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Family in Riviera Maya Mexico
Robert Elms, journalist for The Times, travels with his family from the capital to the coast.

We had wanted to go somewhere hot and exotic with our two children aged 12 and 8, but not to have to spend ten days in a resort. I knew that Mexico, a vast and deeply civilised country, might provide the perfect adventure. What I didn’t appreciate is quite how intense that adventure would be from day one.

Mexico City is one of the most exciting, rewarding and thoroughly cultured places on Earth. If you want your children to learn stuff on a trip, and take away memories that may even enrich them a little, then this city is ideal.

We came armed with a long checklist to be crammed into our three days in town, and had a guide and a driver to help us to find our way around and to our hotel - the splendidly trendy La Condesa.

First on our list were the museums devoted to Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky, who were neighbours (and lovers) in a leafy quarter called Coyoacán. These museums are the actual houses where they lived, so they were small and personal with great stories to reveal.

We followed that by joining scores of Mexican families taking a floating promenade on the lake in Xochimilco. We boarded gaily-coloured boats - they looked like big gondolas - bought food and drink from others floating by and then stopped a craft full of mariachis in their full regalia to serenade us.

Next day was Aztec day. This entailed an early drive to Teotihuacán (a site which was revered by - and which inspired - the Aztecs but actually was not built by them). It must be quite simply one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world. Even our philistine offspring were slackjawed at the scale and wonder of this place (especially when we climbed the giant Sun Pyramid and volunteered Alfie as a sacrifice to ensure that the sun would rise). They were even eager to go to the Anthropological Museum, where the civilisation we had clambered over was placed perfectly in context alongside a host of pre-Columbian treasures. There were more ruins poking up amid the zócalo, Mexico’s main square, where heirs of the ancient tribes don Aztec-style garb and dance for the crowds. Later, we had another side order of art as we took in Diego Rivera’s dazzling murals. We came for culture and we certainly got it.

After three days in the city, we headed four hours north on open country roads, bound for the area known as Mexico profundo. We went past mountains and countless cacti, while cowboys on their steeds tended distant cattle. Eventually we arrived in a very different Mexican city. San Miguel de Allende, an elegant colonial Spanish enclave - all ochre mansions, cobbled streets, gabled courtyards and dappled squares - is unremittingly lovely.

Our hotel, La Puertecita Boutique, was serenity itself: hanging gardens, translucent pools, and gentle, attentive staff. Time in San Miguel is sumptuous and slow. We began the morning with fruit and spicy fried eggs served with tortillas, ambled into town to shop and explore a church or mansion. At lunchtime the kids frolicked by the pool and, after an early-evening saunter, we would dine in the city’s verdant square. San Miguel at night has a sensual, almost ethereal quality, with scents and sounds floating through the jacarandas.

To keep the culture quotient topped up we found time for a Mexican cookery lesson and visited a ranch, but we could have easily done nothing but marvel at the charm of this softly alluring town. And we could have kept doing that for a very long time - except that we had an appointment by the sea.

When we arrived in the province of Jalisco, on what has been dubbed the Costa Careyes, the cacti had been replaced by palms and the hot air was heavy with tropical portent. The hotel, sitting alone on a dreamy sandy bay, was our vibrantly coloured, blissfully laidback home for the next few days.

The kids loved the infinity pool and the games room. I liked the margaritas and the lobster. My wife liked the intense terracotta colours and the massage. We all liked El Careyes a lot - beach resorts don’t get too much better than this. And nor do family holidays.

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