Xcaret, Playa del Carmen
Within several dozen kilometres of Playa Del Carmen are a multitude of different "ecological" and nature parks. Some are more environmentally friendly, some have more activities, some are quiet and peaceful. Here are is a list of some of the main ones in order of popularity.
XCaret: XCaret is like a Mexican Disneyland. There are lots of shows, animals, displays, and activities here. Among my favourites are reef snorkeling, the sea turtle breeding program, the horse riding demonstrations, the underground centote river, the butterfly pavilion, the Mayan ruins, the bat cave, the Mayan town recreation, the jaguars, the manatees, and the big show they have at the end of the night. There are lots of restaurants here and they're quite good. Yes, they have "Swim with Dolphins" if you're interested in that. XCaret is expensive, commercial, and busy, but a lot of fun anyway. I've been twice and had a blast both times.
See My XCaret Travelogues for more information about XCaret.
Xel-Ha: Xel-Ha is the major competitor to XCaret but focuses a little more on "water activities". They also have snorkeling, cenotes, caves, birds, iguanas, swim with dolphins, and Mayan ruins on their site. There's a children's playground and massage spa. Though I've never personally been to Xel-Ha, I've met many other travellers that swear by it and return over and over.
Aktun Chen: Wear a helmet and explore a breathtaking underground cave and river system! Aktun Chen also has animals--monkeys, birds, snakes, and several other exotic species. This park only takes about 2 hours to tour so it's great for a half-day excursion.
See my Akumal Travel Tips for more information about Aktun Chen.
Yal-Ku: A fantastic lagoon for snorkeling. The park has lots of beautiful statues and if you're lucky you'll see the sea turtles swimming near the outlet to the ocean.
See my Akumal Travel Tips for more information about Yal-Ku.
Got a lot of energy & a day to do nothing with it? Want to relax on the white sand of the carribean, but don't want to do it from the hotel as your family is clamoring for more? Then go to Xcaret! There are lots of activites to choose from to make the entire family or group happy. There's a dolphin swim program, a mayan village with shows throughout the day, many underground rivers or a lagoon to snorkel through. Try your hand a snuba from 1 of the 3 beach's at Xcaret. Take a snorkel tour or try the sea trek, where your completely immersed in water but never get your hair wet. Or for those that want laid back activities, lay on 1 of the beach's in the hammocks, get a massage or visit the turtles, butterflies, acquarium or jaguar island. There is something for everyone. Even resturants when you get hungry. The park takes credit cards so no need to carry a wad of money around. The park also has lockers for storage when you want to dump the snorkel equipment, towels, etc that you may have brought with you. So fill up your day with activities at this wonderful theme park and make everyone in your party happy. The park is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Don't forget to wear your bracelet constantly - This is how you get back into the park should you need to leave for some reason.
The ecological and archaeological theme park, Xcaret (pronounced ish-car-et) is 10 km from Playa Del Carmen.
Activities there include snorkelling in underground rivers, swimming with dolphins , boat ride down the paradise river, and there is so much to see including sea turtles, parrots, monkeys, an aquarium, archaeological ruins, a Mayan village. You can hire all of the equipment to go snorkelling and then collect your possessions, which are safely stored at the other end of the river. We went there on a day trip through our tour operator which meant that we could stay until late evening to watch the night show, which was excellent! It started with a demonstration of a pre-hispanic ball game, then a burning ball game, then a musical show of traditional dances. Most sights are included in your admission, however, activities such as swimming with dolphins and hiring snorkelling equipment are extra.
This park has everything!! snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins (for an add'l fee), ruins, aquariums, turtle lagoons, butterfly pavillions, mayan villages, beaches, night shows. It's an all day/night activity! Totally worth it!
Xcaret Eco Theme Park is a showcase of Mexican and Mayan culture and Mexican flora and fauna, plus some water attractions that should please everyone in the family. The park is much bigger than you think. This was my 2nd trip to Xcaret and I still haven't seen it all. In the park is an aquarium, butterfly pavillion, an underground river that you can float through, lovely beach & lagoon for snorkeling, dolphin encounters, lots of other kinds of animals, an orchid greenhouse, a Mayan village and lots more.
I enjoyed the float in the river and Mayan demonstrations the best. Especially the Papantla flyers who worship the sun god by spinning their way down from the top of 30 meter a pole on ropes upside down. Also included in your admission is a night show which features a Mayan football game, field hockey with a flaming coconut, falconry, fantastic costumes and lots of music and dance. If you can stay late, the show is a must-see!
If you stay at the Occidental Grand Xcaret, admission is free for one day and it's just a 5 minute walk from the hotel shops. Just follow the canal. Otherwise, admission is about $56 USD. If you take the Xcaret bus, you'll pay more. See their web site for details.
Xcaret is an amazing place. About 50 dollars to get in there, so plan to spend all day.
You want to get an idea of the ruins in the Yucatan? They have models.
See a Mayan village? You're in the right place.
Want to swim with the dolfins? You can do that too (for an added fee).
Float down an underground river? Yup, it's there. (bring your swimsuit)
See Rays, turtles, an aquarium? They have it.
They breed the green and white turtles which are indiginus to the area. They have hundreds!
Just want to lay in a hammock? Ok!
Check out how pink Flaminco's are in real life? You will see them in all their glory! Jaguars, makaw parrots....
there is also a wonderful nighttime show which is included in the price. It features the history of the area in music, dance and most impressively, Mayan games! It's probably too long for your kids (if you have them) and it even got a bit long for me. But be sure to check it out, at LEAST for the first half, when you will be amazed by the games played on the Mayan ball courts. You will see Fire Hockey. Which is exactly what it sounds like. The "puck" is on fire. They dim the lights for that. Really, even if you don't stay for the whole show, see the first half.
The Mexican restaurant is great and the prices very reasonable.
Xcaret is an ecological park located in the Riviera Maya area, a 45-min. drive from Cancun and only 5 mins. away from Playa del Carmen; this is why I posted my tips on the park in my Playa del Carmen page, but you can access this place from any other spot in the area.
This park has it all: jungle, wildlife, ocean, river, lagoon, beach, museum, aquarium, restaurants, theater and more... Spending a day here is not cheap but it's worth the money spent. You can either get to the park by your own means (bus, taxi, rental car -- the parking is free) and just pay your entrance fee, or hire a tour: a bus/shuttle will pick you up, take you to the park & drop you off back at your hotel, but it is not a guided tour thank goodness: only the transportation and admission are included. The former is cheaper (except if you hire a taxi, which is VERY expensive), the latter is more comfortable and hassle free.
You can either hire the tour or just buy your entrance ticket on the park's website: a discount is offered if you purchase your tickets on line (URL provided below). You can also hire these tours on your own: most hotels will offer this possibility, but it may be more expensive.... thus it might be a good idea to compare the prices before purchasing the tickets.
I will list the activities available at the park on my next tip; however, please see their website for a very detailed description of the amenities and services offered to the visitors as well as their schedules, opening hours and rates. Xcaret is open everyday and most activities are also available 100% of the time (weather permitting). The basic admission only covers: the entrance to the general areas, access to the dressing rooms, life jackets to swim in the underground river (as they are mandatory), and admission to the night show (a MUST see). Extra items and activities - e.g. towels, lockers, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving - are available for an additional fee each. There are packages that comprise extra stuff such as meals, snorkeling equipment, etc.
I don't have enough words to describe the magnificent night show they perform at the XCARET park... I had made some pictures which, unfortunately, got ruined by my dying camera.... and which I wasn't sure would come out fine, anyway. But no picture or description would make justice to the performance they have prepared in the park's theater for all the visitors.
In the show you can see the history of Mexico depicted, from the Aztecs' and Mayans' civilizations to the invasion performed by the Spanish, their 3 century ruling in Mexico, our independence and what life was like in the XX century. The customs worn by the actors are so real and beautiful, the lights and the music make the entire show really lively. One of my favorite parts is the very beginning, where some actors perform the old ball game played by our indigenous ancestors for real.....! Just for you to have a better idea of what it is like: this Juego de Pelota is played by men who are nearly naked (look at the picture to see what the players look like), with a very hard and heavy rubber ball which they need to pass on to each other by using only their hips, and then insert it in a metal ring which is fixed to a wall. This ancient sport requires a very good physical condition and skill, and it really looked like the actors were professional players in an ancient Mayan temple... really amazing.
Then the Mexican typical dances and music are simply fascinating, making the whole experience something that had a very strong effect on me: I felt even prouder to be Mexican after I saw it!!!!!!! It's something you definitely have to see..... many people are tired after spending the entire day at the park and just want to go back to their hotel, but this show is really worth the wait and the effort and something you just can't miss if you visit Xcaret -- plus, it's included in the entrance fee! So don't miss it!!!
These are only some of the things you can do at Xcaret, there are many activities to choose from (please see website for further information with lots of pictures and details - website provided below) and most of them have extra cost:
Swimming along the underground rivers
Swimming with dolphins
Visit the butterfly zone
Visit the aquarium
Visit the Archeological site
....... and the NIGHT SHOW! This is included in the entrance and is a MUST SEE: please see my next tip for further details.
The biggest ekopark in the area. You need to take the whole day to visit this place - its huge! Animals, miracles of nature, jungle, snorkeling (also in a cave), maya ruins and maya-style cemetery (I regommend to see), big show of mexican culture in the evening and more..
This is not so much a "theme park" I would say as it is a nature preserve. Lots of bizarre animals in natural settings, not caged, but contained. Creatively.
For $80US in 1999 I swam with dolphins. This is not Hawaii where you have goggles and you tell them to do tricks and watch underwater, this is 3 dolphins to every human, 20 minutes just hanging out in the pool with them, surrounded ! Touching them, kissing them, talking to them, whatever you like. Plus!!! You line up and they all jump over you...AND at the end of your little visit, you lay on your stomach with your arms in the air and all of the sudden, there are 2 noses tickling the arches of your feet. Then, off you go, at dolphin speed, flying through the air (well, half air, half water) like Superman! A fabulous end to a fabulous visit with some fabulous creatures.
They have GREAT "froofy" drinks at the cabana bar and surprisingly bountiful snorkeling as well.
There are hammocks along the ocean to relax in when you need a break, and..... well, I could keep going, but you wouldn't have any surprises, so, go. Enjoy.
There are a few "eco-parks" in the area. We found a friendly taxi driver and with my limited Spanish he told us that Xcaret (pronounced esh-caret) was the best one. On the way in, we spent around 15 minutes chatting with a guy in the information booth near the entrance. He recommended us to go to the underwater river - and to take the river on the right as it was natural - the other was man-made. It was really amazing. Although there weren't many fish or coral to see except just at the end, it was a really nice, peaceful and calm experience. The rest of Xcaret is also really amazing - it's been created very thoughtfully. There is a show that starts at 7pm and it was good - even if just to show how Mayan football works!
This is not so much a "theme park" as I would say a nature preserve. Lots of bizarre animals in natural settings, not caged, but contained. Creatively.
For $80US in 1999 I swam with dolphins. This is not Hawaii where you have goggles and you tell them to do tricks and watch them underwater, this is 3 dolphins to every human, 20 minutes just hanging out in the pool with them, surrounded ! Touching them, kissing them, talking to them, whatever you like. Plus!!! You line up and they all jump over you...AND at the end of your little visit, you lay on your stomach with your arms in the air and all of the sudden, there are 2 noses tickling the arches of your feet. Then, off you go, at dolphin speed, flying through the air (well, half air, half water) like Superman! A fabulous end to a fabulous visit with some fabulous creatures.
They have GREAT "froofy" drinks at the cabana bar and surprisingly bountiful snorkeling as well. There are hammocks along the ocean to relax in when you need a break, a natural underwater lazy river and..... well, I could keep going, but you wouldn't have any surprises, so, GO. Enjoy.