One of our most memorable days during our visit to the Riviera Maya region of Mexico was our last minute trip to Xcaret (ish-car-et). Skeptical, but lured in by the advertisements, we weren’t sure how we felt about spending our last day at a cheesy Disneyeque theme park, but we were game to check it out.
Cheesy it was not. Surprisingly, Xcaret is a well executed ‘eco-adventure’ park with a National Geographic feel. You really can’t go wrong spending a day of your trip at Xcaret. The abundance of nature, animals and culture were quite impressive. Swimming on the underground river through caves and tunnels was incredible. The cultural exhibits and performances felt authentic and gave a great sense of how things were in times past. My son loved being out in nature all day surrounded by animals and plants. It really is a one stop shop for adults and families alike.
There is so much to discover at Xcaret that it is difficult to see everything in one day. We missed a ton that we would have loved to check out. I understand how people return year after year. We focused our visit on exploring the animal and nature trails, checking out the underground river and watching cultural performances, saving the archaeological and cultural exhibits for when our son is a bit older.
Compared to the rest of your visit to Mexico, the price tag for entry seems hefty, but once you get in you will see all that is included in your ticket. If you plan to do the underground river and eat lunch at the park, go ahead and purchase the ticket plus with free locker usage, rental of snorkel gear and a buffet lunch. We highly recommend this option. The lunch was fantastic even for a vegetarian and a child.
Skip the Optional Activities
There is so much that is included in your ticket price, that you will easily fill your day with free activities. Unless there is something on your bucket list that you just *must* do here, spend your time on the activities included in your ticket.
Read up on all the offerings at Xcaret’s website to plan out your must do activities. Check out times of shows that you want to attend and plan routes accordingly. Our route focused on nature, wildlife and culture, but there is even more to explore.
Bring a backpack, but travel lightly as you will have to carry your belongings around all day (except during the underground river), unless you choose to leave it in a locker. We had sarongs instead of towels which helped reduce our weight as well as an extra change of clothes for the evening performances. You can easily leave some of your belongings in lockers to retrieve later in the day.
Plan to swim the underground river at the warmest part of the day as the water can be chilly (about 75F) for small kids. It will be a bit more crowded, but much of the river is covered by caves or jungle which can make it feel even cooler if it’s not blazing hot outside.
Take advantage of the numerous automatic photo booths located around the park as well as points with professional camera operators. Even if you don’t think you will purchase the photo package, you might as well have fun taking the photos, just in case! We ended up getting the package at the end of the day and wished we had stopped at more of the photo spots.
Buy your souvenirs at the end of the day so you don’t have to carry them around all day. Otherwise, secure a locker near the exit to store your purchases throughout the day.
Our Top 3 Must Do Activities
1. Underground River
This is one of the major attractions advertised for Xcaret. You can swim, float and snorkel through a natural network of underground rivers. It looked amazing and was the top activity on our list. We brought our son’s life jacket with us just in case, but Xcaret have life jackets for all sizes including infants and small children.
The river has several options, we chose the shortest and easiest, knowing we could return if we wanted more. It was perfect. It took us approximately an hour to complete. There are several stop off points along the way to get out and rest or explore a bit if you choose (in your swim suits).
The only difficult part of the swim was when the rivers meet and you have to pull yourself upstream along a rope. This is tough to do with a non-swimming child on your back, but we managed to pull through and rewarded ourselves with a long rest! There are no super dark or scary parts. Most children will adjust quickly. The worst part for kids is the cold water, which stays near 75F year around.
If you are worried about your belongings, don’t freet. All of your belongings are put in a locked (you keep the key) duffle bag that is shuttled to the end of the of the river where you can pick it up when you are finished. It is very well organized and quite safe.
This a unique experience everyone should check out at least once. Even with small kids it can be a rewarding adventure.
2. Butterfly Pavilion
On a sunny day, the butterfly pavilion is hopping with activity. Spend some time walking through the large, jungle like enclosure searching out your favorite butterflies. Our son’s favorite was the elusive postman. It can get steamy in here, so bring some cold water to cool you down.
3. Xcaret Mexico Espectacular
This is an impressive show by anyone’s standards and is well worth sticking around for in the evening. It is included in even the most basic ticket package. The show is divided into different segments – an ancient Mayan ballgame (with fire balls!) and the history of Mexico from the time of the Maya to the present. The story telling is through music, dance and elaborate costumes. With such spectacular scenes laid out before you, you almost forget that it is all being narrated in Spanish! Even with it’s 1.5 hr length and lack of English, our toddler was thoroughly engaged for the duration. This is a must do. It is long and at the end of the day, but worth the effort to see. You will be mesmerized I promise.
Exhibits, Features and Experiences
To give you a better sense of some of the other activities presented at the park, we have listed our experiences below.
Our first adventure into the park was a walk along the Tropical Jungle Trail. Knowing now that my son is obsessed with nature and being a park ranger, it makes sense that this was one of his favorite parts of the park. He loved doing the ‘hike’ through the jungle, learning about the different plants native to Mexico that he had never seen before. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing the composting process (that later inspired his own compost at home), orchid garden and mushroom farm. For nature, garden and farm lovers, this is a must do.
We are an animal loving family, so much of our explorations at Xcaret focused on visiting as many animals as we could, and there are a lot. Throughout the park there are wildlife enclosures with a grand span of native animals. Not always a fan of enclosures, these felt relatively open and friendly to the animals. Keep your eyes peeled, as there are plenty of animals outside of the enclosures wondering around in the bushes (not including the super friendly resident stray cats you will happen across).
Our next stop was to the Coral Reef Aquarium. It was of decent size and had beautifully lit displays and interactive learning tools that kids will enjoy. Moving on from here, we ventured to see the turtle exhibit which shows the life cycle of turtles with different pools housing the different aged turtles.
Moving on to lunch, we ate our food directly across from the Jaguar Pavilion, which was a special experience for our son. I personally felt a bit sad for him as he paced back and forth, but for most people, it was quite exciting to see such a majestic creature so close.
And the highlight for all of us were the Guacamaya (parrots) located throughout the park. My son LOVED having his photo taken with them on his shoulder.
As mentioned previously, our top water attraction was swimming on the underground river. However, if you have small children or are just not interested in getting into the water you can ride a slow boat through the channels to get a similar view as seen from the underground river. It can get hot, but is a nice place to rest your feet while also getting a view of the beautiful waterways.
The shoreline at Xcaret has been designed to provide areas for snorkeling, relaxing on the beach, restaurants and outlets for a wide range of other water-based activities. We spent a good deal of time enjoying the hammocks on the beach, the free to use inner tubes and sandy inlets.
The three cultural performances that were a priority for our day included the fantastic Voladores de Papantla show. We were wowed by the sheer strength of these men climbing up to the top of the pole and then hanging upside down while swinging around and then finding their way back down at the end of the ceremony.
We also made it to the Equestrian show late in the afternoon which was a great break for our tired feet. Arrive early to secure a table in the adjacent restaurant (La Cocina) if you want to eat while watching the show. And closing out the day, we were blown away by the performances at the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, which was really magnificent. Even without English narration, we gleaned so much insight into the history of this amazing culture and country.
There is so much more to do, see and experience at Xcaret, that we will surely be back on our next visit to the Riviera Maya. I want to check out some of the archaeological ruins, the traditional cemetery and so much more.
Have you been to Xcaret or to their other adventure theme parks? What was your favorite?