When in Mexico, Spend a Day at XCaret - Cancun's Amazing Natural History Park
by Carolyn McFann
If you love nature and want to know more about Mexican history, visit XCaret, an hour south of Cancun.
Having lived in the nearby city of Playa del Carmen and worked as the illustrator for this company years ago, I spent a large amount of time there, and it is stunning.
What exactly is this place? It's a combination of zoo, aviary, butterfly garden, amusement park (without rides) and outdoor natural history museum and more. Situated within the Mexican jungle, you board a bus at the main Cancun-Tulum corridor road, and it takes you down a lush jungle road to the park. It is a large complex, so expect to spend the whole day there, and use vast quantities of sunscreen to avoid getting sunburned while there.
Walking into XCaret's main building, holding the gift shop and dioramas of major Mayan ruin sites, you will see a snack area. Sometimes there are events that happen in this building, which is the gateway to the park. Make sure to go to the gift shop, there are many lovely nature-related items for sale. You may even find something with my artwork on it, as many of my designs were used for novelty items. There are posters (which I did not do) that were there before me, and are still being sold, that are incredibly original and beautiful work. This isn't your average tacky gift shop, it's impressive.
When you walk into the park itself, you are walking into a maze of exhibits and attractions, woven by paths throughout a huge section of the Mexican jungle. There is an underground river cave, where you can go snorkeling. If you get to the park early, you'll be able to do this without being in too big a crowd. It's surreal to be carried by the water through a real underground cave, that winds around the park. Very relaxing. This is a great way to cool off, as the hot sun can get to you, even in the jungle.
There is a horseback riding stable. The horses are gorgeous Spanish-descent creatures, with long manes and elegant stature. But, when I was there, they were slow and just did what the horse in front of them did. If you want to gallop independently on the beach, forget it. They follow eachother in a line day in and day out, so they are trained to be trail horses only. It's fine if you are afraid of riding and want to try it, there's a high probability that none of them will buck you off. The ones I saw were mellow, not hyper.
Both the zoo and aviary have lovely animals that are indigenous to the Yucatan peninsula, such as jaguars, flamingos, parrots of many sizes and colors, a harpy eagle, spider monkeys, and more. All animals at the park are well taken care of. Many live in very elaborate, natural environments. The jaguars are kept on an island, separated from the tourists by a deep gorge. You can see them wiithout fear of them escaping, as they live their lives free from bars. It is a beautiful, large setup.
The lagoon is a scenic area that feeds into the Caribbean Sea, where you can go snorkeling or swim with dolphins. There are hammocks to rest in, for those who don't care to swim. This area is so colorful, with the deep turquoise water of the sea, the flowers, and palm trees all around. It is truly the full tropical experience. Stop and take a rest there.
At the amphitheatre, there are various shows worth seeing. These actors, dancers and musicians put their whole hearts and souls into their performances. For example, when I was there, they had a showcase of the different regional dances of Mexico, along with each area's characteristic costumes. It was spectacular. They have evening performances on different themes, expertly lit for the full night effect. It is all educational and great family fun.
When at the park, don't forget to stop by the numerous restaurants and snack areas. In Mexico, the wait staff will go out of their way in grand style to take excellent care of you, so tip them well. These jobs are in high demand, so they are taken very seriously. If you want top quality service, try the restaurant near the ocean, for scenery and great food.
Since my time at XCaret years ago, it has surely grown even more since then. Whatever has been added is surely innovative and educational. This establishment is pure class, they know how to take care of their customers and treat them right. Make sure to see all the sights and exhibits. You will walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for the Yucatan peninsula, its history and nature.
About the Author
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats . Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer.