My last post featured part 1 of our trip to Isla Mujeres & The Yucatan, and this is the continuation…
After our stay on Isla Mujeres (see Part 1 here), we headed back to mainland Yucatan. Our taxi (van!) picked us up at the ferry station, and we headed to our beach house rental in Playa Paraiso, just south of Puerto Morelos.
Playa Paraiso Beach House
Finding our house was an adventure in itself. After we arrived, we realized there had been some slightly confusing advertising. We thought it was beachfront, but it was more beachside, and a semi-risky trek to the ocean. Then, the AC didn’t work and there was a bug infestation of biting ants. Not a huge issue for realizing we are in Mexico, but given the prices we were paying, we expected a little different.
We had also arrived on Justus’s birthday, so I made arrangements for a Mexican meal and birthday cake to be ready shortly after our arrival. All went smoothly with that, and it was fun to have a “Feliz Cumpleanos” cake!
There was no way we were going to be in the Yucatan and not visit one of the seven wonders of the world.
We decided to rent a van and drive there on our own. The van was delivered to us for no extra charge, but was a bit smaller than we had expected. We also requested a carseat for Kyrie, but alas, the carseat available had no working buckles. A full day had been spent trying to get our AC fixed, bugs eliminated, and take care of unexpected issues. Since we didn’t want to waste any more time, we decided to just roll with this and hit the road.
After reading about driving in the area, we decided to drive ourselves on this trip. Our GPS didn’t quite work. We had planned to arrive at opening, but our 2-hour drive turned into a 5-hour drive and we arrived at the hottest, busiest part of the day! Not surprisingly, Eden got carsick. And we were crammed so tightly into the vehicle that no amount of air gave much relief. (Of course, these are just blissful family memories now! ;))
But there was no way we were going to drive all that way and not tour the grounds. In spite of the heat, it was an amazing experience. Someday, we’d love to visit some of the less-famous ruins spread throughout the Yucatan. Chichén Itzá is no longer open for climbing, but many of the others are. Can you imagine what life must have been like when these were in active use?
We loved exploring the grounds, but admittedly, our time was rushed. After purchasing a few tiny souvenirs, using the bathrooms, and heading back to our van, we attempted to visit a chocolate museum we’d heard about. Sadly, we once again got lost, but found another Super Chedraui, and bought some pre-made lunches there. At $1 per sub sandwich + drink, it made us feel a little better about our crazy trek so far.
We were just outside the sleepy town of Puerto Morelos, so on our last day at the Playa Paraiso house, we decided to visit. Mexican towns, like other towns with Spanish colonial influence, have a main town square, or zócalo. For Puerto Morelos, this was beachfront, with a small market and restaurants nearby.
We ate at Pelicanos, a great little stop right on the ocean. One of our favorite memories was being serenaded with La Cucaracha while we ate.
The house we stayed at in Playa Paraiso could only be booked through the day before our flight out. Although Southwest is super flexible with flight arrangements, flying out a day earlier meant a huge point difference, which would be multiplied by five for us. I had a free night at a Marriott hotel, so we spent our final night at the Cancun Courtyard Marriot, which was close to the airport, and the hotel provided a free airport shuttle.
However, there was little else in walking distance, other than iguanas, local offices, and a large highway. In retrospect, I would have spent the money to pay for a Cancun oceanfront room somewhere else. Thankfully, our hotel did have a pool, and we spent the day semi-relaxing and trying to sleep 6 of us in 2 double beds. 😉 Ha! (This is why we normally opt for condos or homes while traveling. But our kids love staying at hotels, and this was no different.)
We ended getting to the Cancun Airport way too earlier, and then still needing to run to catch our flight out, after there were some delays and schedule changes.
What I Loved
We love the slower pace of life overseas.
Adventure and risk is energizing and empowering, even with kids in tow. Maybe especially with kids in tow?
While it sounds dangerous to travel without carseats, you have to admit…it’s sometimes easier. (And to those concerned, much of our transportation would have actually been more dangerous to try to use carseats.)
The food. Can we say authentic guacamole and pico de gallo? You can, if you’re in Mexico. I also feasted on some octopus, which was actually pretty tasty.
The culture and people. We wanted to stay fairly close to the airport, but still have an authentic. For as small as it is, I was very surprised at how authentic Isla Mujeres felt once you venture beyond the hotels and resorts. There were several places I went to on my morning walks where I seemed to be the only non-local around, yet I still felt safe. There is just something about the early morning sounds of roosters, beeping mopeds and honking taxis, mingled with the smells of breakfast fires, ocean breezes, and the hot humid air blending in with the crisp morning fog.
What Was Hard
I mean, what could be hard about taking 4 small children to foreign country? Yeah, that. It didn’t exactly feel like a vacation. We didn’t have backup adults, but we’re pretty used to that; we watched 3 kids while birthing our fourth, so I guess we have a little experience.
It’s a little tricky to travel with a newly crawling (and eat-the-stuff-on-the-floor) baby.
For our second location, our accommodations had some major issues, and I spent an entire day trying to find new lodging/take care of things. The caretaker lied to us and the property owner, and we ended up playing awkward middleman. Not a pleasant experience, and it ate 2 days of our time there.
Heat can be really hard with kids, and traveling in that heat can be particularly difficult. As it turns out, I was in the beginning stages of having some neurological issues (triggered by antibiotics a few weeks prior), and so the heat made me extra sensitive. Add 4 kids to the mix, and it was a sweaty mess! 🙂
For our first location on Isla Mujeres, we did not have laundry facilities. We brought cloth-diapers only (our 2 youngest have never used disposables) and one of our older daughters suffers from encopresis, so that made things…interesting. However, we did find a great laundry service our last night in Isla Mujeres, and made great use of it before we left.
Bandwidth overload can be tough for parents of young children, too. Trying to take in a new culture for the first time, speak and listen in a different language, calculate currency, learning to drive and navigate in a new country, while also keeping kids fed, clothed, and mildly happy make you feel pulled way too many directions all at once. We’re learning this about life in general, but also travel: you don’t have to do things “the hardest way” or do everything yourself. We would have enjoyed our trip to Chichen Itza had we hired a driver, and not had to add several learning curves to an already challenging trip. On the flip side, you usually can’t eliminate the hard of caring for young children + life, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
What I’d Do Differently
Although we stayed in Isla Mujeres for 4 days, and 4 days in Playa Paraiso, and 1 day in Cancun I’d stay put at least a week at at least one place. Everything take longer for kids, and you need more time to rest in between (we also happen to be a family of mostly introverts).
As mentioned earlier, I’d take less stuff.
We also wish we had done a little more on the Playa Paraiso end of things. This was a location that was difficult to thrive as pedestrians, and I wish I had known that sooner; I would have either rented a vehicle for our entire stay in that area, or I would have changed locations.
At some point, it might be nice to do all-inclusive since we were already in an area where that was available. We opted out for several reasons; and while it’s good to take the atypical route, I’m trying to remind myself that we don’t always have to make things harder on ourselves.
Overall, this was an amazing experience! We are planning to go back to this area of Mexico later this year. When we do, it should be slightly easier with Kyrie and the other kids being a little older, and we also know a little bit more to expect.
There were a lot of hard parts, but hard doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Barring genuine tragedy, we’re finding that many of the challenges and unexpected difficulties just make the memories and stories more interesting in years to come. Attacks by ants, throwing up on the side of the road, and even being chased and bitten by wild dogs are stories that already live on in our family legend. Some parts of our family’s story has been genuinely difficult to remember years later, but having faced trauma and really hard stuff, we know this is the type of hard that makes for stories and laughter years down the road.
Compared to our travels in Ecuador (in 2013), this didn’t feel quite as authentic of an immersion experience. We definitely felt and look like tourists, but there were times that I could feel integrated into the slower pace of life, walking back streets with passersby not knowing if I was an expat or crazy American tourist. Our kids still saw different culture in action, learned some Spanish, and fueled their love for travel and learning about other cultures.
Isla Mujeres is a great way to get away from the hectic pace of American life, see some amazing beaches, and spend time doing family activities. If you love doing all that in near-100 temps, then this is a a winner. And even if not, it’s still pretty amazing. (Nothing can beat those beaches!) If you want to be cooler than us, then just go in a cooler season. 🙂