I plan to do several reviews on my recent trip to Riviera Maya in Quintano Roo, Mexico (FYI…the area that Mexico occupies is the birthplace of hot peppers!). For my first article though, I wanted to start with this must see/must do, on your visit to the Yucatan Peninsula. If you are looking for things to do in Riviera Maya, check out this Xcaret Eco Park Review. It will highlight the reasons why this was one of the best places I have ever been in my life and everything you need to know up front to plan your visit! Whether you are staying in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cozumel or anywhere else nearby, you do not want to miss this attraction. I can’t wait to go back!
I feel so lucky to have heard about Xcaret while planning our trip to Mexico. I have been wanting to go to an all-inclusive resort for a long time. Although I have begun the planning process a few times in the past, something always got in the way of this dream vacation, but it finally happened!
About 2 years ago I started really researching awesome and affordable all-inclusive resorts. It became pretty clear, pretty fast, that Riviera Maya was gonna be the best place to go. It took a while due to some other things that came up, but finally, a year and a half later we were able to book the trip! I had already looked into Xcaret park a little when I first started planning our visit to Riviera Maya. It sounded great. Like something we would really enjoy. I am so glad we stuck with the plan and ended up making sure the Xcaret Ecological Park was part of our trip! So, here is everything you need to know for your trip…
I want let you know that I do not want to tell you every little detail about the park. I want you to feel the joy and wonder we felt as we roamed through this beautiful place. My goal here is to highlight the awesomeness of the park and to give you all the information you need to get the right tickets for you and your family. When I needed this information, I could not find it anywhere. I wrote this so you all don’t have to go through what I went through, and you can go to this glorious place knowing everything is in order and have a great time!
Quick Overview of Xcaret Ecological Park
This is a beautiful and big place. There is a lot to see and do. There is a break down of the attractions at the end of this article, but I just wanted to give you a brief idea of what the park is all about…it is an informative and interactive journey through the history, environment, and natural wonders of the Yucatan Peninsula. There are shows, animals, Mayan ruins, and activities everywhere you look. If you are an inquisitive and fun loving person, you will truly enjoy this Park. I cannot even fully express how much we loved it, but I will give it my best shot throughout this article.
Let me start, though, by giving you some helpful information that I could not find when I was researching Xcaret Park Riviera Maya.
What we got, What I learned, and What I would do next time….
Xcaret Park Tickets
Let me break down what we purchased, so it makes more sense when I let you know what we learned and what we would change, or keep the same.
One, Day, Two Day, or Unlimited
Once we knew for sure we were going to Mexico, the next step was to get the tickets for the park. My travel agent gave me a print out on how to book it through some affiliate of theirs, but I quickly found out it was cheaper to buy passes directly from the Xcaret website. My main goal with this trip was to have a ton of fun, but keep the price down. The whole reason I have always wanted to go to an all-inclusive resort is to have everything at one affordable, pre-set price. So, the idea of spending a bunch of money on things outside my resort did not appeal to me at all.
From everything I had read it seemed like the park had too much to see and get done in one day, so I knew I would need at least a 2 day pass. On the Xcaret website they offer 15% off for buying online if you buy the tickets at least 21 days in advance. Also, if you get a 2 day package you get the second day for like 40% off. They also offer an unlimited package, but I knew I didn’t want to spend my whole vacation at this park, so we decided to go with 2 days. In addition, we chose the “Plus” option, which did cost about $40 more per person (total for both days), but includes a locker, snorkel equipment, and a free buffet meal each day. Seemed totally worth it, so we went with that.
They also have bigger, and more expensive packages that include one or two of the additional cost activities they offer at the park. At the time I felt we were already spending enough, so we opted out of that. You can also purchase those activities individually at the park at a little higher cost.
Unlimited Photo Package
Xcaret offers a photo package where you can get unlimited photos from your visit to the park for one price, instead of purchasing them individually. This part was a bit unclear to me by reading the website and other reviews online. In the end I decided it sounded like a good idea, and it sounded like you needed to do it before hand, or it would either not be available or would cost much more if you tried to do it at the park. It ended up being an additional $80 total for both of us for both days. Which breaks down to $20 per person per day, and I didn’t want to regret not getting it later over 80 bucks, even though I wasn’t really sure what I was getting.
What I learned and What I would do next time…
Now let me break down some things to help you chose the appropriate options when booking your adventure.
Photo Package Details
So that you don’t have to feel the confusion I felt when I couldn’t find any information online, here is the scoop:
Above all, I totally recommend spending the money to get this package! They have cameras set up all over the park. When you check in at the photo counter they give each of you a bracelet with a barcode on it. You can have up to 10 people in your group linked together (each person has to be paid for though). The reason for this is so when you go to get your photos, all of the people in the group will have their photos all grouped together.
As you run into cameras around the park you scan your barcode on the scanner, and the corresponding camera takes a photo of you. You can also get a map of where all the cameras are located. There are 33 cameras spread out around the park. There are also a few photographers around that do special photos, also included in the package. You can take as many photos at each camera as you want. It is nice to be considerate of other people who might be waiting for their turn though. This really wasn’t much of an issue, but there was a couple times when some people were taking a ton of photos while we were waiting for our turn.
Each day your photos are loaded onto their photo website within 24 hours. You then have 20 days to download them to your devices. Each day’s worth of pictures can be downloaded (in case you want them on multiple devices) up to 4 times in that time period. It was a bit time consuming downloading the files, but so totally worth it! I wish I would have been more aware of how awesome the photos would be, I would have taken twice as many pictures, at least!!
The really cool thing is that it is like the ultimate selfie experience. It’s like having your own personal photographer all over the park. I am sure all of you have gone through the frustrations of the difficulty of trying to get pictures of everyone in your group at the same time, even if it’s just two of you. I am always disappointed to see our trip pics where it is mostly just pictures of one of us taking a picture of the other, with scattered mega closeups of our faces together doing selfies, and the occasional nice photo from a distance where we asked someone to take a picture of us. The Xcaret photo package allowed us to have as many together pictures as we wanted. And if you have a larger group, you don’t always have to decide who that one person taking the photo is going to be. It’s really great. I wish this camera set up was at a lot more places around the world.
Sadly, we didn’t make it to all of the 33 photo spots in our 2 day adventure there. It is really our own fault, because we got kind of a late start each day and didn’t consult the map to make sure we found all the camera locations. But even if we had tried to get to them all, I don’t know if we could have. Which brings me to my next point…
Is 1 or 2 days at Xcaret enough?
This totally depends on if you want to have time to see and do everything. For us, 2 days was not enough, but it does give us even more of a reason to go back to Riviera Maya again soon. A big part of why we didn’t get to see everything is because of the time we spent in their underground rivers. It was so much fun that time just flew by. One more day probably would have given us enough time to see most of what we missed.
As I mentioned earlier, we were staying at the resort next door to the park. So, coming and going to and from the park to our resort was simple and quick. This definitely influences my opinion on how many days I would plan on attending Xcaret Park. If I had to take a cab or shuttle I would be more likely to only do one day. Granted, you will not see everything by any means. But if you are gonna be shuttling around the area, there may be other places you want to visit. I don’t say this because it isn’t worth spending more time there, I just find travel time an important consideration when on vacation. If you can only spend one day, do it! You won’t regret it, it is so awesome! If you do have the opportunity to spend more time there though, I recommend it.
If you are, however, staying near by, or next door at the Occidental at Xcaret, then I highly recommend thinking about getting the unlimited pass. Also, they have a lot of group packages that can save you money. Xcaret actually has a family of parks in the area. Each has its own theme, I’d guess you could call it. They do special deals if you want to go to one, two, three, or more of their parks in the area. The one I am talking about here today is kind of an all-around park. There is another one called Xplor, which is more of an adventure park, with zip lining and other adrenaline type activities. Another one is Xel-Ha, which we almost went to. It looks pretty cool. It is more about just swimming and eating than the park we went to, but it looked really pretty. Also, at this park I think drinks were included with admission. But we weren’t looking for drinks, as we had plenty of that at our resort. They have like 6 other more specifically targeted (a couple are more for kids than adults I think) parks also that I didn’t check into much.
One cool thing they offer is packages with a visit to Tulum and Xcaret Park. They also do a cenote swim package. We did Tulum, ATV’s, and a cenote swim. Definitely one of the best days of my life! If you don’t know what a cenote is, they are hole’s in the jungle that are filled with rain water. Some are underground in caves, some are open. This is the only source of fresh water in the Yucatan peninsula. They were very important to the native people. Cenotes are totally gorgeous! You have to make sure you get to swim in one while you are there.
Should You Upgrade to the Plus Package?
As I mentioned earlier, we chose the “Plus” option, which did cost about $40 more per person (total for both days). I am really glad we went with the upgrade here. It includes a locker, which we could not have lived without. Also includes free rental of the snorkel equipment. If you do not have the Plus package, you can rent the equipment. It isn’t expensive. but it does also require a deposit, and means you need to be carrying around money or a card with you the whole time. Another big plus to the Plus deal is that it also includes a free buffet meal each day, which was awesome! I get to that in a minute.
Important Items to Bring With You to the Park
You are going to want water shoes or good swimming sandals. This are essentials if you are planning on enjoying the awesome Underground Rivers. Flip flops just ain’t gonna cut it. You will want to wear something that stays on your foot and is comfortable when wet. I live in an area where all the locals spend a lot of time in the river and near by lakes, so I already had what I needed. But if you aren’t a regular swimmer, you are going to want to make sure you get yourself some comfy water shoes or strap on sandals.
You will also want a waterproof camera or waterproof phone case/bag. Believe me, if you don’t have this, you will be jealous of all the other people having a great time and taking pictures of their family in a gazillion breathtakingly beautiful spots in the water along the way. We used an Onn Mobile Phone Waterproof Bag. It worked great! No leaking, easy to use, and crystal clear pictures. It was really amazing, and it has a strap so you can hang it around your neck for when you need both hands.
I also brought some regular old disposable waterproof cameras. These are an ok option if you don’t have a smartphone or the ability to buy a real waterproof camera, but not what I would recommend. Many of the pictures in lower light didn’t come out well or at all. They worked great for taking pictures in the swimming pool back at the resort, and sunny beach pictures, but not good in the darker cave areas at all. Next time I go I am going to get a waterproof Go-Pro type camera for sure.
You are definitely going to want to bring dry shoes and clothes. Especially if you are coming to the park from somewhere via taxi or shuttle. If you are staying at the adjoining resort, you might be able to get away without this, but I wouldn’t recommend it. We were wet most of the day, and it was magnificent to switch to dry clothes for the rest of the adventures and evening show.
For when you are walking around, before or after the Underground Rivers, you will want something to carry your things in. I recommend something lightweight. We each brought our own drawstring gym-sack and they worked out great! Not only at the park, but for our whole Mexico trip. The entire trip I ranted about how happy I was we had these bags. Even now, back in regular, sad, non-vacation life, I am hooked on these bags. They come in handy for all kinds of occasions and day trips.
Ok, back to Xcaret…At the park they have rolls of plastic bags near the locker rooms for your wet clothes, which was unexpected. I had brought my own plastic laundry bag from the room anticipating I would need one. I would probably still bring one, just in case. Then you can just put the wet bag in your dry bag and you are good to go. Keep in mind wet clothes can be heavy and bulkier than when they are dry, so don’t expect to get your whole family’s wet gear into one gym-sack…unless you are all wearing bikinis, then it might be ok. We had wet T-shirts, shorts, etc.
Lastly, I would recommend bringing some bottled water also. It is quite warm in this part of Mexico. You can buy water at the park, but they are kind of small and cost money. So, why not bring some free bottles from your hotel, and save yourself some money? Plus then you don’t have to search for a vendor in the park.
The Fun Stuff
Since we were staying at an all-inclusive resort, the addition of some meals in another venue was really great. Not only did it give some extra variety to our Mexican food adventure, but the buffets at Xcaret were great! They have 5 options to choose from at Xcaret Park. We were there on two days, so we tried two of the five choices.
The first day, after being in the water and swimming around for hours we were starving come mid afternoon. I asked one of the employees in the park about the food choices. He gave us the options, which were, Seafood, Mexican, International, and 2 others I cannot remember right now…I asked him which one he thought was best. He recommended the International Buffet, and gave us the directions on how to get there from where we were in the park.
We had passed the Seafood Restaurant earlier when we were down by the beach, but at that time weren’t clear on how the Plus Package food thing worked. But now that we knew, we decided to go with his recommendation of the International Buffet as we were starving and it was closest to where we were.
As we descended down the spiral walk way to the entrance of the International Buffet I started to get excited. Then when we walked in, I could see why he recommended this place. It was quite impressive. It is situated in a big show room, apparently carved out of an underground cave with beautiful blue water flowing around it. Couldn’t be any more awesome.
The two of us were seated right away at a table for 8 that had another couple sitting at it. It was nice that it was big enough for us to have space between the parties. They took our drink order and we headed to the buffet. I will post a picture of my plate here, but let me just make excuses for the obviously heaping amount of food I piled on my plate. I was starving! And everything looked so good! Normally I am a “take a few little things and then go back for the things I liked” type person, but not here. The food looked and smelled so good. I knew I was gonna eat it all, so why fight it, I was on vacation!
The food was very good. Of course, I liked some items more than others, like any buffet, but overall it was great. Much better than the majority of buffets I have been to in Las Vegas or any where else I have been.
The Feast Continues…
On our second day the time got away from us while enjoying the park. By the time we were ready to eat it was almost 6 pm and only one of the restaurants at the park was still open. The park shuts down about this time in preparation for their big night show that starts at 7 pm. So, we hurried up over to the open restaurant, which was the Mexican Food option we had heard about the day before.
We didn’t get to try the other 3 buffets, but I cannot imagine it could have been any better than this Mexican Food experience. I am so glad we were running late and only left this one choice. I honestly probably would not have picked it as we had been eating a lot of Mexican food on our trip already. But, man, we would have missed out! This place was freaking awesome. I am not exaggerating at all. The only negative thing I can say is they had too many delicious options. Not only did they have an insane amount of awesome dishes, but it was very good food. You have to go there…they had several homemade soups and beans, every kind of meat you can imagine, and all types of authentic Mexican dishes, many of which I had never tried even growing up in Southern California. They also had a whole bunch of homemade Mexican candies, an array of soft cheeses, homemade tortillas, and more. I am sure I am forgetting things, but I think you get the drift. It was incredible. I would eat there constantly if it was here in my home town.
On top of all that awesome food, we also lucked out to be there for the evening Horse show. The arena was in front of the open air restaurant (it had a roof but just banisters around the 3 sides so you can see the show). Men and women came out dressed in elaborate and authentic historical Mexican outfits, riding big, beautiful horses. They rode around and did their thing. It was a fun and unexpected treat. The only problem was we wanted to make sure we made it to the Night Show (which we had saved for our second day at the park), so we were a bit hurried. I would recommend getting there at least like half an hour earlier to have a more leisure experience and still catch the horse show.
Must See Park Attractions
Things we got to see:
They have 5 “Underground Rivers” at Xcaret park, which actually go in out of underground caves. The water is absolutely beautiful, clear, see through hues of blues and greens. Four of them require you strapping on a life jacket and going for a long float. The fifth, which is the shortest, is a peaceful, gondola style boat ride.
We spent most of our 2 days enjoying these rivers. It was a very unique experience, that we really loved. It is also a great way to cool off from the warm tropical weather. Also, many of the package photo ops are scattered along these rivers. If you are only there one day, i would highly recommend doing one of these. I think the Rio Azul was our favorite. They do take a while, but there are early exits and progress signs along the way.
We didn’t get to do one of them, but we will do it the next time we are there. The Manatee river deserves some insight here. It was really cool to begin with. It was much darker than the others we did for the first section, and we were the only ones in there. So it was a bit spooky, but in the funnest possible way. One of the swimming lifeguards scattered around the rivers approached us in one of the cave areas and scared the crap out of me just by being there. It was hilarious. But somewhere around the half way point of this river, the easy peaceful floating experience became a swimming chore do to the flow of the river changing direction because of the adjacent snorkeling area. if you don’t feel like swimming up stream for the next hour or so, to where the manatees are, you can just get out at that point. Just walk to the manatees and get back in the river there.
Manatees are my favorite animal in the world. I have loved them since I was a little kid, so this exhibit was awesome. If you don’t know what a manatee is, that sucks, lol. There a peaceful aquatic animal (they do not come on land at all) that live off the coast and in the canals of Florida and also in the Yucatan area. I also saw a couple in the wild when I was in Belize a few years back. That isn’t too far from this area of Mexico. Manatees are vegetarians. some people know them as Seacows, but that really refers to there ancestors who were much larger than the manatees that remain today. They are an endangered species, even though I think they were taken off the official list a couple years back. They were hunted for many years, and more recently have been killed and maimed by boat propellers and human pollution of the waters they live in. They are also attributed with the old sailor legends of sirens, aka mermaids, because of the sounds they make that people heard when out to sea. Their now extinct, larger manatee relatives went farther out in the ocean than they do now.
Well, there is your lesson for the day…sorry, I just love manatees!!! So, if you haven’t ever seen a manatee, here is your chance! You can see them at Xcaret! One other interesting thing is that the South American manatees are more of a brown color than their gray Florida cousins.
They also have a great indoor Aquarium at Xcaret, which was a pleasant surprise. All kinds of fish to see and take pictures of, and learn about. I love aquariums. I think I have been to everyone in California and Oregon. And although the one at Xcaret isn’t on the level of Seaworld, it was pretty great.
They also breed sea turtles, and you can see them from babies to adults in outdoor pools. Additionally, they have some really awesome stingrays.
The beach area was beautiful. Sadly, we were a bit short on time when we reached the beachfront and did not get to do much exploring.
Mexican Dance Show:
During the day at varying times they put on an excellent Mexican dance show in a covered arena. They also do an impressive Mayan Ritual dance in another area, where men swing by their feet from a very high pole. Both shows are very impressive.
Night Show (Can’t Miss this!):
The big show the park puts on at night, right after the rest of the park closes, is excellent. You will find nothing but raving reviews on this show. Not only is the show beautiful and grand, but it is also a great insight into the history of Mexican music and culture. It is definitely a must see. Make sure you don’t miss it!
Other Animals and Mayan Ruins scattered through park:
As you walk down treed paths you come upon occasional animals. Some wild and some in well cared for habitats. I will leave the specifics as a surprise.
Things we missed:
Rotating Scenic Tower:
You can see this tower through the net in the flamingo picture to the right. We actually boarded it to go for the ride, but I chickened out at the last second. I am a bit afraid of heights, but I am sure the view of the Yucatan from up there would be fabulous.
I really wanted to check this out, and am super sad we missed it. It will be on top of my list for the next time we go. It contains all kinds of awesome South American birds…man I am bummed I missed that! I really wanted to see a Toucan!
Another surely awesome thing we missed. One more reason why I will get an Unlimited Pass to the park next time, assuming we stay at the same resort that is right next door.
They have a couple areas where you can snorkel in a bay of sorts. We actually checked out the equipment and went to get in, but I couldn’t get it to work with my glasses. And I didn’t know where to set them down, so we gave up. I kind of regretted it later. After we went snorkeling in cenote a couple days later I realized what I had missed. So, I recommend wearing contacts or bringing an extra pouch for your glasses.
I saw this in the brochure, but again, we never made it to this part of the park.
We did all but one of the underground rivers. The one we missed is supposed to take you on a bit of a historical trip though the peninsulas’ history, from what I understand. This is another thing that will be a priority next time we visit.
Jaguar and Pumas:
There is just so much to see at the park…
Missed it…I like bats too. Next time!
Not sure what all else we missed, but I am sure we missed a bunch of other cool stuff scattered through the park.
Additional Cost Attractions:
They have a few additional attractions you can purchase, either individually or in packages that I briefly mentioned earlier. These options include, Snuba, Sea Trek, their Spa, and speed boat ride.
These looked pretty cool. I almost got sucked into going for the Sea Trek, but decided to hold off on buying the tickets up front. I am glad I did, since we didn’t even have enough time to do all the included park attractions. If you are doing the Unlimited Package and plan to visit the park a for a few days, you may want to consider these though. They do look pretty fun.
FYI- the Sea Trek has you put on these air breathing helmets that are attached with an air hose, and then you get to just walk around underwater breathing and looking at everything. Looks super cool. I think it would be way more comfortable than snorkeling or Snuba.
(By the way, I tried as many hot sauces and salsa as possible at Xcaret and throughout my Mexican adventure. If you would like to read about it you can check out my Mexican Hot Sauce Experience article.)
Xcaret Eco Park Review in Summary
I truly hope you decide to visit the Xcaret Ecological Park. Writing this review has made me want to go back so badly. We had the best time ever in Mexico, and Xcaret was a major part of what made it so incredible. I hope you enjoyed the article and got all the information you needed. It was my goal to answer all the questions that I could not find answers to when I was booking my trip. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions I would love to here from you. I will get back to asap! Have a great time in Mexico!
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