Planning a trip to Cancun or the Riviera Maya? Most travel buffs would have you avoid going to Xcaret Park, known as the “Disneyland of Mexico”. Maybe there is some truth to that, but that should absolutely not let it stop you from scoping it out!
Cecilio and I stayed at Playa del Carmen for our honeymoon in 2017. We dedicated one of our days to Xcaret Park. Yes, it was very expensive. There is some truth about it being a “tourist trap”. Despite that, Xcaret Park was one of my favorite parts about Mexico (along with Chichen Itza, endless swimming in the beach, and all of the delicious Mexican food!). We had a blast.
Xcaret Park is an ecological theme park, located 6 miles south Playa del Carmen and 75 miles south of Cancun. It is named after Xcaret (pronounced esh-kah-ret), a Mayan archeological site nestled on the coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula. The word xcaret means “small inlet” in Mayan.
Xcaret is a water, theme, amusement, eco-archaeological park and more, in one place. Due to its privileged location in the Mayan jungle among underground rivers, cenotes and facing the Caribbean Sea, Xcaret has impressive scenarios where you can do different activities and enjoy to the fullest those scenarios. Besides that, Xcaret is a park that celebrates Mexico’s present and rich past, a country known for its traditions, culture and folklore.About Xcaret
In other words, Xcaret Park offers a taste of Mexico as a whole, such as the crystal clear oceans and cenotes (undeground rivers), the lush greenery, the abundant animals, and last but not least, the cultural performance at the end of the night, Mexico Espectacular.
When you walk around the park, you really feel like you are in a jungle, with trees surrounding, walkways uphill and downhill, and water!
Getting to Xcaret
You can drive yourself to Xcaret from Cancun or Playa del Carmen by taking the Chetumal – Puerto Juárez Federal Highway that connects from Cancun to Riviera Maya. It’s usually not recommended for tourists for safety reasons, especially because Xcaret is an all-day affair.
You also have an option to take the taxi, which is what Cecilio and I did both ways. We took a taxi from 5th Avenue (the center part of Playa del Carmen). If you are coming from Cancun or Tulum, it’s going to be much more expensive due to further distance.
Add transportation services upon booking tickets
If you purchase the tickets online, there is an option to add round trip transportation services. You get picked up at your hotel or a chosen point. It is more expensive this way, but it makes your route to the park faster and smoother.
So what specifically does Xcaret Park has to offer?
Animal lovers, you are in luck—Xcaret shelters a plethora of critters such as birds, butterflies, insects, sea creatures, and jaguars. We even got to see some manatees, which are one of Cecilio’s favorite animals!
Xcaret houses two rescued manatees, named Pompom and Nohoch. Manatees overall are pretty chill, and their favorite activities include eating and sleeping. The lagoon was designed specifically for them, with the right amount of water depth and temperature.
You will be fascinated with the types and amounts of birds in the aviary. These birds are well taken care of and are free to fly around and perch on the branches and rocks. Xcaret does an excellent job with conservation, keeping the birds inside to let them repopulate and not go extinct. We saw a wide variety of birds such as pelicans, lovebirds, and macaws.
Did you know that Xcaret holds one of the largest butterfly pavilions in the world? The pavilion is a free-flight space that is 37,000+ sq. ft. in width and 49 feet high. Xcaret recommends you come really early in the morning if you want to see more butterflies. We came late morning (like at 11 am), but still got to see a decent amount. I caught a snapshot of this butterfly below snacking on some fruit.
Coral Reef Aquarium
The aquarium has special ponds that allow you to see underwater. This is because sea water is being pumped, allowing sea creatures to inhabit. We saw a variety of fish in the aquarium as well as starfish, jellyfish, and turtles. Outside the aquarium, there were more tubs filled with turtles.
Being in Mexico, there’s no surprise to walk by a chapel or two. It is a Catholic nation after all. Xcaret does have two chapels: Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi (pictured below) and Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Guadalupe’s chapel is much bigger and the aisle and pews go downhill. You can also have weddings at either chapel. The Chapel of St Francis of Assisi is located on the highest peak of Xcaret, so you get a view of the whole park (which I regrettably did not take a photo of). Mass is also held every Sunday at this chapel.
Restaurente el Yucateco
While there are a few restaurants where you can order food a la carte, purchasing the Xcaret Plus admission includes an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at Restaurente el Yucateco. In addition to Mexican fare, they offered sushi, pizza, random American dishes, etc. Alcohol was not included in the admission to the buffet, so you had to purchase it yourself. We had one drink each, and we were able to keep the souvenirs (the animal-shaped mugs).
We’re in the Riviera Maya, so we’re already surrounded by cenotes (underground rivers). Xcaret actually has three underground rivers where you can swim in: Blue River, Maya River, and Manatee River. Actually, there is a fourth: Paradise River, but that’s if you want to ride on a boat and aren’t interested in swimming. But the former three are flown into the sea! You have the option to rent swimming or snorkeling equipment for $10 USD (we rented life jackets and fins) or it’s included in your admission if you also purchased the buffet.
The water was soooo cold but it was refreshing after a few hours of walking around the park. There were also at some photo spots in the river where there’s a camera and you can take your photo and purchase it at the gift shop. We didn’t take a photo or purchase it, and I regret it to this day (especially in a once-in-a-lifetime trip like a honeymoon!)
Everyday, Xcaret tops off the night with two performances: the Horse Exhibition and Xcaret Mexico Espectacular.
The Horse Exhibition is a 20-minute show that combines charrería (rodeo) and Mexican folkloric fiesta with Aztec horses ridden by charros (male horsemen) and adelitas (horsewomen) in traditional Mexican equestrian attire. The show performs at 5:00 pm (17:00) everyday, right before Xcaret Mexico Espectacular.
Xcaret Mexico Espectacular
Last but not least is the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, which features more than 300 actors and dancers storytelling Mexico’s history, from the ancient times to Spanish colonization. There are two shows every night: at 6:30 pm (18:30) and 8:00 pm (20:00). The show performs in the Open Theater, and once it starts, the lights go out. When you are seated, you are given a match to light and wave around before the performers glide on stage. Then, the performers’ with their historically accurate costumes, intricate dances and scenes, take you thousands of years back to Mexico.
Yes, I can admit Xcaret is a tourist trap. But tourist trap does not mean generic. I had a blast and it was one of my favorite parts of our trip. In fact, when Cecilio and I have kids, we probably will take them there if we go back. Xcaret has so many child-friendly activities, but we obviously didn’t highlight that in this post.
Other parks in the Riviera Maya
If you want the full, comprehensive experience of Mexican culture, then you will love Xcaret. There are other sister parks in the Riviera Maya you can explore and even purchase combo admission packages if you want to go to more than one. If you just want swimming and pure water activities, Xel-Ha will be more up your alley (and it’s closer to Tulum). Craving for daredevil adventures? Head to Xplor. For a fun, party night out with a cultural twist, you got Xoximilco. If you’re feeling trippy, head to Xenses.
If you have been to Riviera Maya in Mexico, have you been to Xcaret or any of the other sister parks?
Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.