It's a creekmore world

Mexico travel planning: Can we backpack with kids in the Yucatan over Christmas?

We bought cheap tickets to the Yucatan a month ago – less that $350 a person for round-trip direct flights. It’s an amazing deal. The Mexican travel industry has been hit hard by swine flu fears and the general economic crisis. We have 15 days over Christmas and New Years to plan out.   Here’s an update:

Planning travel around our kids

This is, of course, family travel.  The girls are very excited, but we have to consider a few things before we depart.

  • Missing School: They will have to skip a few days of class. It was the only way to get airfares substantially lower. The school administration doesn’t like it much. But it’s ovbiously educational. Our kids are still telling stories about the Middle East in their writing assignments, so the teachers don’t mind. And the girls are both good students, which helps. We’ll call them in sick for a day, and just get unexcused absences for the rest.

  • How will Santa Claus find us in Mexico?: This is a big deal. Our 9-year-old is a true believer. She has such faith in the universe, and is such an optimist, that her confidence in the existence of Santa Claus is unwavering. Even Lily, the younger one, is already a bit skeptical. We are already prepping them that Santa will leave the presents at our home while we are gone. Trish and I hope to quickly lay the presents out once the girls and suitcases are in the car to the airport. Can we pull this off?

Travel planning:

  • A reasonable budget: This trip needs to be more modest than some of our others. We hit a financial speed-bump this fall. Obviously we are still doing ok if we are planning travel, but nonetheless we want to limit our spending. No helicopters, surfing school or private tours this time. Often, those things weren’t worth it anyway (although sometimes they were totally awesome).The family does like luxury hotels and resorts, especially the ones with charm and class. Instead, we’ll look for nice hotels, at modest prices. Fortunately we don’t need expensive business services because neither of us are working on this trip. The plan is to go without reservations and shop around for last minute deals. (We may have to do that anyway, because all the hotels mentioned in the guide books are full. So much for people being afraid to travel to Mexico this season.)
  • Buses vs. rental car: Our hope was to backpack across the Yucatan, utilizing buses. We’re reconsidering that now. After about 15 hours of research with our two guidebooks Frommer’s and Lonely Planet it appears better to rent a car.Don’t get me wrong, buses are cheap, nice and plentiful. Renting a car is expensive once you add in all the insurances and toll roads. And Trish and I find driving to be exhausting. But we are considering going deep into the jungle and that requires a car. Also, there are so many places to turn-off and jump in the ocean or cenote. The distances aren’t that great between cities.It’s a tough call and Trish and I spend the day discussing the pros and cons.

Building the itinerary:

We’re building the itinerary now. As traveling parents with young kids, we prefer to be flexible. But planning is a must to avoid downtime and maximize our experience. We seek drama and keep moving. Here’s what we are thinking:

  • Mapping the route: We fly in and out of cancun, the regional air hub. We can either stay on the north coast, going no farther south than Tulum. Or we will circumnavigate the peninsula going south to Chetumal, and west to Campeche and back east via Merida. The farther south and west you go, the more remote it gets.
  • Building the Big Event: It helps to anchor the itinerary around a challenging, climactic event. In the middle east, it was our Moroccan travel to the Sahara with an overnight in the desert. The best events are adventurous, difficult and exotic. Our top choice for the big event in the Yucatan is an overnight in the jungle followed by an early morning visit to the Calakmul ruins. Calakmul rivals Tikal in size, gets few visitors, allows climbing and touching (unlike many of the more frequented ones up north) and has tons of animals roaming around including howler monkeys, toucans, ocelots and more. We are investigating tent camping nearby, but we may stay in an eco-lodge too. For the Sahara, we had a tour company put the custom itinerary together. This time, we are assembling it ourselves.
  • Balancing educational, nature and entertainment travel: It’s really important to balance the kinds of events we do. Kids (and adults) get bored if there are too many days looking at ruins, or sitting on a beach. The Yucatan has dozens of ruins, but we will probably limit ourselves to four: Uxmal, Calakmul; Chichen Itza , Tulum and maybe a fifth Ek Balam. There are only a few good museums, one in Merida and one in Chetumal.

    We are trying desperately to tie in the dinosaur extinction somehow.  The Chicxulub crater that covers the northern Yucutan is the impact zone of the meteorite that wiped out 70% of the earth’s life 65 million years ago.  The girls are keen to ‘experience’ this judging by the excited conversation we had yesterday, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to see or do related to dinosaurs.  Someone needs to build a dinosaur museum out there!

    Nature events abound, especially snorkeling in Cenotes like the one pictured here, or the beaches and lagoons up and down the coastline. I’m still looking for a good horse backing trip and perhaps a deep sea fishing excursion. Trisha and I are avid scuba divers, but the kids are too young still. Wntertainment appears be harder to find. There are no kids museums, water parks or theme rides that we see. We’ll have to keep our eyes out for some fun stuff.

Another week and I should have the itinerary worked out.