No matter where you go here on the Mayan Riviera, you will without question see very alluring, bright advertising for some breathtaking places with some funny names. Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor. These are some of the Adventure Parks that are on the coast between Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Xplor is a true adventure park. Zip lines under waterfalls and through fire, driving buggies through the jungle, paddling underground rivers, it is pretty exreme. Xcaret is more based around culture and shows, and then Xel-Ha (pronounced Shell-Ha) is simply gorgeous. An enormous open mouth inlet style cenote that backs up into the jungle and mainland a few hundred meters and empties into the windy Caribbean, this place is worth a visit simply for the view. Xel Ha is all inclusive so you have no need to bring water, drinks, snacks or anything and the food is relatively good.
Xel Ha is the park closest to Tulum, just about 15-20 minutes north and is accessible by doing a tour, or you can save a few bucks, and buy the entrance ticket at the door, and get there by the local collectivo that runs between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Upon entry to XelHa you walk past the area where you can swim with the dolphins, which I have not done, as I do not support this, and then as you turn the corner past the first restaurant the view opens up into a gorgeous panorama view of the shining water just begging for you to jump in. This is where the excitement of being a little kid sets in. You cant move fast enough to lock up your stuff and go exploring.
View out to the Caribbean at XelHa Park, Mexico
Many of the activities come with an extra cost but the beauty is what you are there for. Around the bottom part of the cenote, you can do the little zip line into the water they have for free. Beauty about this is you dont need to harness up or wait for the "all clear" as people are coming and going rapidly and you just end the zip line by zipping into the gorgeous water.
After a few zips, a couple jumps off the cliffs, and a float back to the restaurants on the inner tubes, I decided to check out the other end of Xel Ha. Filling up with a White Russian I took the short walk to the Floating Bridge that spans the gab over the inlet out to the Caribbean. Like on the other side where you can swim with a manatee, here you can float around with sting rays for an extra cost. Travellers Tip: After a few beverages, be careful on the floating bridge! You will be able to notice who has been indulging in the included alcohol because they will either be falling over all the time, or the sway of the bridge will even out their drunken stumble and they will walk without falter. I suggest grabbing the beverage of your choice at the bar before the walk to the bridge and save it until you are near the bridge as there are a couple terrific little areas where you can sit on the chairs provided or simply a rock, and look out at the incredible view of the Caribbean expanding out in front of you and the inlet cenote behind you. Magic. This is what you came here for.
Happy as a pig in you know what - Xel-Ha, Riviera Maya, Mexico
On this side of the inlet, you can do some exploring. There are a couple little caves and a couple areas you can get back into the water and a few sink holes guarded off by rope, but you will definitely find less people over there if you want a little peace and quiet or any area to take some uninterrupted photo or video.
Deciding between the parks can be difficult, but it makes it easier when you define what it is you want to do. If you have the energy and want to do all the exciting things and go on a little search for adrenaline, then Xplor is your calling. If you want the culture, shows and beauty, then you want Xcaret. If you are looking for a place to really take your breath away, then Xel Ha is for you. There is something so gorgeous about this place, and yes, it is touristy, its a touristy park, I realize that, but when you find a little piece away from everyone, even for a minute, you can look around and feel a serious appreciation for the beauty of this area, and XelHa has it all rolled up into one place.