Xcaret! It was a 45 minute drive north, only ten minutes south of Playa del Carmen, and with breakfast once again starting not so promptly at 8 a.m., we arrived an hour after opening. Based on the number of vehicles and buses, however, it wasn’t too busy. Perhaps because it was a Tuesday in a shoulder season, the park had a comfortable number of people. The welcome center was a giant store maze and as such was off putting as the first experience of the park, but once we were on the other side we followed signs to see the aviary and big cats.
Rather than finding birds we wound through a man-made grotto or cave-like structure that led us to a constructed Mayan village. It was mostly deserted, so we passed through and found the trail again to the aviary, complete with winding walkway that included swinging bridges, starting from the top and spiraling downwards to the ground and exit. I thought it was well designed, although getting wet was unavoidable.
Along the path sat macaws and parrots that visitors could walk right up to and snap a photo with. At the exit was a group of pelicans standing in the spray of a waterfall. They reminded me a bit of dodo birds by the way they move and walk (as if we know how an extinct creature moved…).
Beyond the aviary was the butterfly zone. They had several large blue butterflies, which were hard to photograph with their wings outstretched. This zone was also nicely done. Plenty of fruit to keep the butterflies visible. We had to orient ourselves to find the large cats and stumbled upon a tortilla making demonstration along the way. Fresh hot tortillas, yum!
The cats were okay to see. They lived on an island surrounded by a large crevasse that prevented jumping. Which is good, because the jaguar was definitely eyeing us up like we were lunch. Amazing to watch him move lithely, it was easy to see the power in its body. The puma, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered. He was relaxing under a tree and hence not so photogenic.
At that point we wanted to drop off the bags in a locker so walked across the park, seeing flamingos, tapir, and a few other critters along the way. The Xcaret Plus experience was where we ended up, so we took an underground river swim (float). We wore life vets, so it could have been more relaxing than we made it. I wanted to go down another river, but JJ wasn’t feeling very well afterwards, and I frankly couldn’t find another entrance.
We walked along the shore front for a while, jumping into a tidal pool for a salty splash, following the inlet beaches and cabanas before turning back inland to grab or items from the lockers. In retrospect, we should have sent most of our belongings in a bag to meet us at the other end of the river (a service that was offered). Oh well. Lunch seemed like a good idea, but we continued to struggle with the map, eventually finding ourselves back on the other side of the park near an international buffet. And we stuffed ourselves silly.
We passed by the cat island again on the way out, but the puma had only relocated to another tree. A nap seemed like a great idea, so we went back to the seashore, and I wanted to jump in another tidal pool but was too full. After hanging around at a cabana with a grumpy iguana for a half an hour, we made our way to the hammocks. We crashed for a while, and later Herr and I left to explore in hopes of finding another river to float down.
Instead, we found the aquarium and sea turtles, a conservation effort Xcaret is heavily involved in, protecting them as younglings until they have matured enough to protect themselves. On the other end of the aquarium, which was meh (although it had rescued live coral), we came across an open air theatre where regional dance and music was being performed. One of the underground rivers ran along the backside of the stage, and several “floaters” had stopped to enjoy the performance.
By the end it was nearing 6:30 p.m., so we backtracked to fetch JJ and head to the big event at 7 p.m. We attempted to view the orchids along the way, but it was already closed up. We did, however, come out at the horse show. JJ and Herr watched the end of that while I quickly walked through part of the art museum.
When the show finished we walked to the large arena and were greeted by people dressed as Mayans and playing music. The show started off really cool. Interpretive style performance of the Mayans including a ball court demonstration and a hockey-like game played with a flaming ball and two fire cauldrons as the goals. Awesome to see, but it looked painful at the same time. After an intermission we watched Mexican history via song and dance from different regions. It was fine until Xcaret inserted its own “festival” that made me feel sorry for the dancers.
I suggested we leave 15 minutes before the end of the two hour show so we could avoid the traffic. With a 45 minute drive ahead of us, the others agreed. At least the ride back had fewer speed bumps; they vary so much in Mexico it is hard to predict how bad they will be. It was a full long day, and we only experienced about 60% of the park. This would comfortably fill two whole days, and possibly three if one wanted to experience everything including some of their extra-fee activities. I would say a three day all inclusive package with the resort and park would be worth it.