Having roasted out in the hot Mexican sun for a few days, it was time for a little bit of excitement. We’d rented a Jeep Sahara from America Car Rental for three days at a cost of only £120. Luckily, the rental office was opposite our hotel. Both Stef and I were down as insured drivers, however, as soon as we walked out into the parking lot and saw the size of it, I knew that I would be the only one doing so. It was a big red beast and no way was Stef going to drive it (the only reason I let Barry do all the driving is because he is the worst back seat driver EVER! – Stef) I don’t mind. If anything, I prefer it. I love driving. It’s always a fun experience driving in a new country. The driving regulations (or lack of them) always keep you on your toes. They drive on the right in Mexico, like they do in the States, however, they use metric measurements unlike the States which use imperial. The last time I drove in km/h was in New Zealand so the speed limits were obviously different to here in the UK (which use mph). However, I soon learnt that the speed limits are just a suggestion – I tried to keep to them but was overtaken by every other road user!
The first day of three we went to Xel-Há Water Park which is in Riviera Maya – a 120 km drive along the East Coast of Mexico which took us about an hour and a half from our hotel. We had sat-nav built into the car, however, all the tourist destinations are very well sign posted and the roads are very easy to navigate – we pretty much travelled all the way on highway 307 which is lined with tourist attractions. With the rental company having only left us a quarter of a tank of gas, we pulled into the first gas station to fill up. The price per litre was $13 Mexican Pesos. That works out as only £0.50 in English money. At the time of writing this, the petrol is £1.09 per litre here in England ($28 Mexican Pesos per litre or $6.72 American Dollars per gallon). The Jeep was very juicy, but hey, with prices that cheap, who cares! The cherry on the cake is that you don’t even have to get out of your car. As soon as you pull up, there’s an attendant that does everything for you – even cleans your windows! It’s always a good idea to tip when they’ve assisted you. I never knew how much to tip – so I’d just give them $25 Pesos each time. Having recently Googled it, only 1 in 7 Mexican workers gets the average minimum wage of $65 Pesos (£2.50) a DAY but the gas attendants scoop in $90 (£3.50). To put it in perspective, the minimum working wage in the UK is £7.20, $184 Pesos an HOUR and that’s the law!
Xel-Há is an aquatic theme park and has a natural inlet and lagoon built where an ancient Mayan civilisation once were settled. It is situated on the coast of Mexico, which means the lagoon is open to the sea. This makes it a natural aquarium and home to many exotic fish and flora – there is a fence to stop the sharks coming in though. The place is ginormous with activities to do all over the park.
For £56 ($1400 Peso or $80 US) per person, it not only grants you entry but also includes free food and drink throughout your entire stay, towels, lockers and snorkelling equipment (you even get to keep your snorkel if you want). It’s a great deal and it gets cheaper if you book via their website opposed to buying at the gate. Making it all-inclusive is brilliant and saves you the hassle of having to carry your wallet and ruining all your money when you jump into the water and have forgotten to take it out of your pocket! There are extra activities you can pay for but I’ll get on to that in a minute. As most of the activities are outside, you do need suntan lotion. You can bring your own, however, as it’s an eco-site, it can’t contain any chemicals as it will harm the environment. Ours did; so we bought some of their eco-friendly sun block (which was a good idea as I had got burnt the previous day!).
We were assigned a locker and straight away we picked up our snorkelling equipment. After a short walk to the lagoon, we put on our flippers, floatation jackets and snorkels. I absolutely love being under the water. Being a qualified Open Water scuba diver, I just can’t get enough and I try to dive every time we go on holiday (Click here to see my diving blogs – Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, an Eel attack in Hawaii and a shipwreck in Florida). Stef on the other hand would be equally as happy watching the fish on YouTube! After her initial moaning and my moaning about her moaning, we were away with the fish. There was a LOT of fish in the lagoon. They state there are 70 marine species that populate the lagoon, such as angelfish, surgeonfish, damselfish, snapper, parrotfish, grouper, sergeant major, a family of rays, pufferfish, some barracudas and the queen conch, a protected species that inhabits the cove of Xel-Há. Bobbing around the lagoon, I saw a number of different fish. My fish knowledge is pretty non-existent so I couldn’t tell you what they were! The lagoon water was nothing I’d never seen before. It was a mixture of fresh water from the rivers and the dense sea water. As the two mix, it gives a weird oil like visual effect.
There was a wooden bridge across small part of the lagoon and when we’d crossed it by foot, we’d noticed that there was a massive school of fish there. So off we went swimming to this section. There was no one else there which made it all the better. Stef held back for a bit and I swam on. Within seconds I was surrounded by large fish. There must have been about 100 of them. I could feel them touching my leg and rubbing my belly with their fins as they swam underneath. It was quite a freaky experience. Knowing Stef wouldn’t like it, I advised her that they were nowhere near me to get her to come closer. She didn’t.
There were a few activities that we wanted to do that we had to pay for. They were new experiences for us so we just had to do them. It was such an amazing place to be, it seemed right to do them there. First up was the Sea Trek.
Again, it was water based and situated in the Lagoon. As you lower yourself into the water, a member of staff puts a helmet on you. The helmet covers your whole head and rests on your shoulders. They pump air into it which allows you to breath underwater and the front is a clear plastic screen letting you see the sights at 3m deep. You do look a bit silly but the only people that see you are the other people wearing them! Stef sat this one out and to be honest, I was quite disappointed with it. Sure it was fun wearing this helmet, but the current was strong and this brought up a lot of sediment from the floor. This resulted in a very sandy view – definitely not the clear water that was shown on the promotional material! One other annoying thing is that I have a rather large head (obviously housing a LOT of knowledge) and the helmet was a bit snug. This could be quite claustrophobic for some.
We followed a rail and walked around until we were all together. There were about 10 of us in total. There was a park guide taking photos and another directing the fish. The fish were very friendly and were obviously used to the human interaction. Within minutes there were a number of brightly coloured fish darting about all over the place. All of a sudden, a MASSIVE fish came out of nowhere. It swam right up to me and it seemed to enjoy being stroked. But it couldn’t have all of the massages to itself as seconds later, it was joined by a stingray. Next thing I knew; this ray was resting on my head. ON MY HEAD! He’s skin felt rough like sandpaper. Definitely a first for me. We spent 20 minutes under the water enjoying what we could see of the fish. It cost about £36 to do this. Was it worth it? For the experience, yes, but it would have been a hell of a lot better if the water was clearer.
Next up was another activity for me. I’m so selfish but it’s not like I don’t hassle Stef to join me. I was partaking in another new activity for me – Snuba. It’s a cross between snorkelling and scuba diving. It gives you the freedom of scuba, in the way that you can swim down deep, but without the equipment. You breathe through a mouth piece which has a pipe going to the surface that is connected to an air tank on a boat following you. I was diving in a cenote; which is a natural pit as a result of erosion against the limestone. This is filled with water and caves. This is perfect for Snuba as the big air tanks of scuba diving could easily get you wedged in the small areas.
There were only 4 of us diving in the cenote and we were led by the tour guide. I was the only one that had dived before so after the others had a bit of training, we descended into the water. We spent the next 40 minutes submerged in water with the deepest being 6m. There were no fish around but the plant life was everywhere. Every now and again, you’d get hit in the face by a floating plant. The water was cool and it was great to swim around in the cenote. We swam into a cave. It was dark but there were small holes that went to the surface. As the sun was shining above, it produced beams of light running through the water. Another sight was the air bubbles hitting the roof of the cave. They would bubble along trying to find their way out and looked like water on a surface. As well as swimming in caves, we also had to swim through some very narrow valleys. Very fun and something I would like to do again. This came with a price of £30.
Equipment off, I met Stef who told me that when she was walking through the park, which is surrounded by forests, a snake crossed the path! Not quite the near death experience I had in America when I nearly trod on a rattlesnake, but it was close enough for her!
Next was something for the pair of us. It was going to be a peaceful bike ride through the forest. However, this was to be a bike ride with a difference – it was the Zip Bike! The bikes had no wheels but still had pedals. Oh, and they were high in the trees connected to zip-lines suspended 7m above the forest floor. There was a 500m track that went through the forest, over cenotes and even went through caves. Within seconds of pedalling, we soon realised that it was going to be hard work. The bikes had no gears and there was a lot of going up! We travelled through small valleys which were lined with exotic plants and even wild iguanas. This only cost £20 per person and was extremely worth it. It took about 30 minutes and was very good exercise. We walked away with aching legs!
There is so many things to do in Xel-Há. Too much to do in one day. But the park was closing and I wanted to do one last thing. A spot of cliff jumping into the lagoon – The Cliff of Courage. But to get there, we had to cross a floating bridge across the lagoon (which also doubled as the shark fence). The bridge was all over the place and with our already aching legs from the bikes, it was a mission to get across without falling into the water either side!
We got to the cliff and there were a few small girls taking it in turns to jump off, climb back up and then jump again. It’s a 5m drop into the water below. It may not seem high, but it is. I didn’t even look. I walked to the edge backwards, Stef started the GoPro recording and ran towards me. As she got near, I launched myself backwards into the air. It felt like I was falling for ages. Then all of a sudden I was plunged into the refreshing water below, landing on my bum, with an almighty smack. (At this point all the surrounding crowd made a collective ‘ouch’ sound. I thought it was funny, but Barry did say it hurt! – Stef) It wasn’t a pain free experience but it made me want more. I jumped off a few more times. Stef was more than happy just to film me jumping in and not jumping in herself.
There’s so much more to do there such as swimming with dolphins and manatees, get thrown about on speedboats or even float along the lazy river. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough hours in the day for us to do anything more. It was a tiring day but if you are near Xel-Há, it is one of those places you just have to go. It was worth every penny and it certainly helped me cross a few more things off the old bucket list!