Imagine Disney-meets-National-Geographic. Xcaret aims to package the Yucatan’s Mayan history and its tropical lagoon ecology into one day-long fun experience.

The result is well-executed; Xcaret is a terrific place for a family to spend a day.

Xcaret is approximately an hour’s drive south of Cancun. All resorts organize excursions; also, tourist kiosks in Cancun also outings to Xcaret and Xel-ha. Or you can rent a car and drive yourself; or take one of the buses that fly down the highway, and then return to your resort by one of the taxis awaiting at the end of the Night Show.

The experience of Xcaret transforms the image of Mexico seen as being only one big beautiful beach, and demonstrates that it is SO much more.

Approach your visit to Xcaret like a visit to a major theme park: arrive early; expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars; and stay as late as the park is open, to enjoy Xcaret At Night.

You’ll be covering a lot of ground during your visit, so it’s nice that the park has many quiet spots where you can rest in a hammock, or your kids can play in the sand. You’ll also find great restaurants.

1. Underground Snorkeling River

Xcaret Underground Snorkeling River
This winding stream of clear turquoise water allows you to swim and snorkel all the way through the park and the Mayan village to the beach, via rocky canyons, pools, and caverns lit by shafts of daylight.

2. Dolphin Pools

Xcaret Dolphin pools
Xcaret has two pools by the beach where visitors can swim with friendly dolphins. It’s an extremely popular activity, and only a few people are allowed into the pools each day, so pre- book or try to reserve a slot as soon as you arrive at the park.

3. Sea Trek

Xcaret sea treck
A fabulous guided walk – not swim – right along the seabed, using weights to keep you from floating upwards and simple breathing apparatus. You don’t need to be a great swimmer to enjoy this, and on the way you see all kinds of wonderful sea life from below.

4. La Caleta Cove and Blue Lagoon

Xcaret blue lagoon
Fine places for easy swimming. La Caleta (“the Inlet”) was the main harbor of Mayan Polé and is now a favorite snorkeling spot, with coral and tropical fish just below the
surface. The Blue Lagoon is a big, ultra-relaxing clearwater pool behind the beach, with islands of thick vegetation inviting exploration.

5. Mayan Village and Ball Court

Xcaret mayan village
Reached via atmospheric passage- ways, the village endeavors to represent some of the life of the ancient Mayan world. This includes a reconstruction of a Mayan ball court, where a modern interpretation of the mysterious, long-lost ball game (see p25) is played each afternoon. There’s also a well-presented museum by the park entrance.

6. Butterfly Garden

xcaret butterfly garden
One of the most spectacular parts of Xcaret, the mariposario is the largest butterfly garden in the world, part-hidden in a steep ravine beneath a giant net of a roof. Bursting with all manner of exuberant tropical flowers and vegetation, the garden is alive with an astonishing variety of colorful butterflies. Mornings are best.

7. Aviary and Zoo

Animal attractions are spread all around the park. Among the birds on view – all native to the Yucatán – are toucans, cute aracaris or “little toucans,” bright green parrots, and very rare birds like the quetzal, whose spectacular tail feathers were once used in the headdresses of Mayan lords. Animals include spider monkeys, bats, and pumas.

8. Turtle Pools

Xcaret turtle pools
Near La Caleta, you can see different kinds of sea turtles – hawksbills, loggerheads, and leather- backs – in every stage of life, from newborns to grumpy-faced ancients with beautiful shells over 1 m (3 ft) long. The pools are part of a repopulation program to preserve this endangered species.

9. ForestTrail and Orchid Greenhouse

A well-signposted trail helps you explore many other parts of the park, through lush natural forest and passing further attractions, such as beehives, animal en- closures, a mushroom farm, and a wonderful greenhouse with more than 100 magnificent varieties of rare orchid. You can also explore a longer, guided trail on horseback.

10. Live Show

Xcaret live show
Presented nightly, this is a spectacular mix of entertainment spread around the village and theater. It begins with a charrería, or Mexican rodeo, and goes on through “ancient Mayan” rituals to mariachis and vibrant perfor- mances of folk music and dances from all over Mexico.