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Traveling with Children in Merida and the Yucatan

Chances are, your little ones won't appreciate the Toltec influence on the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza, nor will they delight in the architectural beauty of Merida's colonial buildings - but that doesn't mean the city has nothing to offer them.First of all, though they might complain about the heat and their lack of interest in a pile of rocks, don't miss the chance to watch their faces light up when they see the Castillo at Chichen Itza in real life. Climbing the main attraction, checking out a real Mayan hut, and seeing the cenote where human sacrifices may have been made once are sure to interest most children. Some kids may find the huge machine on display by the bathrooms interesting when they learn it was used to dredge the cenote and take out the treasures found at the bottom.And while the majority of kids may not appreciate the excellent museum and the peaceful ruins as much as you will, most kids cannot resist the cenote at Dzabilchaltun. Bring some snorkel gear and let them see the little freshwater fish that live there.

But please watch them and don't take children who can't swim. The cenote is shallow on one end, but very deep on the other. Be sure to bring your own towels, sunscreen and water to drink as well.Part of the educational value of travel is being able to see how people live differently around the world.

If you can, drive from Chichen Itza to Merida on the "free" or "libre" road, you'll have a chance to drive through and stop in some small Mayan towns or pueblitos (pweh-BLEE-toes). Children will learn a lot from seeing how children their own age live and play in the Yucatan. Stop in one of the towns for an ice cream or helado (ay-LA-doh) and take that chance to interact with the local people at the store. You'll all learn something!.

Once you are back in Merida, the Centennario Zoo, located near the southern edge of downtown, is a wonderland of fun activities for parents and children alike. This huge park is home to hundreds of exotic animals including giraffes, lions, bears, chimpanzees, crocodiles, hippos, tigers, turtles and snakes. Each animal pen has its own placard in Spanish and Maya with facts about the creature's environment, diet and lifestyle. Patrons are also welcome to meander through the zoo's huge aviary, a tropical garden filled with parrots, peacocks and other beautiful birds. You can stroll through the park on foot or catch a ride on the train that circles the perimeter.

In addition to animals, the zoo has several playgrounds, an area for rollerblading and toy vendors galore. Entrance to the park is free, but some of the activities like pony rides, bumper boats and go-carts charge a few pesos per person. You can treat yourself to traditional carnival fare like corndogs, popcorn and cotton candy, or enjoy Mexican treats like chicharrones, tacos and panuchos. And on a hot day, all those beautiful trees provide shade for the animals and for you and the kids.Close to the Hyatt and Fiesta Americana Hotels, Salvador Alvarado Stadium and Park features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, a softball diamond and two soccer fields, in addition to facilities for weight lifting, boxing, aerobics, gymnastics and dance. As part of the Yucatan State Sports Institute, this 65-year-old establishment has served as both a training grounds for local athletes and a recreational center for the public.

The center is located on Calle 62 in the Buena Vista neighborhood and is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

, with peak hours between 3 and 8 p.m. when local sports teams come to practice. While there is no official charge to use the facilities, they do ask that patrons make an occasional donation - in whatever amount possible - to put toward maintenance costs, and use of the pool is $12 pesos per visit. Month-long courses in various sports, even including salsa dancing, are offered to the public, meeting once a week for around $150 pesos.

Never underestimate the pleasure of a swimming pool to children. If your hotel has a pool, and most do, why not take a day to enjoy yourselves poolside and really concentrate on what vacations are all about: being together with family. And if your hotel doesn't have a pool, then spend a day at the beach in Progreso or one of the surrounding towns.

Your kids can have fun picking up shells, swimming in the shallow water or maybe even renting a boogie board or waverunner. The beach at Progreso is shallow and the waves are seldom more than a foot at best. You can have fresh guacamole with chips and a cold beer right on the beach while you watch your kids play.

What could be better?.After you've enjoyed these activities, there are still several tried and true methods of entertaining kids. Merida's professional baseball team, the Leones, have home games at Kukulkßn Stadium and Sports Complex with ticket prices as low as $5 pesos. The Merida English Library, located on Calle 53 (in between Calles 66 and 68) hosts a story hour every Saturday at 10 a.m.

Finally, when your travels have exhausted you, enjoy a low-key evening movie. The Fantasio Cinema in Hidalgo Park downtown and the Cinerex Theaters on Calle 58 near 59 have at least one movie showing in English at all times. Take a bus or taxi to the Gran Plaza and you'll have up to 12 movies available to you, including a VIP room that features barca-lounger chairs and waiters providing everything from pi˝a coladas to sushi, as well as the usual movie fare of popcorn, hotdogs and cokes. Keep in mind, however, that most PG-rated movies in Merida will be dubbed in Spanish.

Remember to always bring water when you are going outside and make sure your children drink even when they aren't thirsty. Dehydration can creep up on them when they aren't used to the heat.Merida and the Yucatan provide you and your children a place to go that is exotic and probably vastly different than your home town, but it still has the comforts of home. If you need to help your child feel comfortable, there is a McDonalds or Burger King nearby. But when your child is feeling adventurous, there is much to explore and learn about.

It is a place none of you will ever forget.

.Ellen and Jim Fields are expatriates who write about life in the Yucatan through two websites: Yucatan Today http://www.yucatantoday.com which is a travel and tourist website, and Yucatan Living http://www.yucatanliving.

com, a blog about daily life in the Yucatan.

By: Ellen Fields

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