Sunday, February 19, 2017

Family Activities Juarez/El Paso

This is by no means a comprehensive guide, nor does it even include everything we managed to fit in during our two years there, but it is a helpful start for anyone wondering what there is to do in that part of the world. It was also quite a trip down memory lane. In no specific order, here are some of our favorite sites and activities in Juárez and El Paso (and the surrounding area).

Primero, Ciudad Juárez!

The universal wristband gives you access to the bumper cars, water launcher boats, zip line, roller skating rink, mini golf, trampolines, and various other rides that little kids can enjoy, too. The go-carts are not included in the universal wristband purchase. It's open Wednesday through Sunday.

Las Golondrinas
This is the closest water park to the Consulate. It is the smallest, but I liked that, because I could keep track of my kids better, and there are still a lot of fun slides for small kids. The big slide opens randomly for an hour here and there (I assume for water conservation), and when open, little kids are allowed to go down in life jackets/floaties or on your lap. There is a great wading pool with lots of small slides. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.

The children's museum in Juarez is fantastic. It differs in one way from American children's museums—there are docents/guides everywhere. And they want to explain to your children what each display/interactive activity does/the science behind it all before your kid can engage with the booth/display. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is different from in the States, where most things are unmanned, and you just walk around on your own. You could spend a whole day there and still not see everything. (Especially if your kids like to do things over and over again like mine.) It has activities for toddlers and babies as well. There is a 3D movie theater that usually shows BBC Earth movies. My kids have found them too intense (haha), so every time I pay for it, we've had to leave in the middle of the show. There are two restaurants and an ice cream/popsicle parlor inside. Or you can bring food to eat in the cafeteria. It is open Monday through Sunday. 

La Rodadora next to Parque Central. It is a wonderful place for children to ride their bikes and roller skate. There are multiple ponds with ducks and turtles. There is a giraffe named Modesto and peacocks. There are a lot of food stands. There are a few playgrounds that are not up to American standards, but my kids have played on them without getting hurt. We mostly go to walk around/ride bikes/skate. It's a large park. If you go in the evening, the carnival rides will be turned on.

This is one of the two waterparks along the border. It is larger than Las Golondrinas. It is nice and clean. The little kid area doesn't have as many slides as Las Golondrinas, but it still has a good number and the kiddie pool itself is larger, and there are more big slides. It is more expensive than Las Golondrinas.

This is the biggest waterpark. It is like Las Fuentes and Fiesta Park combined. I've never been there, so I can't say whether it is nice/clean, but it is definitely the largest with the widest variety of activities.

Museo de Arqueología El Chamizal
This is a free museum, and if you call ahead of time, you can organize to have a guided tour rather than just wandering the garden/museum alone. The majority of the museum is outside in gardens and is composed of life-size replicas of archeological finds from all over Mexico. There are some original pieces as well, but mostly very well done replicas. It's an enjoyable stroll while learning about the ancient indigenous cultures. The museum is located in El Chemizal park, which is quite large and worth seeing for itself.

We also enjoyed visiting the art museum in Juarez. It is not very large, but every third Saturday of the month, between March and October, there are crafts, activities, and workshops for children. It is a free event.

Fast food restaurants
I know it's not exciting, because the food is the same as in the States, but in Mexico, the play places are GINORMOUS. The largest ones are at Burger King. Seriously huge. You can easily be there for hours while your kids climb, slide, and play. Just the play places in Mexico are bigger than the entire fast food restaurant in the States. After Burger King, I would say Carl's Jrs have the next largest play places. But McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, etc., they all have play places here.

Now for the El Paso side of things . . .

El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo is not very far away from the border and is a good medium size zoo. My children especially loved the treehouse playground and the splash pad/spray ground. The Zoo holds fun events throughout the year. We found that a membership was definitely worth the price, and includes discounts at participating zoos throughout the country.

Playdates at the Park/El Paso Chihuahuas
El Paso has a baseball team: the Chihuahuas. The games are fun to attend. Also, in the summer, the ball park holds two or three "play dates at the park," which are free events for young children to attend. There are various sponsors present giving out free items and there are games to play.

Franklin Mountain has some nice hiking trails, as well as picnic areas and some camping spots. It is a large park. We found many of the trails to be too intense for our youngest children, but we wore them in packs. (Some of the trails were incredibly steep, so even wearing them in packs was kind of intense, because if the child on your back leaned to one side, it was dangerously easy to lose your balance. So be careful as to what trails you choose and what your stamina levels are.) My elementary aged children handled it fine.

Rockin' Jump is a lot of fun. It's exactly what you would imagine. Trampolines everywhere. They have special hours for different ages, so your littles don't have to compete with really big kids. You are required to purchase their special socks, but you get to keep them. This is a little pricier than the other options, but the kids really love it.

Armijo is an indoor pool at a city park in El Paso. It has random hours, so call, but it has a fantastic wading pool with lots of water spray features. There is a small slide for kids and a larger one, but I think little kids can't use the larger one. The slides aren't as large as in Juarez, but it is fun for all the spray features, and sometimes indoor is nice to get out of the sun, and it is especially nice in the winter when the outdoor pools are closed. Also, it is attached to a civic center and a library and is surrounded by three different playgrounds.

If you're willing to drive outside the city . . . 

These dunes are located just about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Ciudad Juarez. If you're into '80s films, you might be interested to know these dunes were used in the filming of Conan the Destroyer and Dune. It's a quick drive to leave the bustle of the city and feel like you're completely in the wilderness.

Casas Grandes, Nuevas Casas Grandes, Paquimé, Mata Ortiz, and Colonia Juárez
If you're willing to drive a few hours outside of Juarez, then I recommend a visit to Casas Grandes. At Paquimé, you'll be able to walk trails through the ruins of an ancient city made by the indigenous people to that region almost a thousand years ago. There is also a museum. Mata Ortiz is a small town nearby that in the '80s revived the lost art of the pottery made by the original inhabitants of Paquimé. Made entirely by hand with local materials, the pottery is gorgeous and true to its history and legacy. Depending on when you go, you can even attend workshops where local artisans will show you how the pottery is made. Nuevo Casas Grandes is where you will find the most hotels and restaurants. We stayed at Hotel Hacienda and enjoyed it immensely. The food was delicious, the rooms were clean, and there is a kiddie pool and a regular pool. Colonia Juárez is also not too far away. It was a colony originally settled by Mormons as part of a wider resettlement. When the Mormons left the eastern United States and traveled west, the majority settled in Salt Lake City, but other groups were sent to settle parts of Mexico, Idaho, California, and other areas nearby. Colonia Juarez was one such settlement.

Another worthwhile drive is to the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas. Depending on when you visit, you can attend a "sun party" or a "star party" where you will see images from an actual telescope in current time. The visitor's center has a few exhibits, and you can pay for a guided tour of many of the other telescopes located on the mountain (or do a free self guided tour, but you don't get to see as much).

A drive in the other direction will take you to White Sands, which is the largest dune area of a special white sand. You can take sleds to slide down, hike, or rustic camp. It's quite beautiful. The sand is unique also in that it doesn't get hot even when it is unbearably hot outside.