Xel-Ha: Aquatic Paradise
Mexico is a top student tour destination, and for good reason. Language immersion. Historical sites. Beautiful beaches and scenery. And let’s not forget, budget friendly. My family had the opportunity for a quick getaway to Costa Mujeres over spring break. As our first “big” trip since COVID, it did not disappoint. One of the highlights was Xel-Ha, a “commercial, aquatic theme park and ecotourism development”. It’d been on my to do list for years, so having the chance to bring my own kids was a win win.
Location and Amenities
Our home base for this trip was in Costa Mujures, an area about 45 minutes north of Cancun where new resorts are popping up quickly. It felt a bit remote and much less developed and crowded than the hotel zone of Cancun. Xel-Ha was a good 2+ hour drive south from Costa Mujeres. If your group is staying more centrally in Cancun, count on about an hour and a half drive. If you’re based in Playa del Carmen, it’s about 45 minutes away. Tulum (where you can check out Mayan ruins) is about 15-20 minutes away and is a good activity to pair with Xel-Ha if you’ve got time.
The park itself is all-inclusive, which means a few less meals for you and your tour director to have to navigate. There are a handful of restaurants on property that serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the food runs the gamut from typical “American” style foods (chicken nuggets, macaroni, hamburgers) to foods with an international flare. We were never hungry. The majority of activities are included in the ticket price. Additionally, the park provides towels and snorkeling equipment and offers free wifi, lockers, and showers.
Xel-Ha is a natural inlet and was used in pre-Columbian days as a harbor. Multiple underground rivers and cenotes surround the inlet, and make for a relatively calm spot for your group to swim, snorkel, and explore. While Xel-Ha provides life jackets, it is necessary for everyone to know how to swim. The majority of the activities are water-based so this is mandatory. The park provides snorkeling equipment (fins, mask, and snorkel that you can keep).
We opted to snorkel from the beginning of the river and met some local wildlife in the form of fish and iguanas. You can also choose either a single or double innertube and instead float down the river into the inlet. There are several spots where you hop off the river to try a different activity. The Cliff of Courage is one such spot. You climb up a 16 wall and jump! Another place to hop off is the ropes course, which my kids loved. We spent a lot of time here. There is an obstacle type course, which is harder than it looks, in addition to several ziplines.
Another highlight for one of my kids was the Scenic Lighthouse, pictured below. Climb to the top and simply take in the view or take one of four waterslides back down. While my daughter and husband rode the waterslides, my son and I chose to explore the replica of a Mayan Village and the plant nursery. We made lots of iguana friends.
There’s quite a lot to do at Xel-ha and we didn’t even get to all the included activities while we were there. In addition to those experiences, which kept us busy all day, there are caves and cenotes to explore, complimentary bikes, and a rope swing.
Have some extra money to spend? Well, you’re in luck because Xel-Ha also offers optional activities that your students can purchase separately. Want to swim with dolphins, stingrays, or manatees? Maybe you want to “snuba” (a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving)? Zip bikes? Yes, please. Make sure that you talk to your students and their parents prior to departure about these activities. They’re aren’t super cheap, so it makes sense for your students set aside some money if they have their heart set on one. However, I will say, there is plenty to do at Xel-Ha without paying extra for the optional experiences.
Pencil It In
If your group is in the Yucatan, Xel-Ha is a must do in my opinion. I’ve written previously about building some “downtime” into your itinerary. This is the perfect way to do that. You’ll spend a full, active day at the park, swimming, snorkeling, ziplining, and more. It’s a nice brain break for the students, and let’s be honest, for you as the group leader!