Day two of my adventure in the Yucatan Peninsula was devoted to a fun day at a local theme park. For those unfamiliar with Xcaret, it is essentially a park devoted to Mexican culture and the natural wonders of Mexico. It features some small Mayan ruins, buildings created in classic architectural styles, native animal enclosures, water attractions, and cultural shows. Our family felt it would be wise to devote an entire day to exploring, which ended up feeling just about right for us. I think ideally two days might be nice if you have the time, but you can definitely hit the highlights in just one.
Unfortunately, our morning started out looking like we might not get to go to Xcaret as Hurricane Agatha was still causing a fair amount of rain and also strong winds. Though it hadn’t hit the Yucatan directly, there were some lingering effects from it while we were there. Nonetheless our family figured since we’d booked tickets we would head over and at least see if the park was open.
Since our hotel was made up of individual cabins, the “lobby” area was mostly outside, which was where breakfast was being served. Thankfully some of it was covered and the staff even sweetly moved an empty table into the covered area for us so we could eat out of the rain.
Breakfast was delicious! Fresh fruit and yogurt, bread with cheese, beans, ham, and sausage and plenty of coffee.
After we’d finished up eating, we packed up and headed on the road to Xcaret.
Soon enough we arrived and headed inside to claim our tickets. Thankfully the park was open and ready to operate in spite of the bad weather!
On our way in we enjoyed some of the animals as well as the small Mayan ruins.
Our initial plan had been to go up in the sightseeing tower to get some views of the park, but unfortunately it was one of the few things closed due to the weather, so instead we changed into swimsuits and headed to the Mayan river! One of the most fun things in Xcaret are the three “lazy” rivers that run through the park. You get a life jacket and then float down them, enjoying the various sights along the way. There are caverns with bats, some little water falls coming down into the river, and other fun experiences along the way.
I will mention that my mother and brother both had to sign a waiver to go on the river since they are diabetic (type 1). While these Mayan canals are similar to “lazy” rivers you see in some water parks, there is minimal current in some places, so it does take some swimming or pulling on ropes to get to the end which can be strenuous. Just know if you’re looking to relax, this might not be the attraction for you and people with health problems are discouraged from going on the rivers and may need to sign a waiver if they opt to do so.
After floating the river, we decided it was so much fun that we’d go do a second ride on a different one. On our way walking back we enjoyed some of the animal exhibits and also a demonstration of the Danza de los Voladores, a Mesoamerican ceremony done to ensure rain for the harvest. It is really incredible to see. Five men climb to the top of a pole and then four descend tied by ropes, spinning upside down while the fifth plays a flute and drum. Sadly my WordPress account will not allow me to post videos without paying significantly more, but I did post a Youtube clip of one (not Xcaret’s) if you’d like to get an idea.
We settled on the Manatee River as our second choice. This one sadly wasn’t quite as interesting as the Mayan. It also had fewer sections with ropes, so you really did have to mostly swim it. We were all pretty tired by the end. The good thing was that we did get to enjoy seeing one of the manatees while swimming by! We had to kind of climb up the edge to get a good look, but it was still very fun to see one so close.
After finishing with the river, we went ahead and changed out of swimsuits and then headed to check out some of the other animal exhibits.
We started first with the jaguar and puma enclosures. The enclosures themselves were actually incredible. There was a jungle like area for each cat, and in between that and the rest of the park was a huge gorge and waterfalls all through. Visitors could look from the sides or from a rope bridge overlooking the enclosure.
We didn’t see the puma, but the jaguar was out and about, making noise and walking around. As we live in an area with pumas, we were fine with only seeing the jaguar since that isn’t an animal we’d spot in the wild at home.
After admiring the big cats (or at least the one we could see), we headed over to the aviary. Similar to the jaguar enclosure, it was a huge open space, a gigantic room with a spiraling path from the canopy down to the “rainforest” floor. There were so many birds, and we enjoyed getting to explore and see such a great variety of them.
Once we reached the bottom of the enclosure, we exited and did a quick tour of the butterfly pavilion. We’d seen more impressive butterfly exhibits in the past, so didn’t spend much time there, but it was still fun to pass through.
Finally, we were starting to get hungry. We had paid for slightly more expensive passes in order to get lockers included for our things (we felt this would be helpful for the times we wanted to get wet), and the tickets we purchased ended up coming with a meal included. We chose to go with the Mexican restaurant rather than the ones with more international options. The setup was buffet style, allowing us to sample a wide variety of foods. I was excited to get to try cactus for the first time, alongside just enjoying various cuts of meat, grilled vegetables, tamales and other good things. It definitely wasn’t the best food, but it was filling and there was a good variety so it made for a decent dinner without having to leave the park.
Satisfied with a good meal, we opted to stop by some of the aquarium exhibits before heading to the show we wanted to see for the evening. The sea turtles were amazing to get to see up close. They were so much bigger than I had anticipated them being and the babies were adorable too. Though I had seen a couple turtles in Hawaii the year before, this was fun to really get to study them for a little while.
Feeling satisfied with having seen as much as we could for the day, we headed in the direction of the performance we wanted to see.
On our way we stopped by some of the cultural and architectural exhibits. There is also usually a horse show in the evening, but it was cancelled due to the rain, but the riders were at least out and about showing off their horses and costumes.
So our plan had been to head to see a performance called the Mexico Espectacular, which was supposed to be a celebration of Mexican heritage, culture, and history. However, as we were walking over it began to pour down buckets of rain. I think the rain I saw in Mexico might have been the most rain I’ve ever seen in my life (joys of living in a desert climate is I’m not used to much in general, but certainly not anything like this tropical downpour).
We made a run for it and found seats together for the show, though we were now all soaked, but thankfully we forgot all about that soon enough!
We were soon immersed in a colorful spectacular, starting off with an abbreviated history of Mexico, celebrating the culture of the native peoples, then on to the conquistadors taking over and so on until the modern era. In the second half, the performance focused more on the different dances and music of the various regions of Mexico. This part did start to get a little long in places, but for the most part they kept it moving and always brought out something new and interesting just about the time I was getting bored. All in all it really was a spectacular performance, and I’d highly recommend to anyone who is planning to visit Xcaret!
As the show came to a close, we hustled to get out of the park and on the road to our next hotel. We were staying in Playa del Carmen for the night at a place called Hotel Colibri Beach. All in all it was a comfortable and nice place, right near the beach (though it was much too late to enjoy that). I did rest in the hammock on our porch for a bit that evening, but otherwise it was straight to bed to be ready for more adventures ahead!