Most people think about big resorts and endless-streams of tourists when they think of Mexico, but there’s so much more to the country than meets the eye, and we’re here to tell you why.
With spectacular beaches, incredible food, and great travel deals, Mexico is a favorite destination for families. The big resort cities of Cancun and Puerto Vallarta have plenty to recommend them, but head just a few kilometers out of town and you’ll find smaller communities with a completely different feel.
If Cancun has a Las Vegas feel, Tulum is more like southern California. The laid-back vibe here calls you to rent a cruiser bike and roll slowly along Boca Paila Road, stopping to shop in boho boutiques and sip inventive cocktails in roadside gardens under strings of Edison bulbs.
Explore the stunning seaside Tulum ruins first thing in the morning, before the tour busses arrive, or head into the jungle to climb 120 steps to the top of a Mayan pyramid at nearby Coba.
For a look at the area’s incredible biodiversity, head to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to spot manatees, turtles, monkeys, and flamingos – maybe even a jaguar.
Best known as a day-trip destination, Isla Mujeres is worth a longer look. The best way for families to explore the seven-kilometer-long island is by golf cart. Rent one near the ferry port and then putt-putt your way from glittering North Beach to the stunning seaside cliffs of the south end, stopping to snack and swim along the way.
Centro offers great souvenir shopping, a hopping town square, and a surprising array of top-notch restaurants, while the colonias in the middle of the island offer a glimpse into real Mexican life, and some of the best tacos and fresh-caught grilled fish you could hope to get your taste buds on.
If you’re looking for a luxury family vacation, this is it. This private, gated peninsula is a favorite vacation spot for celebs, and with good reason – surrounded on three sides by stunning beaches, the peninsula features 15 kilometers of unspoiled coastline and guaranteed privacy.
When you crave a more local feeling, Punta Mita offers easy access to both Sayulita, a hippie-chic town where surfers mingle with local Mexican families and bohemian artists, and Bucerias, a cobblestone-streeted fishing town that’s a popular home base for Canadian expats and snowbirds.
Rincon de Guayabitos
A world away from Punta Mita’s high-end luxury, Rincon de Guayabitos offers cheap and cheerful family fun. The sheltered bay here provides warm, calm waters that are great for kids just learning to swim. The beach is popular with local Mexican families, and you can experience a full range of local foods without leaving the sand, as vendors offer barbecued shrimp, fried bananas, or sliced fruit topped with chili powder, along with the requisite fresh coconuts sliced open on the spot. The town itself is quiet and peaceful, with plenty of local restaurants, markets, and shops to explore.
Let Amstar take you to your own hidden island paradise.
Q: Where do you think the best place in Mexico is to take the whole family, and why?
Definitely Cancun and the Riviera Maya! Mexico has some great and beautiful places to visit but in Cancun you have it all: Amazing trips, the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen, fantastic food, friendly locals and direct flights from almost everywhere – it’s the perfect combination.
Families with small children can venture into fun activities that will have kids fascinated like natural aquariums and zip line tours. Couples, solo travelers, and history buffs will fall in love with Mayan culture and the traditions found in Mexico.
Q: What are some trips or tours that are a must for people of all ages?
One thing that’s truly distinctive to the Cancun-Riviera Maya area is the cenotes. Cenotes are natural sinkholes of crystal clear, cool water that were once sacred to the Mayan and they are a unique jewel to explore. There are many excursions that combine a visit to a cenote with zip lining, Mayan archaeological sites and visits to local Mayan communities which make for a well-rounded amazing day out.
There are also many eco-parks that offer a wide variety of options for families of a diverse age group which is always nice to keep everyone happy.
Q: What’s your favorite cultural experience in the region?
We’re so privileged to be so close to amazing Mayan archaeological sites – Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and Tulum is the only Mayan site built by the sea. Both are relatively close to most resort area, and it’s really a great opportunity to visit something unlike anything else in the world.
Visiting with a guide is definitely a much more enriching experience than if you were to go on your own. All archaeological site guides are required by law to get certified by the Mexican government, so they’re very knowledgeable, professional, and have great English skills. Many guides are locals and will add a very interesting perspective and insight to your visit, sharing the secrets hidden behind the rocks.
Q: What’s a unique experience you offer that most travelers miss out on?
There are some great hidden jewels that most travelers are not aware of, but they offer some pretty unique experiences. Chaak Tun cenote, for example, is one of Playa del Carmen’s best kept secrets. As most people don’t know it exists, visiting the underground cenote and swimming in the cool water underneath stalactites of Chaak Tun is like having this natural marvel exclusively for you.
We also have some not-so-obvious experiences, like a bird-watching tour. There are 350 bird species in the area, imagine that! While most people go snorkeling – which is a must-do in the Caribbean – sometimes it’s also nice to look up into the sky for some color.
Q: What family-friendly and multigenerational options do Amstar offer that travelers can’t find anywhere else?
Private excursions exclusively designed for Amstar customers. For example, we have an amazing Exclusive Holbox experience that takes you away to your own hidden paradise. The island of Holbox is a protected biosphere in the northwest Yucatan Peninsula. This experience offers guests the opportunity to take a private boat ride with only their friends and family on an amazing day out that includes fishing, snorkeling, and sightseeing in a small Mexican island. These trips are tailored-made to suit a special kind of traveler who is looking for exclusivity, VIP treatment, and unrivaled experiences.
Mexico offers something for every family, from parents with young tots in tow to multi-generational travel with adult children. Whether you want to cut yourself off from the world to relax, or dive into the beating heart of a vibrant city, you’ll find the vacation you crave.
Rather than visit a facility where dolphins or whales are held in captivity, meet these giants of the ocean in their natural habitat. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish – averaging 40-feet long. Despite their name, they’re docile filter feeders, and excellent swimming companions. You’ll find them in the waters off Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres from June to September, with peak populations in July and August.
The Mayan people built large, complex cities starting as early as 250 B.C. Perhaps the best known is Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a major tourist attraction, with the crowds to prove it, but still a must-see for travellers to Cancun, Tulum, or Playa del Carmen. If you can, visit on the spring or fall equinox, when the light forms a serpent on the pyramid dedicated to the serpent god, Kukulcán.
Other can’t-miss Mayan ruins include the stunning seaside Tulum; Coba, where you can climb the main pyramid; and Muyil, a haunting, partially excavated site.
Mexico has plenty of great restaurants, but for a taste of the local culture, you’ve got to eat the street food. It’s cheap (think $3 or so for a full meal) and delicious, and it’s the most authentic grub you’ll eat on your trip.
Head to any town square in the evening and you’ll likely find carts selling tacos, empanadas, and tamales. If you’re feeling nervous, start with the sweets – you can’t go wrong with flan or churros, even for kids with picky palates.
Every night from July to December, sea turtles crawl onto the beach to lay their eggs.
To protect the turtle population from the many natural predators that hunt both turtle hatchlings and eggs, many resorts move the nests to an enclosed nursery where the hatchlings can develop in safety. Visitors can no longer touch the babies (it’s dangerous for the turtles), but it’s still breathtaking to watch a trained professional send these squiggly little creatures off to sea on the day they hatch.
The Underwater Museum of Art between Cancun and Isla Mujeres is a collection of 500 sculptures placed on the sea floor to form an artificial reef. Many of the initial sculptures by artist Jason Decaires Taylor are based on local people, with their eyes closed looking up to the sky. The effect is hauntingly beautiful.
Families with older kids can scuba dive among the sculptures for an up-close look at how sea life is taking over and changing the artworks. There are also shallower galleries – just three or four meters deep – that are perfect for snorkeling.
Mexico was the first country to have its cuisine recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity. A cooking class is a great way to learn about the local ingredients and techniques used in the part of Mexico you’re visiting, and a fun way to teach kids some kitchen skills.
Many resorts offer in-house cooking classes, or check with your travel agent for a family-friendly recommendation in your destination. Come with an open mind and an empty stomach, and enjoy the satisfaction of eating authentic local food prepared with your own hands.
Mexico is a world-class surfing destination, hosting international competitions. Sayulita, near Puerto Vallarta, is a classic laid-back surf town, while Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca State has some of the biggest waves in the world.
For a calmer approach to boarding at sea, rent a stand-up paddleboard and explore the area close to shore while getting a killer core workout to boot. Many resorts offer group SUP lessons that welcome families looking to explore together.
These underground caves filled with fresh water are dotted throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. Ranging from large caverns to tiny tunnels, they’re often filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites – spiny icicle-like shapes made of limestone. Swimming in these clear blue pools is an entirely different experience from hitting the beach. It’s blissfully quiet and the water is mind-bendingly clear. Wade into the cool water in a cathedral-like cave and you’ll see why the Mayans viewed cenotes as sacred spaces.
With up to a billion Monarch butterflies landing in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve every fall, it’s no wonder this magical forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The butterflies spend the winter in the reserve, then begin the eight-month migration back to Canada in the spring. Getting into the reserve requires some hiking in high altitude, so it’s not a great option for younger kids, but teens and adults will be dazzled.
Mexico is much more than its coastlines. Mexico City is a hotbed of modern museums with a vibrant nightlife, Oaxaca is UNESCO-recognized for its pre-Hispanic and colonial architecture, Merida is known for its music and cultural scene, and Tepotzotlán has the world’s largest aqueduct. Spend some time in one of Mexico’s major cities for a completely different take on this country as a vacation destination.
Festivals in Mexico offer a unique way to connect to the culture. These colorful celebrations are a whirlwind of activity, and it’s easy for visitors to participate. Ask your travel agent for advice on a guided trip to experience the festivities through the eyes of a local guide, or just stroll the streets and soak it all in.
From October 31 to November 2 every year, colorful altars appear in homes and public spaces throughout Mexico, particularly in the south of the country. While this three-day festival is a chance for families to honor lost loved ones, it’s more celebratory than somber. Colorful parades and processions wind through villages, and many families get together in the cemetery to eat, tell stories, and play their loved ones’ favorite songs all night long.
Respectful visitors are welcome to admire the public altars covered in food offerings and bright orange marigolds, or to walk quietly through the cemetery, which is both boisterous and hauntingly beautiful, as families light hundreds of candles to mark their loved ones’ graves.
In 1531, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in Mexico with a message for a man named Juan Diego: He was to tell the bishop to build a church on the barren Tepeyac Hill. When the bishop asked for proof of the encounter, Juan Diego returned the hill to find it covered in roses. He gathered them in his cloak, and when he dropped the roses at the bishop’s feet, an image of Mary appeared on his chest where the roses had been.
This miracle of the Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated throughout Mexico every December 12, with a week or more of celebrations leading up to the main event. Community groups and families gather in processions, walking through town to gather at the church. These processions take on the feel of parades, complete with marching bands, dancing, and elaborate costumes.
It’s a religious celebration centered around the church, but there is plenty of revelry, too, with street food and dancing in the town square and elaborate fireworks displays to end the night.
On September 16, 1810, Mexico began its war for independence from Spain.
Today, it’s a national holiday where communities showcase their national pride. The celebration starts at 11 p.m. on the night of September 15, when the president of Mexico shouts “Viva Mexico!” at the National Palace in Mexico City. Homes and public spaces are decked out with the red-white-and green Mexican flag, and parades and fireworks rule the day on the 16th – including the national military parade in Mexico City.
It’s also a time to highlight local traditions, with school and community groups coming together to dance, sing, and reenact battles in traditional dress.
Tempting dishes from our featured destinations give you a taste of local culture. From succulent roasts to exotic spicy fare and some divine desserts, you’re sure to find plenty of delicious recipes to try at home.
Welcome to a cuisine scene unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. With a wide range of complimentary and specialty restaurants you have more dining options than days of your cruise. So unfold your napkin and enjoy experiences of gastronomic proportions.
Each month we’re showcasing our cruise partners to bring you the latest on the cruise line and their ships. With different cruising styles and a variety of ships to choose from, you’ll find these profiles helpful for selecting the cruise that’s right for you.
For 145 years, Holland America Line has been bringing guests closer to the world’s most fascinating destinations.
Elevate your onboard experience with immersive and enriching activities found only on Holland America Line. Cruise in classic style to more than 400 destinations in the comfort of a well-appointed, mid-size ship. Encounter fascinating lands and cultures to make lasting memories on a Holland America Line cruise.
At Holland America Line, we believe travel has the power to change the world. We consider it our higher purpose to help make the world a better place through opening minds, building connections, and inspiring a shared humanity. Days and nights spent with Holland America Line are filled with endless opportunities for discovery. Breathtaking beaches, exotic wildlife, unique cities and fierce flavors. There’s always more to be discovered, even in familiar places. From culture to cuisine, Holland America Line helps you experience these gems of the world like no other. Of course, the hallmarks of a Holland America Line cruise are as appealing as ever, from the timeless elegance of our classic, mid-sized ships to our superb dining and world-class entertainment to the gracious service of our award-winning crew.
We invite you to join us for an unforgettable experience. Because travel is more than an itinerary. It has the power to change us and our world. Journey by journey. Make the most of each destination with Explorations Central™, where you can engage in a variety of location based activities, such as language lessons and expert-led talks on select ships. Explore the natural world with exclusive concerts, films and shows from our BBC Earth Experiences. Revel in thrilling evening entertainment at Lincoln Center Stage, Billboard Onboard and B.B. King’s Blues Club, and more.
Elegance and sleek nautical lines, blue hulls and a graceful profile refined décor characterized by handsome furnishings. Delight in the joys of a mid-sized ship. We invite you to settle in, unpack and explore. Head to the Promenade Deck to stretch your legs in the open air. Breathe in views from our expansive decks, run your hand along the polished teak deck rail. From these decks, guests have watched the Panama Canal an engineering marvel, and the Chilean Fjords come into view. Continuing on, take a moment to admire a famous Warhol painting or a Ming Dynasty artifact. Revel in an unhurried pace and a refined ambiance shared by fewer guests. Venture ashore to discover astonishing landscapes and cultures.
Return to the familiar, intimate elegance of your Holland America Line ship. The ship’s art collection, from maritime paintings to European antiques, has been carefully curated from around the world. The gleam of the ship’s traditional brass bell. Rich, polished woods. One by one, these details add up, creating an ambiance that is timeless and inviting. Spacious and refined are our ships, they are small enough to feel luxurious yet large enough to offer diverse restaurants, activities and entertainment. And because our ships are purposefully designed to accommodate fewer guests, there’s almost always a sunny corner to call your own. You’ll find coming and going from the ship is easy and convenient. Holland America Line welcomes you aboard to discover timeless cruising, refined for a new generation.
Your private retreat, gaze at ever-changing views of ocean and sky. Sink into the comfort of your pillow-topped bed. Each stateroom is a haven of serenity and space. Your stateroom is graced with all sorts of refined amenities. Among them: our signature Mariner’s Dream® bed, made up with finely woven cotton linens. Most staterooms have ocean views so you can watch each new island, port or city come into view. Many also feature verandahs, where you can enjoy dining alfresco or sunbathing in private. Little extras, luxurious bathrobes hang in the closet — yours for the cruise. Fragrant soaps, lotions and shampoos from Elemis Aromapure and 100 percent Egyptian-cotton towels await in the bathroom. Fresh fruit is replenished daily at your request. Pamper yourself, sleep late one morning and order in breakfast. Or have dinner delivered to your verandah before an evening ashore. From a full meal to a light snack, complimentary In-Room Dining is just a phone call away, 24 hours a day. Turn on your TV to watch the news or our special EXC Channel™, featuring films, documentaries and TV shows about the destinations you’ll visit. You can also choose from hundreds of movies to enjoy. Holland America Line welcomes you aboard.
Taste the World. Our cuisine is inspired by seven of the most influential chefs working today. Dine like royalty, the chefs of Holland America Line’s Culinary Council® have earned many honors, including one-, two- and three-star Michelin ratings; James Beard Foundation and Culinary Arts Institute recognition; even a knighthood! One world, many taste.
For an elegant breakfast, leisurely lunch or unforgettable dinner, The Dining Room is your destination. For dinner, choose from comfort classics such as Rosemary Roasted Chicken, as well as regionally inspired cuisine and artfully prepared vegetarian fare. Or rise and shine at the Lido Market with your choice of tantalizing breakfast selections — pancakes, eggs, omelets cooked to order — at Homestead. For lunch, stop by Distant Lands for exciting flavors from around the globe. Pick up a signature sandwich from Breadboard or enjoy a health-conscious dinner from Wild Harvest. Dessert? Sweet Spot offers all manner of temptations. Reserve a table in the intimate Pinnacle Grill for lunch or dinner and celebrate the day’s adventures with cuisine inspired by America’s Pacific Northwest. Treat yourself to responsibly raised choice beef from Washington State’s Double R Ranch or wild-caught king salmon from Alaska.
On select evenings the décor of the Pinnacle Grill transforms to re-create the ambiance of a French bistro—complete with a wait staff attired in long, white aprons—for Rudi’s Sel de Mer (“sea salt” in French) is a lively seafood brasserie offering a contemporary twist on French seafood classics. Our three-course menu features dishes from fresh oysters to Salt Crust Baked Branzino to an authentic bouillabaisse. Celebrate spartire (Italian for “sharing”) in Canaletto, our authentic Italian restaurant. Try Vitella al Forno, a slow-roasted veal tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto; potato gnocchi done to perfection; or a classic Italian pasta: spaghetti pomodoro, garlic shrimp-infused ravioli—it’s up to you. Dive In at this casual poolside grill, we tasted 127 of the best burgers in North America and created our own trademarked secret sauce for a burger that is leagues apart. New York Pizza served up poolside, personal pan pizzas made with a thin crust and a sauce so savory New York Pizza does its namesake city proud. Our talented executive chefs have worked to bring each dish to perfection.
There’s so much to see and do onboard. Hone your video-editing skills, rejuvenate at our Spa, attend an engaging lecture, take a cooking class from a master chef, go to a wine tasting or simply relax and unwind. Through exclusive partnerships, carefully crafted events, onshore adventures and more, we make the heart and soul of our port of calls come alive. As longtime travelers, we love showcasing the world in all of its astonishing wonder. Explore the natural world with exclusive concerts, films and shows from BBC Earth. Our exclusive partnership with BBC Earth is designed to deepen your appreciation through groundbreaking concerts, fun family game shows and trivia contests, children’s activities and special theme cruises. Return home with a few new tech skills, courtesy of Microsoft-trained Digital Workshop hosts on board. Drop in for a fun, free and informative session designed to help you get the most from your digital devices.
We’ve partnered with O, The Oprah Magazine on an exciting initiative that celebrates connection, inspiration and personal growth. Guests can enjoy O-inspired activities — from O’s Onboard Book Club to meditation to travel-friendly fashion advice and great ideas for a lifetime of healthy eating. Open your mind, change your perspective and celebrate you.
We’ve also joined forces with America’s Test Kitchen. The pros at America’s Test Kitchen have spent 20 years testing and tasting what really works. Now they’ve created a series of live cooking shows and hands-on workshops exclusively for us. Just steps apart are three great venues for live music, each with a distinctive rhythm all its own. Find your groove at B.B. King’s Blues Club. Enjoy a classical performance at Lincoln Center Stage or sing along at Billboard Onboard. Enjoy our Music Walk®.
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon™ nurtures every aspect of your well-being with its signature brand of spa rituals and healing treatments. Pamper your skin with a facial made from the finest natural ingredients. Choose from a menu of tempting massages celebrating traditions from around the globe. All exclusively designed to enhance your cruise in remarkable ways.
Enjoy the family trip of a lifetime, with something for everyone on your beautifully appointed ship. Give your family a vacation that everyone will rave about. Holland America Line’s youth activities program, Club HAL, offers an array of entertaining events for kids and teens ages 3-17. Highlights for kids ages 3 to 6 include “Painting Picassos,” and “Sing-Along Storytime”. Tweens will have plenty to enjoy from ice-cream eating contests to gaming tournaments and theme parties. Teen cruisers enjoy mocktail parties, karaoke and trivia contests, jewelry making, video games, themed events and more. Then come together in the evening over a meal where every family member gets to choose their own delicious entrée.
Personal touches at every turn from the moment you arrive, you are welcomed as a friend. As you settle into your spacious stateroom, your room steward may stop by to ensure every detail is in order, taking a moment to learn your name to greet you personally each day. At the pool, the whir of a blender tells you the bartender has already discovered your preference for an iced daiquiri in the afternoon. In The Dining Room, your salad dressing is on the side, just as you wish. Gracious and warmly attentive. Never in the way, yet always close at hand.
Ours are the service traditions that have always been at the heart of classic cruising—more prized than ever among new generations who know that when it comes to travel, service is the ultimate luxury. Internationally recognized our academy-trained crew members regularly win the industry’s top honors. More importantly, they win hearts with each thoughtful gesture.