I Felt Like An Explorer Visiting A Faraway Planet
It was magical
My friend Kirsten and I signed up for Xplor Fuego at our hotel in Cancun. We hopped the chartered bus not really knowing what to expect. The concierge promised zip lines, great food and something called a cenote (pronounced sin-o-tay).
I have a confession to make. I had never heard of a cenote before. I now know cenote is the Yucatan word for a sinkhole, or more accurately a place where an underground pool or river opens up to expose a network of caves. Cenotes are an unusual and ancient natural phenomenon. Crystal clear pools surrounded by tropical jungle lead to limestone caves full of stalactites and stalagmites with underground freshwater rivers winding through. A photo doesn’t do it justice. You have to experience a cenote to really appreciate its mystery and beauty.
We got to spend an evening doing just that. We got to swim, paddle, walk, drive and splash through cenotes and caves at the adventure park Xplor.
On arrival, we joined a fast-moving admissions line. It was simple: they gave us a helmet and a heavy-duty wristband that contained the key to an individual locker. Wait, lockers don’t cost extra? Awesome. The wristband meant I didn’t have to memorize a combination or worry about my key. It was totally secure and always with me.
We dumped our stuff and changed into our bathing suits, shorts, and water shoes. The restrooms and changing rooms were busy, but not sketchy. I’ve been to water parks at home where I felt like I needed a hazmat protection suit to enter the restrooms, but at Xplor they were entirely well kept.
Read more: 7 (Big) Reasons To Visit Xplor Fuego
Let’s do this! The park has just five adventure activities. That doesn’t sound like a lot compared to a typical amusement park, but at Xplor we discovered they emphasize quality over quantity. Each activity (except the hammock zipline) takes 20+ minutes to complete, so you’re really digging deep into each adventure.
The park itself is built around a naturally occurring cenote and a network of caves. Many parts are above ground, too, like the zip line, of course, but you walk through the caves to connect to the different attractions. Just walking through the caves is a refreshing experience in and of itself.
We wanted to get our bearings, so we headed to the center of this network of caves which they call the Corazon, or the heart. They’ve installed a big red heart sculpture, so you can’t miss it. From here, you can access any of the adventures, the shop, and the restaurant. There are maps, staff, and a helpful sign that indicates how long the wait is for each attraction. We saw a green light for the amphibious vehicles which meant no delay, so we headed there first!
I was expecting something like those little cars they have at amusement parks back home on a guided track. They are fun for little kids, but kind of boring for adults. Not at Xplor! You have to be 18 to drive the amphibious vehicles because they are legit. There’s a dirt trail cut over, under, and around the other attractions, and you’re actually driving a real John Deere Gator. We drove over narrow bridges and around in the jungle, but the best part was gunning the ATV through different caves. Yes! As it splashed through underground water and big puddles we got a little wet. But in a right way. The course was about 3 miles long, so Kirsten and I switched seats a couple of times to take turns driving. It was entertaining!
Next stop: The Zip Lines! This isn’t just one zip line but a network of seven towers that ends with a big splash.
We strapped into the harnesses and were thoroughly checked to make sure we had them on the right. I think it’s normal to be a little wary of zip lines in a new place, but I could tell they took our safety seriously. There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with their practices or equipment.
After climbing the first tower (be ready for a workout!) we got a glimpse of the epic view. Tower after tower towering over the Yucatan jungle at sunset. Spectacular. We got an even better look as we rode the first zip line to the next tower. What a thrill – jungle, sunset, and feeling like you’re flying! They’ve got some sort of set up on the landing that keeps it from being too rough, and if you want, you can even ride tandem.
There’s a total of nearly two and a half miles of zip lines, and the tallest tower is about five stories high. The ziplines at Xplor are in a whole other category: much higher and much longer than anything I’d ever experienced before. They make the ones I remember from summer camp pale in comparison. For Xplor Fuego, which is their night adventure, you even zip line through a ring of fire. Don’t worry, we didn’t get burned!
As we headed toward the rafts adventure, we passed by the snack hut. It turns out that the snacks were totally free! Seriously? Well, then I must try one of everything. I’m happy to report that the churros were delicious, the tamales tasty and the oatmeal cookies were out of this world. Plus Mexican hot chocolate! And this wasn’t even the full restaurant buffet? Amazing.
We didn’t have a wait for the rafts either, so we boarded, and they gave us small plastic “paddles” that fit over your hands to help maneuver in the water. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of the rafts, but perhaps that’s because we were totally distracted by the stunning caves. I have never seen anything like the natural formations carved into the limestone. It feels like you’re in another world.
We worked up an appetite for river rafting, so we headed to the restaurant next. After depositing our helmets (the only place in the park where you take them off), we proceeded to tackle the buffet. It was almost overwhelming: cold cuts, fruit, salads, pizza, hot dogs, grilled meat, pasta, ice cream and more. My biggest concern was overeating. We couldn’t believe that this vast spread was included in the price of admission!
Are you supposed to wait 30 minutes after eating before swimming? We decided it was an old wives tale and we headed to cave swimming!
They gave us life jackets and confirmed we knew how to swim (we do!). The water is chilly, but not crazy cold. It’s crystal clear, and the route well lit the entire length of the swim. Perhaps it was our timing, but we had the caves to ourselves which made it even more otherworldly. I felt like an explorer visiting a far away planet. It was magical.
We hit the hammock zip line next. This is the shortest activity at the park, but no less fun. Instead of being in a harness, you’re in a specially adapted hammock swing seat. This zip line is built to maximize water splash, so it is shorter and lower than the towers, but equally as thrilling it its own way. You get two rides in quick succession. If I were intimidated by the big zip line, I might start here as a way to get your feet wet (and every other part of you, too) on zip lines before heading to the big boys.
As you can probably tell, we were pretty much “go go go” the whole time at Xplor, but we found that we had little extra time before closing. We discovered a small clearing where they’ve set up hammocks and a fire pit where you can relax between adventures. We let ourselves dry off warming by the fire for 15 minutes before heading back to the locker room to change clothes.
As we sat by the fire and reflected on our evening, I asked Kirsten what she thought of Xplor Fuego. She happens to be a huge fan and frequenter of those world-famous amusement parks that are associated with a particular cartoon mouse. How did Xplor stack up in comparison? She gave high marks to the excellence of the attractions, the value for the price, the fast and short queues, the quality and quantity of food, cleanliness, and safety even when compared to those parks that start with the letter D. That is the highest praise!
Most amusement parks have to create artificial structures to resemble ancient ruins or mimic ecological formations, but Xplor just uses the real, natural beauty of caves and jungle to create a unique experience. The adventures take full advantage of the location and opportunities for fun in the Riviera Maya. They are exciting without feeling dangerous.
Read more reviews: What Visitors Lived And Felt In Xplor Fuego
A couple of tips. Expect to get wet on all the adventures and don’t miss the snack bar! Wear water shoes, not flip-flops. You can go barefoot, but slip-on water shoes were perfect. For women, you might want to wear shorts over your bathing suit for comfort on the zip line. Bring your own towel and dry clothes for the bus ride home! The good news is if you forget any of these items, they are for sale in the gift shop.
Even while we were at the park, Kirsten and I started talking about returning with a group of friends next spring. If Xplor is this fun, how cool would it be to check out the other adventures like Xcaret, Xenses, and Xichen Tours? Sign us up!