Monday, January 18, 2016

Mayan Riviera Day 6: Xplor Adventure Park

January 6, 2016

We woke up early and fed ourselves a breakfast of granola bars before heading out in Matt to begin one of our most anticipated excursions to the adventure park Xplor. The adventure parks are one of the most popular and famous tourist attractions in the area, and are all interconnected with the same company. Xcaret is the oldest and most famous, but Xplor has the most thrills for the adrenaline-seeker, and being rollercoaster enthusiasts, we felt this was the best fit. With park admission, you get all-inclusive food and beverage, and unlimited access to the attractions which included ziplining, rafting, driving amphibious vehicles, and cave swimming. We knew that it would be a long day and we wanted to get started early, so we arrived right when the park opened at 9:00am.

I was very impressed with the overall efficiency of the establishment. You can tell it is a well-oiled tourist machine, and the execution was very well done, kind of comparable to Disneyland. We descended below ground from the parking lot and entered a series of caves, with check in situated at the front. Lines were clearly marked for those who had bought tickets in advance, and the attendant was very thorough in checking our credit cards, IDs, and giving us complete information on what to expect from the day. We were issued helmets with numbers on them that we were to wear the whole day for our protection, but they also contained microchips that triggered the cameras all throughout the park to capture a variety of moments, which was great. We bought the photo package in advance and you can run around and get as many photos taken as you want, and then they let you download them to your computer in high resolution once you get home. We were also given a locker key on a nifty little wristband so we could keep our stuff dry and secure, because this was more of a water park than I actually realized.

The park sprawls through the jungle with shaded paths and underground caves to help you get around, with an enormous heart sculpture (El Corazon) at the center, where you can find bathrooms, dressing rooms, showers, and lockers.

El Corazon

We deposited our belongings in said lockers (color coded and numbered in a way that would appeal to any organization-o-phile), and followed the signs to the amphibious vehicles. I had read online that you should do these first so no other people are on the course, because otherwise you will go very slowly. These were kind of like little ATV off road vehicles that we drove on a dirt course through the jungle, down through caves, tight turns, etc. Todd, of course, drove, and because we literally saw no one else on the course, we got to go fast and crazy! It was so much fun…kind of like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but with much more freedom. The course was also much longer than expected, and almost entirely shaded, which was really nice to avoid a sunburn.

Our next stop was ziplining, which I had never done before. They put you in a line by group, give you instructions for the full course, and then fit you individually with a harness. There are 2 courses you can take, and you can do one or the other, or both, but you have to do it all at one time because once you take off your harness, you can’t come back and do it again (though honestly, I don’t know how they would know…they don’t mark you off or anything). The first course we went on was the longest, with super high ziplines. We zipped from tower to tower, all over the park, with spectacular views. I was nervous at first, but I was surprised how not-scary it actually is. I think many of the roller coasters I have been on are way scarier, and you feel really secure in those and less like you might fall and die. But it was great! I would definitely do it again, and the course had far more lines than I expected. On the very last line, there is a water landing, and you zip right down into a pool of water after going through a waterfall, which is definitely not my favorite. I hate getting my head wet after a childhood full of ear surgeries and serious infections, and any water in my ears, even as an adult, is still bad news. But hey, it’s always good to step outside of your comfort zone, right?

Now soaking wet, we got back in line for the second course, which was shorter but faster, and unfortunately had not one but two water landings, as well as a full water slide, which was HORRIBLE. Todd absolutely loved it, but for me, the water gushing over my face mid-slide, plus landing in the pool and trying to swim out, unable to see from water in my contacts…oh goodness, not my favorite. But for those who love water slides, this would be great.

Both of us hitting the water landing at the same time

After ziplining, we were obviously soaking wet, and also starving. The whole zipline process takes an hour and a half, with lots of climbing towers between lines, and we decided to head to the restaurant for lunch. They were very organized, with hostesses directing you to different sections of long wooden picnic tables with hooks on the edge to hang your helmets, and the food is laid out buffet-style, much like on a cruise ship, with different sections for traditional Mexican food, more Americanized hot food, salad bar, dessert bar, soups, beverages, pizza, soft serve ice cream machines, etc. I was actually impressed with how good the food was for such a large scale tourist attraction. My favorite part was all of the interesting salad dressings: mango vinaigrette, guava vinaigrette, strawberry vinaigrette, and I tried the kiwi vinaigrette, which was actually awesome.

As I mentioned before, much of the park is underground in caves that naturally occur in the area, and paths have been created for you to get from one part of the park to the other, and you can see all of the natural shapes created with the stalactites and stalagmites, with many picture-taking opportunities along the way. We made our way down through the caves to go rafting next, even though the reviews online had said this activity was more frustrating than fun. We boarded a 2 person “raft” (more like a plastic open kayak type thing), and paddled through an underground river using these hand paddles that were super awkward, but not as horrible as online reviews suggested. The poor guy in front of us was having tremendous problems steering and we often got held up, but it was nice to sit back and relax, checking out the cave scenery. A bat even flew by, so close to our heads! But man, it was a workout.

On our way to the final activity, we found this cool little place…I don’t know what you could call it…a cove? A hut? That looked like you were going into a snake’s mouth, and inside was a counter laid out with all kinds of bananas and oranges and other fruit, and people could just walk up, grab some, have a snack, and continue on their way. Since it was all-inclusive, no need for an attendant…just come and go as you please. And nearby was a rest area with lounge chairs and hammocks in the sun so you could take a break and relax. Very cool. I wish I took photos.

The last activity was swimming in an underground river through the caves. It’s mandatory to wear a life jacket (and good thing, too, since we all know I can’t swim to save my life…literally), so we suited up and headed on out. It’s very free-form, and you have control to go basically at your own pace, but they do have lifeguards who swim around to make sure you stay on course. When we didn’t have other people near us, it was a magical experience. But inevitably a loud group of Italian tourists, or a small child sing-yelling a song in Spanish nonstop would come too close, and we would hide in a nook until they passed. There were a couple waterfalls you had to swim under to get through the course (ugh), including a fierce one at the very end, but when you get through, you look up and you are in the center of one of the huge spiral towers that goes up to the tallest zipline, with waterfalls coming down in a full circle all around you. It was actually really cool, and we desperately wished we had our underwater camera for this moment, as well as for some of the cave scenes, but going all the way back to the lockers and then coming back to swim through the caves all over again seemed like a lot of work and a long day. After going through yet another waterfall to get out of the river (blah…enough with the waterfalls!) we decided that we should call it a day.

Winding through the cave paths, stopping for photo opps along the way, we eventually made it back to the lockers and changed in the dressing rooms into our dry clothes. These guys really think of everything…they even had rolls of plastic bags—like in the produce section at the grocery store, only bigger—for your wet clothes. The check out process was super easy; you just drop your helmet into a marked bin and leave your locker key on the counter. We left around 2:00 or 3:00 even though the park closes at 5:00, but we are old people now, so it was ok.

A couple recommendations for future goers to this park: They say water shoes are recommended and I would probably agree. A lot of people wore flip flops, but they had to hold them on the water landings for the zip lines, and I’m sure you’d have to hold them for the river swim too, which would be annoying, and you often touch down/accidentally kick jagged rocks, so that would suck and be pretty painful. Todd wore traditional water shoes, but I wore strappy sandals made by Crocs (embarrassing, I know, but they are actually pretty great!), so they were plastic and water resistant, while staying on my feet for the most part. Something like Tevas would probably work well. Also, they confiscate your sunscreen before you go in if it isn’t biodegradable which you can pick up before you leave, but I honestly didn’t even need sunscreen, since almost everything is shaded or underground. The only time you are ever in the sun is on the ziplines, which lasts for about 30 seconds or less for each line. All the waiting areas to get on the ziplines were shaded, and the lines were never long, but maybe that’s because we went on a Wednesday.

Once we got back from Xplor, the weather was nice so we went down to the beach in front of our hotel and read for the last good hour or so of sunlight before the wind picked up and the sun disappeared behind the back of the buildings. It was very peaceful, with only a couple other people on the beach, and a nice way to unwind after such an adventurous day.

Some peaceful shots of our lovely beach, with all the seaweed cleaned up

For dinner, we headed out to the square to eat at another treehouse style restaurant called La Sirena. This was by far the most Americanized restaurant we have been to, and the server/host who stood by the menu outside spoke English as well as we did. He was able to explain to us what was going on in the square, which was a huge event they had erected an enormous tent for, and it seemed the entire town was present. Drummers banged on huge trash cans, city officials were giving speeches at a microphone, and there was even a group of protesters holding up signs that said “Wall of Shame” in Spanish with photos of various leaders and their names listed. Apparently, we were witnessing history as Puerto Morelos became a municipality, so that now it could use its own tax money to do things like fix its roads, etc. instead of giving their taxes to Cancun and asking them for permission to make improvements. The protesters were there because those who were chosen to run the city were not from Puerto Morelos, and the citizens are concerned because these officials do not love the city as a local would, and will only want to expand and attract more tourists, essentially turning it into the next Playa del Carmen. The appeal of Puerto Morelos is that it is still very isolated, maintaining the charm of a local fishing village and not a tourist destination, and this was one of the main reasons we chose this as our home base for a week. I would be sad to see it lose that appeal, and felt for those protesters. The event ended with fireworks off the pier, which we could see from our hotel balcony.

Municipality event

Protesters and their "Wall of Shame" sign

Dinner itself was good. The menu boasted all kinds of delicious items we would recognize from home, and was actually the only menu I had seen where everything in English was spelled accurately and in terms we would use ourselves, aka it didn’t feel like I was reading something that was translated. We ordered fried zucchini to start, and I had a burger with fries while Todd had something called village chicken. The drinks from the bar were fruity and tasty, but not very well balanced, which was disappointing. For dessert, we had the brownie a la mode, which was dry and hard, but the ice cream was good. The service was the most Americanized as well (I think the owner may be American?), and it was the first time a server actually introduced himself to us (Hi, my name is Carlos and I will be taking care of you this evening) and they waited until we both were finished eating to take the plates away. I have noticed this is something that never happens elsewhere here…they always remove your plate right when you finish eating, even if everyone else is not finished. When I was a server, we were trained to never do this unless the table was overly crowded for space. The owner (we think…or manager?) came over to our table to make sure everything was ok, and brought us our drinks when our server fell behind because he had an enormous party of 10+ people sit down after us, and a full section on top of that. But the atmosphere was overall great, and the food was good, with a diverse international menu.

My drink was called a Beached Eskimo

Since the municipality event was still going on, we walked around the square and saw some of the items for sale at vendor tables, but headed back to the hotel for an early night.


  1. I'm impressed at your adventurous spirit in the water park as I KNOW how much you do not like water. Sounds like a very fun day...I remember acqualandia and it was cool, but not THAT cool!