I’M floating on my back in a blissful natural swimming cave while my three-year-old son paddles around me in his armbands, spotting baby turtles.
The quiet is interrupted by the giggles of my excitable six-year-old daughter as a shoal of tiny “tickly fish” nibble gently at her feet.
This is Mexico, but not as you know it.
My husband and I had set our hearts on some winter sun with the kids in 2023, after last year’s attempt got thwarted by Covid.
But I wanted to steer clear of the large, expensive all-inclusive seafront hotels of Cancun and Tulum where prices can easily run to £100-plus per night.
When doing my research, I stumbled upon an eco-glamping site in Akumal, a small town between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, just over an hour south of Cancun.
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For us, this lesser-known town on the Riviera Maya, offered the perfect combination of jungle adventure, beach bliss and guaranteed winter sun — all at a more affordable price.
You are sleeping under canvas at Akumal Natura Glamping but there is no sense of roughing it, as these high-end tents come with comfy king-size beds, mosquito nets, reliable electricity and wifi.
This place lets you get back to nature but with plenty of creature comforts.
We unpack into our spacious adjoining tents and, before I know it, Jess and Josh have emptied their Trunki ride-on cases and transformed their tent into a jungle playroom.
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Out front, there is a deck with chairs to chill out on. Out back is an outdoor bathroom.
Admittedly, the showers are, for the most part, pretty cold, but as we were basking in temperatures in the high 20s during the day, a cooling dip before supper was genuinely welcome.
There are 20 tents in total, all of which can sleep two people, in a mix of singles and doubles.
Jess and Josh were fascinated by the hives of stingless bees in one corner of the site, the bat cave and its nocturnal inhabitants in the middle, and the vultures’ nest located just above the cenote — a natural swimming hole formed when limestone collapses to reveal a hidden pool of groundwater.
Akumal Natura Glamping was truly teeming with wildlife, and soon became our little sanctuary.
Remember, though, this is a jungle experience, so do pack mosquito spray.
It did not take us long to settle into a blissful routine of fruit, toast and coffee each morning at the on-site restaurant, a five-minute walk through the tropical forest.
This was followed by a dip in the sparkling cenote — “our private pool” — before packing our bags and heading out for the day.
We split our time between the sandy beaches of Akumal, just over a mile from our glampsite, and the even more beautiful postcard beach of Xpu Ha, around seven miles away.
Akumal Beach has been made famous by the fact it offers tourists the chance to snorkel with sea turtles, although this is not cheap at around £30 for a guided tour over the seagrass — and not something to attempt with a three-year-old, I felt.
For us, the jewel in the crown was Xpu Ha with its icing-sugar sand and turquoise sea.
And to top it all off, the children spied a pig wandering along the sand one day while I was dozing on my sunbed.
Bikes are available to use for free from Akumal Natura Glamping.
But as that was a bit tricky with young children, for the shorter journeys into Akumal the four of us crammed into a tuk-tuk.
For longer journeys to Xpu Ha and beyond, we got a taxi.
Our days blended happily into one another — lazing in hammocks stretched between palm trees, watching pelicans soar across the sky, spotting statuesque iguanas among the sun-baked rocks, and the kids playing in the frothy waves of the Caribbean.
This part of Mexico is truly a paradise for all, young and old alike.
We especially loved the stylish Kay Beach Club, a ten-minute drive from Akumal, with its super-safe, roped-off sea-swimming area, and stunning infinity pool.
Best of all, access to the entire club is free. You pay your way by spending on things to eat and drink.
Monkey and turtle rehab
The food is not spectacular but is decent, and there is an extensive menu of Mexican favourites including fajitas and enchiladas, plus treats from the wood-fired pizza oven.
If your kids love animals, as ours do, it’s worth taking a trip to the brilliant Akumal Natura Rescue centre, the sister site to our glamping one.
Here, we got to see the wonderful work the team is doing rehabilitating coatis, monkeys, baby turtles and a whole menagerie of Mexican wildlife back into the wild.
Our six-year-old, who dreams of being a vet, listened intently as the brilliantly knowledgeable guide explained that most of the creatures had been confiscated from illegal trade, or abandoned by owners once deemed unfit to keep as pets.
Given that the tour lasts at least four hours, and is very hands-on, we viewed it as good value at just over £30 per person — with under-fives going free.
Be sure to pack a decent bug spray, though, and be prepared for spiders.
For more wildlife, don some flippers and goggles and dip into sheltered Yal-ku Lagoon in Akumal.
The shallow water is wonderfully calm and clear, and you are guaranteed to spot lots of colourful fish.
It costs from around £12 per person, but budget a little extra to hire life-jackets (mandatory), and snorkelling gear unless you have your own.
During the evenings, our favourite haunt was the charming Buena Vida bar in north Akumal, perched on the beachfront of Half Moon Bay.
The main draws here are its bar-side swings, sunset views, and the resident skeleton which sits at the entrance.
When we arrived on the Saturday evening, it was buzzing with families enjoying happy-hour tequilas and tacos.
We were more than happy to get stuck into the speciality margaritas.
Doing Mexico in this way definitely felt like an adventure.
Rather than just bronze ourselves by a pool, we managed to pack a lot in and see a lot more — though we still had plenty of time to chill out.
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The whole trip also felt very safe, and very doable, with young children.
Best of all, we got to experience a very different side to this beautiful country, with all the comforts of a hotel, for a fraction of the price.
GETTING THERE: The cheapest flights typically involve a stop-over in the US.
We did a 14-hour flight via Washington DC with United Airlines for £770pp return. Visit United.com.
Direct flights will be shorter, at around ten hours, but will be more expensive.
STAYING THERE: Prices start from £58 per night for a large double tent at Akumal Natura Glamping.
Price includes basic breakfast, free cycle rental and wifi.
Visit its website at akumalnaturaglamping.com or call 0052 1984 1875 189
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