COVID-19 Announcement: For more information about our current policies and procedures. Please click here

Xel-ha, Where The Water (And Magical Memories) Are Born

Juanita Rodriguez 03-07-2016

When family comes to Playa del Carmen for a visit, it means we get the opportunity to play tourist. Although we live here, life happens and it’s easy to slip mindlessly into a monotonous daily grind. Similarly to busy families around the world, parents get caught up with work, carpools, soccer practice, gymnastics class, laundry, and the list goes on.  Unfortunately, we do not get to spend our days exploring the unrivaled beauty of the Mayan Riviera.

However, when a chance for excursions presents itself, there is one particular place that captures my heart again and again. Xel há is a natural aquatic center located 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. This majestic ecological park was established around a picturesque inlet, turquoise lagoon and freshwater cenotes.  Whether you’re a water fan or not, this place and its plenitude of vibrant marine life will amaze you.

Snorkeling at Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya

Children’s World

Since the last time I had visited was nearly a decade prior, there were many new included and optional activities to explore. On this perfect Mayan Riviera day, a cheerful azure tone blanketed the sky. The Mexican sun seemed to smile radiantly upon our crew, which included 3 kids, aged 6, 4 and 3. The glistening waters beckoned us all, and there was no holding back the kids. So with snorkel sets in tow, we began the adventure at Children’s World.

Not only was this section of the park a hit with the little ones, but with the adults as well! We snorkeled, slid down Flinstone-like water slides, and leaped from one giant lily pad to another. In truth, the kiddos made it look much easier than it turned out to be!  After a couple of hours of enjoying the refreshing water, the adults hydrated with some cool cocktails and lazed in the hammocks. The youngsters, with their boundless energy, traipsed the bridges from one tree-house station to another.


Children's World at Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya

In the Jungle, The Mighty Jungle

Next, we hopped on bicycles and rode through lush jungle paths lined with thick, native vegetation. The short journey led us to the mouth of the lazy river where we were given tire rafts. Two by two, the slow-moving current carried us along the river through elaborate tunnels of intertwined mangroves.


Mangrove float at Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya

Cliff of Courage

The subsequent leg our journey brought us to the Cliff of Courage. I was the first one to scurry up the ladder rungs, which led to the ledge of the 5 meter cliff. Apparently, I had left my courage back in the tube. As I approached the edge and looked down, my mind screamed “NO WAY!”  I returned to the ladder and was about to scramble back down. But I noticed my mother, in her 50’s, was climbing out her raft! I begrudgingly went back to the ledge. If my dear mom was brave enough to do it, then I had no other option but to take the leap as well. After we’d all experienced the exhilarating jump, we sailed on to the aquatic zip lines.

Cliff of Courage, Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya

Zip Lining Fun

At this pit-stop, our 6 and 4-year-olds were thrilled to take the plunge. Initially, they shrieked as their feet left the platform. However, their smiles beamed as their behinds dipped into the cool waters. For sure, the zip lines were the highlight of their day. A close second was when they swung from a jungle rope into a crystal clear cenote. To conclude our action-packed, fun-filled afternoon, we dined on a Mexican feast overlooking the water.

Zip Line at Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya

Optional Activities

Beyond the vast list of included activities that we tried, Xel-há offers an abundance of optional activities. In addition to swimming with dolphins, manatees and stingrays you can zip bike above the jungle canopy or cruise through the inlet on a speedboat. Regardless if you’re on land or at sea, the breathtaking setting is ideal for admiring the region’s many species of flora and fauna.

Sea Trek at Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya

Legend Has It…

Without a doubt, the company’s passionate approach to creating environmental awareness through conservation efforts and public education programs is impressive. Xel-há has worked hard to preserve its fragile ecosystem. For example, the on-site nurseries have helped contribute to a massive reforestation effort. This project involved planting more than 400,000 plants in 18 months in public areas throughout the Mayan Riviera.

According to legend, Xel há, the Mayan word meaning “Where the water is born,” was the result of a pretty cool collaboration. It is said that the gods united in their ancient wisdom and reverence for nature to form Xel ha . Once their work was complete, the gods stood over their creation and were pleased. In order that their treasure be protected, they appointed 3 guardians to watch over it. “Huh” the iguana, would become guardian of the land, “Chuc Kay,” the pelican was guardian of the air and “Kay Op” the parrotfish, was to guard the water. It is believed that to this day, these guardians maintain their watch over Xel-há and all of its visitors.  Perhaps this is the reason for the mystical ambience which continues to lure me back time and time again.

Floating at Xel Ha Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya