Family Adventures in Mexico’s Riviera Maya


A crocodile, fire dancers and a walk under the sea

by Stephen Johnson

It is not every day you see your son holding a crocodile. That was just one of many adventures we had on a trip to Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

We started our trip at Dreams Riviera Cancun located about thirty kilometres south of Cancun. I had never been to an all-inclusive resort before but quickly got used to the all-you-can-eat buffets and sparkling beach. Our son David loved hanging out poolside, lazing on the hammocks. He also loved the evening entertainment shows that included a troupe of fire dancers. I appreciated the fact that the resort had a very laid-back family atmosphere.


We greatly enjoyed the on-site amenities but also wanted to explore the area. Just our luck, there was a zoo literally a kilometre up the road. The CrocoCun Zoo offers an interactive tour during which you can see many animals native to the region. We started our visit with a kiss from an amorous parrot! Our next stop was the reptile area where David got to hold a caiman crocodile and have a close encounter with a boa constrictor. By this point, I thought my wife Sandy might faint. However, our guide made sure there were no slithery faux pas and provided great information about the animals.



Other highlights included seeing a xoloitzcuintle (Mexican hairless dog) and wild spider monkeys that were allowed to come and go as they wanted.

Having learned about the animals of the region, we wanted to find out more about the area’s rich cultural life. So the next day we headed to Xcaret eco-archeological park.

Since Xcaret offers something called Sea Trek, we were outfitted with helmets that allowed us to breathe under water. It was amazing to climb down a ladder and see the vibrant marine life surrounding us. We walked on the Caribbean Sea floor holding onto a railing. I saw fish that I had only seen in documentaries. A highlight was witnessing a sea turtle swim within inches of my helmet.

After our undersea adventure, we headed to a marine turtle pond. David loved the turtles but was fascinated by the iguanas roaming nearby. He must have taken at least 50 photos of iguanas by the day’s end.

At midday the sun was strong, so we were off to the water again. We strapped on snorkels and fins and jumped into the underground river, floating along a route through tropical vegetation and cool caves. My favorite part was seeing a beautiful stained glass ceiling that featured multi-colored butterflies and flowers.

At lunchtime we enjoyed a Mexican buffet and then checked out the other attractions including a butterfly pavilion, aviary and zoo area featuring animals native animals.

We intentionally stayed until early evening to check out a performance called Mexico Xspectacular. The show followed Mexican history from pre-Hispanic times to the modern day. Along the way, we were treated to vibrant costumes, great music and amazing special effects. The show had particular importance to us because my wife is from Mexico. David was fascinated to learn more about his cultural heritage.

The next day, we checked out Xcaret’s sister park, Xel Ha. Set on an inlet, Xel Ha puts an emphasis on aquatic activities. First we tried an activity that was a cross between snorkel and scuba, called snuba. The instructor gave us instructions and we were ready to go. Well, at least two of us were. I got last second jitters, but David and Sandy jumped in without fear. Connected to a long tube with air tanks on the surface, snuba participants can go deeper than snorkelers and do not have to lug the weight of an air tank. After about 25 minutes or so, David and Sandy emerged. I could tell from David’s huge grin that he loved the activity. He filled me in on all the amazing fish he saw and said he had even touched the bottom of the sea floor.

As we explored more of Xel Ha, one highlight was riding on an inner tube down a tranquil river. Yes, it was gentle enough for dad.

The following day, it was time for us to return to Canada. Tropical sun was traded in for a snow storm in Ottawa, and a backyard covered in snow. The moment we returned, we started counting the days until our next vacation in the Riviera Maya.

For details about Mexico and the Riviera Maya, see




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