Today we’ve planned a full day out at Xcaret, an environmentally friendly theme park showcasing the very best of Mexico’s flora, fauna, cuisine and folk traditions.

The park has some impressive conservation credentials, with part of the admission price going to support programs protecting ecosystems and endangered species.

Another early breakfast, before taking the ADO bus for about one hour south of Cancún. Xcaret park is a few miles south of the resort town of Playa del Carmen, and is one of the stops on the Tulum bus route we used yesterday. Our ADO bus tickets cost us around 100 pesos (£4) single each. I had already booked our park tickets online in advance for a 30% discount. Two adults on the ‘Plus’ package came to £174. The ‘Plus’ package gains a few worthwhile extras – a single visit to the buffet in one of several restaurants dotted around the park, and the use of snorkel equipment and lockers closer to the entrance to the underground rivers. Ordinary admission would incur extra charges for food, and for locker / equipment hire closer to the main entrance away from the rivers.

After collecting our wristbands and  passing through the entrance, we picked up a free map and began exploring. There’s so much to see and do here, so I’ll highlight some of our own personal favourites:

Scarlet Macaws
Scarlet Macaws

The tropical jungle trail. A 20 to 30 minute walk through a lush jungle setting, followed by a short 10 to 15 minute leisurely ride on a boat for a different perspective. Lots of wildlife – Scarlet Macaws, Flamingos, Mexican Jays, and some rodents larger than Guinea Pigs which I think might have been Agouti. There are also a couple of large glasshouses, exhibiting Orchids and Bromeliads.

Scarlet Macaws in the tropical jungle trail
Scarlet Macaws in the tropical jungle trail

‘Voladores de Papantla’. A ritual ceremony where the voladores climb a large pole, fasten themselves by the feet to coiled ropes at the top, then launch themselves from the platform and spin slowly down to earth upside down as the ropes uncoil.

Papantla flyers
Papantla flyers

The coral reef aquarium with lots of interesting tank and pool exhibits, followed by several outdoor pools containing sea turtles at different stages of development.

Sea Turtles
Sea Turtles

A magnificent aviary. The structure is stunning in its scale, disappearing several storeys into a huge void, with a spiral path working its way gradually down around the outer edge. Lots of free-flying birds native to Mexico, and fixed displays of pairs of many different south american parrot species. Nearby there’s also a butterfly pavilion, but unfortunately not very much for us to see in this exhibit. Maybe butterflies are seasonal in Mexico and we visited at the wrong time of year.

Scarlet Macaw near to the start of the walk-through aviary
Scarlet Macaw near to the start of the walk-through aviary

After stopping at the Restaurante La Caleta for a lovely international buffet, we headed to the Xcaret Plus changing facilities, ready for an afternoon in the water. First on our list was a swim along the underground river. There’s no surface water in the Yucatán, with rainwater instead finding its way down to the sea via underground channels carved in the limestone terrain, and occasionally being exposed in sinkholes or ‘cenotes’ where people can take a refreshing dip. We only had time to try one of the three available rivers, and once kitted out with our lifejackets and flippers we set off on an approximately 1km swim.

Deborah in the underground river
Deborah in the underground river

Although I was a little apprehensive about tackling the underground river, it turned out to be a really enjoyable and unique experience. I wish we had been able to try the remaining two rivers, but time was pressing and we still wanted to try snorkelling in the coastal inlet. I had picked up a really cheap waterproof camera back in the UK, but I’m afraid the results aren’t brilliant, plus I’m clearly not cut out for snorkelling. I only managed one photo of a stripey fish (sergeant major, abudefduf saxatilis?) before retreating panic-stricken to the surface!

Stripey fish in the snorkelling inlet
Stripey fish in the snorkelling inlet

I had booked our return bus tickets for early evening, to get us back to Cancún at a sensible time in the evening. So sadly we ended up having to miss the ‘Xcaret México Espectacular’ show in the Gran Tlachco between 7pm-9pm. We would have loved to have spent so much more time at Xcaret, which gave us such a memorable day out!

An Iguana basking near to the snorkelling inlet

Tomorrow, the start of a two-day trip to visit Chichén Itzá.