The Riviera Maya is full of eco-parks. Don’t know what those are? Neither did we until we got here and saw signs and advertisements for them everywhere. An eco-park is a theme park based on nature. Some are huge and have rides, performances, and all the things you’d expect to find at a theme park. They also usually have the opportunity to snorkel in a cenote or sheltered bay and trek through the jungle (on zip lines or in ATVs).
We decided to go to one of the more intimate, nature-focused parks, Aktun Chen. Aktun Chen is Mayan for “cave cenote,” both of which are present at the eco-park near Akumal. In fact the cave has a cenote in it (although this is not the cenote you can swim in).
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Zip Lining Through the Forest
We started with zip lining, figuring we’d get a monkey’s eye view of the forest before going underground. The 10 zip lines and two suspension bridges cover a full kilometer. It’s a chance to fly through part of the 400-acre tropical forest reserve and possibly see tropical birds, monkeys, and other critters that live in the trees. Not to mention all the plant life.
Finn climbed the stairs to the first platform and decided that this activity was not for him, so he and I ended up sitting it out. Henry and Anders continued on and thought it was an exhilarating experience. The only downside was they were moving so fast, they didn’t get to see much. Anders is becoming a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so he was happy jumping off platforms, speeding through the air, and hanging upside down.
Exploring a Cave
Our second activity was touring a cave. We walked about 0.6 kilometers through the cave with our guide. José Luís was passionate about caves and environmentalism—I really liked this about him. He engaged the kids and made sure we knew how this limestone cave formed and what sort of dangers it faces. Plus, the cave was very cool. I am not sure I’ve ever seen that many stalactites in one place. The ceiling was totally covered with them.
Toward the end of the cave tour, we arrived at a cenote or underground lake. The 12-meter deep cenote was filled with crystal clear water and revealed to us with dramatic lighting. It was simply gorgeous. I can see why National Geographic named this cave tour as one of the Ten Best Underground Walks (Number three, no less).
Lunch in the Forest Restaurant
After the cave tour we headed to the restaurant to recharge before our last activity. The restaurant sits in a fenced off portion of the Aktun Chen reserve where white tailed deer, parrots, and spider monkeys roam.
Unlike a like of American cafeterias, the food here was really good. It was simple—beans, tortillas, rice, and meat (for those who want it), and salsas, but it’s all you need. We loved our lunch.
Swimming in a Cenote
Bellies full, it was time to change into a swimsuit. A shuttle van took us a few minutes away to the cenote where there are bathrooms, changing rooms, hammocks, lockers, and showers. We were given snorkeling equipment to use and sent to the showers. It’s important that sunscreen, bug spray, etc. doesn’t get into the cenote water and damage the ecosystem.
The cenote is an underground river. It pools up and forms a lake. There are lights, so you can see where you are going, but it’s still an eerie feeling to be floating around in the water, catfish swimming by, looking at stalagmites beneath the surface. Bats flit overhead and stalactites stretch from the ceiling to almost the surface of the water. My favorite part was swimming to what looked like the edge of the cave, going underwater, and seeing that the cave actually extends much farther back.
Swimming in a cenote is especially nice when the seaweed, or sargasso, builds up at the beach. We found it difficult to get into the ocean in places –even though people are continuously raking it up–and loved jumping into the clean water of the cenotes.
Watching Spider Monkeys
There were spider monkeys hanging out at feedings station near the restaurant, but that’s not the only place we saw these acrobatic critters. There is a small zoo on the property and we could have spent hours watching two young spider monkeys dash around their playground. They were adorable, frisky, and charismatic. They shared their habitat with two javalinas, a raccoon, and a coati (or coatimundi). The monkeys would scamper up the javalinas using them as steps and the raccoon chased the monkeys. They also have a crocodile, huge boa constrictor, and a few other animals.
Visiting Aktun Chen Eco Park
What to Bring
You can drive directly to Aktun Chen if you have a car. Otherwise take a collectivo or taxi to the park entrance directly across from Aventuras Akumal and use the free shuttle to travel the three kilometers to park reception.
Every day from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm
Each activity lasts about 1.2 hours
The park is a choose your own adventure experience. You pay for each activity separately and do the parts you are most interested in. There are combo prices and prices for some activities in conjunction with off site tours.
For the three activities we did: Adults- $119, Kids- $85 (20% off when you buy the combo package online.)
- There are lockers at the launching pads for each activity.
- Each segment is guided and there is a tip jar at the end of each tour. Bring cash in appropriate denominations.
- Outside food and drink are not allowed, but I think water bottles are ok.
Thanks to Aktun Chen eco-park for hosting us. The opinions on our visit are my own.