Saturday, August 8, 2015

Xel Ha

One of The Lovely Spouse's favorite activities when we visit Mexico is to spend a day at Xel Ha. For about $100 US we can arrange a tour through our hotel or travel agent and this includes the meals for the day, towels, lockers, and snorkel gear. When we visited in April 2015 we decided to take the Colectivo and visit on our own. When viewing the pictures below, please bear in mind that the Yucatan was enduring a drought during our visit, so many of the images are far less green than they should be.

Prices at the door. Prices include food and drinks, towels, lockers, and snorkeling gear.
Xel Ha is a combination of nature preserve and outdoor water park.  It's a place to take a walk in the jungle, see some lovely flora and fauna, and to enjoy zip lines, snorkeling, tubing, and other activities. There are also shower and changing facilities at the park. I prefer to use my own mask and snorkel so I brought those for this trip and borrows fins from the park at no charge.

This is a screen capture of Xel Ha from Google Maps. As you can see it's across the street from the Dos Ojos cenote system and opens up to the ocean. Here, fresh and salt water mix resulting in a halocline (gradient between salty water and fresh water) that can be seen in the water.
If you take the Colectivo from Gran Bahia Principe it will cost 40 pesos and will drop you off on the highway on the side opposite the park. Climb the stairs and cross the highway via the bridge. There is barbed wire fence to discourage people from crossing the highway. The ticket counter is a short walk from the highway and we were able to pay in pesos via credit card. You'll be questioned regarding your sunscreen on the way in. Only reef-safe sunscreens are permitted. If you don't have any, they are available for purchase. I recommend applying it often as my experience has been the reef-safe sunscreens are less effective than others. [For your information, "natural" and "chemical free" do not mean reef-safe. I recommend buying the sunscreen at the park as myself and others have had skin sensitivity issues with the sunscreens listed on the Environmental Working Group's site, in addition to some of the sunscreens on their list containing ingredients (e.g., oils) known to degrade or disrupt corals. If you need more protection from the sun, I recommend wearing a tee shirt, rash guard, or dive skin. On the day we went I wore a tee shirt and shorts over my swimsuit, and used Xel Ha's sunblock. I saw a number of other visitors wearing dive skins.]

As you walk into the park you pass a large model of Tulum as it appeared when the ruins were occupied.
Whenever we visit Xel Ha we start with a walk around the park to take pictures. We then hop in the water and enjoy all the aquatic activities.

The rocky inlet leading in to Xel Ha. There's an automated lighthouse to warn water traffic.

The park as a sidewalk leading to a somewhat sandy beach. This is what most of the beaches in the area would look like without human intervention. The rocks are sharp and it would be difficult to walk here without the sidewalk.

This year the Yucatan is experiencing a severe "golden tide" of sargassum or seaweed. This little cove is normally my favorite spot for rest and relaxation. At this time it's too stinky from the rotting sargassum.
A Yucatan blue jay.

Helpful and educational signs throughout the park.

Singing ducks.

There's a canopy walkway to give a good view of the jungle. The Yucatan was experiencing a serious drought so things are not as green as they should be.
For an extra fee there's a sky cycle. We didn't do this because it was darned hot and that seems like a lot of effort.

There's tubing down a natural "lazy river" that starts in a mangrove forest.

Life vests are required in most of the aquatic parts of the park. They are available throughout so there's no need to carry one.

There are several families of the cutest animals on the Yucatan: coatis.

You can't go anywhere in the Yucatan without finding an iguana.
Mangroves. These trees are vital to the health of the coasts in the Caribbean and many other tropical locations around the world.

There are beautiful scarlet macaws at the park. These were part of a group of 3 that were out to get some enrichment for the day by flying around the park. They're trained to return to a whistle call, but act a lot like cats - who will come when they're darned good and ready.

Not shown in this picture, to my left park guests may jump off a cliff into the water below.

Guests may swim, tube, and snorkel the entire park. And they may enjoy the ropes course.

It's like American Ninja Warrior, but not. The Lovely Spouse made it all the way across. Me, not so much. Cargo nets are tougher than they look.

Hammocks in the shade = a lovely place to relax.

When you jump in the water you'll find all kinds of tropical fish.

You'll also find stratification of the water column from a halocline - or gradient of salt and fresh water. Because of the golden bloom there was also a lot of green algae in the water.

This picture is not out of focus. You can see some of the visual effects of the water. The mix of fresh and salt water makes it look like you're looking at everything through oil.

Zip lines!

I mentioned that food and drinks were included. How were they? There are 3 restaurants at Xel Ha. One is an international restaurant, one is a Mexican restaurant, and one is a fast food restaurant. I recommend the Mexican restaurant. [Many apologies for these pictures being out of focus.]
I prefer to eat at least wearing shorts, so we dried off enough for shorts and a towel. Wait for a host or hostess to seat you.

The food is all buffet.

A wide variety of food that was often checked for temperature and replaced.

A selection of ceviches.

Local and regional Mexican dishes.

A nice sized open air restaurant.

Our server brought us cervezas and tequilas for our meal.  The food, including the mole, was quite good.

There were other activities available for fees, including snuba, Sea Trek, and the dolphinarium. There was also an on-site spa and an extra fee cenote tour. There was more than enough to do without bothering with those.
Sea Trek is like scuba diving without needing to take any lessons or fill any tanks.
In all Xel Ha is a lovely way to spend a day. There's more than enough to do and see to justify a whole day away from the resort and there's plenty to do for people of all ages and abilities.