Xcaret has become one of my absolute favourite spots to spend the day here in the Mayan Riviera. I genuinely love it! I always tell friends coming on vacation that if they’re only going to leave their resort once, than Xcaret is perfect because it can give you a small sampling of everything this amazing area of Mexico has to offer. From Mayan ruins, wildlife, lots of fun water activities, an aviary, a butterfly conservatory, workshops in the Mayan village and great shows that are both entertaining & educational. No matter how many times my daughter & I visit Xcaret, it keeps us more than busy the entire day.
First of all the park is full of natural beauty! It has a great balance of nature & authentic Mayan touches all throughout the grounds. I can remember visiting Xcaret for the first time a good 16 years ago or so when my husband and I were just dating. I left the park in awe that day. Now as a mother of an energetic toddler, we head to Xcaret at least once a month to give my daughter a fun safe place to burn some energy while exploring. As local Quintana Roo residents we have the opportunity to purchase an annual membership to the park for a special price and we take full advantage of the opportunity!
My first bit of advice is to arrive as soon as the park opens to give yourself a chance to see & do it all. Although I’m not a huge fan of detailed plans it might not hurt to get familiar with all of the shows & activities so you can come up with a bit of a game plan. It’s an incredibly long day, especially if you stay right until the evening Xcaret Mexico Espectacular show (which is definitely worth it & a must see show). I swear it took my daughter and I a good 6 or 7 visits (mind you at an extremely slow not a care in the world leisurely toddler kind of pace) before I felt we finally had fully taken in the whole park. I have had the chance to meet up with a few vacationing friends at the park and have come up with a recommended itinerary to give you the best chance to see & do it all!
The 360 rotating scenic tower is located slightly out-of-the-way on the far side of the park next to the Gran Tlachco Theatre (the large palapa where the nighttime Xcaret Mexico Espectacular takes place). In my opinion it’s still worth the trek over there during the day because in the evening you won’t get a view with the same rich vibrant colours seen during the bright mid day sun. The blues of the water & sky really pop during the day and on a clear day you can see Cozumel and well past Playa del Carmen.
Babies & Toddlers
Kids under 5 are free which is great news for parents with young children. The park is quite large & little legs tend to tire quickly so it’s important to bring a stroller! The pathways are all stroller friendly making it easy to get around. I also love to have my stroller to serve as an extra set of hands for me especially when I’m alone with my daughter. I can toss our towels in the hanging basket at the bottom of the stroller and clip on my beach bag containing a few sand/water toys, change of clothes, snacks, water & a hooded beach cover up. My stroller caddy also allows me to keep water handy for both my daughter and I. If you don’t have a stroller you can rent one for the day.
I love Xcaret because it’s fairly inclusive for kids of all ages. A lot of other parks in the area allow young children in for free but there are often many activities toddlers can’t participate in. Xcaret is different that as long as your little one is up for it and you feel comfortable helping them along then your options are endless.
Keep in mind many of the pathways wind along the edges of open water with no barriers. The park provides complimentary use of life vests for all guests (starting with infant sizes) so be sure to grab one early on in the day to keep with you. If you have absolutely any concerns your little one may excitedly get too close to the edge, make them wear a life jacket near the water or keep your child strapped in the stroller while venturing around that portion of the park mostly along the blue line/Aquatic path.
There are a lot of different types of performances that take place throughout the entire park from morning until evening. Realistically you won’t get to see them all but a few are definitely worth trying to catch. Some of my favourites are the Voladores de Papantla (Flying men of Papantla who leap from an aerial platform only attached by a long rope) , the Pre-Hispanic Mayan dances in the Mayan Village, the Equestrian Show and of course the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular that happens every night in the large palapa style theatre.
Again it’s really difficult to get to see & do everything but make a list of the shows you’d love to catch along with the times they happen and try your best to plan your day around some of them. Just whatever you do don’t miss the big evening show!
It doesn’t matter how many times I see them, I’m still constantly amazed by Mayan ruins. I love their design & the incredible history behind them with the Mayan people. There are small Mayan ruins located all across Xcaret and one of the unique things about them is that they aren’t blocked off by ropes like most other sites throughout the Riviera Maya. That means you are welcome to explore, touch and take photos with them. You can find more information about each structure in the small stone tablets by INAH placed at each site. I’m not sure if all of the park guests at Xcaret strolling along the pathways truly understand just how amazing it is to have such close access to the archaeological sites or even realize they’re there.
Xcaret’s name actually means “little inlet” and the site was quite important to the Mayan people. It was used as a starting point for the Itzaes who established trade colonies & sea routes to various other locations like Belize, the Mexican state of Tabasco & Honduras. In addition to serving as an important maritime port for trading, an annual pilgrimage took place each year from Xcaret (or Polé as it was once known) to Cozumel to honour Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility & medicine.
If you’re visiting Xcaret near the end of May you can witness the Sacred Mayan Journey that takes place each year involving hundreds of men & women in the area who take on the same journey the Mayan people once did by paddling from the Xcaret beach to Cozumel and then back again. I’ve witnessed the canoes both leave & return from their journey and it’s an incredibly powerful experience.
The aquarium is a great activity to do mid-day to cool off for a bit when the sun is super hot. We usually time the aquarium as our last dry land activity before lunch and an afternoon of being in the water. It’s a decent size aquarium with some great displays of fish, jellyfish, a touch pool & an entire area dedicated to educating guests about the park’s sea turtle conservation program. A unique feature is the aquarium is completely natural! There are over 500 coral reef structures that have been engineered with seawater pumps to allow the free flow of plankton, larvae & corals into the tanks.
When it’s sea turtle nesting season you may even catch a glimpse of some turtle eggs or young baby turtles who have just hatched. Unlike other beaches and resorts along the coast here Xcaret doesn’t release their freshly hatched turtles right away. They care for them for them until they’re 17 months old before releasing them in the ocean to give them a better chance at surviving. Because they hold onto and care for these baby turtles quite awhile it gives you the opportunity to see some of the various species of sea turtles from our area at different stages from tiny baby turtles to some of the full-grown adults that stay at the park. When it’s time to release the young turtles it’s usually done around 11am on the beach (you can always try asking at the front entrance if they have any turtles to release that day) sometime during the months of January-April.
Animals, Birds & Insects
There is lots of wildlife throughout the park including various tropical birds, monkeys, turtles, deers, horses, a jaguar, a tapir, butterflies, manatees & stingrays. The great thing about Xcaret is these animals don’t feel like the main attraction but more like beautiful supporting characters throughout the park complimenting the entire experience. Many of the spaces the animals are kept in are quite open and I have spotted the macaws, who normally tend to stay on their perches, take flight overhead of our boat drifting along the Paradise River. Xcaret is by no means a zoo or definitely not a petting zoo but it is nice getting up close with various animals throughout the park & not just viewing them through giant cages or barriers.
Our favourite animals are the flamingos & macaws. You can spot them in several places around Xcaret & there is even a flamingo parade that happens the first thing in the morning at 9am during the week. Xcaret has a very successful breeding program for flamingos and depending on the time of year you come you can see flamingo chicks in the hatchery near the end of the Tropical Jungle Trail after the raft ride.
The monkeys aren’t always on the little designated monkey island along the “black line” River Route/Ruta del Rio so if you don’t see them there keep looking up! I believe they’re free to roam but come back to the marked monkey island spot for food put out for them at certain times. The rest of the day they just do their own thing. We once spotted them swinging from tree to tree overtop of a nearby pathway.
I always go to Xcaret already wearing my bathing suit even if we don’t hit the water right away. There are plenty of water activities from the underground rivers that wind through the park, the new Children’s World, the lagoon located between the jungle & beach, what’s known as “natural pools” next to the ocean & of course the Xcaret beach.
We usually spend our morning doing the dry activities and then cool off during the afternoon in the water once it’s a lot warmer out (I know it’s always pretty hot here but the water does warm up later in the day after the sun hits it). There’s no sugar-coating it, the water in the underground river is super cold! It’s refreshing but can be a shock to your system as you get in even on a hot day which is why I like to get really hot & sweaty first before I jump in.
One of the newer additions at Xcaret is the Children’s World. It’s a giant play space for kids under 13. My daughter can somewhat enjoy it at 3-years-old but can’t really do it all on her own yet so I need to go with her to give her a hand. The main highlight of the Children’s World is a giant obstacle type course that takes kids through tunnels, climbing up rope ladders & sliding down water slides. It even passes through a mini aviary. It’s actually really well done keeping with that simplistic & natural feel that Xcaret is known for.
One of the complaints I’ve heard from tourists before is that the food at Xcaret was “too expensive” but I believe they just didn’t know where to eat! Everyone from the hotel concierge who sold you your tickets to the people at the park, everyone will suggest you eat at one of the many expensive buffets located around the park or upgrade to the Xcaret Plus pass to give you buffet access. What many guests don’t know is there is an amazing little casual eating spot right on the beach called “Snack Dos Playas” (not to be confused with the expensive Dos Playa buffet restaurant located right next door). I eat there for approximately $11 U.S. each time getting a giant plate of chicken fajitas (with lots of chicken, rice, guacamole & tortillas) with a lemonade. It’s big enough for me to share with my toddler, it’s fresh and delicious! In my opinion $11 is completely reasonable for eating at a tourist attraction.
The restaurant is more dubbed a snack shop but it still has a pretty full menu of food & beverages. Tables & chairs are incredibly relaxed beach style in the sand. If you can’t find a table on the beach (or don’t want to wait for one) there are also palapa covered tables overtop of the restaurant the waiters also serve. Either way you get a gorgeous view with your toes in the sand while you dine. It sometimes takes a little searching to snag an open table and the waiters are pretty overworked so they’re not always helpful to assist you with finding a table. My suggestion is just go for a walk through the area by yourself and grab one as it opens up. I’ve done this many times on my own (even dragging a stroller & toddler across the sand while searching) and it’s never taken me more than a few minutes to get one.
Museum of Mexican Folk Art & Hacienda Hanequenera
This is another one of those spots in the park that’s easy for guests to accidentally pass by but it’s worth having a quick walk through. No matter how many times we visit the park we like popping in on our way to the Scenic Tower because the Hacienda style buildings make us feel as if we’re momentarily transported to other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula. Take note…because it’s also one of the best spots to take photos against the colourful buildings, iron gates and wood accents.
There are several workshops that happen everyday in the Mayan Village. Some are free and some have a small cost to participate. All of the coconut & cacao workshops are free. I’ve only done the coconut candy making workshop with my daughter and really enjoyed it. They supply all of the ingredients, give you a bit of the history of the importance of coconuts in the area and allow you to get hands on to make and then sample some traditional coconut candy & coconut water which is quite popular here in the Yucatan Peninsula. The entire workshop takes place in a great palapa covered space adding to the atmosphere.
Raft Ride Along Paradise River
The raft ride along Paradise River is another one of our favourite activities. It’s incredibly peaceful as you gently make your way drifting along the river & through a few small caves. The boat operator uses a long stick to push & guide the boat through the incredibly clear water all surrounded by jungle. You’ll have the chance to see crabs, turtles, large iguanas, small wild boar & macaws.
Xcaret is undoubtedly a full busy day filled with activities & lots of walking and swimming. I’ve put together a few extra tips, hints, reminders & even a recommended route to follow to give you the best chance to take it all in & not miss some of the best spots other tourists may end up passing by!
Insider Tips, Hints & Reminders
- Use your HSBC credit card to purchase tickets…if you purchase your admission to Xcaret using your HSBC credit card you will get two days for the price of one. You honestly can’t see & do everything in just one visit so it’s definitely worth it to take advantage of the second day for free promotion.
- Weekends tend to be the quietest…since most tourists arrive & leave Mexico over the weekend Saturdays & Sundays tend to be the quietest days at the park. Don’t worry too much if you have to go midweek because I’ve been there on the most busy day imaginable and still haven’t felt crowded or as if it had a real impact on my day.
- Rent a car or take a taxi…there’s plenty of free parking only a few minutes walk to the front entrance if you’ll be heading there in a rental car. Xcaret’s transportation costs can add up really fast if travelling with a few adults. The drive up & down the coast here in Quintana Roo is quite easy & comfortable so if you’re feeling up for it you can save quite a bit of money by going on your own. It also means you have full flexibility to come & go as you please. I’ve been with friends who have struggled with Xcaret’s set bus times either being too early or too late (especially if you’re with children making it slightly unpredictable when you’ll want to leave).
- Don’t buy the Xcaret Plus upgrade…save the money! Guest service representatives at hotels or anyone trying to sell tourists excursions to the park will try to talk you into purchasing the Xcaret Plus package but really the only difference is the use of a locker, snorkel equipment and one buffet lunch. In my opinion that’s not worth the extra $30 U.S. There is only one great spot to snorkel at Xcaret and coincidentally I find it to be the only crowded area of the whole park. The water is incredibly clear in the underground rivers & even the beach that my daughter and I enjoy looking at the fish just from the surface. If anything bring your own snorkel gear but I don’t find the snorkelling at Xcaret to be the main attraction. As for food you can better spend your money by grabbing a bite at the Dos Playas Snack restaurant on the beach than the expensive buffet lunch.
- ROUTE-Start out doing the dry land activities first…My recommendation is to start off with the Mayan Village first, then head to the opposite end to go up the 360 scenic tower, then swing through the Tropical Jungle Trail to ride the raft along the Paradise River, make your way over to the aquarium & end up at Dos Playas Snack for lunch. Save all of the water activities for after lunch (underground river & children’s world). That way the water has also warmed up a bit by early afternoon before jumping in.
- Bring a towel…Xcaret does not provide towels so remember to bring one from your hotel or home
- Dry bag…this is one of my best kept secrets! Keep all of your valuables like your cell phone & money in a dry bag if you don’t want to get a locker. That way you can keep everything close to you the entire day even while in the underground river.
- Bring eco-friendly sunscreen & insect repellent…bring your own but if you forget you can “check” your regular sunscreen in for an exchange to get some sample packets of biodegradable sunscreen and pick yours up on the way out afterwards.
- Stroller tip…don’t be afraid to visit the Dos Playa Snacks restaurant if you have a stroller just because it’s on the beach. Either remove all valuables & just park it before you hit the sand or drag it across the beach backwards (I do this just about every visit).
- Try one of the park’s fruit freezies…Xcaret sells their own freezies (paletas) all over the park made with real fruit (lemon, strawberry, coconut & mango). They’re a great size, very refreshing, super tasty & inexpensive at only $40 pesos or about $2 U.S.
- Stay for the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular show…lots of guests start debating whether or not they should stay for the evening show probably because they’re feeling tired. If you’re questioning if it’s worth it…it is! It is an professional show unlike anything else you’ll see. It provides a little history on the colonization of Mexico making the country what it is today and takes you on a journey across the country highlighting each unique state in Mexico through song, dance and traditions. The show truly is watching right through to the end.
- Bring a sweater…after a long day in the sun and water it can sometimes feel a little cooler in the evening if you stay for the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular (especially during the winter months).
- Things you can’t miss…the 360 rotating scenic tower, swimming through the underground river, raft ride through Paradise River & the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular show.
- Relax in a hammock…there is a great sort of hidden area filled with hammocks tied to palm trees overlooking the water at the top of the cliff between the turtles and lagoon (where the Ruta Playa/Beach route begins). It’s super peaceful there and the perfect place to just relax for a while.
- Keep your bracelet…if you’ll be heading to Cancun within the few days after your visit to Xcaret your bracelet gives you free admission to the 360 scenic rotating tower in the Cancun hotel zone. The ride to the top in the hotel zone gives you a completely different yet amazing view since this tower is situated right next to the ocean and gives you a birds eye view of the beaches, hotels, lagoons and downtown Cancun.
- Day of the Dead…if you’ll be vacationing in the area near the end of October/beginning of November be sure to visit the park during the annual Festival of Life and Death Traditions. It’s by far the best way to take in Day of the Dead traditions in the area.
- Xcaret Beach…grab a floatie to drift around on! The clear plastic inflatable tubes found in the water at the beaches are for anyone to use. The first time I saw them I assumed they belonged to someone or had to be rented. They’re there for anyone to enjoy and then pass along afterwards.
For more information about the park & to purchase tickets www.xcaret.com
Jen, this was so well done! I’ve printed it off for my next visit — even though I no longer have babies! Can’t wait to see what you write next!