By Louis Pintkowski
If you have traveled along Highway 307 South of Playa Del Carmen in the Riviera Maya in the last year you could not help but see the giant stone towers being built next to the Xcaret park. The structures themselves are a feat of Mayan and Mexican labor that are an attraction all by themselves. I figured out months ago what they were going to be used for: ZIP LINES, and I kept telling my wife I was not going to let this attraction pass me by. We have been living outside of Tulum running our little bed and breakfast La Selva Mariposa for the last few years and having lived here for five years without visiting Xcaret or Xel ha. I just can not picture myself paying to wait in line to see these well known attractions. In the States I am a Roller Coaster enthusiast and have waited in many a long line for the thrill of the ride so you can see my rationale for wanting to compare this newest park Xplore, with my earlier thrill rides.
On a Recent visit to Playa, I noticed that a modest sign at the gate said OPEN, so when I got home I looked up the web site to find it said opening soon. I guessed that they were opening without fanfare to get the staff trained and the kinks worked out and needed some guinea pigs, hence the small OPEN sign. It was Friday and I was chatting with four of our guests about the next day’s possible itinerary and mentioned to them my plan of going to Xplor to check it out, they had remembered seeing the tower’s on there drive down from the airport in Cancun. They were from Houston in there early ‘40s, and were looking for adventure. My explanation of the Zip Line caught their imagination, and it did not take long to make a plan for a 9:00 am departure the next day.
I could tell they were as excited as I was because they were waiting by the car and on time. Our little pueblo of Macario Gomez is an hour drive. We arrived at 10:00 am and found them open for business. We parked in the small 200 car lot and walked down to the CAVE ENTRANCE where a host greeted us and gave us the scoop. We dashed back to the car to get towels, sun block, shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, ( No Sandal’s please), a water-proof camera, a shirt, wallet, a change of clothes and a bottle of water. They do have drink stands around, but it was a much-needed plus to have your own water handy while waiting in lines. You do not need sun glasses and would probably find them a problem, and you do not need money, other than the entry fee of $95.00. You should know from the start that you will get wet: there is no avoiding it. The entry area is an incredible sight, as were most things we saw that day. The park communes with nature incredibly well. The attention to detail, the blending of walk ways and nature, and the landscaping that is on-going and some other structures that are still being finished look very promising. There is something exciting around every corner.
The check-in took about 30 minutes and that was with only 20 people in front of us. While you are waiting for one of the five cashiers you fill out a waiver form. The cashier looks that over, collects the fee and issue’s you a helmet and a locker key. Off to the lockers and changing area, then the plan of attack. Zip Line first was our call, after a quick quick trip to the Banos, which are very attractive and clean. A short walk puts us in a 40- minute line where we got our gear on, secured and checked, during the last interval
of 10 minutes I see about seven people coming back down from the first tower. They have changed their minds. I can understand: this is no kiddy ride. These towers soar up 30 meters from the ground, some much higher, and the first view can scare a lot of folks. There are 13 Zip Lines and once you start you go from tower to tower and each tower has a stairway to be climbed, so you do get a work out along the way. At Tower Five they finally had water available, which was a welcome sight. By the way, there was only a few minute wait after we got past the first tower.
I actually found myself getting bored after eight zip lines and was counting them down when I encountered some interesting changes. One of the towers you arrive at you descend by stairway one floor and jump on a water slide that is quite long as it spirals around the outside of the tower. The cool water and change of pace was great. The slide dumps you into a small cenote pool where you walk out and proceed to the next tower. There was a short wait at this tower but being refreshed by the water slide not only cools you down but reignites your enthusiasm. The next tower was the longest ride and went over the restaurant. I also spotted a few crocodiles sunning in an enclosed area. I decided to yell as loud as I could for help as I crossed over the roof of the restaurant. When I got to the bottom the catch man grabbed my shoulders looked me straight in the eyes and asked if I was OK, I laughed and told him I was just trying to get the restaurant customers excited and I was just fine.
The final tower is a short ride but it takes you over a canal and through a water fall. You are able to drag your feet if you like and of course you finish in water about three feet deep. Since I was wet, I headed to the River and Cave area. No waiting: just grab a life vest and walk in. The water is a bit cool and felt good to me. I heard a group of kids saying how cold it is. They are surprised that I just walked in and swam off. This part turned out to be the most incredible adventure, walking and swimming by myself in total peace in an underground river with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere. Living here in the Yucatan, I have been to many cenotes but being in this cave really gave me a true idea of what geological wonders the Yucatan hides beneath its surface and what must be under our property in Macario Gomez. There must be a thousand lights placed all around illuminating the fantastic rock formations and points of interest. I was amazed at how they were able to hide the wires and yet left no trace of working the area. The water is very heavy with lime and calcium and gives off a blue-green hue. The water was about four to five feet deep most of the way and a few spots I had to swim, but most of the way I could walk. I did not pay much attention to the sign that said how far the river went but it was quite long.
I spent at least 40 minutes moving along the route. There are several emergency exits along the way, if needed, and I came across three separate employee life guards swimming the opposite way with a paddle board, in case guest needed help. I was lucky to have the place mostly to myself, having the peace and quiet in this serene setting was just un-imaginable. As you near the exit you start to hear water churning and you come around a corner to a waterfall that is pounding down as you swim through. When you
come out at last, you look up to the sky and there, as you peer upward, you realize that you are in the center of one of the giant towers with the large walkway that circles to the top of the tower you were on earlier. You have one more waterfall to swim through before you reach the exit.
I came for the Zip Line but would return for the River experience.
After exiting, there is a water and coffee stand where I picked up a cappuccino to warm myself before heading back. I walked through a dry cave for about 10 minutes before arriving, back to the locker area. I took a shower in the facility that had the largest showerhead I had ever seen and the water pressure was so strong it could knock a small child over. After changing, I headed over to the restaurant for soup and checked out their incredible array of great-tasting foods, too many to mention. The restaurant is first rate, very clean and well organized, with an attentive staff. After you serve yourself, the staff brings you drinks and keeps the tables cleaned and checks about other needs.. I finished the meal with desert and a cone of soft self serve ice cream as I awaited my amigos.
There are two other adventures that they offered, one is a paddle raft on a river and the other is an ATV that you drive around a four-kilometer course. I did not have time for these, but there is always another time. The facility is as I said earlier, working out the kinks. I can report that they have an energetic staff that tries very hard to see to your needs. They are informative, friendly, and good humored. The park is something special that will attract people from all over as the word gets out. I suggest you go see it before the crowds find out about it. Xplore is a terrific place to shed your years and become a kid again. I am sixty three going on forty. Enjoy!
Louis lives with his wife Mari East of Tulim in Macario Gmez where they operate a B&B La Selva Mariposa www.laselvamariposa.com