I’ve been to Cozumel in Mexico a few times, but this past Thanksgiving marked the first time I’d traveled there with with kids. In other words, no Senor Frogs or lazy day at beach with a bucket of Corona – we needed to find things to do in Cozumel with kids. Enter Chankanaab Park.
The park is located inside Cozumel’s National Marine Park and offers almost everything for families so EVERYONE is happy. And that’s a hard thing to do – make everyone happy – but Chankanaab Park does a really great job in trying to accomplish this. From hiking, touring Mayan ruins, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, to sitting and reading on the beach (bucket of Corona is optional), you name it this park is a perfect place to spend a day with your family in Cozumel.
Things to do in Cozumel with Kids: Chankanaab Park
The word Chankanaab comes from the Mayan language: Chan, which is small and Kanaab means sea. Small sea, which is making reference to the natural lagoon inside the park. But, there is nothing small about Chankanaab Park. The park offers a lot, these are just a few of the activities you can enjoy at Chankanaab Park.
I’m not sure why I was surprised by how nice the pool at Chankanaab Park was, but I was. It’s a very large, tiled pool that is divided into separate sections for different types of visitors to enjoy. On one side of the pool there is a swim up bar for adults to lounge and grab a snack. On the opposite side of the pool there is a shallow children’s play area. The two sections are connected via a shallow section of the pool, making it an excellent way for older kids to have a little space from mom and dad (not to mention mom and dad having some space). On either side of the shallow connection, there is a deeper area for swimming. There are life guards on duty, but you need to make sure and be responsible for your kids.
If you are bent on seeing Mayan Ruins in Cozumel, you can get a little taste of it at Chankanaab Park. However, you may be disappointed to learn the ruins are simply replicas. I knew this walking in so my exceptions were low. I was pleased though, the park does a good job in showcasing the ruins on a short walk through the “jungle” trial. Along the trail, you see different statues, wildlife and a beautiful waterfall. I absolutely loved the Iguanas we came across and will never forget the scream that came from Princess One when an Iguana nearly as big as her darted across the path in front of her. Ah, mixing nature and Princesses…
The “jungle” trail ends in a replica Mayan village complete with a few huts, bathhouse and outdoor meeting area. I really enjoyed taking the historical walk with Princess One and talking to her about what things were and how people used to live. Even though it was a replica it provided a nice introduction to Mayan history and it was short enough for a five-year-old to stay entertained and soak in a short history lesson – or at least humor me.
Princess One and I had set out on our “jungle walk” to find the Mayan Ruins when we happened upon the Crocodile Exhibition. It’s a fairly small exhibition with only two enclosed areas for the crocodiles but interesting non-the-less. One of the exhibition’s is home to smaller, younger croc’s while the other has a few larger ones swimming or basking in the sun.
There is a small, children’s beach area with a shallow lagoon for kids to safely play in the water and build sand castles. The area also has several shaded spots for families to sit back and relax while the kids play. A small store is located near the beach so you can purchase sand toys if you did not bring any. There are life guards on duty, but as usual you need to be responsible for your kids.
Snorkeling at Chankanaab Park is allowed in the snorkeling areas on the main beach. If you plan to snorkel you’ll need to be a good swimmer as the entry points to the snorkeling areas are by large concert steps that put you into deeper water. Swimming out a bit from the shore/rock line will provide a little calmer experience. This isn’t something you’ll really want to do with little ones unless they’re good swimmers (and wearing a life jacket) since the water is deep and bit rougher. Kids can attempt to snorkel in the kids lagoon, although they’re likely to see more swimmers than fish.
Tequila Tasting and Tour
Inside Chankanaab Park Hacienda Antique offers tequila tastings and tours for people to learn how tequila is made and the origins of the famous Mexican drink. Prices vary depending on if you want to do a simple tasting or have a full tour.
Sea Lion and Manatee Discovery Programs
The Sea Lion and Manatee Discovery Programs are also offered by Dolphin Discovery at Chankanaab Park. Both are $50 for kids and $60 for adults. The Sea Lion program includes activities such as learning about sea lions diet, feeding them, petting them and getting a kiss from them. The Manatee Encounter is the only swim with manatees program in the Caribbean. The program allows participants to learn about Manatees and share a kiss, a hug and feed these massive sea animals.
Free Sea Lion show
Throughout the day at Chankanaab Park there are free discovery sessions that take place in the Sea Lion and Manatee area. These sessions are general shows for visitors to come and watch the sea animals perform with their trainers. They make for a nice break from the beach or after lunch performance.
Swimming with Dolphins at Chankanaab Park
Chankanaab Park offers a few different options if you want to get up close and personal with dolphins on your visit. The Dolphin Discovery is an added cost and the price is dependent on which program you select.
A lot of the programs are designed especially for kids and families, we selected the Dolphin Encounter which was said to be “the ideal program to introduce your children to nature and the beauty it offers”. This program included a short overview of dolphins and 30 minutes in the water with them. The “swimming part” wasn’t really swimming (there are other programs for that) but rather touching the dolphin, rubbing her belly and getting to shake hands and kiss her.
NOTE: Our kids really liked the idea of swimming with the dolphins but the water was cold and rough so they didn’t have the best experience. We also found they both got very scared when it came time to “kiss” the dolphin. We should have skipped that part as to avoid the tears…
Things to know about Dolphin Discovery.
- Kids must swim with a paying adult as a companion.
- If you’re visiting Chankanaab Park while you’re on a cruise, your ship may offer this as an excursion. While the transportation the cruise provides is helpful, the price may be twice that if you book it directly with Dolphin Discovery. I have to say, I’m rather annoyed that I paid for our kids to do this through the Disney Cruise when it would have been free for them if I’d booked it directly with Dolphin Discovery. If you do want to book it yourself, you will need to call ahead and make a reservation.
- Adults: US$ 79
- Kids: US$ 79
- Infants (1-5 years old): Free of charge
- The water may be rough in your section, which will require you to hold onto a metal fence, attached to the structure. This metal fence is rusted and if you cut yourself it can cause an infection. Princess One learned this the hard way.
- The water in your area is about chest high on adults who are around five feet tall (me) so you will need to be prepared to hold your children (one child per adult).
- You are not allowed to take a camera back into the water with you and people who have not paid for the encounter cannot go back into the area with the group. Each group is provided a photographer who takes your picture as you pose with the dolphin. While this is nice to have, it does limit your experience with the dolphin since the trainers are constantly saying – “say cheese” or “smile”. The pricing for the photos are also ridiculously high. But, you’re going to want a photo of yourself or your kids in one of their many poses. Pick one and be finished.
There are three dining options at Chankanaab Park, they all looked delicious and were reasonably priced. Outside near the pool, you can order traditional American food – burgers, hot dogs and french fries as well as more local, Mexican cuisine. There is also restaurant alongside the beach where the menu consists of Mexican specialties (no burgers and fries). We grabbed lunch at the pool and I must admit, it was one of the best meals of our trip – shrimp tacos, shrimp and beef fajitas, rice and beans, guacamole and quesadillas. Delish!
If lounging at the beach isn’t relaxing enough, there is a spa located on the beach at Chankanaab Park. Services range from short shoulder massages, to Swedish massages to deep tissue massages. All while you’re listening to the waves and enjoying the tranquility of the beach.
Monday – Saturday 8:00am to 4:00pm
For more information on Chankanaab Park and/or a map of the park.
Have you been to Chankanaab Park? Other suggestions on things to do in Cozumel with kids?