Xcaret – by Irene Butler –
Check out our Yucatan Photo Gallery –
Published in Air Canada E Newsletter –
Blissfully wrapped in turquoise surf, sandy beaches and alluring jungle, my “id” leapt for joy (as Freud would say) as I scurried between the kaleidoscope of attractions and activities. Xcaret (ish-cah-reht) Eco Park is a sampling of all that is Mexico. Paramount in design, development and operation, the park provides sustainability for both the local communities and environment. With something for everyone, whether from ages six to sixty-plus, my husband Rick and I could readily see why this delightful site is also known as Mexico’s Disneyland.
A ride up the 80-metre rotating tower was a good place to start, awarding us a panoramic view of the 200-acre park and the Caribbean flaunting inviting blue shades above the second largest coral reef in the world.
Next, we made a bee-line for the talcum-powder beach. Bodies languished on “chaises longs” or swung in hammocks strung between palms. But this was not for me…at least not yet. I was eager to try out one of several novel water activities. Being an amateur at snorkeling, but not ready to scuba, I pulled Rick toward the “Snuba” booth. This sport combines diving technology with the freedom of snorkeling using a breathing apparatus connected to a tank floating on a raft.
I scoured my handy itinerary for what to do next. The river raft ride, tubing in the lagoon…Ah, hah! Floating down an underground river and swimming in a cenote (freshwater sinkhole) won out!
Our guide for this adventure, Jos, explained, “The whole Yucatan Peninsula is covered with a porous limestone layer under a thin veneer of soil and vegetation. Rainwater seeping through this layer forms a massive underground river system. Where the limestone collapses, making the river accessible from above, this is known a cenote.”
Donning life jackets, we bobbed along on a gentle current sided by a tangle of jungle with swinging howler monkeys and perched macaws, and then through limestone caverns with glimmering stalactites. The grand finale was ending in a lagoon of mangroves inhabited by pink flamingoes.
Thoroughly waterlogged, land exploration was in order. At the Butterfly Pavilion we followed the metamorphosis from eggs to the egression of the winged beauties from their chrysalis. Butterflies fluttered among the expanse of tropical plants, often posing on leaves for eager cameras to capture their spectacular intricate colours.
On to the hatcheries where we watched hordes of sea turtles separated in pools by age – from tiny hatchlings, to eight-inch yearlings soon to be released into the sea. The nearby aquarium displayed the underwater kingdom of the reef, with informative placards on the creatures that call it home.
Indigenous fauna were enclosed in the park’s spacious surrounds. The panoply of native plants would excite the most avid botanist. A field of Blue Agave, from which tequila is made, reminded me that a Margarita would be nice (along with a relaxing lunch). Rick readily concurred.
After icy mango libations and piping hot enchiladas, we waddled over to the replicated Mayan village in time to see warriors enact the Dance of Fire. For the ancient Mayans this dance heralded a new life cycle occurring every 52 years.
Part of the village consisted of archeological ruins from the post-classical period (1400-1517 AD) when Xcaret was a ceremonial city and thriving port for trades with other Mayan cities in commodities such as gold and jade.
The evening “Spectacular” began as we settled into the 6000-seat theatre. As the lights dimmed, the central stage became alive with performers portraying the story of their history, from the rise of the great Mayan civilization, to the Spanish Conquest, then the fusion of cultures.
An ancient game of Pok-ta-pok was electrifying. Lean warriors raced and leaped bouncing a 9-pound rubber ball with only their hips, the objective being to send the ball sailing through the stone hoops along the sides of the walls. Next, from the Aztec, a burning ball was smacked with wooden sticks in a pre-historic version of hockey called Uarhukua.
I concluded the only thing little about this Eco Park was the meaning of Xcaret in Mayan -“little inlet”. The park’s “wow” factor is of mega-proportions. Wishing we had more time (although our tired feet did not agree) we ambled from the grounds filled with mirthful memories.
Location and planning:
-Xcaret is located 35 miles south of Cancun & 6 miles south of Playa del Carmen.
-Travel Agencies (in Cancun and Playa del Carmen) offer day trips to Xcaret.
-Xcaret Bus Terminal Ph: 998-881-2401 (next to Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Hotel on Isla Cancun) has daily buses.
-Xcaret Occidental Grande Hotel (769 rooms) is a 5 min walk from the park.
Photo Credits: Irene Butler & Xcaret Park