When our kids were still little, one year we booked a trip to Mexico during the holidays. Since it was a trip for a family of five, we didn’t have the funds for more elaborate gifts. So, I printed out a gift card saying “trip to Yucatan” for each child. Though by then, Yucatan (meaning the whole peninsula) was one of their favorite places to visit, so they were too young to understand the idea of a trip as a present. Especially since they had to wait for it. So the card didn’t have the effect I intended. But since we all had the best time on the trip, we booked one again the following year. After repeating the trip as a gift several times, it became a family tradition.
The date we actually go on the trip varies; sometimes we wait until spring break for it, other times we go around New Year’s Eve. We don’t actually travel during Christmas. Our itinerary also changes a bit; from exploring a few areas longer to taking a long road trip and stopping only for one night in every place. But our destination is always somewhere on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
The Trip That Started A Tradition
The first Holiday-present trip combined a road trip with spending several days in some of our favorite spots. We climbed pyramids, walked through jungle paths, swam in cenotes, and relaxed on the white-sand beaches of the coast. But most of the time, we explored ancient Maya ruins. Even our youngest, at two, climbed smaller pyramids and enjoyed watching spider monkeys in the jungle canopy in many of the sites.
Once we landed in Cancun, we rented a car and left the well-known resort. We spent our first night in Mexico in the small fishing village (now a resort-town) of Puerto Morelos. After dinner in town and a walk on the beach, the kids played in the zocalo until late into the night.
The next day, we stopped on a deserted beach for a while, then visited Xel-Ha Ruins. We walked among old structures and sat on the shore of a cenote. Being the only visitors at the site, iguanas and birds kept us company.
The largest and best-known Maya sites on the peninsula, Coba, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza were also on our itinerary. Spending several nights in Coba, we met locals who became our friends. We also swam and snorkeled in crystal-clear, pristine cenotes, and met cave divers who use the cenote as the underwater cave entrance.
Overall, we all had a great time, and the experience taught our kids to appreciate a trip as a present and the idea of delayed gratification. Though we didn’t plan to make it a tradition, in the next several years, we kept booking similar trips around the same time. So, eventually, it became a family tradition.
A Trip On New Year’s Eve
One year, we booked the trip for New Year’s Eve. When my husband told me, at first I hesitated. After all, who travels on New Year’s Eve? “Exactly,” he said. “No one.”
It turned out to be the best traveling experience we’ve ever had. It started with the flight, where we shared an entire plane with a handful of people. We could sit anywhere we wanted. The crew treated us like their best friends, chatting with us, bringing us extra snacks and drinks.
As usual, we landed in Cancun late in the day and drove to Puerto Morelos. However, by this time, the once sleepy little fishing village became a known resort town, filled with tourists. We had trouble finding a hotel when we booked several weeks in advance, and when we drove into town, we understood why.
Celebrating In Puerto Morelos
Tourists from every corner of the world (including other parts of Mexico) filled the town. Locals were also out in the street, partying. When we walked up to our favorite restaurant in town, we found they were booked solid, and couldn’t take any more reservations. The same thing happened at every other restaurant. However, by the time we resigned ourselves to eating Mexican street food for our New Year’s Eve dinner, we noticed a group of people walking into a restaurant who told us they did not take reservations there, just have their guests wait until a table opens up. We tried our luck and followed the group. It was loud; it was busy, but everyone was smiling or laughing, and we had the time of our lives — and a good meal to celebrate with.
Outside, in the zocalo, everyone was celebrating. Lights, music, dances, artisans, and other street vendors added to the ambiance. In the park, near the beach, I noticed a larger crowd as it neared midnight. We couldn’t get close enough to see the complete show, but we could tell it was a ceremony of saying goodbye to the Old Year — an old man puppet — and bringing in the New Year — a baby puppet. At midnight, or what I assumed was midnight, or at least as close to it as possible, fireworks lit up the sky in the zocalo to celebrate the New Year.
A New Year’s Day Trip Offered A Different Perspective
After that first New Year’s Eve trip, we booked again around the same time. But now we flew on the first day of the New Year, which changed the flight experience. Compared to no one flying on New Year’s Eve, everyone was flying on New Year’s Day. Instead of the quiet, relaxed airport, and flight, we had to deal with crowds and stressed crew.
But the trip was just as much fun. We didn’t celebrate ringing in the New Year with locals, but we enjoyed more of their company in every town we visited. They were still on vacation, enjoying time off from work, time with their extended families.
On this trip, we drove farther south on the peninsula and explored new areas we haven’t seen before. We met new people, made new friends with whom we explored Maya ruins, still only known to locals and jungle paths where we couldn’t take a car.
We stayed in a small local resort in the jungle where Maya families, from grandparents to babies, rented huts for the day to celebrate together but left for the night. The only foreigners and the only overnight guests on the premises, we shared our hut in the jungle with birds and iguanas living in our palapa roof.
On New Year’s Eve, Or At Any Other Time, The Trip-Present Is My Favorite Holiday Tradition
Each trip brought new adventures, even as we kept returning to several of our old favorites. Each time, we explored more while making new local friends, learning something new about the culture and environment.
Of course, all this stopped in the past 2 years, but I hope to revive the tradition. I still prefer our travel dates on or around New Year’s Eve, but I will be happy to return no matter the time of the year.