Discover why Cancún’s Grand Oasis Resort offers an ideal stay during your adventure to Xel-Há Aquatic Park in Mexico.
A peacock struts across the grounds of the Grand Oasis Resort in Cancún, on the northeastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. My husband, son, and I are here for a week—our Cancún adventures have just begun. The grand bird is ostentatious, yet magnificent with its cobalt head and bronze-feathered train, dappled with blue-and-green eyespots. The male lets out a high-pitched call. “He’s lonely…looking for a mate,” a hotel worker explains. Sadly, there are no peahens on the property.
With early morning sunshine flaring across the white-sand beach and turquoise waves, we start our day with a power smoothie at the outdoor juice bar before hitting the yoga tent overlooking the Caribbean. Nothing like a great workout, in anticipation of another fun-filled day, here in the coastal tourist mecca of Cancún.
Unlimited Amenities at Cancún’s Grand Oasis Resort
After my workout, I notice guests already filling up the chaise lounges perched near the water’s edge. Although personally not a fan of sunbathing, I do enjoy savoring the salty ocean breezes from the canopied luxury of one of the resort’s lavish beach beds. Sprawled across a mattress, umbrella drink in hand, and jamming to the rhythms from the live DJ, I have a great vantage point for people-watching. Both the groups of party-seekers and the families are in search of irrefutable beach fun to make their Cancún adventures unforgettable.
Note: Check out Mexico – What You Need to Know Before You Go
Grand Oasis Offers Countless All-Inclusive Dining Options
In the distance, I hear the buzz of a WaveRunner engine, sputtering to life. With a tiny spray of saline water, a couple jets off into the emerald sea. I find myself still thinking about last night’s local fare and serenading mariachis at the on-site Mexican cantina, Sarape. Tonight, we can’t decide whether to frequent the Brazilian churrascaria, where waiters shave grilled meats from skewers onto your plate, or Il Forno, known for its Italian pizza and pasta specialties. As an all-inclusive establishment, the Grand Oasis caters to every gourmand’s taste.
Mix up Your Cancún Adventures with Shopping in Downtown
After a couple of days of staying close to the Grand Oasis resort, we decided to venture away from the hotel zone. My family and I hopped on the local public bus to El Centro—downtown Cancún—where the resident Cancunenses live. At Mercado 28, a flea market maze of handicraft and souvenir shops, intermingled with restaurant tipicas, we scouted the best bargains in the city. We haggled over a gargantuan hand-stitched tapestry of indigenous Mayas, depicting warriors and women gazing towards a distant Chichen Itza, the astonishing Mayan ruin. We chatted with Salvador, a talented pottery painter. He dabbled his brush in a palette of bright colors, bringing to life the skeletal face of a Day-of-the-Dead ceramic.
Xel-Há Aquatic Park: A Highlight of Your Cancún Adventures
My family and I are loving all of our Cancún adventures so far, but nothing compares to our excursion to Xel-Há in the Riviera Maya. Mother Nature’s water park in Tulum, Xel-Há has unlimited gastronomical delights, drinks, and aquatic adventures for the entire family. Just south of Playa del Carmen, the cove of Xel-Há—meaning ‘where water is born’ in the Yucatec Mayan language—sits at the mouth of several fresh-water channels. It comprises the world’s longest system of underground rivers. Additionally, the inlet serves as a natural entrance for the Caribbean Sea to the Continental interior.
Add to that the sacred, mystical cenotes—a natural pit or sinkhole that exposes groundwater. These freshwater reservoirs were used by ancient Mayan priests to communicate with the gods of the underworld. Owing to its unique geography and exquisite beauty, the natives believed the gods were so pleased with their creation that they were willing to share it with mere mortals.
The deities went so far as to create a trio of caretakers to maintain its magnificence—‘Huh’ the iguana, the Guardian of Earth; ‘Chuc Kay’ the pelican, the Guardian of Air; and ‘Kay Op’ the parrotfish, the Guardian of Water. Some still believe the ancient divinities safeguard this preserve for mankind. And if you keep your eyes open, you’ll more than likely encounter a couple of foraging iguanas, pelícanos swooping across Caprice’s Bay, and a vibrantly-colored loro, or parrot fish, nibbling on your toes as they dangle in the seagrass.
Flora and Fauna of Xel-Há: A Yucatán Paradise
Having celebrated its 25-year anniversary in 2020, this Riviera Maya park is still going strong. The natural aquatic part is an absolute eco-paradise. In 2014, the park received an EarthCheck Gold certification—a sustainability benchmark in the travel and tourism industry. The first tourist park to earn this certification, Xel-Há attributes it in part to its commitment to buy local products and its investment in sustainability programs. The park’s staff is also trained in environmental care and preservation.
Xel-Há boasts spectacular wildlife, countless species of flora, and colorful, free-flying birds. Kaleidoscopic macaws—scarlet and green-winged—are seen all over the park. The brightly-colored large parrots are eager to pose for pictures alongside tourists, near the thatched-roof pavilions and assorted gift shops.
The Many Offerings at Tulum’s Xel-Há Make for Unforgettable Cancún Adventures
Xel-Há, the archeological jewel of the Mayan civilization, dating back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, is a genuine water-lover’s dream. The history and natural beauty of the water park draw tourists to the area. And to take full advantage of such a stunning setting, Xel-Há offers plenty of activities that will make this one of your favorite Cancún adventures. Unlimited offerings include snorkeling, river tours, cave exploring, over-water rope swings, zip-lining, jungle trails, cliff climbing, exploring a Mayan wall, and Trepachanga—a rope challenge over water.
Biking the Jungle Trails of Mexico’s Xel-Há
Before we take to the river, we decide to bike along Xel Há’s jungle paths. For over half a mile, we pedal past endemic orchids and fringed Palmeras of every description. Along the way, we hope to encounter a shy agouti (the long-legged kin to the guinea pig) or the adorable, but mischievous, reddish-brown coatimundi (the South American equivalent to the raccoon). Although there were no charming woodland creatures feeding along the trail during our 15-minute ride, we certainly enjoyed our bike excursion through the jungle trails.
At the approach to the inlet, we exchange our bicycles for snorkeling gear. We don the requisite life jackets—the color of lapis—and head towards the Caleta or cove. With fins, masks, and souvenir snorkels in hand, we survey the small, inward-curving bay as it beckons an arm to the Caribbean Sea. Gentle currents ripple at the outset of the Xel-Há River. Tangled aerial prop roots of red and button mangroves—tough anchors that delve into the sandy bottom—oscillate gently in the wind, like trees on stilts. Bound to the tides, these thickets of salt-tolerant shrubs filter pollutants from the water and reduce coastal erosion. And, more importantly, act as a barrier against hurricanes that are common to this sector of Yucatán.
Snorkeling at Xel-Há Inlet in Tulum
Plunging our heads into this natural aquarium, we see an entire other world below the surface. Myriads of fish—surgeonfish, snappers, fluttery angels, even the occasional barracuda—swim amongst meadows of kelp. I can hear myself breathing through the tube, my teeth firmly clenched around the snorkel’s mouthpiece. I’m always a little nervous with my face submerged, leery of sucking a giant swig of briny water through the plastic airway. But the breathtaking scene below the water’s surface soon eases any tension I might have had.
Our flippered feet riffle through the crystal-clear, aquamarine waters, undulating slightly through the inlet. We are fortunate enough to witness strange phenomena while snorkeling in the Xel-Há cove. There is a noticeable column of dense salinity from the ingress of the sea, known as a halocline. The resultant temperature gradient, a thermocline, comes from the mixing of the ocean water with the fresh flow percolating upwards from underground caves. The warm seawater merging with the river creates the ideal temperature.
Inner Tubing at Xel-Há
Within minutes, in our snorkel gear, we’ve eased past the bewitching mangrove forests. We had hopes of cruising past a gliding sea turtle or manatee. Instead, we merely passed by our fellow snorkelers and fun-seekers on inner tubes. Now it’s our turn to take to the transparent inflatables to drift along the stream. With our arms and legs draped limply over the sides of our inner tube built for two, we soak up the warmth of sunshine and enjoy the lazy afternoon on the emerald waters.
A Leap of Faith at Xel-Há’s Cliff of Courage
For now, we are content just relishing the glory of el Caribe Mexicano and all the extraordinary marine life circling below us. Once again, I dip my mask beneath the water, hoping to see a pouty-lipped loro or a bloated pufferfish. Or better yet, a Queen Conch sea snail, the protected mollusk that makes its home in the Xel-Há inlet. We putter along, riding the river current, toward the Cliff of Courage. “Wanna jump, mamá?” my son asks.
“Sure,” I answer. “Why not?” I am brave enough to agree to the 16-ft. leap, but not to the ascent via the climbing wall, grappling for hand-holds in the cracks or navigating a rope. Instead, we swim to the boardwalk and follow the well-marked route. We stop momentarily to survey the Xel-Há signposts, before rallying onward to the precipice.
With a whoop and a holler, our teenage son bails over the edge, into the teal-blue cove. Not wanting to test my nerve hovering for too long on the brink, I follow shortly thereafter. I feel a swoosh of air on my descent off the cliff, and before I know it, I am alongside my son in the refreshing water of the river below, courage intact.
Elevate your Cancún Adventures on the Salpichanga Zip-lines over Xel-Há River
Further along, we arrive at the zip-lines—a watery Salpichanga ride for splattering into the inlet. I opt for the chair swing and fly down the cable, comfortably seated on a canvas throne. The pulley whines as it goes along the zip-wire, before abruptly dropping me into the river. I am elated to be in the water.
My husband and son roar down the alternate lines, arms outstretched above their heads, holding onto a tiny handle-grip. I watch in amazement, knowing that, without upper-arm strength, that would not have been a good option for me.
Trepachanga Obstacle Course at Xel-Há Park
The Trepachanga obstacle course requires excellent balance and equilibrium. Guests must maneuver along a pair of hanging ropes, suspended high above the river. At the commencement is a trough of boulders that you must cross over before actually reaching the water. We decide to forgo the obstacle course but have fun watching more adventurous thrill-seekers try their luck at the twirling ropes.
Eventually, we arrive at the Floating Bridge, an engineering marvel of interconnected, buoyant sections, that separates the cove from the open sea. It, too, is a challenge for your sense of stability, as the pontoons mobilize fiercely at the slightest hint of movement. Once we’ve returned our snorkeling gear and inner tubes, the three of us consider taking a half-hour siesta. We enjoy the next thirty minutes stretched out in a mesh hammock, snoozing under the delightful shade of a teetering coconut palm.
Returning to the Resort Zone
After a fun day at Xel-Há, we returned to the Cancún resort zone for evening entertainment. The Grand Oasis offers plenty of family-friendly entertainment for your evenings spent at the resort. One of our favorites was a performance called Quetzal, an aerial show performed in the Oasis Arena. The Cirque-du-Soleil-esque show is named after the Resplendent Quetzal, a sacred species of bird with an unforgettable plumage of metallic blues, greens, and reds. The shimmering costumes gently remind me of the peacock that greeted us on the first day of our Cancún adventures.
Cancún Adventures Come to a Close
The last night of our Cancún adventure ended with a late-evening stroll about the hotel grounds. We spent the time admiring the geometric architecture and white stucco of the resort itself, ambling past the unique sculpture at the lagoon, and following the expansive pool that winds throughout the complex.
Too tired from the jaunt around the property and a long day in the sun at Xel-Há, my husband and I forfeit a chance to play the slot machines in the Grand Oasis casino. Instead, we quench our thirst with libations from the bar, Ceiba. We order a local Yucatán beer for my husband and a piña colada for me and settle back to watch seasoned poker players placing their bets at the tables.
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Making the Most of Your Cancún Adventure
Whether you visit Cancún on spring break or Thanksgiving break, or you come with your family or a group of friends, the all-inclusive Grand Oasis Resort has something for everyone and will not disappoint. Proximity to Cancún’s Xel-Há’s aquatic playground makes the property an excellent choice for fun-filled, unforgettable Cancún adventures.
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Cancún’s Grand Oasis Resort: Adventure to Xel-Há