Wherever you go in Yucatán there are signs for Xcaret. Large colourful posters in tour booths, giant life-size buses on billboards on the highway, bold beautiful designed brochures in hotels. It wasn’t clear to me what it was. I had no expectations and not much information on what it was or what it wasn’t. What it is though is utterly unique. Something I’ve never imagined. It’s like Disneyland meets San Diego Zoo meets an Eco-Adventure Park. And if that’s not a good enough description, well then, you’ll just have to read the whole post.
We were to meet our guide, Leo, at 9am out the front of Xcaret. The taxi ride from Playa was 20 minutes and 125 pesos (AUD$9.55) and there was a little traffic on the way. Leo must have ran into the same traffic because he was late. Seeing as he lives in Cancun and had a lot further to come we completely forgave him, especially when he came bearing gifts: a beautiful photo book on the journey, a little picture book about the park with pages to collect stamps (Mia loved doing this) and some other goodies.
After we had finished pawing through our media bag, we lathered on sunscreen, hired a double stroller to keep the kids happy and we were on our way. There is so much to do at Xcaret you really need to study the map and decide which things you are going to complete.
Ok so it seems like a lot of money for a theme park, but you are getting so much more then a theme park and I think it is worth every cent. Below prices are in US dollars:
A one-day ticket is $79.00, $39.50 for 5-year-old children, and $0 for 0 to 4 year olds. Discount available online.
But if you pay with MasterCard you can purchase a 2nd day’s entry at half price & you are going to need it!
The stroller hire was $23.53 for double, $15 for single. They also have lockers, wheel chairs, etc. available.
And there are at least 8 restaurants (including buffets for $39 each) throughout the park.
The best ticket to get is the Xcaret Plus 2 Days for $165.60 This will allow you 2 days of jam-packed-fun in the park from 8:30am – 9:30pm. Access to Area Plus, lunch buffet including drinks and 10% off tours.
So what is Xcaret?
The first thing you notice is the simplistic nature surrounding the park. It’s very ecological and brings a sense of complete peace and serenity. It’s an archaeological park located in Riviera Maya. It’s home to a Mexican cemetery, a coral reef aquarium, a butterfly pavilion, underground rivers, beaches and natural pools, a place where you can swim with dolphins and much, much more!
Macaw bird refuge - Regional Wildlife Breeding Farm
Our first stop was to visit birds. I can’t say I was that excited initially, after all I’ve seen a lot of birds in our travels, but then we came across the Macaw breeding hut. Our guide invited Josh in to take photos of the babies and learn more about them while I stayed outside with the kids (usually guests are not allowed inside the breeding hut, but can look through windows).
There are macaws everywhere, blue ones, red ones, green ones, ones that talk, ones that fight. The aviary is open air so most of the birds are trained and have been born in the grounds. They all seemed pretty happy to stay right where they were.
Xcaret’s Regional Wildlife Breeding Farm shelters over 24 species of Mexican birds. Most of these birds are in danger of extinction due to the deforestation of their natural habitat.
Nearby the bird refuge you will also find other animal exhibits like Jaguar Island, which my daughter loved and Spider Monkey Island. There are also plenty of other nature spots to see like the Manatee Lagoon, the Mushroom farm, Butterfly Pavilion and more.
St. Francis of Assisi Chapel
Just past the bird sanctuary located on the highest point of the park is a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As most parts of the park native materials were used in it’s building. The carved crucifix is made of sapodilla, the altar of limestone and the benches of thorn tree wood; the altar is built over a cenote and is simply stunning. If I were to ever be remarried it would be there… unfortunately not going to happen. But really, a wedding there would be beautiful. The stairs and pew seating all lead down to the bottom where there is a small platform on top of a cenote. If you look back up the stairs and through the doorway to yonder tree there is a carving of Jesus in the tree.
The pews are lined with wood cutout famous people from Mexico’s history. An oddity in such a scared sanctuary, but something the kids were highly amused with.
Rotating Scenic Tower
Much like SeaWorld, Xcaret has a similar tower that holds 72 people and reaches 80 meters above the ground showing you magnificent views of the property. Blue skies, aqua clear Caribbean waters and lush tropical jungle. The property really is massive and with their sister parks close by somebody owes a lot of money for all that land! Wow. And not just mediocre land, but beautiful beachside jungle land.
Coral Reef Aquarium
Oh no not another aquarium! This is what I thought too, but this aquarium has loads of different stuff we hadn’t seen previously and plenty of opportunities to touch the sea creatures. It not only houses the usual fish and seahorses, but a biodiversity of the ocean’s underwater gardens, plenty of thriving ecosystems here.
I wish we had a bit longer to spend here. We did rush rather quickly through the aquarium as we were on a mission to reach the turtles by noon.
Releasing sea turtles draws a crowd
Past the aquarium was the most gorgeous little pools with tiny turtles swimming around. They have an extensive breeding and releasing program at the park. Xcaret carries out a Marine Turtle Conservation Program in Riviera Maya that includes rescue, rehabilitation, marking and release operations.
We wandered past them and over a bridge with a pool of water around it. This pool had the biggest turtles I had ever seen in my life and although we were on a deadline to be at the beach by noon, I had to stop. They were magnificent. Turtles are fast becoming one of my favourite animals. So it is easy to understand why we hurried on to the beach.
The beach at Xcaret is simply stunning. The bluest clearest water you are ever likely to see surrounded by white sand and shady palms. Except this beach was packed with people. Leo managed to get the kids to the front where they were involved in the releasing of baby sea turtles.
In small groups the kids were invited to touch the turtles, keep them wet and then when the time came they held the turtle and released it into the ocean. It was so sweet seeing that little guy swim away to his new life of freedom with the best possible chance of survival.
Buffet lunch over the ocean
After Mia received her certificate for helping to release a turtle we noticed the restaurant was right beside us so we headed to lunch. The location was ideal, situated directly on the beach with views of the perfect ocean and warm white sand. The buffet included salads, seafood, meat, pasta and desserts.
Overall the quality of the food was quite good, and the wide range also catered for just about every taste. There was a chef freshly cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, pork chops and steaks, which were delicious and the coconut macaroons were my favourite. Caius and Mia both enjoyed way too much soft serve. Mia also enjoyed some post-lunch dancing to the live music by a talented duo.
Underground River - my favourite part
Caius fell asleep soon after lunch, but this could not stop us. There was way too much to do that day, and not enough time.
After passing several Mayan ruins we reached a striking circular tower. At the bottom was a desk area where you can purchase tickets & towels for the underground river if it is not included in your ticket price - and really it should be. This is the one thing I had heard about and the one thing I just wanted to do, so I was really looking forward to it.
Up either side of this tower were change rooms and bathrooms. The bathrooms were so unique throughout the whole park I had to get a few pictures, especially these ones with their conch taps.
Soon we were in our swimming gear and handing over anything you want at the end of the river journey to the bag guys for transport. This is a great service. You can place clothes, towels, shoes, anything you want in a big blue bag. They lock it, give you the key and then transport it to the other side of the river to await your arrival.
After the bag service you collect your life jackets. I had to question why wear a life jacket, I mean I am a good swimmer, why do I need a lifejacket? But once you start you will see. It’s a long way.
There are three rivers to choose from and we decided after direction from Leo to do the Mayan River, which is a mixture of open-air and cave. The rivers are all about 5 feet deep. Be prepared the river took us over an hour to swim. Swimming by yourself perhaps 40 minutes, swimming with 2 children, one who insists on not swimming and being on your back the whole time, was much longer.
With our snorkel masks and life jackets on we entered in a large cave. The water was cold. It’s kept at a temperature of about 24C, but that’s cold in a dark cave with no sunlight. When we finally all had enough courage to jump in, we were on our way. Make sure you keep your feet off the ground because it’s covered in a mixture of sand and rocks (ouch) and start swimming (or floating – this is where the life jackets are handy). There is not much snorkeling at the beginning since the light gets darker and darker as you swim through the cave, but at the end of the river there is an explosion of colourful fish.
The whole trip is absolutely mesmerizing. We swam in the river for what felt like miles. There were different exit stops throughout the journey, but we decide to go to the very end. Its funny the little places you pop up and see people walking throughout the park. My favourite would have to be the stained-glass plaza with its rainbow stain glass window and the people looking over the edge to see us way below swimming in an underground river.
We went through caves, we swam through mangroves, and we saw giant crevices in the ground and happily swam with fish and other animals. My kind of underwater exploring, no hidden surprises (monsters in the deep).
Finally we were at the end. We were all exhausted. My 4 year old had swum the whole thing on her very own, I was so proud. As soon as they were dry and in the pram, both were asleep in seconds. It was exhausting, but so worth it. It was my favourite part of the day and without kids I might have attempted at least one of the other rivers.
Alternatively if you are not interested in swimming you can transverse Paradise River without getting wet. That is take a cruise down the river on a raft.
Horse Show – Fiesta Charra Show
With both kids asleep we headed to a restaurant for a snack and a drink. The Mexican restaurant La Cocina had great seats for watching the 5pm Mexican horse show. Not really my cup of tea, but when Mia awoke she loved watching all the prancing horses and cool cowboy tricks. In the mens bathroom of this adorable place is a beautiful row of flowers and a sign asking a man to take one and give it to his loved one. I was chuffed when I received it from Leo, our guide, Josh not so much, it wasn't until later that night I heard about the sign. :)
Mayan Show - México Espectacular
After the horse show it was time for the main attraction. The 6pm show in the large arena. The arena is used for award nights and many other events and is set out very well. Leo had reserved seats at the very front for us and, with some fairy floss for the kids and a drink, we were all settled in.
This show was simply spectacular. With more than 300 actors on stage, the show takes you on a musical journey through the history of Mexico starting with the Mayans progressing to the Spanish conquest and ending with a few popular Mexican music heroes.
The “basketball” courts we saw at the Mayan ruins were represented in game style here and we could see first-hand how hard the actual game was played. Thank goodness in this version the winning team was not sacrificed! Oh and they played with balls that were on fire, now that is something special!
The fight between Spanish and Mayan was intense and the use of flying birds (vultures!) was real special. The cast ranged from young children through to older folks and was extremely well choreographed. There was an intermission half way for toilets and snacks. The show was over two hours and a little too long for the kids. I loved the first half; the second half was just too much. It seemed the Mexicans loved the second half with all the popular music and singing, but not knowing most of the songs I did not connect with it in the same way. But overall, still definitely an entertaining show worth watching, regardless if you speak Spanish or not.
Goodnight to Xcaret
It had been nearly 12 hours since we started the day and not only were the kids extremely bratty, but I was beyond tired. Leo found us a short cut away from the crowds to return the pram and he organized a taxi for us and we said our goodbyes.
We cannot thank Leo enough for his service that day. He was kind, funny and a great guide showing us some really amazing spots and he was super busy too. Valentines Day was the next day and he had so much to do so we are so grateful that he took some time out to spend the day with our family.
And as for Xcaret, what a place. There is so much we did not do there. Here’s a short list of other things we didn’t get to fit into one day:
- We didn’t get a chance to use the cave spa – the perfect place to spoil yourself or a loved one. It is tucked behind a waterfall inside a cave and you receive the ultimate in relaxation with a massage inside. On my list for sure.
- We also missed out on the beach, lagoon and pools – they all looked so heavenly, especially the jacuzzi and pools which are eco-friendly sea water ponds where you can feel the flow of the ocean waves without having to adventure into the open sea.
- The stained-glass plaza & hours of whispers.
- The butterfly pavilion that is 49 feet high and 38,000 square feet. That’s the largest butterfly facility in the world with over 5000 butterflies and 20 endemic species.
- The living museum of orchids & mushroom farm
- The Mayan archaeological sites
- Mexican cemetery
- Wine cellar
- And all the other extra activities like kids swimming with stingrays or adults with dolphins, a sea trek or a snorkel tour.
See what I mean? There is so much to do! Let alone find time to just sit in a hammock on the dreamy beach and wile away the hours.
But what we did do was awesome and we can’t wait to go back. I also cannot wait to visit their sister parks Xel-Ha & Xplore, perhaps without the kids so I can zip through the trees and swim without 15 kg strapped to my back.
If you’re in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, do yourself a favour and take a day or two to enjoy Xcaret. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen before. It really is unique.
We took over 300 photos of this amazing place. Obviously they can't all fit on the post, so head over to our photo journal and check out the best 140 I managed to whittle it down to. Spectacular photography by my husband, what a man!