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Just get lost

Exotic Xcaret is the perfect place to lose your way

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The Xcaret site was historically an important Maya trading centre and visitors to the Xcaret park can see real Mayan ruins during their visit to the park.

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The Xcaret site was historically an important Maya trading centre and visitors to the Xcaret park can see real Mayan ruins during their visit to the park.

Every once in a while, it's a good idea to get lost someplace. At least that's what I told myself as I wandered around the Xcaret Park in Mexico's Mayan Riviera, trying in vain to find my way back to the lockers where I had foolishly left the park map along with my camera bag. After more than an hour of wandering, I was beginning to realize just how big Xcaret Park really is and just how useful a park map might have been.

Xcaret (pronounced Sh-ka-ret) is an eco-archaeological park located in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico, not far from Cancun. Built on an 81-hectare ancient Mayan archaeological site, the park has attractions designed to showcase the ecological and cultural diversity of Mexico, as well as entertain visitors.

Key daytime activities include swimming in underground rivers, touring a butterfly pavilion, enjoying a coral reef aquarium, exploring archaeological ruins and swimming with dolphins. In the evening, more than 300 performers appear in several spectacular live shows showcasing Mayan traditions and Mexican culture.

I began my exploration of Xcaret with a swim in one of the underground rivers -- that is how I was separated from the park map I acquired at the entrance gate. The park has three underground rivers. Visitors can swim or snorkel along them to experience the extensive underground cave system found in many areas of the Yucatan peninsula.

Near the mouth of the rivers, I picked up a life vest and a bag to stow my personal belongings. But when the staff saw my camera bag, they advised me to take my cheap point-and-click with me and leave the good camera equipment safely in a locker.

Finding the lockers the first time was a bit of a challenge, but it seemed practically impossible the second time around. There were some upsides to my situation, though. As I let my poor directional instincts guide me, I began discovering areas of the park that I would have missed otherwise.

One of the best surprises of the unexpected tour was stumbling across a group of people participating in a Mayan Temazcal purification ceremony in a remote corner of the park. Believed to balance the mind, body and spirit, the ritual involves a gathering around a ceremonial fire, followed by a sweat lodge where steam and heat cleanses the body and soul.

In another corner of the park, I explored a Mayan cemetery and then visited the real Mayan ruins many visitors miss. At the butterfly pavilion, I watched as workers sorted through a variety of native chrysalises, then wandered through the atrium watching the colourful native butterflies.

After a wander past Jaguar Island and the Manatee Lagoon, I was finally able to locate the locker area. It goes to show that if you go down every wrong road, you will eventually find the right one. It may not be the best way to get somewhere, but it is the best way to really discover a place.

Unlimited Xcaret Xperience: The Occidental Grand Xcaret Resort is a family-friendly, all-inclusive resort adjacent to Xcaret Park. For the first time, the resort is offering guests staying for three nights or more unprecedented access to Xcaret Park. Highlights of the Unlimited Xcaret Xperience package include all-day unlimited access to Xcaret Park, a private guided tour, reserved seating during the evening Xcaret Mexico Espectacular show, free access to the kids' Xcaret Explorer for a day activity, discounted meals and beverages, and a credit that can be used at the resort and in the park.If you go:

One-day admission to Xcaret Park costs $89 per person when purchased at the park gates. You can save 10 per cent on gate admission by purchasing tickets at least seven days in advance on the park's website (xcaret.com)

The Unlimited Xcaret Xperience package at the Occidental Grand Xcaret Resort varies in price depending upon the travel dates and is available from the hotel's website (occidentalhotels.com), through tour operators such as WestJet Vacations or Transat Holidays and at the hotel upon arrival.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 E4

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