Copy my trip: Hotel Xcaret México in Playa del Carmen

Lonely Planet destination editor Melissa Yeager recently traveled to Playa del Carmen to take in the relaxing natural beauty of one of its ecoresorts. Here, she shares some tips and insights for anyone planning a similar trip.

Inevitably there are destinations and hotels you come across that you immediately think, in the words of Liz Lemon: “I want to go to there.”

That feeling washed over me when I first saw the images of the Hotel Xcaret swirling on social media several years ago. I combed through dozens of prospective dates, but it was booked solid and I had to let the dream of swimming through the turquoise waters of Xcaret’s stalactite-gilded underground rivers drift from my mind. 

The first Xcaret (pronounced Ish-cah-ret) opened as a natural eco-park in 1990 in Playa del Carmen, a little more than an hour’s drive from Cancun International Airport. Architect Miguel Quintana Pali originally intended to build his dream home on the property, but as he started clearing the land for construction, he discovered cenotes, underground rivers and Mayan ruins on the site. Instead of keeping it for himself, he developed it into Mexico’s first eco-park and a tribute to his country and culture. 

View looking up from the cenote in the river swim at Xplor Park at Xcaret © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

In recent years, the popular Grupo Xcaret’s portfolio has grown to include five theme parks and three luxury all-inclusive resorts that provide not only all your food, drink and activities on the property but also theme park entrance as well. 

So when Xcaret invited me to check out the property, it was an immediate yes. But I wondered: would it live up to the hype? Would the theme parks be natural wonders or “Disney-fied” versions of the real thing?  Here’s what I experienced. 

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

I stayed in the original Hotel Xcaret México resort – the largest of the properties with 900 rooms sprawled over five buildings, all recessed delicately among the lush river and beachfront landscape.  

River-level rooms at Hotel Xcaret México in Playa del Carmen allow guests to dive from their balcony and swim the river running through the resort © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

With that many rooms, you would think the resort would feel crowded. And it does in the lobby, where you get a sense of just how many people are staying at this resort. However, the frenetic movement of people checking in and baggage delivery is confined to that area.  Once you enter the stunning greenery and waterways of the resort,  you often forget that this is a large place. It has a chic atmosphere and plenty of quiet places to relax. 

A chapel on a hill overlooks the ocean at Hotel Xcaret México © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

The resort tries to match its guests to appropriate rooms by looking at the ages of people staying in the room. Often, they’ll group families with smaller children near each other and in places with activities suitable for those ages (there’s a wading pool with a nearby kid-friendly buffet and a bar with a view of the pool for parents).  Meanwhile, they have an adults-only building (along with their adults-only property Hotel Xcaret Arte) with an exclusive rooftop pool boasting a bar and an Instagram-worthy clear tunnel to swim through. 

Xcaret is a luxury, five-diamond resort with a price tag to match, ranging from US$650-1000 a night. But, before sticker shock sets in,  I’d encourage you to do some math here to see if it is within your budget. Entrance fees for the parks and all activities on the resort (paddleboarding, kayaking, floating the river) are included along with your food, beverages (including alcohol), room service and transit to/from the airport. 

Best thing you ate? 

A couple sitting under lanterns in the bar area of Cantina restaurant in Hotel Xcaret México © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

The food at the resort is all-inclusive, and there are 35 restaurants available ranging from carts in multiple locations replicating Mexico’s beloved street food scene to a Mercado with handmade, fresh tortillas. 

But one restaurant in particular stood out – HA’ (Maya for water). A creation of chef Carlos Gaytán, its seven-course tasting menu is newly minted with a Michelin star and is open to the public. The upcharge required to dine here is one of the few you’ll encounter in the resort. 

Escamoles (insect caviar) at HA’ in Hotel Xcaret México in Playa del Carmen © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

It costs US$150, but if you love fine dining and wine, it’s an incredible experience considering the price point. Every round – the Wagyu, the Beignet, the Filet Mignon – is a culinary delight. However, the standout on the menu for me was the escamoles (insect caviar). Well-seasoned and tasty, it’s unique to this destination and a great introduction to insects if you’ve never tried them before. 

Stalactites above blue waters in the river swim at Xplor Park © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

What was your favorite experience on the trip?

By far the rivers around the resort and in the Xplor park. It was the most tranquil experience. Suit up in a life jacket (and helmet at Xplor) and float. In Xplor, I loved the serenity of floating in the turquoise, transparent waters while admiring the stalactites decorating the ceiling overhead. The river was outdoors at the resort and floating was a great way to cool off on a hot afternoon and notice little details – a waterfall, a waterslide, hammocks in caves. It was a truly enchanting experience. 

View of the dock where the

What was the most touristy thing you did? 

Xoximilco. That’s not a typo. The “ch” has been replaced by the Xcaret “X” and yes, the evening, party-atmosphere boat float is inspired by the real floating gardens of Xochimilco, the UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico City.  The park does not try to be the same as the real Xochimilco (how could it be?) but aims to replicate the cultural and communal spirit of the original. 

Having experienced both, I think the Xoximilco experience gives that same vibe of heading out on the trajineras (gondolas) for a day of celebration, but these are tailored to a luxury guest experience with much fancier vessels than the ones in CDMX – think coolers filled with beer, sodas and premixed cocktails and a three-course meal as well as the boat being cleaned between stops. Still, the experience replicates the warmth of community, music and dancing that makes the original such a memorable occasion. 

The boats float to different stations hosting Mariachi and traditional Mexican music, while your guide encourages you to dance, eat and drink. If you’re traveling as a group, it would be a great way to kick off the trip.

What is the one thing that you did not expect?

So many joyful moments of sweet surprises dotted around the resort and parks. In the lobby, there’s a cart with popsicles. While floating in the river surrounding the resort, we discovered caves with hammocks and a hidden water slide. Relaxing at the pool, suddenly a band playing the xylophone appeared. In the Xenses theme park, we emerged from one of the attractions to discover a lemon tree where you could get a small cup of crisp, cool limonada to enjoy. These delights are spread around the resort like confetti, so make sure to keep your eyes open. 

Guests can swim in the rivers surrounding the Hotel Xcaret © Melissa Yeager / Lonely Planet

What was the handiest thing you packed?

Water shoes, an SPF shirt and a waterproof case for my phone. All came in useful multiple times. The SPF shirt freed me from having to endlessly reapply sunscreen while in the park. 

My packing regret is not bringing some fast-drying shorts to wear at the theme parks. You’re moving from water slides and underground rivers to zip lines, and wearing shorts instead of swimsuit bottoms would have been much more comfortable.

Best tip for someone who wants to plan the same trip?

I have a few to share. First, book in advance. The property is proud of its high occupancy rates so plan ahead to get the dates you want. 

Second, make your reservations for the spa and specialty restaurants early, as these fill up. Don’t worry, there are plenty of spots to eat, but if you want to get into one of the specialty places, think ahead. 

Finally, take advantage of all the selfie cameras positioned around the resort. Scan your bracelet and the prepositioned camera will snap your photo. Then, when you go to your room at the end of the night, turn on the TV and the resort has a channel where you can view your photos. Grab a glass of wine and laugh with your travel companions at all your silly snapshots from the day.

Melissa stayed at Hotel Xcaret México and visited the related parks on an invitation from the resort. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive reviews.  

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