Just before my son’s second birthday, we decided to leave Alberta and move back to Ontario. For a few months we lived with my mom until we found a house. For Christmas, my husband surprised me with a trip to Mexico. I hate, hate, hate surprises and we are definitely not the type of people that can afford to just book a vacation on a whim; but it was amazing.
Before our trip, we went and got our travel vaccinations as well as antibiotics just in case. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially since we knew we would be leaving our resort. As a kid my family lived in Southern California for a few years, and we would cross the border into Mexico quite often; so I really wasn’t too worried. I’d been many, many times. But my son was so young and I didn’t want to be that parent. So we went prepared.
We had no clue what to bring on a beach vacation with a toddler. Luckily, you don’t need much. Of course, we packed our antibiotics and things like Advil and Benadryl just in case; but we didn’t need any of it and could have just as easily purchased it all at the resort gift shop. We used cloth diapers when my son was young, but brought disposables for the trip. My son was close to being potty trained at this point, and we brought reusable swim diapers, so we brought way more disposables than we needed. Like way more. Again, prepared.
Sunscreen was the biggest must have as well as after-sun lotion. Hats, sunglasses, water shoes (these guys were our favourite but I swear I did not spend $45 on them… It was 2 years ago okay? JUSTIN I SWEAR!), swim shorts and a UV rashie were all obvious must haves, and cute clothes for dinner and sight seeing. We also brought a couple books, a stuffed animal, and a life jacket. The baby wrap, of course. That’s about it! Oh and a few small sand toys. Really, we planned on spending our days at the beach which is a giant sandbox… you really do not need much to entertain a 2 year old at a giant sandbox.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar. It had every ammentity you can think of, and was a part of a larger complex of Iberostars. The beach was clean with lots of huts for shade, the kid’s area was lots of fun, and there was even a little carousel!
What we did
We ate, hung out at the beach, and ate some more! My son took naps every day on a lawn chair at the beach (which is crazy because he never napped, even then) and my husband and I would take turns getting drinks from the bar. At night, we would explore the resort, and the room had a balcony so we could put Kaleb to bed and then stay up later without bothering him.
We rented a car for two days and drove to Tulum the first day and Chichen Itza the second. My husband did the driving, but we only got lost once and the roads were all decent. They had just completed a new highway directly from Riviera Maya to Chichen Itza, which not only made the drive easy but scenic with tropical foliage alongside the road. There are tons of tours that you can do, but this was cost effective for us. Plus, we didn’t want to get stuck with a tour if Kaleb was cranky or we were ready to move on. Renting a car allowed us to bring our car seat, and Kaleb napped in the car which was excellent. I am a huge proponent of travelling with a car seat even if it is a pain in the butt to lug around.
We had read that Tulum is a favourite attraction for many. It is very scenic and if you bring towels and bathing suits, there is a beach that you can go swimming at! It is much more picturesque than the resorts and wasn’t very busy. Everyone went down to look, but very few stayed and enjoyed. We didn’t want to lug our stuff down to the beach, but Kaleb enjoyed splashing in the water. It got very, very hot that day and it’s a long walk from the parking lot (there is a tram, but we’re cheap, people), so bringing water for the whole family and not just the kid is a good idea.
In contrast to Tulum, I had read that Chichen Itza was a tourist trap. Review after review said if you only had time for one, skip Chichen Itza and do Tulum. Now, I loved Tulum and some of our best vacation photos are from there, but I just didn’t “feel it.” At least, not the way I felt it at Chichen Itza. In fact, I was pretty set on returning the car early and just getting an extra day at the resort. I am usually all for adventure when I’m on vacation, but I hadn’t relaxed in two years and if Tulum was the better of the two, then I’d rather sit on the beach.
Thank gahd for spousal guilt, ya’ll! My husband was really excited to go, but left it up to me. He’s a tricky one, he is. So of course we went. The entrance was a little tacky, lots of tourist shops and stands and I’m pretty sure there were guys selling tickets to pet a baby jaguar (break my heart! Poor thing), but I live in Niagara Falls — the tackiest tourist trap that ever existed. I can deal with gaudy. And once we got past all of that and actually entered the area where the ruins are… guys I got that “feeling.”
So maybe I’m a huge nerd, but I love that feeling when you go somewhere really old and important and it’s almost like you can feel the stories of all of the people who were there before you vibrating from the ground and into your heart. Okay, so I’m definitely a huge nerd. But Chichen Itza is magnificent. We heard some amazing stories from the tour guides that were leading groups around and the architecture really is just unbelievable. I would really try to do both Chichen Itza and Tulum, but if you’re only able or wanting to do one, my official recommendation is Chichen Itza. It’s popular for a reason.
Another great plus to renting a car is if you end up ahead of schedule and see an interesting spot, you can stop. We ended up stopping at Cenote Ik Kil on our way home from Chichen Itza. There were lockers, change rooms, showers, and you can rent life jackets if you didn’t bring one. I don’t remember if there was a rule, but even if not, personally I would not let any children go in without a life jacket unless they’re an extremely competent swimmer. Saying it’s deep is an understatement. The water is cool, but it really is a beautiful place to take a dip. My son loved floating around and watching everyone jump off the stone platform into the water. I don’t know the exact height, but it’s a decent jump. Point of pride: I hate water, I plug my nose, and I did it! It was absolutely insane and I will never do it again, but I did it!
I can honestly say that travelling with a toddler is not that much different than travelling as a couple. There are more considerations to take, but you do not have to miss out on anything just because you have a little one. We even found out that many of the snorkelling tours are baby friendly and even supply floaties! An all-inclusive resort is the perfect option for the first time travelling with a baby or young kid — everything you need is in one place and you don’t need to worry about cooking or cleaning. You don’t even need to leave the resort to have a good time, but I always enjoy a day to take in the surrounding area.