When the princely white Arabian stallion fell in a puddle in the middle of the sprawling arena, we thought our perfectly planned day on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico had crashed to the floor along with the horse. In an instant, people in the stadium were on their feet, craning their necks to see what had happened. All human breathing stopped for a long, long moment during this white-knuckle event.
The horses were all part of the show at Xcaret (pronounced eesh-carette) – one a chestnut mare, the other a white Arabian stallion – and they had proudly entered the arena just minutes before with their gaucho riders who were ready to show us their lariat skills.
When the accident happened we were at the nighttime Mayan Culture Show at Xcaret, an extravagantly staged world-class spectacle depicting early Mayan life. Games using balls aflame, folk dancing, and mariachi bands were all there in dazzling color and sound.
Occasional downpours had marred the humid, tropical day, and a leak in the arena’s roof created a puddle the size of a hula hoop on the floor. Down went the white stallion after sliding on the slippery floor, and the rider, too. He tried to help the horse to its feet, but the stallion’s hooves kept sliding on the wet floor.
The audience became a still life scene until seconds later the horse’s trainer ran out from a hidden entryway under the bleacher seats. The rider motioned for a trainer to loosen the saddle, and when he did the horse righted himself. Thunderous applause rose throughout the stadium, and the show went on without further ado.
Xcaret: Mayan Riviera’s Playground For All Ages
Xcaret is a magical paradise both day and night, fallen horse or not. For about $45 for a half-day visit, ticketholders get to experience all the park has to offer, from snorkeling in natural sinkholes called cenotes (pronounced sea-no-tays), to exploring orchid and butterfly farms – plus the nighttime show, which is worth the price of admission itself. (A full-day ticket is about $99 U.S.)
A bird’s eye view of the sprawling eco-park can be seen from a rotating scenic tower 262 feet above the ground. From here, visitors can see everything the park has to offer, from the white bell tower of St. Francis of Assisi Chapel to the inlet, beach, underground rivers, and lagoon to the stunning green aromatic tropical jungle and palapa roofs.
There’s no shortage of activities to enjoy at Xcaret. Visitors can swim with the dolphins – or even sharks, if they dare – go on a sea trek or snorkel tour or simply settle their backsides into a black inner tube and float down a lazy river.
Xcaret promotes environmentally friendly practices that are making a difference in the world.
The Marine Turtle Area, for instance, just steps away from the Coral Reef Aquarium. Both are dedicated to the conservation and protection of these marine gems throughout the Mayan Riviera and worldwide.
Performances are also held throughout the day, like the generations-old tradition Voladores de Papantla (Flying Men), a ceremony dedicated to the solar deity thought to provide fertility and abundant harvest. While sampling Mexican fare at Fiesta Charra, guests are also treated to a performance of charros and cowboys displaying their acrobatic skills while on horseback.
Visitors who wish to explore Xcaret beyond a day or two might consider booking accommodations at the upscale Occidental Grand Xcaret, an all-inclusive hotel featuring 769 guest rooms starting at $124 per night. But it’s not necessary to stay next door to Xcaret to enjoy the property. The park is only a 20-minute drive from Playa Del Carmen and about a 40-minute drive from Cancun.
Ruins in Tulum
Visitors to this area might also want to see the ruins in Tulum. Guides teach everything about the ancient Mayan civilization, which relied heavily on advanced mathematics and astronomy to construct pyramids, temples and other structures and now stand in ruins. The beach below Tulum’s high cliffs is a gorgeous white ribbon of sand set before a pounding turquoise surf. The beach has been rated by Conde Naste as one of the ten best in the world and a half-day tour gives plenty of time to body surf in the warm crystalline water.
Playa del Carmen
No trip to the Mayan Riviera would be complete without a short visit to Playa del Carmen for shopping and eating at an outdoor restaurant or enjoying a margarita at an outdoor pub. Most hotels provide shuttle service to and from the town where friendly merchants offer all things Mexican–turquoise jewelry, sombreros, ponchos and cigars and, of course, tequila. Oh, and they’re willing to haggle over prices, too. And if you still say no? It’s okay. They’ll still smile brightly and say, “Tenga un buen dia!” (Have a good day!)
Heading to Cancun or the Mayan Riviera? Check out my printable packing checklist for Cancun!
Best Cenote Tours
Prefer an organized tour rather than exploring on your own? Below are the best cenote tours as well as tours that include a cenote visit.
- Coba Mayan Ruin, Mayan Chocolate Tasting & Tankach-Ha cenote
- Ik-kil cenote & Chichen Itza Ruins Tour
- Tulum and Cenote Dos Ojos Tour
Cancun with Kids – Tour Recommendations
- The best kid-friendly tour in Cancun is the Cenote Day Tour which takes you to four amazing cenotes where you will swim, snorkel, and zipline. (Kids need to be 6 years or older.) Swimming in a cenote (a sinkhole filled with cool fresh water) is the highlight of any trip to the Yucatan and this is an easy way to see four really unique ones. Tour includes hotel pickup, lunch, snorkel gear, and life vests.
- Another fun kid-friendly tours is the Tulum Ruins & Turtle Swim Combo Tour. This 6-hour package combines 2 amazing activities. First, you’ll step back in time at the Tulum Mayan ruins. Later, you’ll swim and snorkel close to the marine turtles and a variety of multi-colored fish in the protected environment of the Caribbean sea.
The Best Time To Visit Cancun
Cancun is a good year-round destination but the best weather for a family vacation is between December and April. Summer can get fairly hot and late summer also adds the possibility of hurricanes. You can visit the cenotes of the Yucatan any time of year.
Recommended Cancun Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Best Hotels in Cancun (Reviews): TripAdvisor
Read More About Mexico
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Where to Eat, Play and Stay: Top Things to do in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico
3 Day Baja Mexico Cruise from Long Beach on Carnival Imagination
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Gail worked in the newspaper industry for fifteen years before launching her own full-service communications company, WordPower, in 2002. She brings a high degree of integrity, innovation and successful strategic planning to a diverse client base. Her specialties include media relations; writing, editing and graphic design; event management and corporate training. Her writing specialties include travel and tourism, finance and education. She is a resident of Wakefield, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband, Tony.