At first glance, Hotel Xcaret appears to be a real-life Jurassic Park. The stunning landscape and eco-influenced architecture are breathtaking, while the drive though the grounds past the entrances to eco and adventure parks only heightens the anticipation and solidifies the sense that this place is somewhere otherworldly.
I first had the chance to visit Hotel Xcaret in the spring of 2018. The hotel was a brand new tropical paradise with an all-inclusive policy that incorporated the usual unlimited food and top-shelf drinks, but Hotel Xcaret also includes access to all of the company’s Experiencias Xcaret: eco parks, tours of archaeological and historically significant sites, and adventure experiences. This was exactly the spring break this high school teacher needed. Admittedly, I wanted the typical “drinks by the pool” vacation, but an opportunity to zipline through a ring of fire would not be wasted on me.
I had never traveled to Mexico prior to this trip, but I’m a serious over-planner. In the months between booking and arrival I became obsessive about my research. I needed to ensure that my travel companions and myself got the most out of our time at Hotel Xcaret. Much to the chagrin of my group, I was extremely successful in finding information about all of the tremendous benefits offered to guests of Hotel Xcaret. Months before arrival I had already established a daily activity and restaurant schedule and communicated with the hotel’s pre-arrival staff to book our (included) airport transfers and tour of Chichen Itza.
So, now you’re thinking, why would anyone travel with her? I get it. I over plan. But I’m working on being flexible. And in my extensive research, I discovered there are people out there just like me, or worse. One woman in the Fans of Hotel Xcaret Facebook group (which can provide a wealth of information) posted a color-coded spreadsheet of activities and restaurants, with times down to the minute. Upon seeing the extent to which other people over plan, I felt both validated and a little jealous.
But back to the hotel’s pre-arrival staff: Among the numerous benefits to staying with Hotel Xcaret is the included, round trip airport transfer to and from Cancun International Airport. Beautiful shuttles, equipped with wi-fi, leave the Cancun airport for the hotel approximately every thirty minutes. Hotel guests simply contact the pre-arrival staff via email with their flight number and personal information to insure the shuttle is expecting them. When contacting the pre-arrival staff, guests can also arrange dinner reservations (only two restaurants require them), book tours including multiple adventure parks or Mayan ruins at Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza, or arrange to have the staff help you celebrate significant events.
One quick email to pre-arrival concierge Talia, and our transportation and tours were booked.
I was nervous about the airport transportation. I had never taken a vacation like this. This was my first all-inclusive and my first trip to Mexico. As a serious over-planner, I had myself convinced something major would go wrong. Transportation seemed very likely to be the thing that could go easily awry. Booking was too easy. Upon arrival at the airport, Xcaret guests are advised to walk out the main exit of the airport. This is where the research came in handy. I had read, on multiple travel sites, that the Cancun airport can be overwhelming and that transportation companies, in particular, can be aggressive and dishonest. The best advice I received was to walk straight out of the airport to the open area beyond the doors and look for the individual wearing the red Xperiences Xcaret shirt. It was almost comical how easy the representative was to find.
As my transportation anxiety subsided, the wonderfully friendly transportation representative tagged our bags and explained the process of check in to us. He told us the hotel would deliver our bags to the rooms and that we would be able to enjoy any of the amenities at the hotel, including park access, even if our rooms were not ready. It was 10:00 o’clock on a Sunday morning when we landed and check in at Hotel Xcaret is not scheduled until 3:00. While I may not have been a seasoned all-inclusive traveler, I am an experienced traveler and expected there to be a possible gap between arrival and check-in. I was very pleased that I had thought to pack a swimsuit and sunscreen in my tote bag. Having left temperatures hovering at freezing in Washington D.C that morning, I couldn’t wait to spend an afternoon by the pool.
Within a matter of minutes, our shuttle was off. It was a smaller shuttle, as it was a Sunday morning, but it was full. My anticipation grew exponentially as we drove into the Riviera Maya. The landscape grows more dense with jungle foliage and is periodically interrupted by Luxe beach resorts. The local surrounding area features new construction neighborhoods popping up everywhere and you get the sense that this is a neighborhood in transition. Every so often there is an entrance to a nature reserve or eco park. Some of them specialize in specific animals. We passed signs for a monkey sanctuary, a crocodile nursery, and a sea turtle park. I hardly spoke to anyone on the drive because I was so busy memorizing the details of the world I was passing through. I must have looked like a child pressed up against the glass of an ice cream shop. My only momentary disappointments were recognizing American corporate logos; admittedly, they represented companies that I love, but their presence here lent a sense of placelessness to this remarkably unique part of the world.
And then I saw it. The entrance to the Xcaret complex. It isn’t just the magnificent Hotel Xcaret that sits on the property, but also Parque Xcaret, Xenses, and Xplor, three of the parks included in a stay at Hotel Xcaret. Each park offers an entirely unique and exciting experience. More on each of those later.
We stepped off the shuttle and into the open air lobby. The design of the hotel is entirely influenced by the surrounding landscape and it has an immediate impact on one’s mood. Hanging plants adorn the ceiling, natural stone is featured throughout the check-in areas, woven fabrics and local art complete the decor and make guests feel entirely welcomed. Staff members in the lobby are numerous and friendly. They greet guests warmly and provide towels and popsicles upon arrival. The staff are outfitted in beautiful uniforms which suggest cultural significance in the Yucatan and this furthers the hotel’s overarching aesthetic aim to work with, rather than interrupt, the landscape and culture.
At check in, we were directed to a Butler, who escorted us to another check in area away from the main lobby. On the way there, he explained each and every aspect of the resort that we passed. He highlighted hours of restaurants, gave recommendations, and showed us the alebrijes, elaborately designed and decorated Mexican spirit guides which are scattered throughout the entire complex. The alebrijes have cameras in them that are designed to work with RFID chips embedded in each guest’s bracelet. At the parks and hotels, guests can pose for unlimited pictures that will be stored digitally and available for purchase. Pictures can be viewed on the television in each guest’s room.
Our tour of the resort ended at the Casa Fuego check in. My heart pounded with excitement as we entered the lobby. We are high school teachers and this trip was a financial stretch. Casa Fuego is, as I learned from my extensive research, the exclusive, adults-only area of the resort. Guests of Casa Fuego have access to restricted areas of the resort, including a glorious rooftop pool and bar, and an Ala’ Carte restaurant which is open for all three meals. Casa Fuego comes at a premium price, an upgrade for which we had not paid. I thought, for sure, there had been some mistake.
The desk staff at Casa Fuego proceeded with our check in process and apologetically explained that the room would likely not be available until 3:00. I stood there, bewildered, thinking, “my room IN FUEGO?” I couldn’t believe she had the right person. She never once mentioned that we were being upgraded; we were treated as though we had arranged to stay in the exclusive section. We finished check in, and the gentleman who had escorted us to Casa Fuego suggested we try the Fuego restaurant for lunch. He walked us there and explained that our personal butler, who would remain with us for the duration of our stay, would be back to check on us.
Fuego was just opening up for lunch so we decided to have a drink at the bar before settling in at our table. It was one of the best decisions we made all week. Jose was tending bar that day and made the finest margarita (on the rocks, no salt) I’ve had to date. My Spanish is limited, but he chatted with my friend about the tequila he used and explained which tequilas are his favorites. They also discussed the local area and the view across the water to Cozumel. Jose was very friendly and was helpful in teaching me enough Spanish so as to not feel entirely left out. I appreciated that he didn’t laugh at my distinctly French-sounding accent.
Victor served us lunch. He was attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. He started what would be a continuous joke throughout our stay of encouraging “mas tequila,” because “you're on vacation.” Lunch was exceptional. My caprese sandwich was too large to finish, but it was delicious.
It was just after 1:00 when we finished lunch and I needed to be by the water. We knew it was time to take advantage of the generous Fuego upgrade. We changed into swimsuits and headed to the rooftop pool. The elevator doors opened to the rooftop and we were immediately greeted by the glorious breeze, a breathtaking view, and Beatriz, the pool concierge who would prove to be one of the hardest-working people at Hotel Xcaret.
Beatriz escorted us over to loungers by the pool, where she laid out towels for us, arranged the umbrellas, and brought us a bucket of water bottles on ice. She and the pool server, Alfonzo, were incredible during our time at the pool. Alfonzo brought me my first drink, a Riviera Maya, and after that, my hand was never empty. He saw me look at someone else’s drink with curiosity and he returned with one for me. “It’s a Bob Marley,” he explained. “It looked like you might want one.”
By the end of the first three hours at Hotel Xcaret I knew this place was beyond compare. The service was like nothing I’d ever experienced, the food and drinks were superior to any resort I had visited, and the design incorporating the rivers and natural caves made the grounds look like something out of my actual dreams.
With drink in hand, I plunged into the rooftop pool and gazed out over the teal Caribbean sea. I hadn’t seen my room yet, but I knew I never wanted to leave.