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Family-friendly things to do in Mexico

An incredibly inviting country for families, Mexicans welcome children into their restaurants and bars with open arms – but you probably won't be spending too much time in them when there's so much else to do in Mexico.

With almost 10,000 kilometres of beaches surrounded by jungle and dotted with colourful colonial cities, Mayan, Aztec and Spanish cultural influences can be seen in temples and ruins that families love to explore.

From fun Cancun to colourful Mexico City and sleepy, bohemian Tulum in the Riviera Maya, the options for families are as wide as your children's eyes will be.

A vast city park

The fascinating capital, Mexico City, is one of the largest cities in the world and stretching off from its central Paseo de la Reforma is a huge – 1,600-acre – park.

Bosque de Chapultepec encompasses a zoo, a castle-turned-museum, forests, lakes and cycle tracks, play areas, botanical gardens and much more.

The museums in the park are enough to keep you and your family amused for days on end, including the world-leading National Museum of Anthropology and the Modern Art Museum.

Set in the impressive Chapultepec Castle, where the Emperor Maximilian once lived, is the National History Museum. And there's also the intriguing Papalote Museo del Nino – The Museum of the Child – where kids learn by playing with the interactive science, technology and art exhibits.

The museums are easy to get to as they're situated in the first section of the park along with Chapultepec Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Or you could wander further to explore the forests and lakes, take pony rides, cycle or row a boat.

Don't miss the cultural performance known as the dance of the voladores – flyers – which takes place daily just outside the main entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology and involves four men in traditional costumes playing instruments and doing acrobatics while attached by ropes to the top of a tall pole.

There are also regular free weekend concerts and performances across the park including ballet and acrobatics.

Mayan history and protected species at Tulum

Just 65 kilometres south of Playa del Carmen is the fascinating town of Tulum with its Mayan architectural ruins, nature reserve, natural aquarium and caves. Even the journey there is an adventure through the wild side of Mexico, passing through jungle and past mangrove swamps.

Even if you're not history fans, the setting of what used to be a walled city is spectacular. Waves lap below a cliff-top watchtower with white sand beach on either side and, close by, the Coba archaeological site has pyramid-shaped temples with views over the surrounding jungle.

You can delve into the Templo de las Pinturas, with its partially restored mural then take a dip in the sea to cool off.

To make a day of it, choose from other nearby attractions, including the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. At this UNESCO Heritage Site you can kayak across its wetlands, spotting sea turtles and unusual birds as you go.

To see aquatic life up close, you can snorkel among tropical fish or swim with dolphins at Xel-Ha – the largest natural aquarium in the world, which also has some land-based activities like rope climbing and inner-tubing.

And completing a trio of natural wonders are the caves of Aktun Chen where you can keep cool underground among intriguing stalactites and stalagmites.

You can in Cancun

No longer just a party city, Cancun has some big attractions to offer families and – if you want to stay away from its hubbub – you can set up base in the beautiful Riviera Maya and make a trip there.

Perhaps the best-known family attraction is Xcaret, a popular eco-park with aviaries full of parrots. There's a butterfly pavilion to walk through, and you can see flamingos and manatees in their natural habitat.

There are also a number of cultural shows featuring Mexican and Mayan dancing and traditions.

At Hidden Worlds Cenotes Park you can float around in underground caves and explore cenotes, which are natural sinkholes once formed by underground rivers. Skycycles whiz overhead for amazing views, or you can zipline to splash down in the lakes.

Traditional family fun

The area of Puerto Vallarta mixes family-friendly beaches with lots of history and attractions for even the smallest children. In Mexico's largest natural bay the well-serviced beaches are a star attraction, with calm waters allowing plenty of splash time for the kids.

For more in the way of water fun, there's the Splash Water Park with kids' zones, a lazy river and ever-popular dolphin and sea-lion shows. Along a similar vein, but more for older children and the adults, at Vallarta Adventures you can train dolphins, go whale-watching and zipline over the forest.

When you need some downtime between fun days out, the old town of Puerto Vallarta has a traditional market, cobbled streets to explore that are full of whitewashed buildings, and a vibrant main square with good restaurants and bars.

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