I am constantly amazed at the beauty that is hidden throughout the Riviera Maya. Hidden, because a lot of it is underground, just waiting to be explored. You could be driving along and completely miss the natural wonders that are in this part of the world. Sadly, some people never leave their all-inclusive resort to discover that there is so much more to this area than a margarita on the beach. Although, I am a big fan of that as well, I also tend to get pretty antsy and need to start exploring after a few days. I have a very strong desire for my kids to experience different cultures. I want travel with my family to be more than just a trip to the beach, but also a chance to see how people in other countries live, or how they lived in the past, and learn from it. It’s one thing to read about the Mayan culture in history books, but it’s a totally different learning experience to actually be there. To see where they lived. To see what they left behind. To walk the roads they walked, and to stand where they stood. Case in point, my daughter hated Social Studies and didn’t get the point of it at all, until I pointed out that everything she learns when we are traveling is Social Studies. Now she is fascinated by Social Studies, much like I was as a kid. Traveling brings books to life, and I love seeing the sparkle of excitement as my girls experience new and different cultures that, up until then, they had only read about. That is what brought us to Xcaret.
Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park located about a 70 minute drive south of Cancun, and a 15 minute drive from Playa del Carmen, where we had been staying. So it was a quick drive, and free parking, which is always a plus. You can also have them pick you up at your hotel and drive you to the park. The park is the perfect place to explore the wonders of the jungle and the ocean. It is also an excellent place to learn about the Mexican and the Mayan culture (past and present), be surrounded by thousands of butterflies in the Butterfly Pavilion, swim in an underground river, hike a jungle trail, and take a boat down a serene river to see an underground waterfall. You can explore their gorgeous wine cellar, learn about their wine, and most importantly, sample it with different dishes made especially to pair well with the wine. You can also have the opportunity to help release baby turtles into the ocean, and if you feel like getting extra crazy, swim with sharks….all in a day! They really put a lot of thought into conservation and protecting this amazing place. We only had one day here, but we could have easily spent 2 days because there was so much to see and do.
Right off the bat, we got the girls their Xcaret passport to get stamped at each exhibit we visited. These books are full of great information about the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Mexican and Mayan culture. They loved it then, and four years later, they still love those books!!
The Butterfly Pavilion
The Butterfly Pavilion is one of the largest in the world and is the home of 20 different species of butterflies. Between the beauty of this place, the soft music playing in the background, the sound of the waterfall and stream flowing throughout, and thousands of butterflies fluttering about, I think this is possibly one of the most relaxing atmospheres I have ever been.
The Underground River
Similar to Xplor, there is an incredible underground river throughout the park that you are able to swim in. We were excited for this adventure since none of us had ever swam in an underground river before. Our youngest daughter was 5 at the time, and she got pretty spooked as soon as we got in the river. I think it was a combination of the darkness, seeing a tiny fish dart by as we started swimming, and her being cold. Fortunately, there are a LOT of exits along the river, if, for any reason, you need to get out early. After about 20 minutes, she decided that she was done and needed some sun. She is my sun lovin’ baby after all.
My husband and her exited the river, while our oldest daughter and I continued on. As you swim along the river, you swim in and out of several caves and into the jungle. When you emerge from a cave, you can look up and see big iguanas sunning themselves on the rock walls above. I found this a little unsettling at times, but my daughter thought it was pretty amazing, and that made my day. Especially considering, at this time in her life, she was terrified of day-old puppies. So to see her so fascinated and unafraid of something so not fluffy and cute was pretty awesome. I had to actually hold her back from wanting to hug them every time that she saw an iguana…..which was a lot…Go figure!
If you’re not sure about your swimming abilities, or your child’s, everyone is required to wear a life vest, and there was always a strong swimmer from Xcaret that was swimming behind us, just in case we ever needed his help. As it so happened, we did need his help at the end of the river. Just before you exit the underground river, you swim through a very large waterfall. The size of it was kind of freaking out my daughter, so he swam up to her, and swam her through the waterfall, and she was just fine. No Worries!
Wildlife Around the Park
Exploring Mayan Ruins
This was one of the things we were also very excited to discover. There are lots of Mayan Ruins in the park that you can explore, as well as a rural classroom…
Coral Reef Aquarium
Who doesn’t love an aquarium? This one was great and had a lot of hands on things the girls could touch and see….
There was so much information to be learned about the preservation of these lands and the animals that live in them. We learned a lot about the impressive efforts that Xcaret takes in helping with the conservation of marine turtles in this area, and we had fun along the way….
Not to mention the amazing entertainment they provide, such as their horse exhibition, the ritual ceremony of the Papantla flyers, and the not-to-be-missed show, Xcaret Mexico Espectacular. That show is performed in a large outdoor theater. It chronicles Mexico’s history all the way back to pre-hispanic times. It really is a celebration of all that makes this country a beautiful place with their culture, music and dance. It was very impressive!! Here are some pictures of the Mayan warriors that lined the walkway as we came to the great theater….
We can’t forget to talk food!!!
Of course we’ll talk about food. Xcaret has some incredible food!! They serve a variety of traditional Mexican food, which means it’s DEEELICIOUS!!! There are several places to eat, and you can add meals into your ticket when you buy your tickets for the park, if you desire. We had absolutely no problem finding gluten free food here. The waiters and chefs were happy to help us find food we could safely eat, and there was a lot of choices!!
Remember, it always helps the chefs if you give them a heads up that you are coming, and what your dietary needs are, so they can be better prepared. Then you’re happy and well fed for your adventurous day ahead.
This park is truly unique! Our whole family learned so much, and even better, had a blast doing it together. It was a great place to introduce our kids to a completely different culture and landscape from our own Montana home. And isn’t that what travel is all about?