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Archaeological Sites, Ecological Parks,
Pristine Beaches, & More In The Yucatan

The name Cancun conjures up in the minds of many people, endless, pristine beaches, Mayan ruins, and archaeological parks, but there is much more to this beautiful territory which continues to lay claim as one of the most attractive destinations in the world.

Isla Mujeres Hotel Reservations
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Isla Mujeres, north of
Cancun, south of winter.

The many attractions are legion and while they unquestionably continue to be the main focus of tourists, a determined effort is being made to preserve the history and contributions of many artistés, and all this is being done at Garrafon, located at the southern point of Isla Mujeres in the Mexican Caribbean.

Hundreds of years ago, the Mayan declared Isla Mujeres sacred to the fertility goddess Ixchel, placing female statues there so that the people could worship them.

Regarded as one of the most beautiful ecological parks, Garrafon is a nature’s privileged site. On the edge of a small bay with a natural reef more than 300 meters in length, where one can snorkel, dive, or visit the Mayan temple of Goddess Ixchel , or walk through the sculpture garden.

The Temple of Ixchel.

The temple is located above a cliff at the highest point of the island, facing towards Cancun , less than 30 minutes away by boat.

Considered one of the most beautiful reefs in the world, with a maximum depth of four meters — it is what is called a shallow reef — the transparency of its waters and the soothing currents allow visitors the opportunity to appreciate different types of coral reefs formations and marine life.

The Mayan
Goddess Ixchel.

A visit to the Temple of Ixchel (Mayan Ruin) is a must for everyone. The Goddess of Fertility and the Codes, she represented the moon, the sun’s wife, associated with procreation. Ixchel was the major Mayan goddess; her integration refers to different sacred elements in the celestial and terrestrial orders.

One of Ixchel’s works was during the labor time of pregnant women. For the birth time, a sorceress put an idol of Ixchel under the pregnant woman’s bed as a symbol of protection from the goddess.

Those in charge of Garrafon Park are now pursuing a program to safeguard the work of the artistés from around the world.  It is a painstaking job for the seven kilometer long Isla, which boasts many food shops, handicrafts artisans, and tour operations.

The first international Sculpture Encounter was held on December 8, 2001 with the participation of the Sebastian Foundation.

Among the pieces that are on display are Mario Rendon Lozano; Sverrir Olaffson. from Iceland; Eduardo Stein Molina, from Mexico; Manuel Felguerez, from Mexico; Jose Villa Soberon, from Cuba; Eloy Tarcisio, from Mexico; Devin Laurence Field, from the United States; and Jose Luis Cuevas Sebastian, from Mexico.

Isla Mujeres Garrafon Nature Park.

The authorities have expanded their collection and now Garaffon Park is a center of attraction.

The Park nucleus, an area of some 5,000 square meters, is designed and decorated in classic Mexican-Caribbean style. This area encompasses restaurants, souvenir shops, a photo shop, ice cream parlor, bathrooms, showers, lockers, and booths for booking dive tours, and renting snorkel gear. The Nucleus is paved with raps and walkways that connect the Park’s different areas like a pie, such as lookout points, terraces, fresh water pool, snack bar, and the roped off reef-snorkeling area, sun chairs. and green area with a hammock court.

Any Garrafon tour departs from “El Embarcadero” dock on the first class vessel Garrafon Cruise on a 25 minute trip.

The falls and pool at Garrafon Park.

Garrafon has four restaurants and an ice cream stand: Tamarindo Restaurant, with an International buffet with a capacity for 250 people; Arrecife snack bar with a capacity for 50 people; El Acantilado, which houses 70 people; Las Palmas Snack Bar & La Bajadita ice cream parlor.

The stores include: La Bajadita, which has a vast selection of clothes, souvenirs, beach items, handicrafts, photography supplies, snacks, and soft drinks, as well as Xcaret and Xel-Ha brand products. A wide selection of clothes, souvenirs, and items for aquatic activities can be found at “Naitica Garrafon”, while “La Brisa” boasts of a Caribbean Town with clothes, souvenirs, and handicrafts.

There are two explanations for the origin of the name Garrafon. One is that it refers to the channel dividing the two principal masses of the reef which is shaped like the neck of a ‘garrafon’, the giant water bottles used in the area for settling purified water. The other says the site was once a supply station or fuel depot for both the lighthouse on the point and for boats sailing to Cozumel . Fuel was stored in “garrafones”, hence the name.

Another must-see for any tourist is Xel-Ha which houses one of the largest natural lagoons in the world. It is formed by a salt water lagoon with currents flowing into the Caribbean Sea . Old Mayan legends tell about the Mayan Gods who mixed their wisdom, enchantment, and love for beauty in order to create the place where the best of nature in the Caribbean is found all together. Old Mayans called this place Xel-Ha — “where the water is born.”

A White Loggerhead Turtle.

Xel-Ha is the habitat of more than 100 species of birds, 350 species of plants, and 90 marine species. At the turtle camp in Xel-Ha, scientists study the life cycle of the white and loggerhead turtles that nest from April to November each year; the staff sets free over 20,000 baby turtles annually.

This tropical park of breathtaking beauty has a turquoise blue lagoon, a river of tranquil waters, and an exuberant jungle. Among the natural attractions is Xel-Ha’s Cove, formed about five million years ago when the roof of an underground river collapsed. 

The Xel-ha River flows into the
cove and the Caribbean Sea.

The Cove is one of the most exciting places one can visit. The Xel-Ha river flows into Xel-Ha’s Cove and is surrounded by docks, small beaches where visitors suntan, relax, and enjoy a rest.

While at the  Xel-Ha lagoon, visitors can go to the Mayan Cave, the Bay of the Whims, Ixchel’s Grotto, El Dorado ’s Grotto, as well as sites for marine flora and fauna.

An exciting part of any visit to Xel-Ha is crossing the river, following walkways surrounded by jungle flora, rocks, and caves to the entrance of two cenotes, the Paradise Cenote and the Adventure Cenote.

The cenotes are the emerging points of underground rivers and there are three types of them. Xel-Ha has one called ‘watering type’ and its crystalline waters come from underground rivers which flow over false bottoms with a weak vertical circulation of water. This type of cenote allows the growing of a wide diversity of flora, such as orchids and palm trees, as well as fruit trees, like the ‘chicle’ (gum), known since pre-Hispanic ages.

No visit to Cancun is completed without experiencing Xcaret, located in the heart of the Mayan Riviera, just a few minutes away from Playa del Carmen and less than an hour from Cancun. Without a doubt, it is the most famous Yucatan peninsula archaeological park.

Xcaret means in Mayan “Small Cove”. It is located on the fringe of the Caribbean Sea, facing Cozumel, and it provides a breathtaking natural cove with over 30 active adventure activities.  The most incredible ones are: underground rivers, butterfly-pavilion, turtle-farm, interactive-aquarium, museum and dolphin center, and the best show with folk and local costumes, music and folk dances from all over Mexico .

Modern mystic dance and drum
transcends eons of Mayan tradition.

"Xcaret By Night", is a show that immerses you in Mayan scenarios and ceremonies, and it starts at the Mexican Corner where one can witness a unique Mexican-style horseback riding show at the Lienzo Charro; you become part of the exciting popular feria, with candy courts and games stands, all lighted by Mexican faroles (street lamps), and joyous music. This is followed by the Great Tlaxco, with pre-Hispanic music coming from magic and mystic drum rhythms accompanied by the airy sound of the shells.

The Valley of the Aromas is guarded by Mayan warriors and priests in full ceremonial dress. The Great Tlaxco offers a capacity for 6,000 visitors, comfortably seated for enjoying an unforgettable show with more than 260 performing artists, participating in the encounter of two cultures. This unique show depicts how the roots are mixed as a web of history, mysticism, time, and tradition, with joy, color, nostalgia, and folklore through time. This show depicts the essence of Mexico , with dreams, laughs, cries, dances, singing, and music played to the rhythm of history.

The Mayan past is alive.

During the show, a modern Mayan girl named “Loi-Beh (Flower-0n-The-Road) is the main guide, who leads with her songs, calling to the spirits of the past, who in turn will take her and the audience in time and space back through the roots of Mexico. The Leaders, also known as Great Lords, are gathered in the court or “Tlactll” (canopy of heaven), and this is followed by the pre-Hispanic Ball Game and the fire-ball game, both magnificently performed and carefully balanced in their cultural and historical context. The Grand Finale always producea surprises to the audience who applaud repeatedly in honor of the participants and their feats.

The players fast for three days before the start of the game, dating back to 1000 years BC. At the beginning of the ball game, tributes were offered and accepted by the teams. These tributes were what the village harvested, produced, or possessed, and the winning team is granted these tributes.

Enter the Mayan underworld . . .

As part of the program, there is also the P’urepecha game which is 3,000 years old. This game also has a ritual purpose and honors the God of Fire — Kurihcaverl. It is practiced with a burning wood ball and sticks of holm-oak, hawthorn fruit trees, or guava trees; the players use their skills with the strength of the trees. In this part of the show; the fusion and birth of a new culture begins with the Spaniards arrival, the Evangelization, and the mixture of two races, portrayed through the music, songs, and history up to the present.

This is followed by a series of dances, the first of which is the Guelaguetza festivities. The festival starts with the parade of the dancers invited to participate from the nine different ethnic groups of the Oaxaca Sierra and finishes at the Fortin mount. The bright color of the costumes add a dazzling effect on the festival.

. . . to mystical cenotes.

This is followed by the Ribbon Dance during which the indigenous culture is brought to the fore.  It highlights the conquerors and their descendants who played and danced.  The performers reflect romances, seguidillas, jotas, and fandangos (Spanish dances).

Another part of the program is the feather dance which highlights the Pineapple flower, and the Sandunga dances. Both are traditional and shows a high degree of fusion and timing.

The Dance of the Old Men which follows, has a pre-Hispanic origin and depicts the P’urhepecha mythology in honor of Kurihcaveri’, the highest deity. Dancers represent the four stars of the south or Tamu Joskeucha, where Mother Nature lies over the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire.

A popular scene called the Veracruz Carnival is actually a representation of the joy and happiness of the people which is now celebrated as the Carnival in the Port of Veracruz . The participants are dressed in colorful costumes that defies the imagination of those familiar with Carnival.

The performance of Mexico City, where present-day Mexican’s parents and grandparents live, is reminisced in this beautiful scene, with music, song, dances, and the characters that were part of the big city. From Chava Flores came inspiration embellished with the Morir por tu amor (To Die For Your Love) waltz, La Tipica (The Typical), and more.

The Grand Finale is a beautiful song that evokes the way Mexicans feel. about the people, places, flavors, scents, songs, and traditions. This final part of the program is enriched by the variety of costumes  as well as the Xcaret singers and dancers.

Xcaret also has other attractions, including the bird-breeding aviary, with different species of birds from the southeastern regions of Mexico. Xcaret is the home of more than 44 bird species, the favorites include toucans, parrots, and flamingos.

Another favorite area is the Mammals exhibition, which includes whitetail deer, coati, tejones, and spider monkeys that live on their own islands. Sometimes one can observe a whole family of saraguato monkeys, jumping freely on top of the trees.

Jaguars are protected
in the Yucatan.

Jaguar Island is a favorite for visitors. The jaguars play on an island that has splendid gigantic foliage, providing shelter from the sun. People look in awe at the graceful and strong felines as they roam to and fro.

The Turtle Farm harbors white turtle, caguama turtle, carey turtle, and lora turtle. They can be seen in different stages of their life, from the newly born to huge adult turtles swimming around the natural ponds. Since 1966 Xcaret participates actively in their protection and preservation through research studies coordinated with government institutions. and national and international centers.

On a lighter vein, the Orchid House boasts exotic, aromatic, and beautiful plants, located at the heart of the Botanical Garden. The Orchid House has cultivated 136 of the 140 orchid species of the region, and visitors can see the cultivation process and different stages of growth — from a seed to invitro development.

There are also opportunities to swim with the dolphins, fishing, scuba diving, and golf. The activities are endless so no one can ever be bored when visiting Cancun. Plan your trip NOW.

— By Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Florida and Caribbean Editor.

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