Exploring Xcaret Eco Park in Riviera Maya, Mexico

About 20 minutes South of Playa del Carmen lies along the shores of the Riviera Maya in Mexico’s Caribbean coast Xcaret an eco arqueological park that for more than ten years has been portraying Mexico’s history, heritage and natural wonders. I first visited Xcaret in 2001, and while I did enjoy my visit I have to admit it has changed a lot since then- for the better. The park is much larger, there are many more attractions, and the food is one to thoroughly be enjoyed despite the fact that thousands of visitors drop by every day of the year.

xcaret park

Xcaret show, photo courtesy of XcaretExperiences.

What Makes Xcaret Unique?

Perhaps what has made my recent to visit to the park much better than the original one was that this time I had a guide with me, who showed me somewhat hidden spots I completely skipped before. Not because I chose to ignore them, but because I didn’t even know they were there. While most visitors head straight to the water related activities and attractions once inside, they fail to notice some little indicated corners  where you get to see birds of paradise and other wildlife, just like I did that first time. For example, Xcaret  holds the largest Guacamaya re-population center in the country; this a is a bird of paradise with two out of its five species in danger of extinction. Their current natural habitat is the southern state of Chiapas, and just last year Xcaret released more than 30 birds there, the largest attempt ever to re-populate the area.

Guacamaya in Xcaret

Me holding a Guacamaya chick and making new friends. These two pictures inadvertently portray the Mayan philosophy of embracing life and death as part of life, without giving more importance to one than the other.

Most visitors (like myself) tend to enjoy more the attractions that involve animals and wildlife rather than those that involve humans, but this visit taught me some lessons that I missed the first time. For example, I learned that before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors Xcaret was  a Maya settlement known as Polé, an important port and trade center, and it’s because of this that many archeological ruins can be found in the area. I was also able to appreciate how an hacienda (large family house) used to look like in the old days, and was particularly impressed with the small statues and pottery crafted by  Huichol indigenous people which I have met and still see often in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. These figures are crafted into wood and then covered with thousands of small colorful beads creating extraordinary images and intricate patterns.

huichol-art

An example of Huichol art

Its perhaps the great balance this eco archaeological park has managed to achieve bringing history and nature to the visitor within the same park that makes Xcaret unique and different from all others in Mexico. There is a lot to learn here, but plenty of fun to have as well.

Time to Play

The reason we all come to Xcaret is to have fun, and there is no lack of opportunities to do so. Make sure you interact with the animals and birds, but also allow some time to enjoy the many other activities there are, from attending a few shows ( I recommend the horse riding show with “Charros” , the indigenous dance show at around noon and the night event, of course), getting to the top of the observation tower for some  great views and snorkeling along one of the several rivers there are. Sure, these might be man-made and there is little to see underwater, so make sure you look above you as well while you drift with the current.

tropical bird xcaret

You’ll be able to hold and feed tropical birds.

View Xcaret

The observation tower offers a 360º view of the area. Unfortunately it was cloudy the day we were there.

Food

There are 16 restaurants and snack bars where you can eat in at Xcaret, but certainly some have better food  than others. Some are fine for a quick brunch, others serve a-la-carte meals (extra cost), and others have buffets. You can might want to check in advance which one you prefer as the food is not to be taken indifferently. The country’s size and various climates have lead to an array of foods with many different flavors and ingredients, and is an important part of Mexican culture. This is the full list of  restaurants in Xcaret, but I highly recommend La Peninsula for great sea food and superb views.

restaurant-xcaret

We found the food in Xcaret to be surprisingly good.

The Night Show

2013 will be the last year for Xcaret’s largest and most famous show, Mexico Espectacular. Ongoing for over 10 years the show will be replaced by a new one in the next few months, so if you’re lucky you will be one of the last visitors who’ll be able to enjoy it. To get the most out of it make sure you get somewhat early and get one of the better middle seats while you prepare to enjoy one fantastic event. It begins with an exhibition of ancient Maya ball game, similar to soccer in that it is played with a ball and there’s two teams but different in that the players hit the ball with their hips (only) and the goals are to be scored on a ring placed on both sides of the filed at the top of a sloped stage. Very difficult indeed. From there, the show continues with a demonstration of all the different musics played throughout the country where the more than 300 actors use traditional costumes during the representations. The show lasts about two hours and  it is possible to enjoy dinner during the event (not included in the standard entrance fee).

xcaret-night-show

The night show coming to an end. Photo courtesy of Experiencias Xcaret.

Conclusion

There is no lack of theme parks in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, and choosing one might prove to be more complicated than what you’d expect; with prices not being cheap you’ll have to allocate your budget. It all comes down to what your interests are: if it’s adventure you want to enjoy, learn about the country’s history and have fun at the same time,  play with dolphins or enjoy underwater activities…the options are there. Ultimately it all comes to what you want to do, but I’d say that Xcaret offers a bit of it all (minus adrenaline, though there are some extra activities you can take part in at an extra cost) and is the most family friendly. Hopefully these tips for visiting Xcaret Eco Park will help you make the right choice, and you might also want to read my review of Xel-Ha Park which I visited the following day.

To learn more about the park visit http://www.xcaret.com.mx , and you might also want to learn about the other parks the group has in htp://www.xcaretexperiencias.com . I was a guest during my visit, but this has not affected the opinions shared in this article.

Have you visited Xcaret? What did you like most? Anything you did not? Ask any questions you might have, share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and remember to share this post too if you think others might find it useful!

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