Story by Jeff and Stephanie Sylva
Recently we enjoyed a fabulous escape from the horrid winter cold we have been having in the Northeast by spending a week in the glorious warmth of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. But unlike some travelers to these warm climes who spend everyday just vegging under a palapa on the beach drinking margaritas, we always try to immerse ourselves in a destination by experiencing activities and attractions that provide a flavor of the locale. In Riviera Maya we found the perfect solution with a company called Experiencias Xcaret, which operates a variety of eco-archeological parks and tours to many of the YucatanPeninsula’s historical sites.
Culture and Adventure – Mayan Style
Xcaret (pronounced “eesh-karette”) is the most popular and well known of the Experiencias Xcaret parks. Xcaret is a unique eco-archaeological park that features an impressive blend of nature and Mayan and Mexican cultures, offering visitors an incredible array of activities, shows, and exhibits. We spent a full day at Xcaret, staying for the nighttime performance of Xcaret Mexico Espectacular; but we still didn’t get to experience everything the park has to offer. We were a little disappointed that we didn’t have another day to take advantage of the park’s Second Day – Half Price offer.
A Blend of Nature and Culture
One of our favorite activities was swimming Xcaret’s underground rivers, a unique natural feature of the MayanPeninsula. We also enjoyed many of the animal exhibits including JaguarIsland, the sting ray encounter, the giant sea turtle exhibit, and the hundreds of scarlet macaws in the bird sanctuary. The park also has an impressive coral reef aquarium, butterfly pavilion, spider monkey island, manatee lagoon, bat cave, and flamingo flock.
We enjoyed some of the many cultural exhibits, like the two unique Mexican chapels, the Chapel of Guadalupe and the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel; the colorful Mexican cemetery; the re-created Mayan village; and a few archaeological sites of Mayan ruins. The evening show, Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, was a spectacular presentation of Mexico’s history, Mayan rituals such as the ancient Mayan ball game, and colorful demonstrations of Mexican folklore and traditions, a number of which are recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The park also presents a number of other shows throughout the day, like an entertaining horse exhibition and the amazing Ceremonia Ritual de los Voladores (the Ritual Ceremony of the Flying Men).
One suggestion we have if you decide to visit Xcaret is to consider purchasing the “Plus” package, as it includes a rather bountiful buffet meal, snorkel equipment and locker service in the “Plus Area.”
It’s All in the Details
The park, which is wonderfully incorporated into the natural environment of the Mayan coastline and adjacent jungle, is kept especially clean. As complex and all-encompassing as the park is, we were impressed with the attention to details that the park (and Experiencias Xcaret for that matter) maintains. One such example is the secure duffle bag service that is provided for those swimming the underground rivers. We exited the river in a location somewhat far from the entrance to the river, but we were able to pack towels (which are provided), our shoes, and other belongings that we wanted waiting for us at the end of our swim.
For those looking to enjoy more swimming and snorkeling, Xcaret has some great beach areas with plenty of palapas and lounges, and some natural pools and an inlet that are great for snorkeling. A variety of optional experiences are also offered, such as swimming with dolphins, swimming with sharks (harmless nurse sharks), snuba diving, a snorkel tour, wine tasting, and more.
Getting to Xcaret is easy, as it is only 37 miles from Cancun and just 4 miles from Playa del Carmen. Transportation from your hotel is available for any of the tours that Experiencias Xcaret offers. Booking in advance online also will get you a 10% discount. Visit the website for information about all of the parks and tours offered.
Cenotes are intriguing natural pools of crystal clear water that are unique to the Riviera Maya. The geological composition of the Yucatan is such that rain water seeps through the soil and forms subterranean caves that become flooded. Erosion can cause parts of these caves to collapse, resulting in sinkholes, or cenotes, that can be fully open, semi-open, or nearly completely closed. The natural beauty of the cenotes is quite often breathtaking.
It was into these lush tropical wonders that we ziplined, rappelled, kayaked and snorkeled. We visited four different cenotes, and in addition to the exciting activities we enjoyed, we also learned a great deal about the cultural and spiritual importance of the cenotes to the Mayan people, who believed cenotes to be portals to the other world and centers of communication with the gods. This didn’t surprise us, as we found the cenotes to be almost otherworldly – something we had never experienced before.
Just as we were impressed with the attention to details we saw in Xcaret, our tour to Xenotes was equally impressive. Transportation is provided – in fact, it is required that all guests are transported by Experiencias Xcaret vehicles. The cenotes are miles apart from each other, and on private land in rather remote locations.
We enjoyed a light continental breakfast at the first of the cenotes, and then a delicious “glam picnic” lunch with beer and wine included. Cold bottled water and soft drinks were available throughout the day. Clean restrooms and changing rooms were provided at each of the cenotes. One small detail that proved especially nice was the fact that each guest gets two towels – having a dry towel at the end of the day was a welcomed detail.
More Experiences on the Mayan Peninsula
Experiencias Xcaret operates a number of other parks and tours of other Mayan cultural sites. Xel-Ha (“shell-ha”) is a spectacular natural inlet offering some outstanding snorkeling. Xplor is an adrenaline-inducing park offering monster ziplines, cave swimming and rafting, and amphibious vehicles. Xoximilco Cancun offers a unique dining experience on colorful trajineras (flat bottom boats) through some of Cancun’s beautiful canals.
All-inclusive tours to some of the MayanPeninsula’s most significant cultural sites include Xichen Deluxe to Chichen Itza; Xcursion Uxmal, a two-day tour of Chichen Itza, Merida, and Uxmal; the seaside archaeological site of Tulum; the colonial town of Valladolid; and the Mayan city of Coba.
You probably notice that many of the attractions’ names begin Experiencas Xcaret’s trademark “X” – sort of like “X marks the spot.” When it comes to some exciting and unique experiences on the Riviera Maya, we think “X” is a great choice.