Xcaret: Mayan Ruins & Mexican Culture in the Jungle

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The Ruins of Xcaret

Squeezed between the Mayan jungle and the Caribbean Sea in the Mexican State of Quintana Roo you will find a set of ancient Mayan ruins called Xcaret. There are hundreds of archaeological sites scattered across Mexico, but Xcaret (pronounced shcaret) is something of an anomaly among all the other ruins.

The ruins of an ancient Mayan city can be found in the jungle surrounding the Xcaret theme park.

Building A Theme Park In The Jungle

Xcaret Park, not go be confused with the archeological site.

If you have ever travelled to the Mayan Riviera you have probably heard of Xcaret, but it was probably in the context of a theme part or tour and not an archaeological site. The modern history of Xcaret begins in the 1980s when a Mexican businessman bought some land in the Mayan Riviera and discovered numerous cenotes. He began developing the land as a tourist attraction. From humble beginnings Xcaret has developed into a major theme park and tourist attraction that is well known throughout the Yucatan peninsula. As the original park at Xcaret grew and expanded, so did the vision of its owners, who eventually established Grupo Xcaret, which has developed a vast portfolio of tourist offerings in Yucatan and Quintana Roo. To date Grupo Xcaret manages eight theme parks, five different tours, and a set of three Xcaret branded resorts.

Restoring The Ruins At Xcaret

What might surprise people familiar with the name Xcaret is that Xcaret is actually an archaeological site. Before
the parks, the tours, long before Grupo Xcaret existed, the site of Xcaret was a Mayan settlement. As modern day Xcaret was developing and expanding the owners worked together with the Mexican government to restore the ruins of the Mayan settlement and establish it as an archaeological site.

A Tale Of Two Xcarets

Xcaret the theme park and Xcaret the archaeological site are two distinct entities. Each of them has their own unique draws, and accessing one does not require (or preclude) accessing the other.

The theme park is managed by Grupo Xcaret and offers a variety of cultural and ecological attractions, including swimming and snorkeling in cenotes, lagoons, underground rivers that dot the park, parasailing, swimming with sharks and dolphins, wine tasting, and the Mexico Espectacular, which is an exhibition of traditional performances from across Mexico. Entrance to the theme park ranges from around $100-200 USD depending on the chosen package. If you are looking for fun in the sun, the park offers a ton of different activities and caters mainly to American tourists visiting Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Xcaret Total Admission
Activities at Xcaret Park include the Sea Trek, where you can walk on the seabed using an underwater helmet!

The ruins at Xcaret are managed by the INAH, Mexico’s government agency tasked with the maintenance and preservation of the country’s extensive historical sites. The ‘zona arqueologica’ has a separate entrance from the park. If you enjoy learning about history, and would like to learn more about the rich Mayan heritage of the region I would recommend getting a guided tour of the site. If you’re on a budget, or aren’t interested in theme park attractions you can get admission to the archaeological site for just 75 pesos (about $3 US dollars) and avoid the hefty theme park admission.

The ruins at Xcaret are surrounded by the Mayan jungle. Credit: Juan Carlos Garcia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Getting There

The theme park and archaeological site are both located a little south of the city of Playa del Carmen, about midway between Playa and Tulum. If you are planning to attend the theme park Xcaret operates many buses all around the area and it shouldn’t be difficult to arrange a shuttle from somewhere near where you’re staying – front desk staff can usually help with this. If you’re only planning to visit the archaeological site you will still be able to take a bus, but it won’t be a Grupo Xcaret shuttle bus. From Playa you can take a taxi or public bus to the site. If you’re coming from Cancun or Tulum you can get an ADO bus to the site for around $5-10 USD (ADO buses are also available from Playa).

ADO buses are very comfortable, and quite affordable.
Xcaret operates many shuttles around the area.

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