The Rio Secreto Nature Reserve was easily one of the coolest things I did during the three months I spent living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Inside this magical reserve, you’ll find five cave complexes filled with thousands of stunning stalactites and a refreshing underground river. Visiting Rio Secreto is a great family activity for those with kids visiting Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or Cancun. But even if you don’t have kids with you, you might feel like one exploring this underground river.
In this quick guide to and review of Rio Secreto, I’ll go over why you should add this tour to the top of your list of things to do in Mexico, and then provide you with the practical details you need to have a great visit.
I have to admit that before actually visiting Rio Secreto, I was a bit confused about what it even is. It’s located on the highway right next to Xcaret and Xplor, which made me assume it was sort of an adventure theme park like those sites.
Well, I was wrong.
Rio Secreto isn’t some fake manufactured park. It’s a natural reserve whose main attraction are five caverns that form part of an enormous underground cave network. The caves are filled with some truly dramatic mineral formations and play host to a surprisingly variety of wildlife. While, in disclosure, my ticket was provided complimentary by the park, I would happily have paid the cost of admission to enjoy this awesome and unique experience.
Visiting Rio Secreto can only be done through the organized tours offered by reserve. The tours will take you hiking and swimming through about a one kilometer stretch of one of the caves (meaning your visit will represent only a tiny taste of this vast reserve).
All tours of Rio Secreto start at the park’s entrance just off the highway. You’ll watch a brief video while you wait for your group to arrive and sign a liability waiver (that’s why you should make sure beforehand that you have travel insurance for Mexico). Then you and your new friends will pile into a van for the seven kilometer ride deep into the jungle where the caverns lie.
Once there, you’ll meet your guide and receive a brief orientation to the park. There are free lockers where you can change and leave your stuff (you need nothing but your swimsuit), and you’ll be provided with special water shoes, a mandatory life jacket, and a helmet with a lamp. Wet suits are available as well but are optional (I wore one, but in retrospect didn’t feel that it was necessary). You’ll also be required to shower off to prevent the introduction of foreign substances into the reserve’s delicate water.
After that, your guide will take you to witness a brief traditional Mayan ceremony before descending into the cave.
The actual tour of the cave itself only lasts about one hour, but it’s an hour that you won’t soon forget.
The tours are only done with small groups of 10 of so, and you don’t see other groups during your tour, which means that you really get to feel connected to the cave.
Your guide will tell you about the history of the cave, explain how the magical minerals formed, and will point out wildlife along the way (there are two types of fish in the river, as well as many insects, bats, and other animals).
About half of the time you’ll be walking through dry cave bedrock and the rest of the time you’ll either be wading or swimming through the underground river. The water is a cool and refreshing temperature, but you get used to it easily!
My favorite part of the tour, though?
At one point the guide made us all turn off our headlamps and sit in pitch black silence for a few minutes to just soak in the spooky sounds of the cave. It makes for quite the sensory experience!
After the tour completes, you’ll have a chance to shower and change up and then enjoy an included buffet before taking the van back to the entrance.
If you’re planning your own trip to Rio Secreto, here’s a few things you should know:
Rio Secreto lies just a few miles south of Playa del Carmen. The reserve offers transportation-inclusive packages that will pick you up and drop you off in your hotel anywhere in the Riviera Maya for about $129 per adult. That’s about $50 more than the cost of a basic ticket without transportation ($79 per person).
You can also easily organize your own transport to the reserve. Any taxi driver will know its location. A one-way taxi ride from Cancun or Tulum should cost between 500-1,000 pesos ($25-$50 USD) depending on your negotiating skills, while a ride from Playa del Carmen should be about 120-150 pesos ($6-$8 USD).
You can also take the collectivos (public minibuses) from any of those towns, which will cost only a couple dollars per person at most.
Honestly, the only thing you need for your tour of Rio Secreto is your swimsuit and maybe a towel to dry up. Everything else will be provided to you. You don’t even need to bother with sunscreen or insect repellent, since there’s no sun and you’d have to wash those off anyway.
And you don’t need to bother with a camera either, since there isn’t enough light inside the caves to take photos (don’t worry: each group is accompanying by a photographer and you can purchase their pictures afterwards).
The basic admission package includes the tour of the cave and underground river as described above. While this is definitely the main highlight of the reserve, the park does also offer an “Admission Plus” package which starts at $99 for adults and includes an underground light show projected on the mineral formations. While I didn’t see it myself, it certainly sounds spectacular!
Here’s a few other random assorted tips to make the most out of your journey to Rio Secreto:
That’s it for this quick guide to touring Rio Secreto. It’s truly an awesome experience and a wonderful thing to do in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. If you have any questions or comments, please scroll down and leave a comment!
Oh, and if you’re heading to the Yucatan, I also strongly recommend taking a day trip to visit the magical town of Valladolid, Mexico. It’s really one of the more amazing places in the area and a lot of tourists tragically miss out on it! You can read my full guide to visiting Valladolid here.
Also, be sure to check out my super practical article on 17 Tips for Traveling in Mexico. It even includes useful information on how to use the restroom 😉
Lastly, if you’re on Pinterest, you can pin this for later here:
Nate Hake has traveled to 65+ countries across six continents around the world and blogs about his travels at TravelLemming.com. He is from Denver, Colorado, recently concluded a six month stint living in Mexico, and is now currently traveling in Thailand.