Xcaret eco park Mexico: culture, conservation, and adventure

The Riviera Maya boasts three major eco theme park opportunities between Cancun and Tulum, all within easy access to area hotels and resorts. Families will definitely want to experience at least one during a Riviera Maya vacation, but which one? In the most basic terms, Xel Ha focuses on water activities and aquarium life, Xplor offers the most extreme sports, and Xcaret eco park Mexico centers around conservation, culture, and eco-wonders.

Because Xcaret offers the most well-rounded programming while still not skimping on adventure, we opted to spend our eco-park day here. We were not disappointed…if anything, we needed more time. Xcaret offers so much, it’s almost overwhelming. The park grounds are extremely well-kept (think Disney in Mexico) and even though the many paths through the park are well-marked in both English and Spanish and park maps are available, you still won’t know quite where to go first.

xcaret eco park mexico

Animal protection and breeding programs:

Xcaret has won awards for their aggressive conservation and breeding programs. From the park entrance, we started our tour at the macaw nursery, where Xcaret staff are aiding this endangered population with their breeding program. We could view incubators and baby macaws in the nursery, then see adults in the lush jungle throughout the macaw area. Babies are released into the wild at a certain age.

Closer the the center of the park, Xcaret’s aquarium is a great place to cool down after seeing the macaws, and families can view a second breeding center, this time for the endangered sea turtles. Toward the back of the aquarium, a sea turtle exhibit leads to a nursery area where baby sea turtles are making their way out of their rubbery eggs in the sand, and outside, adolescents swim in large pools awaiting their own release into the wild. In addition to the sea turtles, the aquarium houses numerous tropical fish and reef animals, including a great display on jellyfish.

As you walk throughout the park, animal enclosures include those for jaguars, howler monkeys, manatees, and more, in addition to a beautiful butterfly enclosure with–yes–another breeding program. We watched staff collecting butterfly eggs to nurture in to larvae. All the animal spaces were on par to those you’d see at a world-class zoo, and all animals looked very well cared for.

Water play and adventure:

excaret eco park mexico

After viewing the animals, we were very ready to get in the cool water of the park’s river system. These natural rivers, partially underground xenotes, are the real deal, but they have been ‘theme parked’ up a bit. Walls, bridges, and tunnels have clearly been added, as well as theming with stairs, emergency exits, and the like. We definitely suggest swimming in the more wild xenotes along the Riviera Maya, but these rivers do make for a fun addition.

They’re also a great way to cool off: we decided to swim through the Manatee River (there are three in total), and the swim took us about 45 minutes. The river meandered through caves and tunnels, then past the sea turtle and manatee areas, where we could view the animals underwater on the opposite side of a plate of glass. Within the rivers themselves are tropical fish (though you’ll see more toward the end of the river as it nears the ocean). The only downside: the occasional snorkel littering the floor of the river.

Snorkel gear is provided at the start of the river system, with lockers and a rather ingenious locked bag system included: simply store your belongings in a large duffel bag, and the staff will lock it, give you the key, and send the bag to the end of the river, where it will be waiting for you. This service–locker, bag, and gear–is included with the Xcaret Plus ticket option (a $20 upgrade that also includes a buffet meal). Unless you are bringing your own snorkel gear (which is permitted), the upgrade is a great deal.

In addition to snorkeling the rivers, ocean snorkeling is available in the protected bay (like the rivers, it’s a bit ‘themed’, but does contain natural fish that can come and go from the adjacent ocean). There are also natural freshwater pools available for swimming.

Culture and eco-archaeological sites:

 xcaret

Of all the offerings at Xcaret, we believe they do Mayan and Mexican cultural exhibits best. Throughout the park, there are numerous shows and exhibits–we were lucky enough to see the Mayan traditional dance and show in the Mayan village and the Papantla ‘flying men’ pole performance. At night, the Experience Mexico and Mexico Espectacular shows take visitors through musical traditions from Mexican states and showcases traditional Mayan ball games…one played with a ball of fire! All performances are impressive and entertaining as well as educational.

On display through the park are a Mexican hacienda visitors can tour, a Mayan village, and Mayan ruins. You never know when you’ll experience a performance or walk past a performer in traditional costume.

Looking for additional Riviera Maya adventure? Check out our video on eco tours and activities in the region:

Date last visited:

August 2013

Admission:

Xcaret admission is on par with major theme parks everywhere. At the time of our visit, one-day adult admission was $89 (or $119 for Xcaret Plus), with kids 12 and under half price (and kids under five free). Two-day admission is available, and while you could certainly use two days to see everything, we personally recommend spending your additional precious vacation time exploring the other eco attractions along the Riviera Maya, unless you have numerous days. Standard admission does not include transportation, but hotel pick up can be added to the admission. Otherwise, numerous taxi stands will take you where you need to go (for a standard fare of $10 for the Playa del Carmen area).

Dining:

Just like in any theme park, there are numerous restaurants and snack stands in Xcaret. With Xcaret Plus, one buffet meal comes with admission. (Xel Ha does have a completely all-inclusive option for a lower admission cost.) Additional snacks and meals will set you back, but the food quality is very good. We snacked on traditional Mexican corn on the cob and loved the wide array of toppings available. (The experience has changed the way I will eat corn!) It’s possible to bring water bottles and other snacks into the park in backpacks, though you won’t want to carry around too much.

Hours of operation:

Xcaret is open 365 days a year, with the majority of their crowds during their high seasons of mid-summer, spring break, and winter holidays. It goes without saying families should try to tour the park on a low-peak time to have the most pleasant experience. When we toured at the end of August, crowds were few. Daily hours vary by season.

Directions:

Xcaret is located along Chetumal-Puerto Juarez Federal Highway (the highway that follows the coastline from Cancun), adjacent to Playa del Carmen.

Disclaimer: we experienced Xcaret as guests of the park, for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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