On our trip to Mexico we toured ruins from infamous Mayan civilizations of yesteryear including Chichen Itza, one of the wonders of the world! We swam in underground caves and sinkholes under the hot Mexican sun. We ate heavenly spiced rice and beans every night! But, even so, we loved playing at Xel-Há All Inclusive Park almost just as much as anything else we did in the Yucatán Peninsula.
► Ranking: #cleandiaper
Xel-Há All Inclusive Park
Carretera Chetumal – Puerto Juárez Km.
282 77780 Tulum
Quintana Roo, Mexico
Phone: +52 998 883 0524 | Toll Free From USA/Canada: 1-855-326-2696
Hours: 9am – 6pm
Price: Standard All Inclusive Admission $89.99 11 and older | $44.99 Kids 5 – 11 | Children under 5 Free (low season prices)
It’s impossible to spend anytime at all in the Yucatan Peninsula and not see the many signs and advertisements for the Xcaret Parks. In addition to Xel-Há, there is Xcaret, Xplor, Xichen, Xenotes, Xenses, Xoximilco, Xavage and probably more. Deciding between these many phenomenal parks was a bit overwhelming. We ultimately chose Xel-Há specially because of the 100 foot incredible lighthouse twisty water slide.
Xel-Há All Inclusive Water Park
and Nature’s Largest Aquarium
Pronounced shell-ha, and translated from the Mayan language to “where the water is born” this eco park was built in a freshwater inlet off the Caribbean Sea. The list of activities to do here are enormous, and in fact, there isn’t enough time during the day to really experience it all fully. You can be sure to enjoy every moment spent here and fill your day without a minutes break.
One very important distinction to note, both here at the Xel-Há Water Park and throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, is that patrons must use biodegradable sunscreen. They will not allow any other types of sunscreens at Xel-Há, or any other park, or at any of the cenotes. Upon entering the park, your bag will be searched and any other types of sunscreen will be confiscated. They sell specific approved types of sunscreen at the park if you find yourself in need. This is in a concerted effort to protect and preserve the reefs.
Immediately after this we found a Toucan taking pictures with guests! Even little guests! Ever since our stay in Aruba at the Hyatt Regency we have been enamored by these birds! We all took a turn meeting this splendid animal.
Family Hint: You aren’t allowed to take your own photos, so a level of subversion and angling may be necessary to avoid the alternate price of paying for them.
Following this, we walked past the Dolphin Cove and watched the dolphins peek out to say hello and swim around the pool. They were so beautiful to watch. Not quite as mesmerizing as in the wild, of course, but it was a fun little peek at their habitat at Xel-Há.
Restaurants at Xel-Há
The park opens an hour before the actual attractions which conveniently gives you enough time to enter the park, get a locker and eat breakfast without losing anytime on the attractions. Xel-Há is billed as an all inclusive, and you can definitely earn the price of admission spending the entire day at the restaurants and drinking virgin palomas by the water all day.
Breakfast is served at just one restaurant inside Xel-Há: Chulavista Restaurant. This is a two story restaurant with identical food served on both levels. It is a buffet with a full gamut of food from churros to burritos to sausage and eggs.
There is so much to experience and play at Xel-Há we hardly spent any time in the restaurants at all. Later in the day we took a break and again ate at Chulavista Restaurant out of convenience, and variety. We had a long list of attractions we wanted to get through and we hadn’t even played at the Children’s Playground yet.
Xel-Há has four restaurants total, three of which are open year round. In addition to Chulavista Restaurant, La Cocina del Pueblo Restaurant is a lunch buffet specializing in pork. La Terraza Restaurant, also a lunch buffet, specializes in hamburguesas. We’d had one too many burgeritos to know not to bother with this restaurant. Then there is Jardín Corona Restaurant, which is only open in high season, and serves a grilled meat buffet specializing in ribs. We would have loved to have eaten here had the timing been right.
Scenic Lighthouse and 100 foot Slide Slide at Xel-Há
After breakfast, we were just a few minutes into the park opening. The first thing we wanted to do was check out the reason we came: The Scenic Lighthouse Slide. From the top of the Lighthouse you can see amazing views of the park and the Caribbean Sea so the entire family headed to the Lighthouse and waited in line. We’d read that lines can stretch around the pathway leading to the slide and get super long so you definitely want to check this out right after breakfast to avoid wasting your day.
Or, you can skip it all together. It was not as impressive as we had hoped. The slide is long – 100 feet long and slow, so it’s not as thrilling as you’d hope. It’s just a long, wistful, leisurely ride to the bottom.
There are far better attractions at Xel-Há than the Lighthouse Slide. And, despite what the interwebs tells you, if you can’t ride the slide, you can’t go up and see the views. So, Eclair and I left the twins and Daddy at the slide and planned to meet them in the snorkeling cove.
Snorkeling at Xel-Há
Snorkeling at Xel-Há was truly incredible. It was one of our favorite activities at the park. We saw schools of fish in every imaginable color, and even a fish the size of Wally the Giant Maori Wrasse who we met while snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (coming soon). The fish swam over and through us and seemed to enjoy the activity as much as we did. It was the perfect experience for old and young, and Eclair, though an excellent swimmer, loved riding through the water on my back and peeking into the water whenever she chose, or when I would alert her of a new or special fish.
The snorkeling opportunities are not exclusive to the snorkeling cove. In fact the entire park is filled with beautiful and colorful fish. We spent almost two hours in the cove, returned our gear, and then went on to enjoy the rest of the park. Snorkeling equipment is included with the price of admission, including flippers, mask and snorkel and you get to keep your snorkel as a memento.
River Tour at Xel-Há
If we went back to the park again, we would eat breakfast, check out the Scenic Lighthouse Slide, and then we’d get our snorkeling gear and keep it with us throughout the day specifically so we’d have it during the River Tour activity. This is actually where we recommend heading directly after checking out the Scenic Lighthouse Slide for a few reasons.
The entire park is built around a freshwater inlet off the Caribbean Sea, with the River being the main focus. The River flows through the landscape creating all of the natural attractions throughout the park. Maneuvering the park is perfect from this vantage point because the main entrance to the River Tour begins at the far end of the park and offers access along the way not only to leisurely enjoy the afternoon, but snorkeling, cliff jumping, ziplines, rope swings and more.
Technically, you can enter the River Tour from any number of entrances, but the most impressive is the entrance we mentioned above – at the far end of the park. You’ll follow a long winding path through the jungle, seeing all the stops and activities along the way. We stopped at each activity on our way to the entrance, but if you bypass it all as you make your way to the entrance, you can make pit stops from the river itself. Trust us, you want to do it this way. From the River Tour, you comfortably relax on your tube, stay cool in the water, have a fabulous mode of transportation, and it breaks up the afternoon. Otherwise you are just floating down the River for an eternity wishing you hadn’t already done all these activities, then finally abandoning your tube and opting instead to swim to the end of the river beckoning the call of the siren in your stomach.
The River Tour entrance begins in a mangrove tunnel. There are guides who will provide you with a complimentary raft and get you started on your journey. As you begin to float down the River, you are completely enclosed by the mangrove trees that grow out of the water and intertwine above your head providing a full canopy. It is a beautiful and leisurely way to enjoy the park and take respite from the effort of swimming and the many activities there are to do in the park.
Eventually, the River Tour will take you all the way back to the main entrance areas after you’ve taken the opportunity to stop along the way and play at the many various activities. Additionally, If we’d had our snorkeling gear the entire time we could have enjoyed finding aquatic treasures throughout the entire park.
Zip-lines, Rope Swings, Trepachanga and Obstacle Course at Xel-Há
Of the activities that can be found on this side of the park parallel to the River Tour, are a trio of hanging, swinging and zipping thrills that are grouped fairly close together. If you enter from the land side, you’ll start with the zip-lines. If you enter from the river side, you’ll begin with trepachanga.
There are height requirements for some of these activities, but there doesn’t seem to be a fast and hard rule regarding when they are enforced. You can travel between the zip-lines, the rope swings and the trepachanga from the last activity completed. Different heights and skill levels will be the determining factor on how much you’ll enjoy and get out of each activity, but we found with a little help our kids could enjoy just about everything – plus there is a smaller version of the trepachanga at the Children’s playground.
Not listed on the maps, but the best feature at this stop is the obstacle course. It’s tucked behind the trepachanga, and east of the trio of zip lines. After swinging from the platform you traverse through obstacles requiring hanging, squeezing, slithering, sliding, and laughing! It was one of our favorite activities.
Jungle paths and Cliff Jumping at Xel-Há
We counted three cliff jumps of varying heights along the River Tour at Xel-Há, but the only advertised cliff jump is The Cliff of Courage. This cliff looms 5 meters / 16 feet above the sea. All three jumps are similar and offer a thrilling plunge into the deep water in front of an adoring audience of thousands of spectators who happen to also be enjoying the River Tour.
No surprise here being the thrill seekers we are, we loved the jumps. I opted out as I was pregnant, but the twins and Dad had a super fun time on each and every jump! Cliff Jumping can be found all over the world, but in Mexico there seems to be no shortage of options. At Xel-Há, the cliff jumps into the sparkling water were some of our favorites.
After jumping you have the option of either scaling the mountain cliff utilizing the prestructured footholds, or take the easy route by way of the rope ladder to climb back up. Once you’re done jumping, can ease your way back into the river and continue floating along.
Children’s Playground at Xel-Há
The Children’s Playground is not located along the River tour, but instead you’ll find it as you make your way through the Nature Walk. It is located as you first exit the main areas of the park, and head through the beautiful and immense jungle. It has an obstacle course, bridges that are interwoven between the trees, a crocodile that eats you, and a trepachanga with lily pads.
Truly, this is just as an impressive part of the park as anywhere else. Every activity you find elsewhere at Xel-Há, you’ll find a pint sized version at the Children’s Playground. There is a shallow pool, waterslides, hanging bridges in the trees with obstacle courses, swinging ropes, double seated swings, see-saws underground tunnels and sand!
Our children loved climbing through the trees and chasing each other through the netted courses, barely visible amongst the leaves of the trees as they called to us from high above our heads. They raced each other through the obstacle courses, across the playground, and over the lily pads to see who would get to the designated finish line first. Our children spent all day laughing and giggling and jumping in the water whenever they got too hot.
Cenotes at Xel-Há
Two of the advertised cenotes weren’t open during our visit, but you can find them near the mangrove tunnel entrance to the River Tour and both resembled some of the smaller cenotes we swam in at Cenote Cristalino. The one cenote we did find was across the floating bridge at the opposite end of the park and was located in an ancient Mayan cave.
This ancient cenote is found after swimming around a large rock formation in the middle of the water until reaching the cave. After swimming to the interior of the cave you’ll find it is flooded with light from a large hole that has formed in the ceiling of the cave. By the time we reached the cave the park had closed and it was time to start heading out. his was the last part of the park that we played at
Price/Admission at Xel-Há
The last thing you need to know about the park can make or break your visit. Figuring neither Eclair nor I would be able to participate in many of the activities, (her being three and myself seven months pregnant) originally the two of us were going to stay back at the airbnb. It goes without saying that when the day arrived to play at Xel-Há, staying home sounded incredibly boring. We figured since Eclair was free and I could spend the day in the water, (my perfect pregnancy day) we figured it would still be worth it. Turns out, I wasn’t limited from anything with the exception of the lighthouse slide, so my admission was well worth the price!
One thing to note is that there are several ways you can save off the price of admission. Purchasing online offers you 15% the standard admission, but you cannot use the ticket for seven days. You can attend timeshare presentations that offer free admission simply by selling your soul, or there are many vendors in Playa del Carmen that sell tickets for that same price as the discounted online admission but that also include transportation if you are not renting a car.
When you show up with your ticket you must have two things that are non negotiable.
- Photo ID
- The Credit Card Used for the Purchase
I cannot stress enough not to forget these two items. We neglected to read the requirements, which is fairly typical for us, and decided that because we were going to a water park we could cut down on the number of things we brought with us and could potentially lose and/or have stolen by having only Gabriel bring his ID and credit card.
Needless to say I didn’t have either 1. or 2. of the non-negotiable items to prove your ticket purchase. The attendant at the entrance booth was not amused. Luckily, I had a picture of my passport stored on my phone for emergencies! That worked for the ID portion. For the credit card, my husband and I have the same card with the same numbers, and although they didn’t like it and gave us a hard time, ultimately they accepted it.
The last hurdle was that we purchased the tickets online the night before, and should have had a seven day waiting period. However, they honored the ticket without even checking the date! Talk about good luck! Or, maybe they were just sick of arguing with us and took pity on us. Tickets are non transferable between persons, so we couldn’t sell them. They can be used at alternate parks, but we didn’t have another free day without plans. We also did have time to drive all the way back to the airbnb to get the required identification and still have any time to play at the park that day. So, had we been worse for wear, after all that, we also would have lost out on $300!
► For Kids: If you do anything in the Mexican Riviera, take your kids here. Xel-Há is the ultimate water playground and nature’s aquarium.
Did you play at one of the Xcaret parks in Mexico? Which one did you go to? Did you have as much fun as we did? We think it would be hard to beat the incredible experience we had at Xel-Há, but we’d love to hear which one we should try on our next adventure to the Mexican Riviera.
► Nap-time Version: Our soaking wet fun filled family day at Xel-Há in the Mexican Riviera swimming in the world’s largest aquarium.