The Riviera Maya is surrounded by natural beauty and wildlife. Some of the area’s highlights include lush jungles, diverse marine life, and a vast network of freshwater rivers and caves. When visiting the state of Quintana Roo, you owe it to yourself to experience these natural wonders. Xel-Ha park features many of these sights and combines them with exciting activities like snorkeling and zip lines, which makes it one of the most popular excursions in the Riviera Maya.
What is Xel-Ha?
Xel-Ha is a popular aquatic park in the Riviera Maya of Mexico. It features a large fresh water river, a salt water inlet (bay), and some cenotes. Aside from nature, there are plenty of cool activities and sights throughout the park. There’s snorkeling, tubing, zip lines, water slides, cliff diving, bike rides and more. Xel-Ha gives visitors the opportunity to explore the beautiful coastal waters while participating in these activities.
Who is it good for?
Families, couples, groups of friends, or even solo travellers; Xel-Ha is great for people of all types and ages. It’s perfect for those who want to see the natural beauty of the Riviera Maya while having fun. It’s a perfect mix of fun and relaxation.
Most of the features and attractions of Xel-Ha are water based. You don’t need to know how to swim, but it’s important that you feel comfortable in the water. If you don’t feel confident in large bodies of water, you may not enjoy exploring the river or inlet, which is a big draw of Xel-Ha. If this sounds like you, you may want to consider other excursions like Xcaret Park, Xplor, or Xenotes.
How much are tickets?
The general admission is called “Xel-Ha All Inclusive”, and gives you access to all the activities, food, and drinks. At the time of writing this, tickets are US$99 before discounts.
Xel-Ha also offers additional activities for an extra cost (more on that below). If you want to do one of these activities, you should get the “Xel-Ha Total” admission, which includes everything from the all inclusive tickets, but also adds one optional activity. It’s cheaper than buying a ticket and adding the optional activities afterwards. Later in this guide, I’ll talk more about these optional activities.
Save on Xel-Ha Tickets
Xel-Ha offers two types of discounts:
- Early booking discount: Save 15% by buying your tickets online at least 21 days before your visit. Or, save 10% if you buy your tickets 7-20 days before your visit.
- Childrens’ discount: Kids aged 5-11 save 50%. Kids 4 & under get in for free.
Where to buy Xel-Ha tickets
I suggest buying tickets online, directly from the Xel-Ha website. Since it’s the official site, it’s secure and the prices are always cheaper than what travel agents or local vendors will charge. When you buy online, the early booking discount and childrens’ discount will automatically apply if you meet the above mentioned criteria.
You can buy your Xel-Ha tickets from the official website here:
Out of all the parks and excursions in the riviera maya; Xel-Ha is unique because almost all of the activities are water based. Despite this, Xel-Ha is so much more than a water park, in fact, even those who can’t swim will have a great time.
In this review, I’ll take you through these activities so you understand what Xel-Ha is all about, and I’ll give you plenty of tips to make the most of your visit. If you don’t want to read through the full review, you can watch the video review from my visit in 2019.
There are several different activities that you can do in any order you want. The park isn’t too big, so there’s enough time to do everything without having to rush.
Breakfast is included with your Xel-Ha admission, so you can start your day there if you like. Since I had already eaten, I skipped breakfast and headed towards the river.
Biking, Trams, and the “Path of Awareness”
To get to the start of the river, you can either take a tram or ride a bike. It’s a short distance, it probably took me 5 minutes to get to the river while biking at a leisurely pace.
You can also walk along the “Path of awareness” to get to the river. Along the way, you’ll see the ziplines, cliffs, and other activities that are part of the “Adventure World”.
The river at Xel-Ha runs into the main bay, also known as an inlet. From the start of the river, you can choose to tube or snorkel. This is the only place where you can grab a tube to go down the river. You can also snorkel down the river; this is one of the several places in the park where you can get your snorkel gear. Keep reading to see why I recommend tubing down the river first.
Tip: At the entrance of the river, there are secure bags where you can store your stuff. The bags are locked right there in front of you, and you’re given the key. The bags are then delivered to the end of the river, so once you’re done snorkeling or tubing, you give them your key and they unlock the bag in front of you. It’s super safe and convenient, I left my phone and some cash in there, and I had no issues. If you don’t want to use the bags, you can always use the lockers.
Snorkeling & Tubing
I snorkeled down the river which was fun, but once you get past the mangroves, there wasn’t much to see in the river because the water was a little murky. Once you get to the inlet, that’s where you start to see lots of fish, corals, and reefs; so the inlet is the best spot for snorkeling.
Tubing is slower, but a little easier than snorkeling down the river. The current is very gentle, so you’ll probably have to use your hands to steer and paddle.
Knowing all this, I recommend taking the tube down the river, THEN getting your snorkel gear to go snorkeling around the inlet. That way, you get to experience both activities without having to go down the river twice.
Fun fact: The fresh water from the river, and salt water from the ocean meet and mix within the inlet. That, combined with the calm water creates the perfect snorkeling conditions. When snorkeling around the inlet, look for reefs or flags, because that’s where the majority of fish are.
Tip: If you can’t swim or you’re not in good physical shape, I suggest taking the tube down the river instead of snorkeling. The river is long, so swimming the entire length can get a little tiring.
As I mentioned earlier, at one point beside the river, there’s the Adventure World which features cliff jumping, Salpichanga (zip lining), and Trepachanga (water obstacle course).
You might be tempted to do these activities while you’re in the river, in which case you’ll still have your tube or snorkel gear. You can do this if you want, but you can’t bring your tube or snorkel gear along with you, which means you have to leave it somewhere. An easier way would be to get to the Adventure World from the “Path of Awareness”, which is a trail that runs alongside the river. That way, you can continue doing your snorkel/tube, and visit those activities when you don’t have all that gear to worry about.
Scenic Lighthouse with Waterslides
There’s a scenic lighthouse about 40 meters high. The lighthouse itself offers a breathtaking view of Xel-ha Park and other parts of the riviera maya. The lighthouse also features 4 waterslides; 2 of them are fast slides, and the other 2 are a little slower and less intense.
The white slides are the fast ones, and the blue ones are slow, the staff will tell you which is which so you don’t need to memorize. I went on both slides and I didn’t notice much of a speed difference between the two. However, the fast slides have a bigger dip near the end, so before you hit the water, you pick up speed. Near the end, the water splashed a lot so I closed my eyes before hitting open water. As a result, this section of the fast slides can be a little intense and disorienting, so if you can’t swim well, I suggest taking the slow slides.
You’re not allowed to bring anything onto the lighthouse with you, that means no aqua shoes, GoPros, or phones are allowed on the lighthouse or water slide. They have lockers right at the entrance that you can use, so you don’t have to walk back to your locker.
The lighthouse is fairly high, so if you’re afraid of heights, you may want to stay away from this activity. To get to the top, you have to climb a lot of stairs. The staircase is wide, so you can move to the side if you need a break.
Tip: The waterslide usually starts to get busy around 1PM, so go before then to avoid long line ups.
To get from one side of the inlet to another, there’s a floating bridge that bobs up and down, left and right. It’s pretty funny to see people stumble as they walk along the bridge.
Cenotes & Caves
There are several cenotes you can check out, and a rope swing to jump into the water. The cenotes are quite nice, but a little small, and you’re not allowed to swim in most of them. There’s also a cave that you can swim into, but I didn’t get a chance to check that out.
If cenotes are of particular interest to you, then you may want to check out the Xenotes tour which is run by the same company that manages Xel-Ha. The cenotes at Xel-Ha were beautiful, but a little underwhelming compared to the ones I experienced at the Xenotes tour.
If you’re visiting with kids, there’s a playground where they can safely amuse themselves while you sit back on the nearby hammocks and relax.
Optional Activities (Extra Cost)
In addition to everything mentioned above, Xel-Ha offers several optional activities for an additional fee. I’ve listed these activities below, for a complete list and prices, visit the Xel-Ha website.
- Power Snorkel
- Dolphin experiences
- Sea Trek
- Manatee encounter
- Stingray encounter
- Zip Bikes
- Andrenalina speed boat
There was plenty to see and do in one day, so I didn’t feel the need to pay for these additional activities. However, some of them look really cool, so I may check them out during my next visit.
If want to do one of the optional activities, get the Xel-Ha Total admission because it’ll be cheaper than paying for the activities separately.
Those are the major activities & attractions of Xel-Ha. I hope that gave you a good idea of what Xel-Ha is like, but there’s one more thing I haven’t talked about yet, food and drinks!
Food & Drinks
Xel-Ha is an all-inclusive park which means that your ticket includes breakfast, lunch, and drinks. You have unlimited access to the buffets & bars during your visit, and they have several buffets to choose from. I really liked the Mexican buffet which had a large selection of surprisingly delicious Mexican food. The drinks include everything from juice to alcoholic beverages.
There’s a Photopass you can buy, which allows you to scan your bracelet at photo points to take unlimited high-quality photos. When you’re done with your visit, you simply download them online. It’s worth it if that’s something that you want, or you don’t want to carry around a GoPro or camera all day.
TIP: You can have one person scan their bracelet to take the photos. That way, all your photos will be under one profile, and you only need to buy one photopass for your group.
You can also opt to take a bus to and from your hotel/resort. The cost varies based on the distance from your hotel to Xel-ha, but it’s a reasonable rate and super convenient. You can check the Xel-Ha website for prices.
If you want to get there early and beat the crowds, you can easily get to Xel-Ha by car or taxi.
Tips for your visit
Even though Xel-Ha is full of water activities, you can still have a great time if you can’t swim. Life jackets are always provided, they have lifeguards on duty, and the water is calm. As long as you’re not afraid of the water, you’ll be fine.
Life jackets, snorkel gear, lockers, and change rooms are all included with your admission.
At the start of the river, there are secure bags where you can store your stuff. The bags are locked and delivered to the end of the river. Once you’re done snorkeling or tubing, you give them your key and they unlock the bag in front of you. It’s safe and convenient, but you can also use the lockers if you prefer.
I recommend arriving at Xel-Ha no later than 9:30AM. That way, you have plenty of time to experience the highlights without having to rush.
What to pack
- Aqua shoes/water shoes are recommended since you’re wearing them the whole time; that way you don’t have to worry about storing them somewhere before you go into the water, and you can walk around easily when you get out of the water. I bought a cheap pair from Wal-Mart, Amazon also sells water shoes, or you can buy your water shoes from the Xel-Ha gift shop.
- You’ll spend a fair amount of time under the sun, so sunblock is recommended, just make sure it’s eco-friendly & biodegradable. This is to prevent damage to the reefs and fishes.
- A change of clothes.
- Waterproof case with a harness for your phone/camera.
- Cash or credit card, and ID.
How to save on tickets
The best way to save is to buy your Xel-Ha tickets from the official Xel-ha website, and to do so as early as possible before your visit. That way, you get early booking discounts.
If you buy your tickets at least 21 days before your visit, you save 15%. If you buy your tickets 7-20 days before your visit, you save 10%.
They also have a 50% discount for children aged 5-11 years old.
They have two types of admissions, Xel-Ha All Inclusive, which includes everything, and Xel-Ha Total, which adds one optional activity. If you plan on doing one of the optional activities mentioned above, get the Xel-Ha Total admission because it’ll be cheaper than paying separately.
How to get to Xel-Ha
Xel-Ha is located between Tulum and Akumal, so it’s about a 35 minute drive (30 miles) south of Playa Del Carmen. It’s a little farther south, so if you’re visiting from Cancun, it’s about 1.5 hours (70 miles) south of Cancun. It’s very easy to get to by car or taxi, and there are transportation packagers available when you buy your tickets.
Xel-Ha is open every day from 9AM to 6PM. If you booked the transportation option, you’ll be picked up at a set time, so check your ticket for the pickup times.
I loved my visit to Xel-Ha, and I recommend it to just about anyone.
The various activities like snorkeling, zip-lining, and water slides are great fun, and the park itself is very beautiful. Everytime I took in the sights, a pleasant sense of relaxation would mix with all the excitement I was experiencing. I think that’s the magic of Xel-Ha, its ability to thrill and relax created a lovely experience for me.
Xel-Ha is easy to enjoy. The park is just the right size, so there will be plenty to see and do in one day without having to rush. The all-inclusive food & drinks were a nice touch. I was genuinely surprised by how good the food was, and the inclusion of free drinks was a nice touch. This makes Xel-Ha a great value.
If you want to experience the natural beauty of Mexico while having lots of fun in the water, Xel-Ha is the park for you.
Thanks for reading this review, and I hope the guide helps you get the most out of your visit to Xel-Ha. If you have any questions about the park, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to reply.
If you’re planning to visit Xel-Ha, buy your tickets using the links I’ve posted in this review. They’re links to the official site so it’s secure, offers the lowest prices, and gives early booking discounts. Plus, if you found this article helpful, using my links helps support me and my site by allowing me to collect a small commission for referring you. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and I get a small reward which helps support the time and money required to create these guides and maintain this site. I truly loved my visit to Xel-Ha, and I covered my own expenses, so these are my honest opinions, unaffected by my partnership with Xel-Ha & Grupo Xcaret.