mexico for anyway…..A high class hotel?
Many resort hotels have fridges. The high-end ones that also sell timeshares often even have full kitchens in every guest suite. Renting a timeshare usually is not more expensive than a normal hotel, just be sure to check if there is a market nearby or having a kitchen will do you little good. If your room doesn’t have a kitchen or a fridge, there are plenty of cheap Styrofoam coolers you can purchase to store snack foods and beverages. We always bring an electric coffeepot for morning coffee and to heat up liquid for whatever emergency or experiment comes our way. Remember that two prong plugs are standard in Mexico so pack an adapter if your appliance needs a 3 prong outlet.
An advantage of staying in a large 4 + star hotel is that they often have a child minding service. It is expensive and our understanding is that the majority of the money is given to the hotel and not the worker. We have not used this option very often as we find that we go to sleep earlier in Mexico and that the 4 hour minimum was not worth the price. We were also concerned about the kids when on one occasion the woman spoke no English and our children were very small. We have altered our schedule and made our adult times in the mornings when the children are snoozing.
Not to worry though. Children are allowed in restaurants/bars. Many of our most fond and romantic memories are when we went to restaurants with our kids. When they were toddlers they would often sleep in their strollers – zonking out right after dinner. When they were older we would take them to Senior Frogs or someplace cool as a treat and dance and play well into the evening.
If you are taking your children out of school for a week or two you will still need to discuss this with their schools. Often there are homework assignments or special projects given to the kids. My experience is that the homework gets forgotten until the last day and that the special assignments are generally a journal, again begun a day or two before we returned home.
If you are going on an extended trip, distance education may be the answer. Many school districts in Canada and the US have distance education and or internet schools. There are so many internet cafes in Mexico that the former option is entirely possible. My kids are still completing high school over the internet and will eventually receive the same degree as the kid living just down the block back home.
You should plan to visit your local doctor or health clinic before you go to ensure that any medical issue is addressed before you go. If you are flying with a baby or small child discuss ear aches caused by altitude as well as “while you are there issues.” Ensure you have considered medical insurance.
My whole family got the total package of shots just in case we decided to go a little further south. Our experience of the medical care in Mexico has been very favorable but for most the language barrier can be frustrating in times of an emergency.
Don’t leave your kids out of the loop when you are planning your journey. While you ultimately make the decisions, ask them their preferences for various things such as lodging, food, attractions. If your kids are happy, you’re happy. I have found that mine are happiest at a place where they have access to a pool. Once teenagers, they want to be near people their own age and a pool or ocean matters less.
Bring out an atlas, online or paper based, and discuss the area you are about to explore. As a family, chat about the weather, food, various side trips. Learn a little about the history of the place. Indulge in audio CDs or language tapes.
If they are old enough, take them to a Dollar Store or inexpensive supply store before you leave. Get them to help select pencils, pens and other school supplies that they can give as gifts to other children while they are there. $10 each goes a long way back home.
Babies and toddlers are a challenge on an aircraft so request a “bulkhead” while you are making your reservations. A bulkhead gives you more legroom and allows kids a little area to sit on the floor or play with their toys. Request a few more pillows so they can lie down and a blanket so they can hopefully sleep. Request a kids menu and take kids snacks in case you need it. For sure pack extra bottles and diapers.
Once they could walk not toddle, we gave them their own luggage. Not only did it instill responsibility for their own items, but when they were young it slowed them down considerably at the airport; a good thing. We ensured that they packed the required T shirts, shorts etc and they had choices in terms of toys and other items.
We purchased standard overnight size roller-type bags for each child (not Disney or cute overpriced character bags) and as they grew the luggage increased in size as well. Even when they outgrew the overnight luggage, the bags still had use as sleepover bags.
Teenagers like walkmans. Get one each. There is lots of down time at airports, immigration and stopovers. Pack something onboard that can keep them occupied.
By Car or RV
I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that scenery bores kids up until the age of 15. Then if you are lucky they take an interest outside their window. Ensure there are plenty of things to do to keep them occupied. If you don’t they will fight amongst themselves or with you or if there is only one, they will become agitated and moody.
There are numerous car games that can be played or songs to be sung but they too can get aggravating over the long haul. Unfortunately reading extensively often brings on motion sickness and board games get spilt everywhere when the brakes are applied. The truth of it is that you have to come up with some strategies for occupying them so they don’t drive you nuts.
Drive Very Early
Plan the evening before for an early get away. In Canada or the US we get up about an hour before sunrise and have a cup of coffee and a roll. In Mexico we won’t leave until we can see the road clearly. We wake the snoozing kids, still and Po’s, and strap them down while they lay or slouched over pillows. We play softer music as we drive and chat - usually for 4 or 5 hours - before the kids wake up and we stop for breakfast. This strategy allowed us a lot of adult time and ensured that those first 5 hours gave us lots of distance. If it is hot outside, it ensures that we are comfortable in the morning air.
Try to consider stopping soon afterwards. Sure the town might not be that interesting to you, but your kids just probably want to be near you and a body of water to swim in. Plan accordingly. You are not on a family holiday to be driving 24/7. You are there to explore together as a family.
If we drive further, we make sure that the kids are separated as much as possible physically and that they have their own “space” to call home. Their own toys or books and games are placed close to each of them to make it easier to access without stopping.
I am not a big TV advocate nor do I hate it. When we are traveling fast I ensure that we have a number of movie CD’s available for the kids, an accessible TV and CD player. It is worth approximately two precious hours of peace and adult time. We limit viewing to one movie a day, alternating the “chooser.”
No matter how much they moan or want to sleep, ensure they are belted in at all times. Even if you are in an RV and they need to go to the washroom, stop the vehicle. Be an example.
Bring snacks. Usually you get better nutrition if you preplan this. Picking up candy or chips at a gas station is a poor alternative.
Stopping for Meals
Try to plan your meal stops in interesting places. Allow the kids to walk around. Visit something. Take care of the dog. Wal-Mart parking lots can be interesting for kids if they can pick out something they need. Keep them occupied and tire them out.
Kids can be picky eaters and can make travel difficult. Pabulum, oatmeal and cereals are all available in any small or large grocery store. Baby foods with all the familiar labels and flavors are waiting for you to purchase. Obviously there is plenty of fruit available: pineapples, oranges, cantaloupes, watermelons, papaya. Add milk and yogurt and you have yourself a gourmet breakfast.
Just about any food item you need to cook with is available in Mexico. Milk is readily available now in plastic liter and 4 liter sizes. You can also purchase milk in tetrapcks which are handy because you don’t need to refrigerate them until they are opened. See the food section on our web.
Restaurants can be a challenge for parents. Many do not have high chairs. We used to pack a plastic seat for our toddlers and a portable strap with Velcro to sling around chairs and give some height to allow eating at the table. Pancakes, eggs, hamburgers are a standard on just about any menu. We always encouraged our kids to eat local dishes.
Vegetarian dining is not as readily available as it is in Canada and the US and smoking regulations are rare.
Kids under 5 just seem to want to have a shovel and some sand to keep them occupied for hours. There lots of planned activities for older kids especially in or around resort communities. In Puerto Vallarta for example, there is a water park for all day entertainment, go-carts, Banana Boats. Of course there is swimming, horseback riding, fishing and hiking. You can take tours on jungle boats or rides to hot springs. A simple walk through the crowned Church or a walk along the Malecon is pleasant and fun. While a long history is lacking here, you might want to show the kids Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burtons love bridge between their houses.
If you are planning your trip to the Yucatan, you couldn’t visit all the ancient sites and explore the underground rivers even if you stayed a whole year. This intriguing peninsula also has three major ecological theme parks that make Disney look boring. They are definitely family oriented and provide fun and activities for all age levels. I still get belly laughs when I think of rafting down an underground river with all the kids in tow.
We encourage you to read up on local history and visit various monuments or sites that are available near your location. Not every location has a pyramid, but you can bet that the majority of places have a church or spectacular cathedral. Take a moment to look at local monuments and statues. If you are going to teach your kids about the importance of education you will want to explore and explain the relevance of various historic figures and events.
And while you are researching the local history, find out if there is a festival happening in the city or a nearby community. We are not talking about the booze-party Fiestas hosted by hotel chains or the like. Explore a town on Constitution Day, Marti Gras, day of the dead or biggest of all, Semana Santa. Enjoy local parades and festivities that are made for the community NOT the tourists. Oh sure you are welcome to enjoy the fun; but the focus is on the specific town and the Mexican community.