Xperiencing Xcaret: The Disney of Mexico

Just like holiday-goers make a stop off in Orlando to visit the theme parks, many tourists in Cancun take time out to visit the Xcaret (pronounced esh-car-et) parks.

When you think of Mexico, Disneyland structures are probably the furthest from what you imagine. But Xcaret is aspiring to offer a Disney-like experience for those who want to learn about Mexican culture and wildlife more deeply, but just want to dip a toe into the Mexican way-of-life.

The company has been dubbed Disney-meets-National-Geographic by some.

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The view of the bay at Xel-Ha – one of the many Xcaret parks

Interestingly enough, according to locals in Valladolid – a town the Xcaret’s Xichen tour stops at, Disney has actually met with the people running the show at Xcaret to get some inspiration and to learn more about their operations.

And it was clear to us that for Xcaret this ideas share is a two-way street as we visited its many parks. Xcaret is a high-end first world experience, with the price tag to match. The company’s locations are in beautiful landscaped ‘eco’ parks that allow tourists to get a sense of adventure in a safe (and some of us more worldly travellers might say ‘tame’) environment.

During our time in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, we had the chance to experience all of the parks.

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Tourist pose

Xel-Ha

Xel-Ha is in a large quay area. You can float down the river on a tube, snorkel in the estuary, hike along the walking paths, take a snooze in a hammock and even go bike riding.

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View from the hammock, margarita in hand

However, I think it’s for the ‘extras’ that a lot of people visit Xel-Ha. It is here you can swim with dolphins and stingrays (which I wouldn’t do, because I don’t enjoy seeing animals in captivity for human pleasure), snuba (US$44.10), zip bike through the tree canopies ($26.10) and have a ceremony with a Mayan shaman (US$31.50).

These activities aside, it seems that all there’s left to do is enjoy the beach, jungle and restaurant. It’s a good option if you’re travelling with young children, as it’s easy to access these facilities and get around the park to explore, but if you’re more adventurous (like we are) then you might find the park a little dull after a few hours. There’s cheaper ways to explore the beach and jungle in Mexico.

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Pedalling through the bat cave at Xel-Ha

What you need to know:

Website for Xel-Ha
Cost: US$89 for an all-day pass which includes breakfast, lunch, an open bar and snorkelling equipment. You can receive discounts for booking in advance.

How to get there: Follow these directions. The park offers free parking.

When to go: Xel-Ha is open every day of the year from 8:30am to 5:30pm.

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The waterfall in the stadium at Xcaret

Xcaret at night

Held in the main park belonging to Xcaret, there is a stadium that holds a nightly performance, Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, for its guests. We visited as part of the opening night for TBEX and just came for the show.

I wish we’d seen this show at the end of our stay in Mexico, rather than the beginning, as it’s a performance about the country’s history. To fully appreciate it, I feel you need to have somewhat of an understanding of Mexican culture – and when we first arrived in Mexico we certainly didn’t. If I was to see it again I think I would pick up on a lot of the history points that I previously missed.

Xcaret Mexican Espectacular performer Double-Barrelled Travel

Regardless of your understanding of the history however, the night time Xcaret show is a one and a half hour stadium performance about the time before the Spainiards arrived, when the Mayans dominated the Yucatan Peninsula, the period of colonisation, all the way up until today.

The performers are professional – the singing is tone and pitch perfect (extremely hard to do in a stadium setting), the dancing will have you lusting for more Mexican songs and there’s even a few points in the show when horses take the stage.

My favourite part of the show was the opening scene where the Mayans act out their ancient ballgame, the grounds of which now lay in ruins in many of the ancient places you’ll visit – like Chichen Itza.

Xcaret Mexican Espectacular performance Double-Barrelled Travel

Performers during Xcaret Mexican Espectacular

What you need to know:

Xcaret Mexico Espectacular website

Cost: The online price is US$71.10 for a late entry (3pm) to the park and admission to the show. The three course dinner with the show costs an extra US$43.20.

How to get there: Directions can be found here.

When to go: Xcaret is open every day of the year from 8:30am to 9:30pm.

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4×4 through caves at Xplor Fuego. Photo by Xcaret

Xplor Fuego

This was our favourite Xcaret park. Ahead of visiting, I’d read a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor saying that the park was overcrowded with long queuing times. This wasn’t the case at all, and it was probably because we decided to go to the park at night, for Xplor Fuego.

I can highly recommend visiting the park in the evening. Not only will you get to speed around the jungle in a 4×4 lighting your way only with your car lights, you’ll get to fly over the jungle on a zipline as the sun sets.

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Zip lining at night through the ring of fire. Photo by Xcaret

I think my favourite activity was the river swim. Dave and I were the only people in these underground caves and we decided to take the long route, which took around half an hour.

The cave was minimally lit, was a little scary but also magical. Swimming around stalacmites dripping from the ceiling was something I’ll never forget.

Like with all the Xcaret parks, the food was outstanding too. I used to despise buffets… until I ate a Mexican one! The park stays true to its country’s roots with delicious mole, tortiallas and pork up for grabs. Yum.

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Cave swimming at Xplor Fuego. Photo by Xcaret

What you need to know:

Xplor Fuego website

Cost: The online price is US$89.10 and this includes all activities and food (alcohol isn’t on offer at the park.)

How to get there: Follow these directions.

When to go: Xplor Fuego is on Monday to Saturday from 5:30pm – 10:30pm.

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At the Xoximilco entrance. Photo by Xcaret.

Xoximilco

Based on Xochimilco, which is a series of canals located near Mexico City that were used to deliver produce in pre-Hispanic times, Xocimilco is Xcaret’s newest attraction.

Unlike the canal system at the real Xochimilco, Xoximilco is man-made but don’t let that put you off the experience.

You will share a punting boat with up to 18 other guests as you float down the canals with your guide. During the course of the evening you will be fed a three course tapas-style meal, giving you to sample many of the different types of food from all of the regions of Mexico.

Did you know that Mexican food is UNESCO listed? I didn’t even know that was possible. Although eating my many dishes throughout the evening I certainly realised how it was chosen for UNESCO status.

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Spot the tourists! Photo by Xcaret.

Aside from the food, the music as you float down the canals will keep you more than occupied. As you’re punted along, you’ll come across other floating boats full of musicians playing different music from all over Mexico.

It’s a great night out. But if you’d rather not share your dinner table with a bunch of strangers, I’d recommend going with a big group of friends. It’d be the perfect place for a birthday party or hen do.

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Xoximilco boats on the canal. Photo by Xcaret.

What you need to know:

Xoximilco website

Cost: The special online price is US$80.10 per person. This includes all entertainment, food, tequila and beer.

How to get there: Driving directions are on the website. But it’s best to get Xcaret transport if you’re going to be having a few tequila shots!

When to go: You can enter the site from 6:30pm and the experience takes around three hours.

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Boarding our boat at Xoximilco. Photo by Xcaret.

Xenotes Oasis Maya

I’ve already fully covered Xenotes Oasis Maya on our blog, and you can read about it here.

What you need to know:

Xcaret Oasis Maya website

Cost: A tour of Xenotes Oasis Maya costs around US$107 per person, although it’s cheaper if you book in advance online.

How to get there: You can get an Xcaret bus, or make your own way to the park by following these directions.

When to go: Xenotes Oasis Maya runs tours daily.

Although Xcaret dubs itself as an ‘eco’ park, I’m not so sure it should as there’s not all that much to warrant this that I could see.

Regardless of whether it’s eco-friendly or not, the company does put on some great entertainment and visiting one of its many parks is a fun day out for you and the family.

Although don’t expect it to be a true Mexican experience – just like with Disney, the park is more a fantasy world than the real Mexico.

Please note: We were guests of Xcaret. But as always, our opinions are our own.

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

2 comments on “Xperiencing Xcaret: The Disney of Mexico”

  1. Lisa Reply

    I really enjoyed this run down of the Mexican parks. I went to Xcaret and had a great time. If I only saw the show put on in the arena, then it was worth the high priced admission. I was unaware that other parks existed outside of the Yucatan. I would like to visit them on my next visit to Mexico.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Hi Lisa,
      Glad you enjoyed the post! Yep, the other parks are worth a visit, especially Explor Fuego which was our favourite.
      There’ll all in the Yucatan though, so no need to travel far from your last trip 🙂
      Carmen

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