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We visited xel ha with our children whilst on a summer holiday to Mexico. The purpose was to swim with the dolphins in an environment that was friendly for the dolphins and that is exactly what we got.
The dolphins are in their natural habitat and we booked for all the family to swim, we first got our life jackets on and then proceeded to the wooden area next to where the dolphins are situated. Because there were quite a few of our family on holiday together we were all in one group but I did notice later on a family of three were put in a group with other tourists but this doesn't make any difference to the experience.
We purchased the pictures and videos afterwards which are not included in the entrance price but are worth getting as this is an amazing experience to be remembered.
We then got to get in the water whilst the dolphins swam around us and one point we all got in a circle and the dolphin swam under the circle and then jumped out the water over us. They are so beautiful and seemed to love 'playing' with us. We then all got to give them a little treat of small fish which my daughters loved.
As we were all inclusive we did enjoy a nice breakfast and lunch with plenty of beverages. The whole place is like paradise and it was really hot whilst we were there but we could just cool off by having a little dip. We were given snorkels and went snorkelling and took lots of pictures of all the colourful fish which just swam past. There is also a big leap of faith which is a jump that I personally could not do (I am a bit of a coward with heights) but my husband and oldest daughter loved it and done several times.
We also had a fantastic time in the inflatable tubes just relaxing and enjoying the environment, there is a lovely walk around and we also had a few iguanas coming over to my babys pram which she delighted in.
The one thing you need to be aware of is the sun lotion, we were told that because it is a natural environment you cannot use your own sunlotion brought into Mexico but you have to purchase a special one (they do sell it there and it is not too expensive), because apparently the one we took over from UK would harm the flora and fauna so you do need to respect that rule and check before you go.
If I ever get the pleasure of visiting Mexico again I will definitely pay to go to xel ha as it is worth every penny. We will never forget that day and I would recommend it to anyone.
We went to Mexico a few years ago now. I like visiting and investigating places when I am away, as personally I don't see the point in travelling and not exploring some of the culture you may never see again.
One of the trips on offer from our hotel base was to Xel-Ha.
Xel-Ha is situated on the Riviera Maya which runs along the carribean coastline and is situated amoungst the Yucatan Peninsula.
To put this in perspective for travellers - Cancun is about 90 minutes away and Playa del Carmen 30 minutes.
SO WHAT IS XEL-HA - Xel-ha is a natural aquarium, granted built around, which is sympathetically done to enhance visitor experiance without disturbing to much of the ecological or biological area. The park has been developed amoungst the land where the river opens up and meets the ocean. Read on to hear more!.....
THE COST - as this will be ever changing please refer to the website www.xel-ha.com but at the time of writing it was $90 (£60) adults and $60 (£40) children. Now I know this may seem a little high, especially if you are a family, however, bear in mind this is mostly all inclusive and is an entire day visit. Open 365 days a year! It always opens at 0900 but closes at varying times over the year.
You can usually pick up a leaflet from your hotel or get one on the actual visit. This I feel is essential as it gives you a comprehensive guide of what is avaliable, where it is and a map of the grounds.
SO WHA CAN YOU DO? This section I will split up into the various things you can do, as their are so many!
SNORKELLING - When you first arrive at Xel-ha you immediatly notice the vast area of ocean and see people bobbing up and down in it. Now I have to say I love the water, but am a little nervous out in the open ocean, escpecially when there are unknow fish. Never one to shy from a challenge I saw a little child dipping in - so that was that off I went. When you get closer to the water edge you clearly see guys fitting people with life jackets which are inclusive. You also get the choice of snorkelling equipment which you pay a small depoist, returned when you take the items back (you get to keep the mouth piece). When fitted you can make your way off to a wooden pier with steps down into the water. This although covered with rubber type stuff on steps, can get slippy so beware. I was immediatley surprised at how many fish were right there! and big ones at that! Numerous varieties are around for you to see - parrot and angel fish, snappers and many other ones normally found in your tropical fish tank at home :) We even spotted a baracuda further out! It is fantastic to get that close to them and feel them bounce off your feet as you swim. It's essential to take an underwater camera if you can, even a novice like me got some fab pics.
All around the inlet water area are wooden beach loungers which are free so you can relax and watch everyone else, great for families.
SNUBA - We never tried this but it is apparently a cross between snorkelling and scuba diving. You don't take a oxygen tank, but are connected to a pipe which in turn runs to a boat above.
SEA TREK - Again this we didn't try unfortunatly. There is an extra charge and the queues we just far to long for us, so get there early. It entails where a helmet connected to a pipe line and you walk along in a guided tour a few feet underwater.
CENOTES - As you go further inland there are cenotes or sinkholes, these are open pools of water normally connected to caves over and under the water. These you cannot swim in but there are options to kayak over them, or simply walk around them and spot some great wildlife too.
FLOATING BRIDGE - Down where the people go sea trekking is the floaing bridge. This is a wide floating bridge across the ocean entrance to the other side of the inlet. Bearing in mind this floats it goes with the waves and can be very rocky! so beware if you have little children and keep a firm hand hold. It is fun though and the fish dash under and up to the sides in shoals.
THE WALKS - Although titled walks you can take a push bike and there are little shuttles to and from certain areas. We chose to walk. It is a long way so bear this in mind if you have children, of an older age or disabilities. Places are plentiful to stop and rest though throughout; varying from small steps to the water to seats and tables.
Fantastic scenery, wildlife, many birds, squirrels and loads and loads of iguanas which are hugh! We spotted seven in one particular place all sun bathing :)
INNER TUBES/SWING ROPE/WALKING ROPE AND CLIFF JUMP
Along the vast walks there are things to do. The inner tubs are large floating rubber rings which can be found at the start of the river area, which you can jump on and float back off down the river to the main inlet. Hugely relaxing after a long walk.
Also dotted about are the swing rope across the water, a walking rope which is a tight rope affair with another rope to hang onto, which goes over the water and the cliff jump. Relaxing isn't for everyone so why not try the jump off a large cliff top into the cool, clear water below.
For the more gentle of us there is a lighthouse on the rocks which is surrounded by beach and hammocks to lie in.
There are a lovely garden which is greenhouse type idea with an abundance of plants and the mayan bee area to visit.
There is an option to swim with dolphins at an extra cost over $100 each for hour. We didn't do this as we swam with them and other animals in another trip. You can walk around the dolphin area where they stay.
So thats the main attractions covered, here is some of the rest.....
Guys come up to you every now and then offering to take your picture with parrots and iguanas which are at added cost.
LOCKER AND CHANGING areas are avaliable too, free towels, just watch out for the odd spider lurking!
I should point out here too that the park only allows you to wear bio friendly sun tan lotion, due the fish. This is pretty much expected everywhere in Mexico and the lotion is cheap and avaliable in most resorts.
The vast majority of food is included in the price and there are a range of food eating places, from buffets to set meals. There is also the option to buy fom smaller areas. All good food in my experiance and choices, I heard no one complaing.
I had no issues with staff, they all seemed very helpful when asked things. Many spoke pretty good english and other languages. It is important to remember though that due to the vast area and small water areas, there are not always staff around in different parts; if you have children make sure you keep an eye on where they are wandering off too.
This is a fantastic place and I would go back in a hearbeat. You definatly need a whole day, so don't be tempted to join it up with the other visits, otherwise you would miss out on some things or rush to much and that would be a great shame.
Xel-ha is not only popular with tourists but also with locals, which I think says a lot if they are prepared to pay to visit it too.
Review maybe posted on dooyoo and ciao under the same user name.
Our recent trip to Mexico wasn't intended solely to be an opportunity to lay on the beach or by the pool and while away the time reading books. We could have done that at loads of destinations so enduring a ten hour flight had to be for some other reason. That reason was to finally get to see the sights of the Mayan archaeological sites for which the Yucatan Peninsula is world-famous.
One the locations which was definitely on our schedule was Tulum, at the southern end of the Riviera Maya. Tulum is a fascinating site but probably not a place where you would want to spend a whole day under the glare of the Mexican sun. We felt that a half-day, preferably a morning, would be quite long enough, but what to do with the rest of the day, having travelled so far to see it?
The answer was found amongst the various excursions on offer at the agency desk at our hotel For $125 US per person we could enjoy a morning's guided tour of Tulum and follow that with an afternoon at the natural open-air aquarium of nearby Xel-Ha, all inclusive, with all transport provided.
Xel-Ha is a natural freshwater lagoon which is fed by the underground water system (cenotes) that lies beneath the surface of the entire peninsula. The Yucatan is a limestone plateau that is almost entirely without rivers on the surface. Yet below the surface runs a subterranean river system which is accessible from the surface wherever the cenotes open up as surface lakes. Xel-Ha is just one such.
Xel-Ha has been exploited as a leisure centre for those who enjoy underwater activities because of the abundance of marine wildlife that is found there. It has been done, though, with some sensitivity to the potential for damage to this extraordinary natural feature. Much effort has gone into trying to ensure that pollution is eliminated as much as possible. To that end, things like normal commercial suntan lotions are banned from use and only bio-degradable versions are permitted.
When you arrive at Xel-Ha, the first thing you see is the dolphin pens. Now, I have to say that I'm not much in favour of keeping these beautiful creatures in captivity although I have to admit that my wife and I did do a "Dolphin Encounter" when we were last in Mexico, in Puerto Vallarta. The pool there was very large; the one here is less so, and divided up into multiple areas with a few dolphins in each.
The encounter experience is pretty much the same as you will find in most such locations. However, it is not included in the Xel-Ha entrance so costs extra, the amount depending upon the package chosen. As we had done it before we decided not to indulge this time.
Carrying on past the dolphins you then come to the main part of Xel-Ha, and first you come across a whole bunch of string hammocks, suspended from palms. This is where you can chill out and snooze if things get to much, protected by the shade of the palm leaves above. I guess if you were here all day then you could afford the time to relax like this; we couldn't as we were only here for an afternoon.
Finally you see the lake and alongside it the main facilities. Here are the changing rooms, lockers and also the place to get your supplied towels. Also here is where you get your snorkel equipment; you will be required to pay a $20 US deposit for your goggles, flippers and snorkel tube but you get to keep the tube when you leave. The lockers are key-operated and you get your key first from the same place you get the snorkelling equipment; you can take as many lockers as you need.
You enter the lake from a number of different wooden stairways. At the start of each stairway you can also choose to take a floatation jacket if you wish. I suppose it really depends upon whether or not you want to do a lot of underwater swimming. Bear I mind that the lake is generally not very deep so it is possible to see as much as there is to see by simply snorkelling on the surface. I chose to do so; my wife did not, but then she's a better swimmer than I am.
If you want to go a bit deeper then they also offer what they call SNUBA. This is different to SCUBA in that there are no air tanks involved. Instead you wear a helmet over your head and shoulders and this is connected by air tube to an inflatable raft that you tow behind you in the surface and which ensures a continuous supply of air. We didn't try this but I would have liked to have done so but, with a limited amount of this equipment available, there was no telling how long we would have had to wait for our turn. Nevertheless, it looked great fun and perhaps a better way to see the underwater life than just snorkelling.
However, the snorkelling was still amazing. We spent a couple of hours in the water watching the fish and other creatures, such as rays and, apparently, turtles, though we didn't actually see any of those ourselves. The lake is huge and even with the time we spent in the water we didn't get to cover all of it. The best place is near the middle, where some rocks protrude out of the water. It was around and between these that most of the fish seemed to congregate.
Other than the fish though, the bottom of the lake has little of interest. There is little by way of vegetation and no freshwater corals. The bottom of the lake seems to be quite sandy so that may account for this. The various rock outcrops are definitely where all the action takes place, together with the little inlets around the edge of the lake.
In addition to swimming you can also borrow bikes and ride around the dry land part of the site, visiting other smaller lakes and especially the underground river that feeds the lake. Once again, had we had more time we probably would have done this as well, but we didn't.
Other than the activities, refreshments are also provided as part of the package. There is a lakeside bar where all the usual alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks you would expect, are available. We stuck to our usual favourites, beer and fruit based drinks. All were pretty much the same as you find anywhere and perfectly acceptable.
Drinks are provided in plastic containers so you don't have to consume them in the bar, though to do so is very enjoyable. The sides are all open and so if you get a table on the edge of the lake you can sit and watch the masses of iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks. Some even venture along the bridges to the very entrance to the bar! Not sure if they expect someone to get them a drink!
Around the edge of the lake there are ranks of deckchairs wher you can also relax, drink and watch the scenery. Most of the front row "best seats" were taken by the time we arrived but these were also mostly in the sun. The ones further back were under the shade of the palms, if the heat gets too much for you.
Making your own way over the bridge from the bar, taking care not to tread on the iguanas though, by the looks of the damaged tails some have, maybe not everyone is so careful, you then come across the restaurant. A good selection of Mexican and International dishes was on offer when we visited and I would expect this to be typical. The food is supplied buffet-style so you can take what you like and as much as you like, as often as you like. We mostly ate Mexican and the food was tasty and enjoyable though not as spicy as we had expected.
With your food, waiters will bring you drinks of your choice, including house wines. Fortunately the red wine that we had was considerably better than we had been "enjoying" in our hotel though still would have to be considered little better than average.
We very much enjoyed our visit to Xel-Ha but I would recommend that in order to get the most out of your visit, should you choose to include it in you itinerary, it really deserves a whole day. There was so much we could have done, for which we simply didn't have time. We would especially liked to have had a go at the SNUBA. Without doubt, Xel-Ha is an extraordinary place and a worthy addition to the delights of the Riviera Maya.
An archaeological site of the Maya civilization from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Xel-Ha is nature as no one has ever felt it before, a place to share in celebrating the biological parade of the Riviera Maya. Our Natural Wonder and its open-sea aquarium offer a myriad of land and water activities, ecological attractions, world-class restaurants, and countless more unimaginable experiences.