You can’t visit Mexico’s Riviera Maya without hearing about Xcaret. You’ll see the eco-archaeological park advertised in flyers, on billboards, and particularly, on the whimsical and colorful park transport buses. Advertisements told tales of underground rivers, a Vegas-style cultural show, relaxing beaches, water sports and animal exhibits – all in one huge tropical jungle environment. So, when we got an opportunity to visit the park during our stay in Playa del Carmen, we were curious and excited to check it out.
Getting to Xcaret
The park is south of Cancun, about halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Getting to the park is easy. Xcaret provides very cool buses for transfers to all their parks, that you can book ahead of time.
For our trip, four of us were visiting from Playa del Carmen, and it was just as easy to get a taxi. Most taxis in Playa del Carmen will have a standard rate sheet to each of the resorts/parks. You can simply ask to see the rate sheet (which was about 200 pesos, or $10 US, for us). And don’t worry about getting stranded at the park on not getting a taxi back. There will be a line of them waiting when you exit the park, and there’s also a taxi station to call if there isn’t one waiting. Again, confirm the rate with driver, based on the published rate sheet.
Start Early, and Grab a Map
Xcaret is, frankly, enormous. There’s a huge variety of things to do and see, so it’s best to plan your route through the park so you’ll have time to see everything. Maps are available at the entrance, so start by picking the things you don’t want to miss while leaving time for relaxing by the beach. Make sure you also have time to arrive about 30 minutes before the evening show in order to grab a good seat.
Hint – you can currently buy on-line now and get up to 15% off.
Float Down the Underground River
The underground river is one of the highlights of a visit to Xcaret. Allow for at least an hour in the water. Life vests are provided (and required), which is good, since they make the swim a lot more relaxing. You can also rent masks and snorkels, or bring your own. A mask lets you discover the underwater world in the caves and river, which includes a variety of colorful fish. The waterway traverses through the beautiful jungle are of the park and also through dimly lit caves. It’s a fun adventure and you’re never sure what will come up around the next bend.
Since the river is a one-way trip, the park has made it easy for you to get your towels and dry clothes at the finish. Your group will be provided with a big duffel bag to put your clothes, towels, and whatever other things you may want at the end of the trip. Park employees then zip up and lock the bag, and provide you with the key on a string. They then transport the bag to the end of river so it will be waiting for you when you arrive.
For valuables, lockers are available near in the changing room near the entrance to the river. You’ll need to leave a small deposit that’s returned when you return the key. The locker attendant goes home at 5pm, so if you don’t get back to the locker until after that, you’ll need to bring your key to the main entrance to pick up your deposit.
Get a Bird’s Eye View in the Aviary
The aviary houses an astounding number and variety of birds. Keep your eyes peeled for different species everywhere as you walk through, up, and around the enclosure. Once you get to the top of the winding walkways, there’s a swinging rope bridge to cross, to get a little adrenaline going.
Up Close with Butterflies
The butterfly pavilion is a relaxing jungle environment, teeming with butterflies, of course. We wandered the lower jungle, before taking a set of steps up the canopy of the trees, we’re even more butterflies flitted. Feeding stations filled with fruit attracted many of the insects, where they stayed engrossed in eating long enough for us to capture some photos.
The aquarium opens into area reserved for sea turtles. Tanks, pools, and ponds house “tortugas” at every stage of life. New hatchlings swim madly around the smaller pools, chasing each other at surprising speeds, only occasionally stopping to nibble at a lettuce leaf. Further on a larger pools with older and larger turtles. The final huge lagoon is home to the oldest, massive turtles that glide silently and peacefully just under the surface of the water.
Animals, Animals, and More Animals
Throughout the park are habitats for animals local to this region, and if you get there at the right time, you can meet some of the local wildlife. Find your way to manatee pond to check out these huge sea “cows”. Peer across the small gorge to Jaguar Island and try to spot one of the elusive jaguar. You’ll also find deer, tapir, and coati. There is even an aquarium area to get an up close encounter with other creatures of the deep.
Relax by the Beach
In addition to all the activities, there’s the scenery. Xcaret sits on a beautiful beach, and there are hammocks and chairs everywhere to sit, relax, and just enjoy the view. We found many of the hammocks being used for after-lunch naps.
For those that want to play in the water and find a relaxing spot to soak up the sun, there are also plenty of lagoon areas that will do very nicely!
Drinks and Dining at Xcaret
What’s a day in paradise without a favorite local drink with a view of the ocean? There are plenty of places to grab a drink in the park, along with dining options that include a huge buffet or a quick bite.
So Many Things to Do
There is such an enormous array of things to do at Xcaret that we missed a few on this trip. For example, we didn’t take the river boat cruise, which sounded like a lot of fun. We also didn’t save time to relax in one of those cool hammocks. Next time we’ll do a little more planning, and hopefully, a little napping.
Don’t Miss the Final Show
Xcaret Mexico Espectacular is a spectacle that outshines many Vegas shows that we’ve seen. The show starts at 7:00 PM, but make sure to get to the arena by about 6:30 to grab prime seats. Of course, that assumes that you haven’t paid the upgrade and gotten dinner as well, which includes some of the best seats in the house.
The show is a mashup of music, dance, sports, history, religion, and fire. Hundreds of costumed actors and dancers bring to life the history of the region, in spectacular fashion.The narration is in Spanish, but you don’t need to speak the language to understand and appreciate the stories being told in the big arena. One of my favorites was two teams playing a Mayan game similar to field hockey, except the ball was lit on fire. Nothing like adding a little danger to the game, right?
We visited the park without knowing exactly what to expect, and were very pleasantly surprised. Things were well-run, and there really is so much to do. We haven’t described nearly all the things to do and see in the park. My best advice for a visit to Xcaret is to arrive early, and be ready for an adventure.
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Note: we were hosted by Xcaret for this day at the park, but all our opinions are our own.