One of my very good friends in Mexico is a dancer. And while, she no longer dances; her daughter still performs. So one day, we made plans to see her daughter and her troupe in their nightly performance at Xcaret. However, we also decided to make a whole day of Xcaret Park. And wow, I was in for so much more fun and excitement than I had anticipated!
Xcaret is a Mayan word meaning ‘small inlet’. The ‘X’ in Mayan is pronounced as ‘ish’, so Xcaret is said as Ish-Ka-Ret. Xcaret Park is a 200 acre eco theme park near Playa de Carmen and about one hour south of Cancun. I used to describe it to guests as part Disneyland and part Epcot Center. Though I have also heard it described as part Disneyland and part National Geographic adventure. The park is named after the nearby Xcaret archeological site which is a pre-Columbian Mayan settlement. Parts of the settlement are located within Xcaret Park. However, you can also visit the entire archeological ruins for only four dollars.
Occidental’s Grand Flamenco Xcaret Hotel is connected to the park by a series of canals available to hotel guests. If you are not a guest at the Grand Xcaret Flamenco Hotel, you can purchase tickets through any travel agent in the Riviera Maya. The cost of a ticket is $89 per person and is valid for the entire day from 8:30am until 9:30pm. The cost is completely worth it as Xcaret Park offers you about forty different attractions and activities; while, at the same time, it transports you back in time to experience the mysterious world of the Mayans.
First off, animals are everywhere! The best part is swimming with dolphins. But you can also see turtles, many varieties of fish, and other natural inhabitants of the sea. There are also plenty of opportunities to see other animals in their native habitats, such as jaguars on the appropriately titled Jaguar Island. Of course, you must use telescopes to view the big cats because you do not want to become lunch! There are also monkeys, flamingos, parrots or papagayos, among other animals all amidst amazing ruins! You can snorkel through tunnels in the 1,600 foot underground river or cenote. This is the same river that is connected to the Grand Xcaret Flamenco Hotel. Besides snorkeling, there is Sea Trek and Snuba (photos above).
My favorite activity was the butterfly exhibit! The Butterfly Pavilion at Xcaret Park is one of the largest in the world at 38,000 square feet. The exhibit is home to about 20 butterfly species native to the Yucatán Peninsula. Besides education and entertainment, one of the main purposes of the exhibit is to help repopulate the region’s butterfly population. Inside the pavilion, there is a beautiful waterfall, lush garden, and rainforest type vegetation. The butterflies fly around free and if you are lucky, they will land on you! That was one of the most exciting experiences for me! In Aztec culture, butterflies symbolized the souls of warriors. Besides war and warriors, they also represented fire, souls, death, travelers, and hummingbirds throughout Mexican culture.
After spending a pleasant day and afternoon in the sun, water, and observing the animals, you are ready for the evening’s festivities. When the sun sets, the show begins with traditional dancing, songs, and the ancient Mayan “basketball” game! The extraordinary show is held in the park’s Gran Tlachco Theater and is aptly called Mexico Espectacular! The show offers a glimpse into Mexican history from its pre-Hispanic past to the present day. There are over 200 performers, as well as animals, in the showcase extravaganza!
There is a production of the Mesoamerican ballgame which is thrilling. Very little is known about the game, except that is was more similar to racquetball than basketball. Also, in the most widespread version of the game, players use their hips to propel the ball. Historically, there may have been some type of ritual sacrifice which thankfully is absent from the Xcaret show! Also, at the show, there is an electrifying presentation of the Danza de los Voladoresor the Dance of the Flyers. The ritual consists of a dance and then the climbing of a 30 foot pole. Four to five dancers then launch themselves to the ground while attached to ropes!
Mexico Espectacularalso depicts many important events from throughout Mexico’s history, such as the arrival of the Spaniards. Finally, the show also celebrates Mexican song and dance from all over the country including Veracruz and Oaxaca. And of course, no show in Mexico would be complete without mariachis and a variety of Mexican folkloric dances. The beautifully choreographed show is worth the price of the ticket to Xcaret. When you add on the amazing ruins, the stunning animals, the beach, and the location, it is not only a bargain, but a must do!! And incidentally, my friend’s daughter was a delight to watch! I am so glad I was able to experience Xcaret!