Weaving history and heritage with an abundance of recreational delights, Xel-Ha Ecological Park is a must visit if you're planning a holiday to the Yucatan. Beset within dense jungle and mangroves, less than 30 km from the buzzing strip of Playa del Carmen, Xel-Ha is a place where visitors set the pace, for a multitude of once-in-a -lifetime experiences.

A favorite haunt of visiting Mayans around A.D 500, Xel-Ha evolved to become a major port of call between Tulum and Ek Balam for merchants plying trade, as well as a maritime route connecting the three Mayan settlements. Beset within a verdant cove on the Eastern coast, Xel-Ha occupies one of the largest recessed inlets of the Mayan Riviera, yet remained a tribal settlement for close to six hundred years prior to the envisioned city seen today. Enclosed plazas diversify the site of Xel-Ha, each planned for a specific grouping of the Mayan social order. “Jaguar Group” (encompassing a vast stretch of lagoon and the main pier) is dominated by low-lying temples and the palacio – famed for its wide, multi-level staircase and quirky, cylindrical boulders strewn across the courtyard.

Constructed during the Late Post-Classic period (1200-1500 A.D) Groupo Lothrop differs marginally from the majority of plazas at Xel-Ha – the main temple having been constructed with an ellipsoidal floor plan and significantly more angular doorways. Here you'll find a wealth of hidden art and preserved shrines, including Pintura Mural 1 (Mural of the Hands) and Pintura Mural 2 (The Checkerboard.)

Beyond the mystical Mayan ruins, Xel-Ha extends to an ecological theme park where the thrill of discovering abundant natural heritage is like nothing you'll ever experience. Founded in 1980, Xel-Ha was Mexico's first eco-friendly aquatic theme park to be developed on the Maya Riviera. Encompassing a vast coastal lagoon and adjacent Xel-Ha ruins, Promotora are keen to promote the area as an ecologically friendly resort, with considerable efforts being made to conserve this stunning biosphere. Xel-Ha's homegrown school of dolphins are one of the major draws to the park, luring visitors with opportunities to watch, swim with and feed these fascinating marine mammals. A recently developed “swim program” has further extended the opportunity to get up close with the bottle-nose beauties, under the watchful eye of two dedicated trainers.

Team led scuba-diving expeditions lure thousands of visitors to the Caribbean Coast each summer, yet few are as enriching as opportunities offered by Xel-Ha. Snuba is an evolved alternative to scuba swimming and snorkeling, offering a superior dive experience without the added weight of an oxygen tank. Divers hook themselves up to a 100 meter cable, which is then attached to breathing apparatus aboard a manned raft boat, eliminating the need for any on-board breathing apparatus. From manatees and manta rays, to parrot-fish and marlin, this is a dive experience like no other. For those with limited swimming capability, Sea-Trek presents a fantastic alternative to Snuba. Encased within a submersible “man-suit”, you'll be lowered onto the sea bed via hydraulic cable, then led on a journey of exploration by a guide to several cave and marine habitats. You'll never see hiking in the same way again!

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Spanish version of this page: Xel-Ha