What It’s Like to Have a Baby / Toddler in Cancun

My son is now almost two years old (he’s 21 months in Mommy-Speak), and not only has he taught me how to be a parent – he’s also taught me how to be a parent in Cancun, Mexico. I grew up as the youngest of 3 kids, and neither Jorge nor I had much experience with kids and babies before having one of our own, so it’s been a trial-and-error adventure! We’ve been blessed with a super-easy kid who is happy, outgoing, adventurous and a great sleeper, although his high energy levels keep us on our toes. (Seriously, the kid does not sit still.)  With that background info, here’s my take on what it’s like to start out parenting as an expat living in Cancun:

Puerto Juarez restaurant

Lunch date with the newborn in Puerto Juarez

Daycare

My understanding is that daycare in the States is around $1000 dollars a month, making many parents question if it would make more sense financially to stay home or continue working. Here in Cancun, daycare costs about anywhere from $50 to $200 a month, depending on how fancy you want to get and how many hours you use. This is still a good chunk of monthly salary for many employees in Cancun, but still more reasonable, I think. If you’re an employee who has IMSS or ISSSTE (Mexican social security and public health care), you are eligible for certain approved daycares for free; the downside is that there is a bit more paperwork up-front and these daycares often have a waiting list, but the opportunity for free daycare far outweighs those two minor inconveniences.

Baby on Isla Mujeres

Baby’s first day trip to Isla Mujeres!

Babysitting

When I was a kid growing up in Virginia, my parents would pay one of the neighbor girls to come over and babysit us two or three evenings a month. When I was in middle and high school, other families from my church would pay me to watch their kids from time to time. In the States, it’s normal to hire a trustworthy friend or acquaintance to watch your kids so you can go out, on a date, etc. Here in Mexico, not so much. I don’t think I know any parent in Cancun who has hired a babysitter, or even asked a close friend to watch their kids. (Correct me if I’m wrong here, guys.) Instead, people here rely almost entirely on family members. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins are almost always willing to step in and watch your kids, for free! For those parents that have no family in town, they simply don’t go out as much, at least not without their kids, or one parent will stay home so the other can go out. We are incredibly lucky to have Jorge’s family here in Cancun and they are all great babysitters, so we were able to get the occasional full night’s sleep when our son was an infant, and go out on more dates as he has gotten older.

Downtown Cancun taco restaurant

Waiting in line for tacos with Dad

Raising a Bilingual Kid

Our son is being raised bilingual. I speak to him entirely in English, and Jorge speaks to him entirely in Spanish. Since he will be hearing almost all Spanish outside of our home, right now we make sure to balance that out by having all his books, music and shows in English. (He is obsessed with Sesame Street and only Sesame Street.) So far I think it is going well; he took a little longer than most to start talking, but now he has maybe 20 words and phrases, about half in English and half in Spanish. In theory he is supposed to talk to me exclusively in English and to Jorge exclusively in Spanish, but since he is just starting out, we are mostly just focusing on making it easy for him to communicate in whatever language for the moment.

Cancun park for kids

Practicing his walking at the local park! (For awhile there he needed 1 item in each hand for balance)

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and formula feeding are both very common in Cancun, and although there is awareness about the pros and cons of each, there doesn’t seem to be any judgment as to which one you choose for your family. Breastfeeding in public isn’t too common, but I think that’s mostly because many moms prefer to stay home with their infants and not take them out much for health reasons; however, when a mother does breastfeed in public, nobody seems to care or notice, even if she isn’t using a cover. If you go to a mother’s home, she probably won’t be shy about breastfeeding while visitors are around. In Mexico, breastfeeding in public is simply a non-issue.

Going Out with a Baby / Toddler

From what I can tell, babies and children are more welcomed in public here in Mexico. Mexicans in general just LOVE kids and are more likely to talk to your kid or compliment them when you go out in public. Some expats here have mentioned that Mexicans are also more likely to want to touch or hold your baby, but personally I haven’t had a stranger touch my son yet, although my friends and family enjoy holding him. It’s common here to see kids running around restaurants, the mall, parties, shops, etc., and nobody seems to mind the extra noise and commotion.

Rio Lagartos with kids

Seeing the flamingos in Rio Lagartos

Buying Baby Stuff

When I first got pregnant, I was worried about not being able to find all the baby accessories I wanted here in Cancun. However, I discovered that most everything is easily available, toys are relatively inexpensive, and feeding accessories like bottles and baby spoons are pretty cheap. Also, local carpentry is pretty affordable and high-quality, so you can easily have a crib or other baby furniture handcrafted for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a fancy store. The small downsides I found to buying baby items in Cancun were the following:

  • Many of the nicer, less essential items like baby swings and bouncers are very expensive as compared to the US, and can mostly only be bought in department stores.
  • Muslin blankets that are so popular in the US right now are hard to come by in Mexico. I suppose you could make your own, but I was surprised to see muslin blankets just aren’t that popular here, even though they’re great for the hot Cancun weather. I’ve heard that Mexican parents prefer to keep babies more bundled up, so maybe that’s why blankets here tend to be made of heavier materials. I have seen muslin blankets for sale at some department stores, but they’re pretty expensive and there aren’t many options. We usually buy a package or two whenever we go to the States.
  • I haven’t seen any English-language kids’ books around town. We always stock up when we go to the States.
  • Brand-name baby clothing, like Carter’s or Osh Kosh, is incredibly expensive in Cancun and usually only available at boutiques and department stores. We like to either buy cheaper clothes in the States, or go to H&M in Playa del Carmen because they have a large kids’ section with stylish and very affordable clothes.
  • Crib mattresses are sold at most grocery stores, but come in very limited sizes. We have a pretty standard-sized crib but had to have a mattress specially made to fit. There are also fewer options for crib sheets. (I’ve noticed good linens in general are hard to find in Cancun at a reasonable price, which is why we usually buy new sheets and towels in the States.)
  • Many of the more specialty baby/toddler accessories aren’t easy to find. For example, those no-spill snack containers that everyone has in the States are almost never seen here in Cancun; when I finally found them at Liverpool department store, I bought two!

Overall, everything we need is right here in Cancun. We only have to buy in the States for those trendy items I see my US friends using, some cheaper but cute clothes and linens, and English-language books, of course.

Activities for Kids

Despite being a young city, Cancun is finally starting to evolve its own local culture and community. Over the past 5 years or so, the city has begun to offer lots more activities and events for kids. It’s easy to find swimming classes, stimulation activities for babies, kids’ theater, etc. Outdoor options for kids abound: just head to the beach, or go to one of the city’s many many many parks, most of which have playgrounds. We especially like Parque Kabah for its natural setting and large wood playground, and our neighborhood has a central park area that fills up with families every night. There’s also a monthly event called Co’ox Cancun on Avenida Nader where they close down the avenue for bikes and pedestrians, along with offering a local market and some family-friendly activities. On rainy days, you can also take your kids to indoor play places like Malecon Kids or Peter Piper’s Pizza (like Chuck E Cheese). Many restaurants have play areas for kids as well, and some restaurants like XBurger and La Casa de los Abuelos also have babysitting for toddlers (at about $20 pesos an hour) so parents can sit down to a kid-free meal.

Cancun family

Park and beach days with Mom and Dad

The Verdict

While there are a few small downsides to having a baby/toddler here, like not finding those specialty items we want, overall I would say I am very happy with our decision to raise our kid in Cancun. Childcare is affordable (for us), the overall culture is very open to all kinds of parenting styles, and we have a strong family network here to support us. I have yet to compare the school system because our son hasn’t started pre-school, but I’m sure I’ll have more to say down the line. I hope this was helpful, although I’m sure my experience will differ from other parents in the Cancun area and other areas of Mexico.

 

 

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream When Plunging Facefirst into the Jungle

Thud. Zhhhhooooooom.

That, dear readers, is the terror-inducing sound that means you’ve just been dumped face-first off of a tower into the jungle.

“Oh no… oooooh no…”

That’s the sound of me right before being pushed off a platform while desperately clinging to a bungee rope (followed in quick succession by a steady stream of expletives and several instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain). 

Cancun bungee swing

TERROR.

 

I don’t wanna give too much away here because it’s kind of a tour you need to experience for yourself, but my Saturday at Selvatica was AMAZING. I did things I never thought I’d be brave enough or strong enough to try. The setting was gorgeous with newly-built zipline towers and a beautiful hub area that actually took my breath away for half a second. And the service was without a doubt the best I’ve had anywhere… the staff is clearly having tons of fun, pulling pranks and joking around while still being professional.

 

Selvatica jungle zipline
Cancun jungle tour
Selvatica Cancun

 

Despite having me absolutely terrified, my absolute favorite part of the day was the bungee swing! Pictures can’t do it justice, so here’s a recent video I found on YouTube:

 

Surprisingly, the most relaxing part of the day was the Superman zipline, the fastest in Latin America, where you speed face down over the jungle with your arms spread out, reaching speeds of up to 85 kilometers per hour.
Selvatica Superman zipline

I swear this is much, much higher up than it looks, you guys.

 

After a morning of endless zipline fun, we did a Polaris ride through the jungle then swam in a cenote. (I was too boring to jump off the platform into the water, but still had a wonderful time floating in the water!)
Jungle tour Cancun

Typical Cancun weekend.

 

This was the “Gimme All” package at Selvatica where you get to try EVERYTHING (all ziplines, Polaris/ATV, cenote, canopy walk, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some things because I was happily exhausted by 3pm). Anyway, if you’re one of those crazy adrenaline adventure-seeking travelers, please make sure to do a day at Selvatica on your next trip to Cancun! I’d say these are the most challenging and extensive ziplines in the entire Cancun/Riviera Maya area, only for the brave 🙂

 

Cancun Travel: Solo Exploring or Organized Tours?

Followers and friends often ask me which I’d recommend when traveling to the Cancun and Riviera Maya areas: going out to explore on your own, or booking a tour?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go on an organized tour with my friends at GoMexico, a Cancun-based company that offers tours in several of Mexico’s top travel destinations. We took the Tulum + Cenotes Plus tour, and I LOVED IT. The day’s itinerary would take us first to the Maya ruins of Tulum, then to a cenote park called Aktun Chen just north of Tulum. We were taken everywhere on a comfortable, air conditioned bus, and I frequently found myself comparing the experience to a similar day last year when I had taken my sisters on a Tulum/cenote day trip using the public van system. Which experience was better? Which experience would I be more likely to recommend? The comfortable and convenient organized tour? Or the self-made family itinerary with nobody but me as the primary tour guide?

Tulum Riviera Maya Caribbean Sea

The Transportation

When I took my sisters to Tulum last year, we got there by using the public van system out of Playa del Carmen, with cheap “colectivo” vans that take you up and down the main Riviera Maya highway (read more on that experience here). While cheap, the vans were somewhat uncomfortable and always full… Not necessarily a problem if you’re only going on a half hour trip, but something to consider for people with mobility problems. The region’s main destinations (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Tulum) all have designated spots in town where you can find the vans, but when on the highway after visiting a cenote, you have to flag them down by the side of the road. It’s a bit hectic to figure out the first time, but pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. By contrast, the bus with the GoMexico tour was air conditioned and very comfortable with reclining seats, great for napping. Tour buses usually pick you up straight from your hotel, or from an easy-to-access location in a popular tourist area. From there, they take you to each of the day’s tour locations, then back to your hotel, or close to it. Easy peasy. And bonus: They’ll usually serve you a boxed breakfast and/or lunch along the way!

Cancun tour bus

Our tour bus and part of the group! (You can see me in the bus staring out the window) Photo by @ConnyCun

Tulum Ruins

I’ve been to the Maya ruins of Tulum over my past decade living in Cancun, but this was my first time visiting the site with an organized tour. Having a tour guide was WONDERFUL. Thanks to our ruins guide Cesar, I learned so much about why the ancient city of Tulum was built a certain way (often relating to the sun’s positioning throughout the year), as well as its history and way of life. Cesar even took us to spots around the site that I’d never thought to visit before! If you go to Tulum on your own, you can still hire a guide at the entrance to take you through the site, and if you have all day with nowhere else to go, you can even spend the afternoon at the beach below the ruins, one of my favorite places in the world.

A little language trivia: While we were at Tulum last weekend, some Mexican friends and I got into an interesting discussion on the use of the word “ruins”. In Mexico, they tend to prefer the phrase sitio arqueológico (archaeological site), while ruinas (ruins) might be considered an insult. On the other hand, in English the word “ruins” has a feeling of mystery and romance and has become the more preferred phrase, while “archaeological site” is hardly used at all… and when it is used, it sounds a bit cold, scientific and impersonal.

Tulum beach

Me on the Tulum beach a few years ago, when Jorge and I were spending the weekend in town

Tulum Mexico beach

Tulum beach last weekend

Tulum doorway Maya ruins

Cloudy day…

Tulum tour guide

Our group learning from guide Cesar

 

Tulum train

On the Tulum train with @zukogirl and @pptotravel

 

Tulum Cancun tourist

Yours truly last weekend

 

Tulum guide

Oh-so-casually leaning against a palm tree while listening to the guide (photo @marhubarreto)

 

Tulum beach photo

A small crowd getting in some beach pics

 

Tulum building

Beautiful city!

 

Tulum rock formations

Tulum’s beach has the best rock formations

The Cenote

The second leg of our tour with GoMexico took us to a place called Aktun Chen. Here, we were given a Mexican-style lunch before we were taken to see some of the features of this area: a 20-minute walk through stunning caves, followed by an hour swim and snorkel in what is, to date, the most gorgeous cenote I have ever seen. The cenote at Aktun Chen is almost entirely enclosed within a cave; stalactites hang over clear, blue waters, and beautiful stalagmite formations lurk below to create a memorable snorkeling experience. Booking a tour will often let you visit some of the region’s most amazing cenotes located deeper in the jungle (like Aktun Chen), and using the van system limits you to the cenotes located closer to the highway, like Jardin del Eden or Cenote Azul. When renting a car, you have no limit to your choices.

Aktun Chen cave lake

Spelunking

 

Aktun Chen Mexico caves

Ok so clearly GoMexico’s photos are way better than mine

 

Aktun Chen cenote

Love. Love. Love.

My Verdict: Solo Exploration or Organized Tour?

Well, I guess in the end I don’t have a huge preference either way as it mostly depends on who’s asking!

If you’re a tourist: Go for the organized tour. There’s no hassle, no headaches, no questioning if you’re going in the right direction, no wasting precious vacation time getting lost, and you’ll probably get to see the area’s more impressive attractions, even if they’re harder to reach. You won’t have to figure out where to get lunch, your bus will be comfortable, and your pick-up spot will be easy to find.

If you’re a resident or a frequent visitor to the area: Do mostly solo exploring to save money and see places other tourists might not ever get to visit, BUT book a tour every once in awhile to see some of the Riviera Maya’s most beautiful and hard-to-reach locations. If you have a car – or can rent a car – or have a local friend with a car… well, that’s the best of both worlds.

No matter which option you choose, I hope you have fun exploring Cancun and the Riviera Maya!