Top 10 Ecological and Adventure Parks That Showcase The Riviera Maya’s Spectacular Nature And Culture
No matter if you’re a Riviera Maya rookie or a seasoned visitor to the area, the list of attractions is constantly growing. The number of options for fun-filled things to do in this sun-soaked stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula are as plentiful as the iguanas that roam the region.
In this edition of our monthly travel blog, we’re highlighting the top 10 sensational ecological and adventure parks in the Mexican Caribbean.
Due to the fact that BRIC’s rental properties are in Playa del Carmen, we’re going to share the distance to the parks from this central, Riviera Maya beach town. In addition to cutting your travel time by staying in Playa del Carmen, you also have access to our team of local experts. Your designated BRIC ambassador is happy to share insider travel tips and to assist in any way possible to make your vacation one of the best you’ve had.
(7 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
With 6 extraordinary parks under their belt and more in development, the Xcaret Group has set the bar high for providing unforgettable tour experiences in the Riviera Maya. Xcaret Park features a dizzying amount of water, cultural, and educational attractions throughout the sublime, 200-acre jungle expanse.
Basic Admission Activities Include:
- Underground River Float
- Mayan Village
- Cemetery with brightly colored mausoleums
- Impressive chapel featuring an island altar surrounded by a crystalline cenote
- Butterfly Pavilion
- Coral Reef Aquarium
- Mexican Charros, elaborately dressed horsemen and women
- Voladores de Papantla, Mayan Flying Men
- Jaguar Island
- Human-sized birdcage with exotic birds
- Children’s World Waterslides
- Modest archaeological sites
- Prehistoric ball game court
- Wildlife viewing— sea turtles, flamingos, spider monkeys, tapirs, deer, and bats
- Remarkable nightly cultural show
- Inlets and lagoons for snorkeling
- Hammocks and shaded rest areas
- Seaside limestone swimming pools
- Snuba, snorkeling diving combination around a reef with an expert diver
- Adrenalina speed boat ride
- Stingray Encounter
- Xcaret Dinner Show
- Seatrek, walk along the seafloor at a depth of 16 feet with a special helmet for underwater breathing
- Temazcal, a Mesoamerican sweat lodge encounter
Frankly, it’s a challenge to see all the park has to offer in just one day. Navigating the vast park can be overwhelming. However, the signage is helpful as is the multitude of friendly staff at every turn.
While it is one of the most expensive parks on the list, it is guaranteed that you will get your money’s worth. The nightly show itself is a priceless and eye-catching experience. The 2-hour extravaganza involves over 300 impassioned artists depicting the history and legacy of Mexico through theatrical, musical, and folkloric dance performances.
It’s important to note that on this full day of fun and adventure, you will need to hydrate and fuel up in order to enjoy the boundless activities. A buffet meal, plus one beverage, is only included in the Xcaret Plus admission. This is something to consider as outside food and drink is not permitted within the park. There are several restaurants and beverage stations to choose from at an additional cost if you opt for the basic admission. Also included in the Plus admission is snorkel equipment.
If possible, purchase your tickets online in advance to receive a 10 to 15% discount. This park can be enjoyed rain or shine, so if you can save a few dollars, book 7 to 21 days before your visit. Children 5 to 11 receive a 25% discount and kids 4 and under are free. Regardless of the type of traveler you are or the ages in your group, you will discover an abundance of engaging activities.
Bring a set of dry clothes to keep in the lockers provided to change into for the nightly show.
(45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
With a slightly smaller menu of attractions than Xcaret Park, Xel-ha still manages to pack in a wonderful array of thrilling activities to fill an entire day. While the magnitude of the park is not as overwhelming, you’ll definitely be astounded by Xel-ha’s natural splendor.
- Scenic Lighthouse with 30-meter spiral waterslides
- Snorkeling in the inlet teeming with tropical marine life
- Mangrove river float
- Cliff of courage
- Zip lines
- Rope swings
- Children’s World, wading pool, kids’ waterslides, swinging bridge jungle course, waterlilies, and playground
- Ixchel Grotto, lagoon and cave
- Jungle trail bike ride
- Power Xnorkel, motorjet snorkeling
- Seatrek Discover, walk along the seabed with a breathing helmet to discover marine creatures
- Adrenalina, speed boat ride on the Caribbean complete with 360 degree turns
- Snuba Cenote, a fascinating swim wearing a lightweight apparatus, which combines scuba diving and snorkeling
- Seatrek Stingray, underwater excursion provides an up close and personal encounter with majestic stingrays
- Zip Bike, peddle your way on a suspended bike at the height of the jungle canopy
Beyond providing an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Riviera Maya, the myriad of water activities help to beat the heat. Moreover, there are plenty of hammocks surrounded by coconut palms that provide shady respite.
Best of all, the park is all-inclusive, which means you can enjoy unlimited food, beverages, and snorkeling all day long.
Jugala Aqua Experience
(25 minutes north of Playa del Carmen)
This waterpark provides an entertaining day trip for both kids and parents. If the kiddos feel the need for speed, they’ll have hair-raising adventures on slides like the Beachside Boomerango, Paradise Free Fall and Hoop Hoop Aqualoop. For the less daring, jumping the 1.5 meter waves in the wave pool and kicking back in the lazy river (the longest in Latin America) are ideal. For the littlest of the bunch, the Kids’ Rain Fortress water and sprinkler structure provides loads of fun.
As the kids have their fun, you can relax in one of the many plush lounge beds or shaded hammocks. Alternatively, you can reserve your own private cabana with various packages available. Each selection includes fresh fruit, cool facial towels, as well as an attendant on standby to clean your sunglasses. What’s more, the upgraded luxury experience includes champagne and a curated cabana menu to choose from.
Yal Ku Lagoon
(30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
This pristine lagoon provides a stunning locale for beginner snorkelers. The cost is about $30 USD and includes life vests, snorkel gear, access to the washroom facilities, and parking.
In order to optimize your visit, plan to spend about 3 to 4 hours exploring the inlet and coral reef. If possible, try to go on your own, rather than with a tour so that you have ample time to inspect the many areas of the lagoon. You can expect to see coral formations, vibrant schools of fish, and perhaps a sea turtle or ray if you’re lucky.
There are 2 entrances: 1 enters the larger point of the lagoon, has a restaurant, and requires the use of a life vest. The other has washrooms and lockers as well, but is smaller, cheaper, and does not require a life vest. Bring your own snorkel gear to avoid the rental costs.
Although you can dine onsite, there are several seaside restaurants within walking distance. A top choice back down the same road towards Akumal Bay is La Buena Vida. This is a special spot with an upbeat beach club vibe, great food, and even better cocktails. Take in the turquoise views, while relaxing on one of their cushy bean bag chairs or from the towering platform, which overlooks the bay.
(10 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
This mystical, natural reserve boasts a series of centuries-old caves flooded by the longest subterranean river system in the world. Rio Secreto focuses on sustainable tourism and the staff are very conscientious about preserving its ecological integrity. In fact, only a fraction of the cave system is open to the public for tours, while the rest remains protected.
In 2020, Rio Secreto was the subject of a National Geographic study. Researchers inspected and scanned the cave formations for clues related to the weather in an effort to determine what may have caused the abandonment of the Mayan cities in the area. Although their findings were not conclusive, the group of scientists did make fascinating discoveries. For example, an altar was found at the entrance of the underground river system, along with human bones that were most likely the remains from human sacrifices.
As you wade through the same turquoise waters as the National Geographic crew, your guides will explain the history behind the formation of the ancient cave system. They are also enthusiastic to point out the regional species including bats, catfish, and other wildlife that inhabit the park.
Upon arrival, you are provided with water shoes, a short wet suit, and head lamp. There are lockers to store your belongings and you are not allowed to take your own pictures. A professional photographer accompanies the group and photo packages are available for purchase at the end of the tour. After the breathtaking 3-hour encounter, a lunch is served, which includes handmade tortillas.
Emotions Native Park by Alltournative
(12 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
Alltournative has become one of the most recommended eco-tour companies in the area. The fun-loving guides make the curated tours memorable with your safety being a top priority. Highlights of the 4-hour active excursion include ATV rides over rugged jungle terrain, zip lines, and a picturesque cenote swim.
Another enjoyable aspect of the day trip is a leisurely walk through the forest where there’s a chance to see spider monkeys, sereques, and other interesting flora and fauna. To conclude the tour, an authentic Mayan cuisine lunch is prepared by a local woman. As you savor the delicious meal, she is happy to share stories of the first inhabitants of the region.
Mayan Water Complex
(20 minutes north of Playa del Carmen)
New to the thrilling sport of wakeboarding? The reputable instructors at Mayan Water Complex are skilled at easing you and your board onto the lake in a safe and fun manner.
Your cable wakeboarding experience lasts 4 hours and includes instruction from the dock as well as all of the equipment. With the pass, you have access to the showers, lockers, as well as the lounge and entertainment area with table games.
For those who are more advanced, there are 2 other lakes, which feature daring obstacles at a moderately higher speed. Besides the wakeboard pass, visitors can soar high on a flyboard for a 30-minute stimulating and memorable experience. This excursion is recommended for children 5 years and older.
(10 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
Set amidst a stunning jungle backdrop, Xenses allows you to play Alice in a Mexican Wonderland. There are an engaging variety of interactive experiences that offer rare photo ops. For example, your mind will play tricks on you when you see rivers flowing uphill in the Mexican town. Likewise, you’ll question the law of physics inside rooms with furniture secured to the ceiling and light fixtures on the floor.
The feast for the senses continues as you cautiously walk through the pitch black Xensatorium. You’ll climb mountains, walk through the rain forest and visit other ecosystems along the way— in complete darkness, wearing nothing but your swimsuit. It’s one of the many fun surprises you’ll encounter as you make your way through the disorienting park.
Sliding along the sludgy, mud river gives a nostalgic feeling of childhood and the joy of splashing in mud puddles. The river float highlights some of the captivating stalactites and stalagmites that decorate the underground caves. Finally, you can relish the lush jungle views from a bird’s perspective on the Bird Flight portion of the park.
Xenses is ideal for every age, especially if you have curious younger children who prefer to explore at their own pace. Similar to the other parks by Xcaret, obtain a discount by booking online in advance.
(20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
This lesser known nature park showcases the Mayan culture and their reverence for nature through small and informative guided tours. First, you’ll be led via bicycle through the forest to an underground cave. Spotlights showcase the magnificent, prehistoric formations and crystal clear cenote waters. You’ll discover glowing organisms living within the crevices and have ample opportunities for surreal photos.
From there, you can rappel below the earth to find even more extraordinary caverns, all the while learning about the history of the Yucatan Peninsula. Next, you’ll head over to a Mayan ceremony where you can partake in a peaceful gratitude ritual conducted by a shaman.
If you want to face your fear of heights, the zipline portion at Chikin Ha is a gentle nudge in that direction. The modest circuit takes you over turquoise cenotes as well as the vast jungle canopy. Finally, spend the remainder of your time swimming in the fresh waters of the limestone pools. There are 3 cenotes, all unique and each breathtaking in its own right.
The entire guided tour lasts about 3 hours. However, you are welcome to stay and swim or redo the zipline circuits as many times as you please. There is a restaurant and lockers on the property. Since this is a smaller park, the price is very reasonable, but still offers hours of incredible enjoyment.
Bring your own towels and extra pesos for food and beverages.
(10 minutes south of Playa del Carmen)
As for modest zip line circuits, Xplor does not fall in that category. Across the sweeping green blanket of jungle are 2 heart-pumping circuits extending over 1200 feet in total. Not to mention, the highest descends from a 45 meter platform and is not for the faint of heart. Therefore, Xplor park is not recommended for children under 5 years old, or those that have a paralyzing fear of heights.
One of the highlights of the park is the hammock splash, where visitors glide down on a hammock swing into a refreshing cenote. It is in this exceptionally exquisite corner of the park that you have the chance to sneak behind a waterfall for yet another memorable moment.
Plus, you’ll be impressed by the vividly blue waters as you paddle your raft through the underground river and cave system. Equally as spectacular as the Underground Expedition is the amphibious vehicle ride, on which you can admire more of the local flora and fauna.
Conveniently, the park is all-inclusive. In order to replenish your energy, you can dine on authentic Mexican fare at the lunch buffet or sip on a signature smoothie. After spending a day here, you’ll understand why Xplor is one of the most visited theme parks in the world.