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  13. Mexico: Quintana Roo –...

Spend a day (or more) enjoying the splendour of Mexico’s biodiversity and cultural heritage

Xcaret (pronounced eesh – carette )is situated only 37 miles from Cancun, and not too far south of Playa Del Carmen. Xcaret,” Mexico’s sacred paradise” was opened in December 1990 as an eco-archeological park where you can enjoy the splendor of Mexico’s biodiversity and cultural heritage. Attractions: Underground Rivers, Beach, lagoon & pools, Tropical Jungle Trail, Rotating Scenic Tower. Apparently, there are over 40 activities according to their website.

We didn’t see or try everything by any means but here are some of the highlights for us.

  1. Find our about MEXICO’S WILDLIFE
  2. Enjoy the maritime activities on offer including the SWIMMING LAGOON, SEA LIFE AND BOAT TOURS
  3. Float or swim along Xcaret’s UNDERGROUND RIVERS
  4. Explore the ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI CHAPEL & THE “BRIDGE TO PARADISE” MEXICAN CEMETERY
  5. Learn about Mayan culture at the MAYAN VILLAGE
  6. Check out the CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE 
  7. Enjoy the MEXICAN RODEO  / LA CHARRERÍA whilst eating at La Cocina restaurant
  8.  Finish your day at Xcaret at the MÉXICO ESPECTACULA

1. MEXICO’S WILDLIFE

The park is in a jungle setting and uses this exhibit local wildlife including macaws, flamingos, jaguars to name a few. As you wander through the park there are several Mayan ruins to explore.

A prowling jaguar
Xcaret runs a very successful breeding program for macaws

2. BEACHFRONT: SWIMMING LAGOON, SEA LIFE AND BOAT TOURS

Xcaret pretty much offers the full complement of maritime experiences. Our first port of call is the pens where the dolphins are kept, and where you can pay to play with a dolphin. We love these gentle and intelligent creatures, so it is somewhat upsetting to see them exploited this way. In addition to dolphins, there are also enclosures with alligators, manatees and other water-loving creatures. Beyond the animal exhibits the park opens up on to a marina and a family-friendly beach area. Our destination is the far end of the marina where we have signed up for a boat ride out beyond the protection of the harbour and to do some snorkelling around the reefs that run along this part of the Yucatan coast. On the way, we pass some large ponds where they have a breeding program running for sea turtles. There are a large number of baby turtles of various sizes that will at some point be returned to the sea. As well as baby turtles there is an extensive water enclosure where full-grown sea turtles gracefully swim through the throngs of mangrove trees and among the stanchions supporting the walkways and buildings suspended over the water.

The snorkel tour lasted about 2 hours and took us up and down the shoreline close to the park. The reefs here are not as impressive as those further north around Cozumel, and there were only a few lone fish swimming around the rocks and coral. I was fascinated by a turtle who swam right up to me. I thought how nice and what a friendly chappy, that was until he decided to take a chunk out of my finger. Little bastard – if I see him again he’ll end up in a stew!

This river is a family friendly swimming hole and runs to the beach area
Oh I do like to be by the seaside
Baby sea turtles
A grown-up sea turtle
Can never get too much of sea turtles

3. UNDERGROUND RIVERS

At Xcaret you can swim in crystal clear rivers that pass through a maze of caves and tunnels, lit by natural light from air vents. As you pass through these caves you will see coral formations fossilized on the rock.

There are three underground rivers in Xcaret to choose from: the Blue River, the Mayan River, and the Manatee River. The three of them flow into the sea, next to mangroves inhabited by pink flamingos

4. ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI CHAPEL & THE “BRIDGE TO PARADISE” MEXICAN CEMETERY

Located at the highest point in the park, 37 meters (121.3 ft) above sea level, the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel welcomes you with a spectacular view of the Mexican Caribbean.

This chapel dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, protector of nature and animals, was built integrating natural Mayan elements, such as the living tree at the entrance, the cross carved in a chicozapote tree, the limestone altar, and its salam wood pews.

The serenity of its surroundings and the landscape that frames it, make it perfect for reflection and silence.

From the distance, you will be struck by the shape and colors of the “Bridge to Paradise”  Mexican cemetery featuring Mayan elements and a mixture of Mexican folk art, from pre-Hispanic times to the present day.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that it has the shape of a spiral shell, in remembrance of the ancient Mayans, who used conch shells to communicate with the gods by blowing into them.

This spiral cemetery has seven levels that symbolize the days of the week, and 52 steps, which represent the weeks in a year, while its 365 tombs are a representation of the days of the year.

"Bridge to Paradise" Mexican cemetery
Whimsical grave designs

5. MAYAN VILLAGE

A walk through the Mayan village at Xcaret is a journey into the past, where you can be part of the daily life of a pre-Hispanic community. Here you can learn about the Mayan way of life, social organization, how they built their homes, and what they ate. There are daily live exhibits demonstrating traditional Mayan artwork and performances of their dances and rituals.

6. CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE

This chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe is adjacent to the building of Hacienda Henequenera. As you approach the altar you will notice the figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe, magnificently carved on a 12-meters (39.3 ft) tall log.

Looking down, in a small cave below the statue of the virgin, you will see a stone altar that seems to float on the waters of a cenote. To get there, you must cross a small bridge. As you walk to the back of the altar, there is an entrance to a passage that will take you through a series of tunnels.

7. MEXICAN RODEO  / LA CHARRERÍA

At 6pm there is a Mexican rodeo or  charrería outside La Cocina restaurant, in front of the Hacienda Henequenera, which lasts about 20 minutes. It is well worth taking the time to enjoy this entertaining and colorful spectacle.

We arrived at La Cocina at 4:30pm to make sure we got a ringside seat. The restaurant serves an extensive buffet of traditional Mexican fare. In the 90 minute wait for the show we were able to fill our bellies and settle down to enjoy the charrería

During our time in Oregon we have had the chance to attend one or two rodeos and this was not an event in the same high octane sense although there were some impressive displays of horsemanship. The charrería was more a cultural pageant with ladies wearing classic Adelita dresses and men in very tight trousers and wearing sombreros. The horses didn’t look too bad either.

8. XCARET MÉXICO ESPECTACULA

After watching La charrería we recommend making a beeline to the Gran Tlachco Theatre for the México Espectacula, a celebration of Mexican culture. En route to the theatre there a several performers dressed in some very scary costumes depicting some of the warrior cultures that populated the area prior to the arrival of  Europeans.

The theatre is large and seats over 8000 people so get there early to grab a good seat. They also offer a dinner option so you can eat whilst you enjoy the show.

The Espectacula starts at 7pm and lasts for around 2 hours. The first half of the show covers the pre-hispanic history of Mexico, especially the dominant culture of the Mayans. During our visit the show included a representation of the Mayan “ball game”. While no one knows the exact rules of the ball game, Spaniards who saw the Aztec games in the 1500s reported that two teams of two to five players had to keep the ball in the air without using their hands or feet. They hit the ball with their upper arms, thighs or hips. The rubber balls they used were of varying weight and size, from the size of a softball to a soccer ball. Solid rubber balls were heavy—up to eight or nine pounds—and could cause serious injury or even death. Games were won mostly by points. Around A.D. 1200, stone circles with a hole in the middle were attached high up on the walls of the ball court, up to six meters high. While getting a ball through the hole was rare, if a player got the ball through the hole, it was an instant win. The game had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events. Late in the history of the game, some cultures occasionally seem to have combined competitions with religious human sacrifice.

The final part of the Espectacula focuses on the regions of Mexico with songs and dances representing the culture of each region. This is a colourful extravaganza with hundreds of performers singing out there hearts and leaping around the auditorium.I must admit after a long day exploring Xcaret I was getting a little tired after an hour of traditional music!

Planning your visit to Xcaret

From Cancun: 74 km (46m) from Cancun International Airport in the direction of Tulum. Travel time: approximately 1 hour.

From Playa del Carmen: 6 km (3.7m)  from Playa del Carmen in the direction of Tulum. Travel time: approximately 15 minutes.

From Tulum: 57 km north of Tulum, towards Playa del Carmen. Travel time: approximately 45 minutes.

Location:Carretera Chetúmal Puerto Juárez Kilómetro 282, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen
Telephone:1-855-326-0682 (US & Canada)
Website:https://www.xcaret.com/es/?langRedirect=1
Hours:8:30AM–9PM
Prices:

Pre-purchase +7 days :Adults $98.99, Children $49.95*

*There are several other local tourist attractions that an Xcaret entry can be paired with to that offer discounted entry. 

Best time to visit the Riviera Maya

Travel to the Riviera Maya requires careful planning. The rainy season begins in May and continues into November; on average, the region receives almost five feet of rainfall each year. Fortunately, the really severe tropical storms and hurricanes tend to hit the other side of the Yucatán Peninsula. The dry season begins in late November and ends in February, making this season the best time to visit the Riviera Maya. Avoid Riviera Maya travel from March through May, however – the heat and humidity are oppressive.

Where to stay?

1. XCARET HOTELS

 The company that runs the Xcaret Parks also owns three luxury resort hotels along the Riviera Maya. These are pretty cool places to stay with extensive & exotic grounds, with plenty of pools, beaches and other leisure activities.

These resorts are all fully inclusive so you can eat and drink as much as you like! And there are plenty of bars and restaurants to chose from. If you like this type of vacation then check these places out.

The downside of these places is the cost. A room or suite will set you back a minimum of $700 plus a night! On the positive side if you stay at one of these resorts you have unlimited access to the Xcaret Parks which have general admission costs of $100 per adult & $50 per child.

2. SUITES CORAZON

Mid-Range 

Next to Playa del Carmen’s popular 5th Avenue and a short walk from the city’s beaches, is the budget-friendly Suites Corazon. The hotel’s 14 studio-style rooms are clean and spacious with kitchenettes and balconies. With few on-site amenities, the self-catering rooms and location are the hotel’s main selling point. Sure, there’s a small rooftop pool, but the basic breakfast is offered off-site for a fee and there’s no gym (or any other major amenity). That’s okay for most guests, who just want a self-sufficient suite with a walkable location in the center of Playa del Carmen’s shopping and nightlife centre.

3. VAINILLA BED & BREAKFAST

Budget 

A less expensive option is the Vainilla Bed And Breakfast Mexico, a 2.5-star bed and breakfast close to the centre of Playa del Carmen. It is only a 10-minute walk Quinta Avenida and 16-minute walk to Playa del Carmen Main Beach

There are only 2 guest rooms – each with a private bathroom. So, if you are looking for something more intimate this is the place for you!

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