As soon as I landed at the airport in Cancun, I started to notice many colorful posters advertising something called “Xcaret”. I had no idea what it is about until I was speaking with my hostel manager a couple of days later. “It is like Disneyland, but Mexican” He told me. That definitely got my attention. Anything that resembles Disneyland has got to be fun! With curiosity, I booked my ticket for a one day excursion to this eco theme park from Cancun. The Xcaret experience turned out to be pretty close to how my hotel manager described it. Full of imagination and wonders, it is truly a can’t-miss attraction in Yucatan, Mexico. In this post, we will explore the top things there are to do at Xcaret. Read to the end for some must know tips during your visit.
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What is Xcaret?
Xcaret is a large scale eco-cultural theme park located in Riviera Maya. The activities here range from nature-based adventurous sports such as swimming through an underground river, snorkeling, sea trekking, etc. to cultural-based attractions such museum, traditional architecture replicas, and performances. Let’s check out all the top fun stuff in details.
Participate in cultural experiences
Xcaret is a great place to witness Mexican and Mayan culture. Take a stroll in the Mayan village where you can see real artisans working on their crafts. Or check out the whimsical graves in the Mexican cemetery. There are also many performances such as the Mesoamerican ball game, an intense game where the players struck the ball with their hips. Or the Flying men, where several men spin around on a rope while dangling upside down from a pole. Yes it is as bizarre and interesting as it sounds. Other cool demonstrations include the equestrian show in the evening and Mexican folklore dances.
Enjoy beautiful nature
Walking through the park, you are most of the time amidst beautiful lush greenery. Tall trees, waterfalls, mini suspension bridges…there were instances where I felt like I was in a real jungle playing Indianna Jones. The best part is that the grounds are not crowded at all, so there are plenty of pathways for you to marvel in peace and quiet.
Learn about the Macaw Breeding Program
As soon as you come in through the entrance, you are greeted by huge scarlet macaws. They are such captivating creatures with their shiny colorful feathers and little silly movements. Xcaret has held a macaw breeding program since 1993. The goal was to repopulate the rainforests in Veracruz and Chiapas. The effort has seen significant successes, as Xcaret won two Guinness World Records, in 2009 and 2013, for “Most macaws born in a year in a single facility”. The birds are eventually released back to their natural habitat after they have been trained with skills like running from predators. It almost made me cry to hear that the caretakers dress up like big birds and scare the macaws with nets and sacks, just so the macaws can practice. How wholesome is that?
Find other incredible animals
Besides the macaws (lounging about pretty much everywhere), there are many other animals to befriend around the park. Xcaret has an island of jaguars, a deer shelter, a bat cave, a flamingo pond, a butterfly pavilion, and more. My favorite moment was spotting the giant sea turtles. They are absolutely huge! If you are traveling as a family with kids, your little ones will definitely be mesmerized.
Word of caution: Please follow all the park signs and respect the animals. Do not interact or feed them unless given directions by park staff.
Swim in the Underground Rivers
This is one of the top attractions at the park. Xcaret provides the perfect opportunity to experience the underground rivers, otherwise known as cenotes, which are unique to the Yucatan region of Mexico. There are three enchanting rivers that you can swim through. They all stretch across the park ground, meandering through mangroves, caves and jungles. Grab a life vest provided and dip into the clear cool water. You barely have to swim as the gentle current will push you along and the vest will keep you afloat. It was very relaxing for me to bob along while staring at the lights beaming through the trees and shimmering on the water. Completely magical.
Tip: If you happen to be claustrophobic/scared of the dark, do know that there are tunnels and caves that may trigger fear. Be assured though that they are safe. Grab a buddy for emotional support!
Float down Paradise River
For those who are not keen to get wet, you can still enjoy the serenity of being on the water by taking the raft cruise on Paradise River. A captain will guide the cruise and explain the scenery along the way. Even if you can’t understand the Spanish being spoken, you can still admire the fauna and animals. We spotted some wild boars, iguanas, and blue crabs during our ride.
Hit the beach
When you are tired and want a break, head to the beach area. Unlike most public beaches in the Yucatan, the beach at Xcaret is free from the noisiness of tourists. There are many hammocks available for guests to use. I almost fell asleep in a hammock. It was just too relaxing to lay under a palm tree with sounds of the waves and smell of the sea. Had I not wanted to check out other things to do, I would have stayed at the beach for hours.
Try Sea Trekking or Snuba
In the mood to try some novelty water sports? Check out sea trekking at Xcaret. You are guided to walk on the seabed while wearing a special helmet that allows you to breath normally. This activity is especially good for those who cannot swim but wants to experience being under water. There is also Snuba, a method that combines snorkel and scuba. Instead of having a tank on the diver’s back, air is supplied through a long hose connected to an air tank on a flotation device at the water surface. Both of these activities cost extra, but they will allow you to get up close to the marine life and magical reefs.
A low/zero cost alternative to the fancy water sports mentioned is good old classic snorkeling. There are several spots to snorkel at Xcaret. Bring your own gears or rent for a small fee. If you get the Plus Xcaret pass, they will rent you the snorkel gears for free. You even get to keep the mouthpiece as a souvenir.
Visit the Aquarium
Another cool way to see marine life is by visiting the Xcaret aquarium. Jelly fish, snails, star fish, corals of all shapes and colors…under the sea is just such a fascinating world. I got to watch the workers carry out feeding of the stingrays. It was totally rad!
Indulge in the incredible lunch buffet
If you purchase the Plus Xcaret Pass, it includes lunch at any of the restaurants on site. The spread was a feast that made my jaw-drop and mouth salivate. I swear I had to resist the urge to be the person who takes photos of every food station. Fresh salmon, salad with fancy cottage cheese and figs, huge oysters, fragrant bread, mountains of fruits, pretty desserts, and so much more. You get a taste of what Mexican cuisine is all about. Choose one of the restaurants along the beach for an incredible view as you dine.
Watch the Night-Time Spectacle
I’ve saved the best for last – The Night Time Spectacle is the grand finale and top highlight of the Xcaret experience. Make sure you don’t miss this show no matter what. The dancers, the singers, the costumes, the lights, all come together to tell the stories of Mexico. The show showcases Mexican history from pre-Hispanic times to modern day, through songs, dance and acting. The second half also demonstrates traditional dances from different regions of Mexico. By the time the performance was over, I had tears in my eyes. Even though I couldn’t understand Spanish, I truly felt the passion from not only the performers, but the Mexican audience who showed so much love and pride for their country through their cheering. (I’m a big softie, leave me alone)
Visiting Xcaret Eco Theme Park Tips
Get the Plus Package
While the basic ticket to Xcaret is good, the Plus package includes many features that are worth the enhanced price. I got the Plus package and was very glad I did. It included transportation to Xcaret from Cancun, buffet lunch & beer, unlimited non-alcoholic beverage, locker, access to the Xplus area, and snorkel equipment. I think the magnificent lunch alone was worth the extra cost. (You are not allowed to bring food into the park and the foot trolleys on site are expensive!) Check out the Xcaret Plus Package here.
How to get to Xcaret
There are several ways to get to Xcaret. The most convenient is getting picked up from Cancun, Tulum or Playa Del Carmen by Xcaret tour bus. This service is a part of the Plus Package. If you want to drive yourself, the park does offer free parking. Lastly, you can take the public bus. For detailed instructions on getting to the park, visit the Xcaret page here.
Pack appropriately for the day
Straight up -At some point during the day, you WILL get wet. There are too many water activities to be enjoyed at the park, so prepare with that in mind. Here are a couple recommended items to pack:
–Swimwear: Bring your bikini/one piece/swimming trunk. But leave your floatation devices at home. The park will lend you life jackets and even flippers. I am currently obsessed with this comfy one piece from prAna and it was what I wore to Xcaret.
– Snorkel gear: There are several spots to snorkel in the park, so take advantage. If you got the Plus package, gears will be provided for you. In general though, I recommend investing in your own high quality pair like this one here.
–Biodegradable sunscreen: Did you know that normal sunscreens contain harmful chemical that damage coral reefs? Xcaret requires guests to use reef safe sunscreen. Please help protect the environment and follow the rules! I used this all-natural reef safe sunscreen from Amazon.
–Waterproof cell phone pouch: If you got a fancy DSLR, bad news for you. You won’t be able to take it into the water. Don’t worry, you can still get those photos if you have a waterproof cell phone pouch. I was able to take Instagram stories even in the underground caves thanks to my pouch.
– Go Pro Hero 7: I saw tons of guys with their fancy Go Pros in the park and got me thinking I really need to invest in one. A man floating near me was able to take selfies with voice command which seemed 10X easier than me fumbling with my phone while trying to swim at the same time.
– Dry bag: A great day can be ruined when you end up with a pocket of wet money and water damaged electronics. Keep all your stuff nice and moisture free with a dry bag.
A general tip is to try to travel as light as you can as it is a hassle to carry things around on such an active day. You can also leave things you don’t need in a locker available to Plus pass holders.
Avoid the underground rivers in the morning
This was a piece of advice given by the guide on our bus. The underground river is a main feature of the park, so most people want to do it right away when they arrive at Xcaret. Be strategic and wait until the afternoon, the rivers will be practically cleared out of people. Instead, check out other sections of the ground, like the Mayan Village, in the morning.
Where to stay near Xcaret
If you are looking to stay near the action, there are many hotels and resorts around Playa Del Carmen. Here are some popular options:
- This hotel is so luxurius, it’s almost a theme park in itself. Includes unlimited access to Xcaret for guests. Rating 8.4/Estimated price $266
- Particularly popular with couples, Playa Palms is steps away from the famous 5th Avenue and its cafeterias, shops and nightclubs. Free continental breakfast included. Rating 8.5/Estimated price $130
- Eco-friendly certified, this property is also rated for the best value in Playa del Carmen. Rating 8.9/Estimated price $100
- This property is adults only! Its spa services and outdoor pool are perfect for a those looking for a romantic time. Rating 8.6/Estimated price $100
- A modern new hotel with a roof top pool and sea view. Complimented by visitors for its friendly staff and clean facilities. Rating 8.1/Estimated price $60
Want more options? Search for Playa Del Carmen accommodation deals on booking.com.Psst get $16 off your first booking when you register through my link.
The Xcaret experience summary
There are many other fabulous things to do at Xcaret that I didn’t cover, like going to the spas. One may need a couple of days to truly sample everything Xcaret has to offer. It was clear to me that this eco theme park is as popular with foreigners as it is with locals. I really enjoyed my day at Xcaret. One thing that surprised me majorly was how there were barely queues for any attractions. Being a Disneyland veteran, I went to Xcaret fully expecting long lines for activities but was pleasantly surprised. So my verdict: Xcaret is sort of like Disneyland, BUT less artificial and less crowded. The adventurous sports and cultural education combination is very unique. I would definitely want to visit again in the future.
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Read up on the best advice: Love a good old fashion guide book. Suggested reading: Lonely Planet: Cancun, Cozumel & Yucatan.
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