So much to see, so little time: Xel-Há (part I)

Filed under: Things to Do - by Louise Hennessy

Xel-Há Part 1: Amazingly, this was the first time we can remember ever having seen Morphos (bigger-than-your-average, stunning blue butterflies) flying around freely. On later chatting with a butterfly breeder, we were thrilled to find out that the presence of Morpho butterflies indicate that a habitat is thriving and complete…

Be not put off by the dolphin-kissing photos, it is certainly not the only thing to do there, in fact, it is safe to say that Xel-Há is still one of our fave “commercialised” places to go, and we can, and do, go back there at every opportunity! For this reason, we have decided to split this blog into two parts to really do it justice.

First things first, from the moment you scan your bracelet at the turnstile be sure to glance down to your right and adopt your best smile! Unfortunately, there is a camera right there which automatically takes your picture, resulting in the most unflattering picture you can imagine for those not in the know (basically everyone), and if you decide to purchase a photo package later on it will be one for the recycle folder!

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From the moment you enter there is so much stimulus that it’s hard to know where to focus: people milling around the optional activities counters, pathways leading off to the left and right surrounded by nature, and photographers happily snapping at tourists with parrots and toucans perched on their arms and heads; a strange fact was that on enquiring the names of the different birds, they all seemed to go by the name of Tommy…

We decided to be sheep and head right, along with many other visitors. It is here where you pass by the part of the lagoon where the dolphins are, to your left and then shortly come across the ‘Isla de Hamacas’ (the Isle of Hammocks) to your right, a piece of paradise full of comfy beige hammocks, which we promise you will store in your mind and be yearning for after a long swim and a hearty lunch!

We wanted to see as much as possible and yet still have time to relax and of course eat, and to be honest, at this point we were ready for breakfast (we had been saving our hunger for the buffet). A point to note here is that not all the restaurants serve breakfast, basically just two, so if you are here in high season, or if one of the restaurants is undergoing renovation (as in our case) you can find yourself queuing for a table. We were pleasantly surprised though, with the decent amount of variety, great service and fairly fast turnover, due to the fact that everyone wants to get on with the activities. We would suggest going easy on quantity though, as you will be hitting the water soon after!

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Based on a friend’s tip, we wandered to the nearby information booth to ask about the free guided walks in the park, which cover Mayan traditions, flora and fauna in the jungle, and learning about Manatees, which we opted for. This was definitely worth-while and we actually got the tour to ourselves, led by our private safari-clad guide, Ricardo! It was here where we learned that Manatees have a lifespan of 50 – 60 years, and that they only breed one calf every two years; as well as being able to observe the huge beauties giving each other kisses. If you fancy a guided walk be sure to enquire on entering the park, as they only have limited schedules and you need to get your name down even if it doesn´t start for a couple of hours. They last between 45 and 90 minutes depending on what you pick; it definitely gave our day that extra special touch, as well as giving us material for Trivial Pursuit!

Determined not to follow the crowds for our entire experience, on this occasion we decided to take the long route to the river (the main attraction) by crossing the floating bridge and exploring the jungle-immersed paths beyond. The floating bridge in itself is an experience, fun and giggly at first and a little frustrating after a few minutes when you just want to be able to take your next step without appearing drunk.  A curious fact is that this is where the famous Xel-Há Triathlon commences, with hundreds of triathletes propelling themselves into the water from an eternally shifting bridge!

Discoveries we made on our exploration? Well, hands down the best find was the Grieta Ixchel (‘Ixchel’ Grotto), a thin strip of pristine, sapphire-coloured water, hidden between high walls of mollusc-covered rock. The water was very cool and beautifully refreshing, and best of all it was completely deserted, so we felt free to splash about and test the echo-effect provided by the roofless cave. It was a little piece of heaven within nature, and to be honest we came across it quite by accident as it is not well signposted at all.

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It is around this side of the park that you can also find the ´Zip Bike’ circuit, one of the various optional activities on offer to you on arriving to the park (at an additional cost to the entrance fee). Basically it is a special kind of bike harnessed to a zip line, but instead of the lines being sloped, you advance by pedalling at your own speed. All very safe and secure, and nice enough to get a tree-top view of the jungle, but really for the price, its simplicity and the short time it lasts (less than 30 minutes) it’s not an activity we would do again or really recommend, especially in comparison with the other options available to you at Xel-Há.

So much to see, so little time, watch this space for part 2

Our tips so far:

  • 100% biodegradable and chemical free sunscreen, we cannot emphasize enough. Xel-Há prides itself on a strict conservation program and keeping that water pristine!
  • Check out the optional activities on arrival, it’s a long walk back to the entrance otherwise, time which can be better used to explore.

Don’t forget that your concierge can help you to arrange a trip to Xel-Há if you are already hooked!

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