I have spent plenty of time in Puerto Vallarta, and this year decided to explore the Caribbean side of Mexico and the Riviera Maya.
We have all been to or read about Cancun. It’s been growing in popularity every year it seems. And with that seems to come more and more “bad tourists“. But as you go down the coast, more and more travelers are discovering the beauty of Riviera Maya, attracting many LGBT travelers as well as Europeans and Canadians.
South of Riviera Cancun, Riviera Maya is home to many of Mexico’s best hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Stretching 70-80 miles, from just south of Puerto Morelos to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, the area offers endless white sand beaches, lush jungles and ancient Mayan cities including Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba. Enjoy trendy shopping, wining and dining on Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue, and amazing watersports in the quaint towns of Puerto Aventuras and Akumal. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is just offshore. Be sure to visit Xel-Há, the world’s largest natural aquarium, and Xcaret, where you’ll see fascinating indigenous wildlife and can snorkel in underground rivers.
Our travel agent ( Dave @ 1-800-942-1280 – he is the BEST! ) suggested we stay at Occidental Grand Xcaret and right next door is Xcaret Park. GREAT SUGGESTION! We flew in the first week of December, just before rates started climbing for high season. The cost was about $1200 each. That included airfare from Chicago to Cancun, transfers to and from the hotel, 7 nights accommodations, all meals and ALL DRINKS including all alcohol. That came out to about $115 pp per day for room, food and drinks. Pretty amazing deal! Of course, January and February those rates go up to $140-$170 per day, so watch when you go to get the best deal, and Dave will be happy to advise you and help you plan your trip.
I could write pages about Riviera Maya and the resort and all it had to offer – but the focus of this article is XCARET PARK.
Xcaret (pronounced ESH-cah-ret) is a Maya civilization archaeological site located on the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the modern-day state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. It is south of Cancun about 40 minutes. And just South of Playa Del Carmen by a few minutes. The site was occupied by the pre-Columbian Maya and functioned as a port for navigation and an important Maya trading center. Some of the site’s original structures are contained within a modern-day tourism development, the privately owned Xcaret Eco Park.
Xcaret Park is a “theme park“, resort and ecotourism development. It is named after the nearby archaeological site Xcaret, a settlement constructed by the pre-Columbian Maya some of whose structures lie within the boundaries of the park’s 81 hectares (200 acres) of land holdings.
The land was originally purchased by a group of Mexican entrepreneurs, led by architect Miguel Quintana Pali. 5 hectares of the land was purchased in 1984.
When he began to clear the land, he started uncovering cenotes, sinkholes formed by collapsed cave ceilings weakened by 3 million years of erosion from underground rivers running through them and flowing into the sea. He saw the potential for tourism and formulated the idea of an Ecological Park open to the public, and soon joined forces with Oscar, Marcos and Carlos Constandse, achieving this goal in December 1990.
At the same time, contact was established with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) with the objective of rebuilding the remnants of the Mayan pyramids and buildings that were found in the area. The park’s administration subsidized all the operation and the INAH put in charge a team of specialists.
The nature-based attractions of the park include a river that goes through the Mayan village, a subterranean concrete sluice in which people can swim and snorkel with a life vest. Near the inlet there are recreational activities at the beach, snorkeling, Sea Trek and Snuba in the nearby reefs, or swimming with dolphins.
(There are about 400 Macaws in the wild, in the world. Xcaret has nearly 1000 on their property. Couples live together in lush surroundings and frequently mate and on average the park is able to successfully raise 100-150 babies every year, to be released back into the wild. )
The park also has a coral reef aquarium turtle nesting site. Next to the inlet there’s an area for manatees. The park also has a bird pavilion, butterfly pavilion, bat cave, orchids and bromeliad greenhouse, an island of jaguars, and a deer shelter, among others. The park is focused on conservation. From allowing Macaws to couple off and breed, butterflies to flourish, and constantly growing new greens to be planted and make their forests more lush.
The cultural attractions include an open church, replica of a Mayan village with real artisans at work, a Mexican cemetery, a museum, an equestrian show, Mesoamerican ball game, an open theater with performances of pre-Hispanic dances, Papantla flying men and the Gran Tlachco (theater with a six thousand people capacity) where the Mesoamerican ball game is represented, as well as the meeting of two worlds, the Mayan and the Spanish, and the presentation of several Mexican folklore dances. Other demonstrations of Mexican traditions include Day of the Dead celebration and the “Travesía Sagrada Maya” (Mayan Sacred Crossing), an annual rite when Mayans would cross the sea from Xcaret and Playa del Carmen to Cozumel to pay homage to the lunar goddess Ix Chel. The park truly offers an amazing way to enjoy its natural beauty and cultural richness.
I especially loved the Mexican cemetery. So much work and detail went into creating this gem! Discover the trails of the Mexican Cemetery in Xcaret where ancestors are remembered with respect, but also with hints of humor and the typical Mexican mischief step into the Bridge to Paradise!
Explore a spiral architecture that reveals a large number of tombs and expressive personalities. There are multiple passages and entrances to the cemetery, but we assure you that there will always be something that will surprise you … do not be afraid! This is a place of great value to the Mexican culture and its relationship with the traditional Day of the Dead.
This unique architectural work has a special significance that simulates a hill with seven levels, referring to the days of the week. On the outside you can find 365 graves that symbolize each day of the year, and finally at the main entrance is a staircase with 52 steps representing the weeks. Additionally, its spiral shape refers to a conch shell, as used in ancient times to communicate with the gods through their breath, the wind.
The park also has a Temascal (house of heat) and Spa, numerous restaurants, dressing rooms, souvenirs and handicrafts stores with items from all over Mexico.
1 day admission is $89-$99. (Purchase 21 days in advance online for the best savings). There are over 40 attractions here – if you really want to see everything and explore the entire property without being rushed, I would add on a second day, which is half price. At first glance, this might seem a little expensive; but think of Walt Disney and Disney World and EPCOT…Xcaret is lush and gorgeous and educational and full of Mexican history.
There is not a lot of gay nightlife in Riviera Maya but there are a couple clubs here and there – but we found almost every where accepting and gay friendly. Gay marriage is legal in Mexico City and Quintanaroo! Visit the Portal Gay Quintanaroo and Facebook for updates on the LGBT community in Quintana Roo (Cancun, playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chetumal). There is great info for locals and visitors from all over the world!
Experiencias Xcaret operates several great attractions in the area! Experiencias Xcaret has the best Parks and Tours in Cancun and Riviera Maya. Endless adventure and fun for all our guests like swimming with dolphins and diving into underground rivers at Xcaret and Xel-Há; challenge your senses at the zip lines of Xplor and admire great treasures of nature with Xenotes tour; live an authentic Mexican fiesta on board colorful trajineras at Xoximilco and visit amazing archaeological sites with Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Cobá tours.