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Mexico: Cancun, Family Vacations with Turtles and Tortillas. Sea Turtle Hatchling Cancun MexicoIn Cancun it is possible to combine sea turtle conservation and a family vacation. Add Mayan ruins, premium beaches, scuba diving, outstanding food, and and bargain prices.

Andrew Der, father of two teens, knows what it takes for a family to not just enjoy but thrive on a holiday in Mexico. He shares his passion for green travel and Mother Nature’s wonder with his family and reports to us about a recent trip to Cancun on Mexico’s family-friendly Yucatan Peninsula.  

Here’s the scoop. In late summer and early fall it’s like being in a private, National Geographic special. The baby sea turtles tickled my hand as they squirmed to paddle against real or imagined currents, and upon release onto the quiet beach, they all spread out en masse like a reptilian carpet disappearing into the sea, leaving nothing but a cool breeze and smiles behind.

Who would have thought Cancun’s Marriot Casa Magna Hotel would be a leader in the area’s innovative sea turtle conservation program? Coordinating with government and non-governmental organizations, the hotel facilitates the collaboration of other beach front properties with nest relocations and conservation.

Responsible sea turtle encounters. When visiting in the late summer or early fall, it is possible to visit Casa Magna’s protected hatching area and perhaps to see a turtle release. Guests of Casa Magna have to option to view the young hatchlings in their safe habitat. Unlike in the USA, it is even possible to touch and play with these cute but endangered creatures. The purpose of the unique tactile encounter is to promote public awareness and appreciation. The highlight is the evening beach release when each child gets to choose a turtle to hold, name and let go.

Cancun vacation planning. Mexico’s most popular resort city and keystone gateway city to the Yucatan, is the area visitors know as mostly an island connected by a road way through the “hotel zone” – and may well be best to see off season in the late summer or fall. For families Cancun and the surrounding area offer options well beyond beach time. For pre planning purposes it is best to select one main activity per day and add the rest as you go.

Share beach time. For most families, the main activity in Cancun is the beach. Beaches are free and for a bit of variety, try the public beaches Playa Delfines and the calmer Playa Tortugas. From beach volleyball and sandcastles to a massage on the beach in huts while listening to the surf, the possibilities are many. Popular activities include sailing, wind surfing, kayaking, dolphin swims, snorkeling and diving.
SCUBA Diving Cancun
Scuba diving anyone? Cancun is an easy place to introduce teens to scuba diving. The Marriott also offers resort scuba certification right at their pool for the easiest way to try it out. Resort courses are short classes allowing anyone without experience to dive for the first time with a certified guide and Aquaworld, a popular Caribbean vendor, also arranges dolphin swims and boat rides. Cancun dives begin with a short boat ride and include access to see corals, sea turtles, dolphins, rays and myriad of colorful fish. Wait for it! For something really off the wall, checkout the new underwater sculpture garden with statues and VW Beetle replica.

Visit Mercado 28.  One of the best ways to see Cancun is to ride a city bus to the commercial heart of Cancun (It’s the #2 city bus from the Marriott.).  Start with Mercado 28. This popular open-air shopping market offers a unique cultural shopping experience for teens. Authentic goods and popular items include clothing, bags, sunglasses, hats, and leather boots. Be prepared to bargain and politely say no to the vendors when the price is not a match for your budget. If done correctly, there are deals to be had.

Yes, there are shopping centers and Plaza Kukulcan, an American style mall, if necessary.  Guys can give in to their inner child by visiting an actual genuine Harley Davidson dealership that not only sells Harley paraphernalia and bikes – but also rents them (stay calm). It is also a great place to get a Harley T shirt gift at a lot less than at the airport. OK – I am digressing and this may not be a big deal to some, but if you ride, then there is no better way to see the Mayan Riviera than a day drive along the coast. However, all the rest of you easy riders need not despair as motor scooter rentals are plentiful and anyone can drive them as an alternative.

Where it’s party time. Cancun is a party destination and all the popular clubs are in the hotel zone. Try Daddy O’s and The City followed by Azucar, Ultra Club and Terrace, Coco Bongo, and Daddy Rock. For something different, try Pac-Na Hostel on Isla Mujeres for a throwback beachfront hippie bar with bonfires. Actually, be even hipper than the Cancun crowd by opting for Playa Del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera after midnight. This is not only the most popular see-and-be-seen beach for the scantily clad but also considered the best nightlife zone where Cancun is so, well…yesterday. Try Blue Parrot Bar, Fah, and very edgy, Playa 69 for liberal audiences only.

As for the tortillas.  They are warm, fresh and tempting. For certain, the local cuisine does not compare with any Mexican dining in the USA. This region does seafood very well and specializes in offering authentic native dishes. Some of it is a bit milder than one might expect. I am uncertain if it reflects actual regional cooking tastes or is “milded down” to suit wimpier American tastes. But if you prefer (like me) borderline painful spiciness, ask for the fresh-made habanero hot sauce on the side – “a little dab will do ya” (that was a sixties commercial).

Location on the planet. Cancun is situated on the Yucatan Peninsula along the southeastern coast of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo. It is known for Mexican hospitality, unique natural wonders, dramatically beautiful Mayan ruins and as well as its white sand beaches and crystal clear aquamarine waters. 

Make it happen. For planning purposes Andrew has suggested the following websites for perusal.

Official travel website for Cancun.
Active adventure connection.
Riviera Maya Family Vacations. 

Content and images by Andrew T. Der, Pennsylvania native and father of teens. Copyright 2012.

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