This tropical paradise is not just for spring breakers anymore, though who could blame those party animals for coming here? Nowadays the 15-mile stretch of white sand is filled with family-friendly resorts, where you can lounge under thatched-roof palapas with a perfectly chilled margarita resting in your hand, watching the kids learn how to snorkel.
No matter how old your crew is, they’ll love exploring the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá, proudly named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. A sprawling, ancient complex hidden in the jungle, Chichén Itzá is a ghost town built of stone and earth. Eyes bulge out in disbelief as they soak it all in, imagining what life was like here 1,200 years ago. Arrive early to watch The Castle, El Castillo, emerge like a stone giant from the morning fog, before racing up its 91 steps for one of the best views in all of Mexico.
After exploring the ruins, take a refreshing dip in one of the Yucatan’s most famous jungle sinkholes—Ik-Kil, a.k.a. the Sacred Blue Cenote. A grand staircase takes you down 85 feet to the surface of this pristine pool, festooned with hanging vines and waterfalls.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Playa, as the locals call it, like to think of their coastal city as the anti-Cancun due to its chic appeal and European vibe. Honestly, we don’t know why the two towns are fighting for your affection—they’re both memory-making destinations the whole family will love.
Your memories here may very well include the vibrant reef system right off the shore, where swimmers of all abilities can float in the calm waters spotting sea turtles and manta rays. Or you may prefer renting a bike and pedaling deep into the city’s interior for authentic fish tacos. If walking is more your thing, the pedestrian-only Quinta Avenida gives you 20 blocks worth of shops, restaurants and people watching.
Any time spent here would not be complete without a visit to Tulum, the Mayan walled city built atop a cliff facing the Caribbean. Most Mayan fortresses were built with defense in mind, using the jungle to hide their presence. The builders of Tulum just took one look at the amazing coast here and said, “This will do nicely.”
CABO SAN LUCAS
The beaches in Cabo have strong undertows and steep drop-offs, making them less than ideal for swimming. But then again, you may be too busy kayaking, waterskiing, sport fishing, golfing, windsurfing, parasailing and celebrity-spotting to notice.
You know about the arch—El Arco—a famous rock formation in the Sea of Cortez. Animals know about it too, which is why they hang out here year-round, making it a sweet place for your family to spot sea lions lounging on the rocks and wide-winged pelicans swooping overhead. If it’s larger animals you yearn for, head to the Pacific side of the Arch to spy grey whales on their annual migration.
Further down the western shore is the famous town of Puerto Vallarta, a haven for Hollywood in the 1950s and a destination for sun-worshippers today. Nestled between the hiking-friendly, palm-covered foothills of the Sierra Madres and horseshoe-shaped Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta is, without a doubt, 100% captivating.
Listen to street-side mariachi bands as you stroll the Malecón, a 12-block seaside boardwalk filled with action, art and arresting views. Outside of town, you can take a horseback ride through the hills or, in August, watch turtle hatchlings march into the sea.