This is the conclusion of my interview with J&P Voelkel, authors of “The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld”, where they share how you can plan an adventure travel vacation to explore Mayan ruins with kids. Click here to start at the beginning.
What advice do you have for parents wanting to visit Maya sites with their kids?
It’s very possible to mix lots of fun with ancient history. But start with an easy trip and build up. If you want the whole Maya rainforest experience without renting a car, there are hotels like Chaa Creek in Belize, Kohunlich in Mexico and the Coppola Resorts that will meet you at the airport and arrange all sorts of outings for you. If you don’t mind driving, you can get a cheap flight to Cancun, drive two hours south on the coastal highway and stay somewhere laid-back like hippy-chic Tulum. Then you can visit Maya sites and hang out at the beach all in the same day. You’d also have the fabulous clifftop ruins of the old Maya port of Tulum on your doorstep and all the waterways and wildlife of the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. In the same area, the best Maya site for kids is Coba – it has a very tall pyramid you can climb (unlike Chichen Itza) but best of all, you can hire bicycles and taxibikes to get around the site, so none of you has to walk. (It’s a big site with long, shady avenues.) Just be sure to press on further than most of the other tourists do, until you get to the grove of carved stela – where you can show your kids the largest number ever computed by ancient man. Cool, huh?
My top advice would be to go easy on yourself. If your kids are young just get a taste of Maya culture – you can always bring them back when they’re older. If you’re prepared to give the beach a miss, stay at Casa Hamaca, a fantastic B&B in the picturesque town of Valladolid. The buildings are colonial but the locals are Maya and the women all wear the traditional embroidered huipiles. There’s plenty to do in the town itself including a swim and lunch at the town center cenote (natural sinkhole), but you’re also within easy driving distance of Chichen Itza and, closer still, the recently excavated, much less crowded and equally fascinating site of Ek Balam.
Next time, if you don’t mind taking malaria meds, you could strike off south into Chiapas and on to Palenque, everyone’s favorite site where beautiful temples rise out of misty green hillsides. (Kids particularly like the tomb of the Red Queen, the recreated tomb of Pakal the great, and one of the few remaining examples of an ancient Maya flushing toilet.) And if you’re feeling really adventurous, from here you can make a thrilling expedition down a crocodile-infested river to a remote temple deep in the jungle. The mossy, tumbled, ridiculously romantic ruins of Yaxchilan are situated in a bend of the mighty Usumacinta and accessed by boat from Frontera Corazol, about 2.5 hours’ drive from Palenque. On the way back you can take a detour into the Lacandan forest to see the famous murals at Bonampak.
But seriously, I’d start with a week in Tulum and see how it goes.
Excellent advice! Thanks again to J&P Voelkel for the witty, honest, and truly helpful advice on visiting Mayan ruins with kids!!
J&P Voelkel visited over 20 Mayan ruins in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico while researching their book, “The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld”, a story of a boy named Max who, with the help of a local Mayan girl, must rescue his archaeologist parents who have gone missing. The Voelkels return every year with their three children, the youngest of whom can summon howler monkeys with her call. To learn more about them and their research, please visit them online at www.jaguarstones.com.