Though there is plenty of excitement to be found within the bustling Hotel Zone of Cancun, ecotourists and adventurous families have long enjoyed the city for its unique day-trip opportunities and proximity to diverse natural sights. Located 60 miles from Cancun, the eco-park known as Xel Ha has quickly become one of the area’s top destinations. Known primarily for its incredible array of water sport activities, the eco-park is also an excellent relaxation destination, as it boasts secluded beaches, dense rainforests and a lengthy maze of placid rivers and lagoons. Additionally, like many of Cancun’s best day trip opportunities, Xel Ha caters to all ages and is remarkably easy to reach from the Hotel Zone.
As it is located along a picturesque stretch of the Caribbean coast, water sports stand as the park’s biggest draw. One of the most popular activities – the Dolphin Swim – is staged within a scenic lagoon near the shore. The park employs several experienced dolphin trainers that have helped these gentle animals learn a number of games and impressive tricks. They offers two distinct programs at the lagoon: one that allows visitors of all ages to interact and play with the trained dolphins and a fully-interactive experience that allows swimmers to the be pushed along the surface of the water. Visitors that want to see dolphins in their natural habitat can also sign up for the Delphinus Trek tour, a guided underwater walk with armored, deep-sea-style suits and oxygen systems. The park also offers a similar Sea Trek program that explores a vibrant area of coral reefs and tropical fish.
Crystal-clear lagoons similar to the dolphins’ home can be found throughout, as the park rests atop a major section of the Yucatan Peninsula’s famous underwater river system. The numerous lagoons and cenotes – surface openings that provide access to a maze of rivers and caverns – can be explored by travelers during snorkeling or scuba diving tours. The park also offers snorkel and scuba tours along the Caribbean coast, allowing visitors to witness some of the Mayan Riviera’s most impressive offshore destinations. Regardless of where visitors choose to explore the park’s underwater sights, a vast array of tropical fish species and other underwater creatures will always be on display. A snorkeling school is also available for those new to the sport, where young explorers and first-time snorkelers can learn basic techniques and receive hands-on instruction. The rivers and lagoons can also be explored by kayak, while special destinations such as Stingray City allow visitors to interact with some of the Caribbean’s most fascinating creatures.
Despite the seemingly endless water sport opportunities available, there are also plenty of activities for visitors hoping to stay dry. One of the most popular destinations is the secluded white-sand beach located along the Caribbean shoreline. Much like the beaches of Cancun, the beach at Xel-Ha is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery that made the Mayan Riviera famous. Those in search of outdoor relaxation should also visit Hammock Island, a scenic area overlooking the dolphin pools that features a full-service bar, while the vast jungle of the park is home to activities and opportunities such as the Jungle Train bus tour, numerous mountain biking trails and preservation projects such as the park’s plant nursery and apiary. After experiencing the natural sights, visitors can find locally-produced souvenirs at the park’s several boutiques or enjoy massages and other treatments at the park’s scenic, environmentally-conscious spa known as the Xpa.
The park also boasts a remarkable history, as the area served as a vital port for the Mayan city of Coba. Just inside the main entrance to the park, visitors will find a small collection of Mayan ruins, including some structures that are yet to be fully excavated. Near the shoreline, visitors can visit the Mayan Wall, a remnant of a protective fortress that dates to the height of the Mayan Kingdom. Xel Ha also played an important role in colonial history, as the Spanish conquistadors used the fertile area as a base for expeditions into the Yucatan Peninsula.
Though Xel Ha is located 60 miles from Cancun along a remote stretch of the Mayan Riviera, the park has become a convenient day-trip destination. The park operates a private shuttle that picks visitors up each morning along Boulevard Kukulkan, the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone. After enjoying a day at the park, the shuttle returns day trippers to their Cancun resorts around 7 PM. Travelers with rental cars or other forms of transportation can visit Xel Ha every day throughout the year from 8:30 AM to 6 PM.
Families hoping to experience the natural beauty of the Cancun area need not look any further than the conveniently-located Xel Ha. Boasting some of Mexico’s best preserved and most diverse ecological sights, Xel Ha has quickly become one of the top ecotourism and outdoor recreation destinations in the country. As the park also features affordable entrance and tour rates year-round, Xel Ha stands as one of the best sightseeing values in the Mayan Riviera.