During our recent trip to Cancun, Joseph and I stayed at Hyatt Zilara – an all-inclusive resort, where there really wasn’t a reason to leave the hotel. And yet, we still wanted to take an excursion to explore Mexico just a little bit and chose to spend a day in Xcaret – an eco-archaeological park just 45 minutes away from Cancun.
I know what you’re thinking – “what does that mean?”. That was my thought too, and I came to the park with little expectation except to enjoy what lies ahead.
The price of regular admission is around the same price as Disneyland, which is about $100/person and includes general activities in the park as well as life vests and inner tubes, access to beaches and rest areas, and all the cultural shows throughout the day.
We opted for the Xcaret Plus for just $30 more per ticket and includes the following extras: buffet lunch with 1 beer, snorkeling equipment, water activities in the underground river, and access to the Plus facilities where you can get a locker (this was so useful to put away our wet swimwear).
The main attraction of Xcaret has to be the underground river that weaves around the park, and it was definitely first on our priority list. They provided us with life vests and flippers, and led us to the beginning of the river where people started to waddle into the cool river.
From start to finish, the underground river attraction lasted about 45 minutes. However, if you’re not interested in finishing it through, there are various exit points along the path that makes it easy to leave.
If you feel like you’re not a strong swimmer, don’t worry, the river does most of the work. A lot of people just floated along as the river’s current carried them on. And with their life vests on, hardly any work is needed to enjoy this attraction. The river is also fairly shallow. I was able to walk on the river floor for a good chunk of the time, and I am 5’3″!
I had never swam in an underground river and to be able to do so in such a safe environment was awesome. With every turn, there was something new to experience. Rocky, yet smoothed out, terrains. Cascading vines and roots. Going through tunnels so dark, you couldn’t even see your own hand. Swimming against strong currents towards the end of the attraction, where your only option to finish is by pulling yourself forward with the long wicker rope floating in the river.
Aah, looking back it was an amazing and exhilarating experience that was very much a major highlight of my trip.
Like I had mentioned, one of the extra included in Xcaret Plus package is a buffet with 1 beer. There are three to choose from, and we chose La Cocina held in a large hut-style restaurant. There were so many Mexican food to choose from, I was very impressed with the selection. All the food was very good too. We did order this one alcoholic drink that wasn’t included in the price (like, an extra $8) that they put in an a pineapple drink, and it was so good and so cute!
Although the park is not a zoo, they do feature a handful of animals. Some of the animals they exhibit include manatees, flamingos, huge marine turtles, a couple of jaguars, and my favorite, butterflies!
We entered the serene butterfly pavilion through the arched stone entrance and was immediately greeted with an abundance of butterflies fluttering by. It was like stepping in a secret garden.
I wish I could have captured the butterflies more accurately (as in they were everywhere!) but some of them flew so fast, I couldn’t photograph fast enough!
There are also some interactive attractions that costs extra, and those included swimming with stingrays, riding with dolphins, and swimming with sharks. We did opt out of these because we felt like there was enough to do around the park in one day without paying for extra attractions.
One thing that Xcaret does well is featuring various important Mexican culture to their park-goers. Throughout the day, there are cultural performances around the park like horse exhibits, voladores de papantla, and Mayan dances. Joseph and I, however, kept missing these performances because we didn’t really plan out the day (more like, go with the flow) so we would be in one part of the park while the performance would be on the other side of the park. Yeah, we completely failed here.
BUT the good thing is (which I will be talking about more in-depth towards the end of the blog post), at the end of the night, Xcaret holds a massive show lasting about an hour and a half that features a lot, if not all, of the small various performances that happened throughout the day.
Aside from performances, there are also cultural sites scattered throughout such as real Mayan ruins (I walked by them, thinking they were fake – d’oh!) and villages and Mexican villages and cemeteries.
This is one of the villages with straw huts, each with a different vendor where artists were selling their crafts. You can even watch some of them working on their art pieces.
We wandered through a colorful Mexican ceremony, and we debated on whether if it was a real cemetery or a replica. Pretty sure it’s not.
One of the shows we actually caught was about chocolate. Our host explained the history and importance of cocoa beans to the Mayans, and we spent some time learning the traditional way of turning cocoa beans into chocolate. Joseph had so much fun doing this, hehe.
Some of the activities that are included in the regular admission are access to the beaches, hammocks, and lounges. Well, this is the view that you get in those resting areas.
If you’re planning on snorkeling (included in the PLUS package), here’s the pretty spot you will be doing so!
XCARET MEXICO ESPECTACULAR
The pièce de résistance of Xcaret is its night show that features over 300 hundred actors and dancers in original costumes performing various acts. Some say that it’s worth the admission fee just to see this show, and I’m close to agreeing with them.
As we walked towards the stadium area, there were many performers already in costume standing by the path, patiently waiting for park-goers to pose a photo with them.
Let the show begin!
The show started off with a bang as we witnessed how Mayans would play a couple of their ballgames. One of them where they would bounce a rubber ball with their hips and try to score it inside those round hoops. With their hips!!!
The other game was a lot more intense. It was basically hockey but with a burning ball! No joke! The players were obviously not protected in any way, and yet they were just lobbing a ball on fire across the floor at full-on hockey speed, trying to make a score. And scored they did! A few times too!
So many acts and so many talented performers gave us a history lesson of the Mexican culture throughout the ages – from the times of the Mayans with pre-Mexican dances, all the way to present day, with mariachi performers. Absolutely stunning!
It’s not hard to see why Xcaret is listed as one of the top things to do while visiting Cancun or the surrounding area. They combine culture with fun interactive activities very well, catering to such a wide demographic of visitors that are keen on absorbing some form of history without being lectured upon. Seriously though, what’s a better way of experiencing their jungle than by swimming in the river itself?! (nearly a month ago and I still think about it).
If you’re anybody (family, couples, solo-traveler) who’s interested in a day full of adventure + culture, I highly recommend Xcaret.