One of our favorite day trips in the Yucatan is from Cancun down to Xcaret, an eco-park just south of Playa Del Carman — a 45 minute trip. Monday we rented a mini-bus and driver for the thirteen of us, and headed there for the day.
Xcaret sits on a rocky bay with beautiful sandy inlets for snorkelling and swimming. The park also sports a small zoo, with native species like tapir and coatimundi, as well as animals like deer. The big attraction, however, is the underground river. Geologically, the Yucatan peninsula is a massive spit of porous limestone. It has no surface water, except where water from the underground aquifer bubbles to the surface in limestone wells called cenotes. At Xcaret, snorkellers enter one of these underground rivers at one cenote in the park, and then swim the river until it surfaces at an exit near the ocean about 45 minutes later. At various places throughout the swim, surface light enters through overhead light wells, which allows views of the river bottom, and surrounding rocks. The water is clear (cenotes frequently boast visibility in the hundreds of feet), and cool, and the swim is hugely enjoyable. At the exit, the brackish pools support a thriving and colorful fish population.
The other great attraction of Xcaret is the two hour long night show. When we we first saw the show 8 years ago, it was a reenactment of the Mayan ball game, followed by a trek over to a natural amphitheatre where troupes of Mexican dancers performed traditional dances from different Mexican states. It's evolved to a Las Vegas style extravaganza. Now staged in a massive new theater, evocative of a Mayan ball court, it begins with the ball game, the Oaxacan flaming hockey game (played with a ball soaked in kerosene, it makes the NHL look just a little ordinary), and a short set-piece on the history of the Maya and the conquistadors. Following an intermission, there are traditional Mexican dances, horse tricks, singers and more.
The night show really is the best part about Xcaret. It would be hard to justify the steep entrance fee to the park solely based on the other attractions, but you would easily pay that fee for the show alone in any other city.
Here are some photos