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What to See and Do at Xcaret
Xcaret Park (pronounced ish-ka-ret) is a 250-acre "eco-archaeological theme park" in the Riviera Maya offering aquatic activities, natural and cultural attractions, and shows. This park has elements of a water park, aquarium, zoo, museum, and cultural center, all combined in one expansive complex.
At Xcaret, there is plenty to see and do for people of all ages. It's definitely worth taking some time before you get there to decide how you would like to spend your day and come up with a strategy to make the most of your time.
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Regional Wildlife Breeding Area and Aviary
The Regional Wildlife Breeding Area and Aviary at Xcaret is a must-see. It's close to the entrance, (on the left after you enter the park). Here you will be able to see a wide variety of bird species, including lots of scarlet and green macaws, tucans, and flamingos, as well as some other animals, like deer and crocodiles.
Xcaret began a macaw breeding program in 1993 with both scarlet macaws and green macaws. The park was awarded a Guinness World Record for the most macaws born in one place - for the 105 macaws born at the park in 2009. Xcaret is now home to over 700 macaws, and in 2013 Xcaret began a program to release some of their macaws into the wild. Read more about the Xcaret macaw release program.
We loved having a peek at the baby macaws in different stages of development, like this scarlet macaw who was only a few days old!
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Coral Reef Aquarium
Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities in the Riviera Maya, but a visit to Xcaret's coral reef aquarium allows you to explore the world at the bottom of the sea without getting wet. The aquarium at Xcaret has over 5,000 living organisms including tropical fish such as sturgeons, butterfly and angel fish, as well as turtles, sea horses, urchins, anemones, nursery sharks, and rays. This is a wonderful way for kids and adults to learn about coral reefs and all the species that inhabit them. The aquarium has interactive exhibits which allow visitors to see the sea creatures up close and even touch some of them.
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The Butterfly Pavilion
Xcaret's butterfly pavilion is also a must-see on your day in Xcaret. Hosting over twenty species of butterflies, some which are in danger of extinction, this pavilion is in an enormous enclosed area which is 15 meters high. Inside there are gardens, a waterfall and rainforest type vegetation. Winding paths allow visitors to wander amid the fluttering butterflies. Besides the education and enjoyment of visitors, the goal of the butterfly pavilion is to repopulate the region's butterflies and the plants they need to survive.
If you enjoy butterflies, you should plan a visit to Mexico's monarch butterfly reserves.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Underground River at Xcaret
One of the most popular activities at Xcaret is swimming in an underground river. The park has a network artificial underground rivers which mimic the natural ones that are common in the area. This is an unintimidating way to try out this activity. Children aged 5 and up can participate but should be able to swim, though everyone is provided with a life vest.
The underground river swimming experience takes about 45 minutes if done at a leisurely pace. Some parts of the circuit are dark, but you will always see a light ahead, and there are spots along the way where you can get out of the water, or just stop to rest.
Don't forget to take a swimsuit and towel when you go to Xcaret so you can enjoy swimming in the underground river. The park provides bags to put your belongings in when you go into the river, and you can collect your things at the end of the circuit. There are also lockers available to rent.
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Mayan Village and Cemetery
In one section of Xcaret, there is a replica of a Mayan village. Here you can get a glimpse at the traditional way of life of the Maya. You will see traditional oval-shaped houses constructed of wood and hemp with thatched roofs, and people going about everyday activities, as well as artisans at work.
One of the highlights of the Mayan village is the cemetery. This replica of a Mexican cemetery is located on a hill with a winding spiral path leading to the top. The tombstones are imaginative and whimsical and the evokes the playful attitude Mexicans have towards death. The cemetery in Xcaret is beautifully decorated and a focus of activities during Xcaret's Festival of Life and Death Traditions.
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With so much to see and do at Xcaret, and beautiful beaches throughout the area, I wouldn't recommend spending a lot of time at Xcaret's beach, however, when you get tired out from all the cultural activities, wildlife appreciation, and watersports, you may want to just take a break and spend a few moments relaxing on the beach. Xcaret's beach is calm and if you're traveling with small children, this is one of the best and safest beaches for them.
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Xcaret Archaeological Site
The Xcaret archaeological site is located within the park. This is an ancient Mayan site, once a ceremonial center and port on an important trade route. The site was at its height in the Post Classic period, from around 1400 to 1517. Originally known as Polé, this site was the main port of embarkation for pilgrims heading to the island of Cozumel, where they would visit the shrine of the goddess Ixchel.
Read about more archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Hacienda and Folk Art Museum
You can learn about a key part of the history of the Yucatan Peninsula by visiting the Hacienda Henequenera at Xcaret. Henequen (also known as sisal) was the major crop of the area in the early years of Mexico's independence - the crop was once known as "oro verde" in Mexico ("green gold") because of its importance in the economy of the peninsula. At the hacienda, you can learn about how this crop was produced and how the sisal was extracted.
A visit to the 19th Century style house that is the main building of the hacienda will not only give you a glimpse at what the home of a wealthy hacendado would have been like, but it is also chock-full of beautiful Mexican folk art, so it functions as a folk art museum.
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Mexico Espectacular Show
Xcaret's nightly show is outstanding. This was our favorite part of our day at Xcaret, and that's saying a lot, because we enjoyed the whole day. The show is called México Espectacular, and it really is spectacular. The show takes you on a journey through Mexico's history, from Prehispanic times through colonial times to modern Mexico with a focus on Mexican music and folklore. In this show, you will see a demonstration of the prehispanic ball game, the voladores, folk dancing, mariachis, and more. The México Espectacular show is a perfect way to end a full day at Xcaret.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary facility tour and meal for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.