Despite its emphasis on culture, museums and big piles of old rocks, Merida and the Yucatan can be a great place to be a kid. But you have to know where to go, when to go and what to look for. Here is what we hope is an ever-growing list of places to go and things to know about being in Merida and in the Yucatan with children.
Obviously, this list is not finite… in fact, we hope it will be an ever-growing list. We will add to it as we discover and remember new things, and we absolutely welcome your comments with advice, tips and tricks that you might have learned along the way. Everyone wins when we share this information!
Archaeological Zones for Children
For brevity’s sake, we are only including a few of the Maya archaeological zones in this list. We do want to point out that most kids can only take so many of these visits on one trip. The zones are large parks, which allows for lots of room to run around, but all that walking and running around can also be tiring. Visiting these parks should be done as early in the morning as possible (or later in the day) to avoid the intense heat of mid afternoon, and possibly paired with a visit to a cenote or a restaurant with a swimming pool afterwards (yes, restaurants with pools are fairly common in the Yucatan). Wherever and whenever you go in the Yucatan, be sure to bring and drink water (not soda!) and sit down once in awhile. The Yucatan is all about taking things slowly and at a leisurely pace… it’s the best way to handle the heat, especially if you aren’t used to it.
Some of these parks are more fun than others for children. Here is a brief rundown of what children might enjoy at some of the more popular ones:
Chichen Itza: Of course, it’s great to see the Pyramid of Kukuulcaan or El Castillo, that stack of rocks that has become one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Kids will also probably enjoy seeing the cenote, the ball court and the myriad of things that the vendors are selling all throughout the park.
Uxmal: While the big buildings are impressive, our experience is that the best thing for kids about Uxmal is the plethora of iguanas that are easy to see and easy to get close to. Also, you can climb one of the structures here that lets you get high up and see far away, something you can’t do at Chichen Itza anymore. After you’ve had enough of walking around, drive on down the road to one of the Uxmal hotels or to The Pickled Onion (in nearby Santa Elena) for lunch and a dip in their pool to cool off.
Dzibilchaltun: There’s an eco-walk here that points out the names of some of the most common plants in the Yucatan jungle. The sacbe (white road) between the Temple of the Dolls and the rest of the park can get really hot during the day. Bring bathing suits and jump in the cenote afterwards! But please be careful. One end of the cenote is shallow and you can see the bottom. The other end is great for jumping into but is over 140 feet deep and connects to an underground river. Be careful and be safe.
Ek Balaam: This archaeological zone has beautiful sculptures that are pretty impressive, even to children (for about three minutes). You can point out two big mountains and wow your kids with the information that those are pyramids that haven’t been uncovered yet. And then rent some bicycles and go to the cenote.
Coba: Bicycles are the best thing about Coba for kids. Everyone can have their own and you can ride through the jungle on paths to see the ruins. At the end, you can climb up the tallest structure and have a great view. But this climb is somewhat dangerous and there are no railings or handles. Not for very young children.
Large Parks & Zoos in Merida
Parque Zoologico del Centenario
The Parque Zoologico del Centenario, sometimes just called Centennario or The Zoo, is a wonderful place for a family outing. Here, you will find over 1,000 animals, some of which are in international programs to rescue threatened and endangered species. The zoo is divided into two parts. If you enter at the entrance on Avenida Itzaes (not the one on the corner of Itzaes and Calle 59), you will find the animals in a separate section to your right, and the rest of the zoo in front of you and to the left. Outside the animal section, you will find a playground with plenty of installations for climbing and sliding, horseback riding, a teleferico (cable-car ride), guided tours of the zoo, a small lake with boats available for rent, a very popular kid-sized train that makes its rounds through the park, and plenty of green spaces to picnic and just enjoy the environment. There is also a restaurant available, as well as stands selling ice cream and other sweets. Free wireless internet is available throughout the park and zoo.
Location: Calle 55 x 62 y 64 Centro Mérida Yucatán, México
Hours: Parque Zoologico del Centenario is closed on Monday
Tuesday through Sunday: Zoo: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Recreation Areas: 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Train: $1 peso
Boats: $3 pesos
Teleferico: $5 pesos
Rest Rooms: Free
Free Guided Tours: 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM
Buses to Animaya: Free transport between Parque Zoologico del Centenario and Animaya. More at the website.
Animaya, Parque del Bicentenario
Animaya is an animal park where the people are confined and the animals roam free in what is as close to their natural habitat as possible. At the present time, all of the animals at Animaya are herbivores. There are 150 different species, from Barbary sheep to zebras. It is expected that lions and tigers will be added in the future. Visitors can enjoy the green areas, take a guided tour, or go to the top of the tall tower, near the entrance, from which they can see the entire park and most of the City of Merida. The tower may just be the tallest public place in the city and provides a lovely view of the surrounding area. Animaya also has a Bici-ruta every Sunday, so come to the park and bring your bicycles!
Location: Across the Periferico, on Calle 60 (see map on the website )
Hours: Animaya, Parque del Bicentenario is closed on Monday
Tuesday through Sunday: Park: 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Estela-Mirador Tower: 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Free Tours of Animaya: 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM, with free transport between Parque Zoologico del Centenario and Animaya
Parque de Las Americas
This park is a special park among parks, as just walking through it can be a teaching experience and a lot of fun. The park is divided into four quadrants which are separated by streets, so one must be very careful with little children. On Sundays, the streets are blocked off and the park is a bit more safe. That said, the two southern quadrants of the park are full of obelisks with the names of every country in the Americas. Can you and your children figure out what each one is? Can you find the United States and Canada, just one of many countries in the Americas? In the southeast quadrant, there is a large be-sculptured fountain. In the southwest quadrant, a smaller fountain and the José Marti Cultural Center (mentioned below). In the northwest quadrant, an orchestral shell provides a fun place to perform impromptu plays or enjoy learning about how echos work and sound travels. The northeast quadrant is a playground, not always open, but open only to children and their parents. All four quadrants provide shady places to sit and walk.
Location: Avenida Colon at Calle 21, Colonia García Ginéres
Salvador Alvarado Sports Park
This is a great place to go if you want to play sports. There are basketball and handball courts, baseball diamonds and tennis courts. There are places to do outdoor exercises with bars and even some free weights. There is a track that surrounds the whole park, shaded by flowering trees. There is also a professional track in front of grandstands. And there are grass lawns for playing soccer, tag or just throwing a football. In other areas of the park at certain times of day, you might find outdoor salsa classes or exercise classes. And there is a swimming pool, but it does not appear to be open to the public.
Location:Calle 60 at Calle 21, north of the Hotel Zone with the Hyatt and Fiesta Americana
Hours: The park opens at 5:30 AM and closes at dark, unless there is an event
El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (The Big Museum of the Maya World)
This large museum might just take more than one visit to fully appreciate. There are exhibits dedicated to the beginning of the world, according to both science and Maya cosmology. Your children will love exhibits about dinosaurs, insects and even rocks. After that, you can all enjoy exhibits dedicated to the history of the Maya people in the Yucatan, with costumes, pottery, graves (with real bones!), reconstructions of various places in Yucatan with exceptional sculptures, dioramas, videos and much more. Kids of all ages will find something to love at this museum. The museum also has a large new movie theatre where they play classic cartoon movies for children on Saturdays and Sundays.
Location: C. 60 Norte, Unidad Revolución, Ex-Cordemex (past Gran Plaza, on the left next to Siglo XXI. Parking entrance on the east side)
Hours: Open 8 AM to 5 PM, closed Tuesdays
Sound and Light Show: Every night at 9 PM. Its free!
Admission:$150 pesos per person, $100 pesos for Mexicans or visa holders
Museum of the City of Merida
Adults love the Museum of the City of Merida and, if they only visit during the week, they might not be aware that one of the main goals of this museum is to ensure that the next generation has access to the historical and cultural roots of Yucatan. The museum’s children’s programs are aimed at schools, institutions, tourism and the general public. On Saturdays, the Museum of the City of Merida has a variety of artistic activities available for children. One of the best series is the presentation of the legends of Yucatan, accompanied by wonderful mimes. Other activities include drawing classes and contests, as well as special shows and other special events. Plus, it’s a pretty building that doesn’t look like anything else in Merida, and it is right next door to the central mercado.
Location: Calle 56 # 529-A, opening onto Parque Eulogio Rosado Centro Histórico
Children’s Programs: Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Admission: Free to all museum activities
Museum of Natural History
This museum is very much geared towards the educational entertainment of children. While many activities will be in Spanish, most of them are enjoyable no matter what language you speak (or don’t speak).
Video Documentaries: 12:00 PM Sundays: Documentaries about natural history topics ranging from animals and plants to the history of individual eras of the planet and spectacular weather events.
Weekly Workshops: 12:00 PM Sundays and in other theaters as shown in the Events calendar of the City of Merida (usually an hour in length and at 10:00 AM). These workshops can range from drawing dinosaurs to handicrafts using recycled material, or even scientific experiments.
Summer Schools: Duration: 2 weeks to a month during July and August. Ages 8 to 12. Topics include natural history, green living, homemade science, crafts workshop with emphasis on recycling.
Location: Calle 59 # 648 x 84 y 84-A, north side of the El Centenario Zoo.
Admission: Free for all of the activities listed above.
Merida en Domingo (Merida on Sunday)
Bici-Ruta (Bicycle Route)
This is one of the biggest, and certainly the most active, weekly public events created with children and families in mind. The program in Merida is just part of a national program and effort to help children and their parents become more active. This event is designed so that you can start on either end and move along according to whatever activity interests you the most. The listings that say “interactive activities” can be anything from a pickup soccer game to a cooking, art or music lesson. This is absolutely the best place for families with children on Sundays. To learn much more, visit the Bici-Ruta website.
The following is an example of just one Sunday at the Bici Ruta:
Stop # 1: Ermita de Santa Isabel
8:00 AM: Free bike loan
9:00 AM Ambient music
9:00 AM Interactivities and recreational circuits
10:00 AM Capoeira classes by the “Zenzala Do Carib”
11:00 AM Movie: Disney Princesses
Stop # 2: Paseo de Montejo x Av. Cupules
9:00 AM Ambient music
9:00 AM Art on wheels, with the participation of MACAY
9:00 AM Oil Painting (child size easels)
9:00 AM Mini-fair and miniCHEF
9:00 AM Promoting road safety education with brochures and giving children an opportunity to paint their thoughts on road safety
Stop # 3: Av. Montejo x del Deportista
9:00 AM Mini-biciruta – space for learning to ride bikes
9:00 AM Family Contests
Stop # 4: Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Nation)
11:00 AM Movie: Toy Factory
Stop # 5: Paseo de Montejo x 43
8:00 AM Free Bike Loan
9:00 AM Ambient music
9:00 AM Set Free, by Bicimaya SA de CV
9:00 AM Interactive activities
Playful Spaces: Children’s Workshop: Various Programs whose purpose is to teach children the different expressions of art through play.
Location: Centro Cultural Jose Marti / Parque de las Americas
Time: 10:00 AM
Admission: Free (children over the age of 5)
We remind you that this is an example of what can happen on any given weekend on the Bici-ruta. For the events during the week you want to attend, check their website… or just go down to Bici-ruta and participate. We guarantee it will be fun!
Government-Run Cultural Centers in Merida
Programs at these cultural centers are for children from 4 to 12 years old. Programs start usually in September and admission is limited. There are also summer classes. If you want to enroll your child at one of these cultural centers, you must do fill out this form from the website for the Institut de Cultura. The exact addresses, hours and phone numbers for any Cultural Center can be found on this page of the website. The details of classes that are given for the summer and starting in September are traditionally published in the Diario de Yucatan newspaper before classes start.
Centro Cultural del Nino Yucateco (CECUNY)
This cultural center works with the educational system in Yucatan to provide scientific and artistic workshops for children. It stresses the arts, communication, cooperation and respect for human rights. The programs are designed to give full recognition to cultural diversity and human rights of humanity as a whole. The object is to strengthen the ability of students and graduates to function well in a global cultural environment.
Location: Calle 59 # 424-A x 48 y 50, Centro
Hours: Monday through Friday, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Ricardo Lopez Mendez Cultural Center
The workshops at this cultural center promote the values of Yucatan, as well as the customs and traditions. Programs are designed to improve the standard of living for the people. Workshops include art and culture, as well as active and enthusiastic participation of students in workshops, festivals and events.
Location: Calle 49 # 360 x 46 y 48, Unidad Habitacional Cordemex
Hours: Monday – Friday: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Saturday: 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Juan Acereto Cultural Center
This cultural center is home to the three year Escuela de Trova Yucateca y Música Popular (high school). Classes run in the afternoon shift. Primary attention is given to both singers and musicians. This is one of the sources of those marvelous recitals we get to hear at the end of fall and spring semesters.
Location: Calle 59 # 426 x 50, Centro (south side of Parque de la Mejorada)
Centro Cultural de Merida Olimpo
Sundays at the Olimpo are dedicated to children. Here, they can enjoy music, theater, dance, and visual arts. The goal is to encourage their expressions of creativity and sensitivity to the arts. The humor and wit of the participating artists appeals to children in the space created just for them.
Location: Calle 62 at Calle 61, Merida centro
This is a beautiful school situated in old buildings that used to be part of a hospital and are surrounded by a parklike setting. The arts are taught here, to both children and adults, including a very vibrant music program.
Location:Calle 37 No. 526 entre 74 y 74-A, Colonia García Ginerés
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 3 PM
Centro Cultural Jose Marti
This cultural center is probably the most visible of all the cultural centers, second only to the Olimpo. Watch Yucatan Living’s Weekly Events to keep up with all of the performances, exhibitions, movies and concerts that take place here, some of which are for children.
Location: Parque de las Americas, Avenida Colon at Calle 21, García Ginéres
Centro Cultural Wallis
This cultural center produces some of the most talented artists and performers we have ever seen and they begin training there as children. The workshops include Drawing, Painting, the Children’s Choir, Music Theory, Regional Dance, Classical Dance, Jazz Dance, Guitar, Violin, Piano, an astoundingly good Children’s Theater, Theater for youth and adults, and Crafts. Centro Cultural Wallis is renowned for the quality of teachers and instruction, as well as for the quality of graduates they produce.
Location: Calle 33 x 14 y 16, Fraccionamiento Wallis
Hours: Monday – Friday: 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Saturday: 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Centro Cultural de Cholul
Even if you choose to live in a smaller neighborhood or village, children still have the opportunity to develop their interests and talents in formal classes – just in more of a small town, community center environment. Such is the case in Cholul, where workshops are available in Jazz Dance, Drawing and Painting, and Guitar.
Location: Calle 21 x 20 y 22, Cholul (outside the Periferico, to the east of Merida)
Outside of Merida
Casa de la Cultura for the town of Progreso
Workshops: Hawaiian and Mexican Dances, Regional Folklore, Jazz, Classical Dance, Painting, Visual Arts, Folk Art (handicrafts), Vocals and Guitars, Children’s Theater.
Address: Calle 80 por 25 Col. Centro
The Casa de la Cultura in Izamal is called “Ricardo López Méndez”
Workshops: Visual Arts and Crafts, Jazz, Mexican Dances, Regional folklore, Guitar and singing.
Address: Calle 30 por 27 Col. Centro
Centro Cultural for the town of Valladolid.
Workshops: Jazz, Zumba, Regional and Mexican Dances, Chess, Latin Rhythms, Weaving and Embroidery, Painting, Crafts, Art Awareness, Mayan, Violin, Piano, Classical Guitar, Classical Ballet.
Address: Calle 40 # 200 por 39 y 41 Col. Centro
Other Places and Activities of Interest
Astronomy in Merida: Planetario Arcadio Poveda Ricalde
The programs at the Planetarium allow you to travel the Universe from the comfort of your seat in the theatre. The Planetarium has a 100% digital projection system, the first of its kind in all of Mexico. The goal of the Planetarium is to spark interest in science and technology, and especially in Astronomy, in children and young people. The public is asked to please arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the beginning of any show. It might also be a good idea to bring a sweater, as it is quite cool in the Planetarium. The Planetarium offers at least two spaces for wheelchairs in every space in the building. All of the documentaries are dubbed in Spanish. Programs include movies like Microscosm, a fantastic journey inside the human body where you watch as different parts are attacked by a powerful virus. XXI century medicine has a technological breakthrough and sends a microscopic ship to destroy the virus. Another is Wild Future, a program based on a television series for Discovery Channel International. It is a futuristic vision of the animals that inhabit the Earth in 5,100 and 200 million years into the future. The film was developed by an international team of researchers in the fields of botany, geology, biology, palentology, and more. Come and experience a fantastic future that is based on real science. Note: If you do not speak Spanish or if you cannot make it to the shows at the Planetarium, the Planetarium has an online guide to the night sky that you can see from home with a telescope or binoculars of your own. If you look at Exploring the Firmament on the website, you will find a great guide that gives both times and dates for “do it yourself” learning from home.
Location: Calle 62 por 61 Centro, next to the Palacio Municipal
Hours: Find the weekly schedule on the website here.
Telephone: 942-0000 Ext. 80121, 80122, 80125, 80124 and 80126
Contact: Pedro Ac Tacu, Jefe de Departamento Estructura y Servicios
e-mail: planetario [at] merida [dot] gob [dot] mx
Admission to Shows: General Public: $30 pesos. Children under 12, students, teachers, seniors with INSEN credentials and individuals with disabilities: $15 pesos
Yoga for kids (ages 4 to 12) is taught at a dance studio in the centro called Tumakat. The class includes yoga, dance, movement, art and fun. The classes are mostly in Spanish, but English is spoken well by some kids, and by some of the teachers. You can find out more here (article in Spanish).
Location: Calle 51 #475 A x 52 y 54 Centro
Times: Tuesday and Thursday, 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM
Carriage rides through the centro of Merida (or Izamal) are fun for kids of all ages. Seeing the city (any city) at a trotting pace is like going back in time. You aren’t walking, but you aren’t in a car either. We encourage you to catch a carriage either on Calle 61 at Calle 60 where the carriages line up, or on Saturday nights at the southern end of Paseo Montejo. We also encourage you to only ride in the early morning or at night, when the heat abates. This is easier on the horses. A carriage ride in Merida will give your kids an experience they will probably not get anywhere else. It also might open up conversations about fair treatment of animals and the history of Merida. In Izamal, you can contract for a carriage ride to take you to some local artisans shops, combining riding and shopping.
Address: Calle 61 at Calle 60, across from the Catedral in Merida centro or in Izamal across from the Convent.
Cost: Upwards of 100 pesos, depending on how many of you there are and where they take you. We always give the driver an extra ten pesos and tell him its for the horse. Better yet, bring a carrot or an apple to give to the horse.
The most fun thing to do when its hot in Merida is go for a swim. Swimming can be hours of fun for you and your kids, and its a great thing to do when its too hot to do anything else, like in the middle of the day. There are three ways to go swimming in the Yucatan: swimming pools, cenotes or the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. We figure you know how to get to the beach. Cenotes can be visited with a guide in a place like Cuzama or at the Dzibilchaltun archaeological zone (see earlier in this article). In Merida, you can pay for access to a pool at some of the large hotels. Or you can hop in the car and go to the water park on the way to Progreso.
Rio Salvaje WaterparkOpen during vacations, holidays and weekends. Entrance fee is $100 pesos, free for children under 3 and Insen cardholders. Park hours are 10 AM to 6 PM. The park is located on the carretera north of Merida on the way to Progreso. More information on the Rio Salvaje website.
Hyatt: The pool area at the Hyatt Hotel in the Merida Hotel Zone is open to the public from May to August. Admission is $200 pesos per adult and $100 pesos per child from 6 to 12. Children under 6 are free. You must call the hotel at (999)942-1234 and make a reservation. The entrance fee can be credited towards a meal at the pool area restaurant.
Fiesta Americana: A day pass at the Fiesta Americana is $125 pesos per adult with a 50% discount for children. The pool is open daily from 7 AM to 10 PM. The day pass gives you access to the swimming pool, sauna, and gym. Your children must of course be under the care of an adult at all times. Call (999)942-1111 for information, though they do not appear to require a reservation.
Merida is a busy place, but some times are busier than others. Every spring, Merida celebrates Carnaval at the same time that it is celebrated in other places around the world (Venice, Rio, New Orleans, etc.). There are parades every day for a week and what child doesn’t love a parade? The Children’s Parade is always on the second day (Thursday) after the start of Carnaval and is especially fun for children. It is also the shortest parade, making it easier for children to enjoy from start to finish.
Another fun time of year for children is during Day of the Dead, or Hanal Pixan, as it is called in the Yucatan. Altars are set up in the Plaza Grande and all along Calle 66 below Parque L’Ermita. Children participate in the altars, often dressed in traditional huipiles. In the Plaza Grande, altars are festooned with flowers, food, incense and photographs. Some even have chickens, goats, dolls and other interesting accoutrements, all of which can be fascinating for kids.
Progreso and the Yucatan Gulf Coast
The following have been suggested by a reader, who cautions (and we concur) to check the locations by cell or web site to ensure they are open on the day you want to come.
San Crisanto has a canal tour of the mangroves and gives a good view of how Yucatan is working to maintain the eco-system. You have the chance to swim in the cenote with some fish and if you are lucky hold a baby lagarto (alligator) for a few minutes. The tour costs (at last check) $40 pesos per person. Call (999) 926-0236 for more information.
Laguna Rosada at the entrance to Telchac Puerto is another attraction. The place provides canal rides in their gondolas, a play area for the kids and a great restaurant. The entire place is solar powered.
In Progreso, besides of course the beach itself, try the ecological preserve of El Corchito. To get to El Corchito,
turn east toward Chicxulub at the Pemex station at the entrance to Progreso. Continue about 2 KM to the second roundabout (glorieta). Look there for a sign to El Corchito. Continue on to your right for a few more meters, and then turn right on the dirt road that will take you to the boat landing area.
Time: Boat rides begin at 8:30 AM daily and run until dusk.
Cost: $20 pesos per person for the boat ride.
There is another eco-tour in Progreso called La Ria. Here’s a video of La Ria to give you an idea of what it looks like (the video is 5 minutes long, and repeats itself… you only need to watch a few minutes of it). If you want to do some kayaking, this might just be the place.
Location: Here’s a map and info in Spanish on Foursquare
Contact: riaprogreso [at] gmail [dot] com or (999) 909 5266.
Kids also love a walk along the malecon followed by a refreshing swim in the Gulf waters and lunch under an umbrella with your feet in the sand.
Got an activity to add to this page? Let us know at info [at] yucatanliving [dot] com. Thanks!