Mexico's new-found popularity with tourists isn't just confined to the glorious beaches and streets filled with carnival celebrations. It's also getting a reputation as a major eco-tourism destination too. And it's hardly surprising, when you consider the fabulously rich ecology of this diverse and fascinating country. Half zoo, half theme park, Xcaret Eco Theme Park is perhaps best described as a 300-acre playground. Featuring jungles, beaches, rivers and animals, an excursion to the Xcaret Theme Park is a truly memorable experience. Combine the jungles and rainforests with a healthy dose of mysterious ancient history, and add a sprinkling of traditional culture and you have the wonderful Xcaret Eco Theme Park. It takes you away from the usual water parks and tourist traps, and gives you a real taste of both the culture and history of Mexico, as well as a great chance to explore its flora and fauna, too.
An eco-park filled with wonderPronounced ”essh-caret,' this once sacred Mayan site has been transformed into a gigantic eco-archaeological complex. In 1984, a group of Mexican entrepreneurs bought the land, and discovered ”cenotes' or sinkholes. They found that their five hectares of Mexican rainforest also included incredible underground caves and rivers, making this a unique and fascinating spot. Formed over millions of years, the caves, cenotes, and surrounding jungle has been preserved and sympathetically developed over the last thirty years, to create an eco-park that safeguards some incredibly important habitats, as well as giving you the chance to experience a real-life rainforest.
Ancient civilisationsIf the natural wonders weren't reason enough to open up a park, a group of archaeologists then uncovered the remains of Mayan pyramids ” and they quickly realised they were in authentic ”Indiana Jones' territory! The developers were determined to share not just the natural, but the historical marvels of this very special location, and so the Xcaret Eco Park was born. Close to Cancun but well away from the usual tourist hot-spots, Xcaret Park is a great way to experience a different side of Mexico, as well as supporting a UNESCO-approved eco-park that puts conservation at the heart of the visitor experience. You'll be surrounded by some of the most incredible natural beauty, see secret temples and ruins, and experience the colour, tastes, sounds and music of this vibrant part of Mexico.
Cultural attractionsIf you've never heard of the Mayans before (they were the ones with the calendar that predicted the end of the world in 2012!), then prepare to learn all about a complex and advanced civilisation with an amazing culture, incredible art, and some slightly bloodthirsty religious practices. You can find out about this lost civilisation in the spectacular Gran Tlachco theatre, and even watch a Mesoamerican ballgame. Think racquetball but using your hips rather than your feet or hands to keep a solid rubber ball in play. Part ritual, part sport, it's been played in this region of Mexico for thousands of years. It paid to be on the winning side, though, as losers often wound up as sacrifices for the local gods! Today's version of the game is a little less bloodthirsty, but it usually has the 6,000-capacity crowd on their feet! If you want to learn more about the art of the region, you can wander around a replica of an authentic Mayan village, or explore the museum. Look out for demonstrations of native dances, and the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). You'll be genuinely astounded at the sheer bravery and skill of these amazing dancers, who perform at the top of a 30-metre pole! There's even an authentic Mexican cemetery that, if you'll pardon the pun, comes alive during the famous Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations at the end of October.
Natural wondersFrom beaches to secret underground rivers, the natural attractions of this eco-park include plenty of opportunities for you to experience the wildlife of Mexico. The park has its own beach, where you can snorkel and explore the colourful coral reefs. There's even a turtle nesting site on the beach, and if you're here at the right time you might even see the next generation of baby turtles make the mad dash to the water's edge under the light of a full moon. In the park itself you'll discover birds, butterflies, bats and even the continent's largest big cat, the jaguar ” an animal still regarded as sacred by the native people.
Little people welcome!From amazing adventures to wonderful water slides that sends the kids sliding right through the middle of a jungle, there's plenty to see and do for the little ones. The Secret Adventure course takes them through tunnels and across hanging bridges, past waterfalls and through labyrinths to challenge and entertain them. Say hello to the colourful parakeets, or cool off in a cenote with its very own waterfall. For tiny tots there's a paddling pool, sandbox, and plenty of activities to keep the little ones happy all day long.
Feeling peckish?The park has a great range of food outlets, letting you try some authentic Mexican and Mayan dishes. If you prefer something a little less spicy then there are plenty of international food outlets here too, from burgers to pizza. From gourmet meals to on-the-go snacks, a light lunch, or a taste of ancient Mayan cuisine, you'll never go hungry on a visit to Xcaret Eco Park.
Day to nightCome sundown the park has a new form of entertainment with spectacular shows featuring Mayan rituals, music, dancing acrobatics and stories to keep you amused. The "Xcaret Mexico Espectacular" is a celebration of light and colour, with 300 artists and an astonishing light show that takes you on a tour of the history of Mexico. It's a relaxing experience and the perfect way to soak up the evening atmosphere with friends and family after all the fun filled activities in the daytime.
The ultimate experience of Mexican cultureXcaret Eco Theme Park packs in so much, one visit is never enough. It's a must-do addition to any holiday to Cancun, and an essential part of your Mexican experience. If you want to see natural wonders alongside ancient monuments, gasp as dancers spin over your head 30 meters in the air, or watch a game that dates back thousands of years, Xcaret Park has it all.