Rio Secreto is one of the most unique excursions near Cancun and Playa del Carmen – and it’s one you don’t want to miss
So many people fly to the Riviera Maya only to arrive at their luxurious all-inclusive hotels and never leave. Don’t get me wrong – these all-inclusive hotels usually have wonderful restaurants, tons of pools, amazing beaches, and lots of free activities so you can stay occupied and entertained pretty easily at the resort. But the Riviera Maya area – including Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum – offers so much to explore and experience that you are really missing out if you never venture off the resort.
One of the best excursions in the Riviera Maya area is Rio Secreto. The Rio Secreto tour is a unique opportunity to go underground into expansive caves shaped by an ancient river and see nearly untouched stalactites, stalagmites, and crystal clear water. It’s an awe-inspiring excursion that doesn’t feel like it has been overtaken by tourism: in fact, the purveyors have done an awesome job of keeping the experience really authentic and small.
Is Rio Secreto worth it? Absolutely! Read on to find out way and book your own adventure into the ancient caves of the Yucatán.
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What is Rio Secreto?
Rio Secreto is a beautiful underground river that flows through a cave system that features stalactites, stalagmites, amazing creatures, and plant life that drapes through any openings with light. It is beautiful and nearly untouched. The tour operators have done an excellent job of making sure that Rio Secreto remains preserved and protected, despite now being a tourism destination. Tour groups are limited to 10 people so space can be limited, but that’s part of the magic. Each venture down into the “Secret River” is an intimate experience with just you, your small group, and nature.
Rio Secreto is actually a fairly recent discovery! The story goes that ten years ago, a local peasant was chasing an iguana to hunt it. The iguana scuttled into the area of Rio Secreto and the peasant stumbled upon this magical area. You can thank a sneaky iguana for this beautiful discovery!
Where is Rio Secreto Located?
Rio Secreto is located just south of Playa del Carmen between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Aventuras. This means it’s a quick ferry ride from Cozumel (great for cruisers!) and an easy day trip from nearby Cancun, Tulum, and Akumul.
Rio Secreto Tour Options (and what’s included with each!)
There are currently four tours being offered at Rio Secreto (as of March 2021):
- Rio Secreto: This is the base package! With this package, you’ll join a small group (10 or less, plus a guide) and explore the beautiful caves of Rio Secreto. You’ll also get a wet suit, access to a locker, helmets with headlamps, towels, a buffet, and non-alcoholic drinks. Prices start at $39.50 for children and $79 for adults, with transportation from Cancun or Playa del Carmen adding a small cost per person. This takes about 3.5 hours.
- Rio Secreto Plus: This tour includes everything in the above package plus access to a special “dry” room where you will get to participate in an interactive experience. It also includes a rappel and bike adventure! The cost starts at $49.50 for children and $99 for adults, with transportation adding a small cost. This takes about 6 hours.
- Rio Secreto Wild: This tour is new and it isn’t one I’ve participated in, but it sounds like a lot of fun! This tour includes everything in the Rio Secreto package plus the opportunity to explore the area on bike, a snorkel (how fun does that sound?!), a personal photographer, a box lunch, and the buffet. This is a longer adventure than the two packages above. This is not a kid-friendly experience and packages start at $119 per person. This is an all-day experience.
- Rio Secreto Privilege: This is a private package and is more customizable depending on what you want to do! You get to decide how much you want to explore. This package is $389 for a solo person and $289 per person for groups of 2-4.
Are photos allowed at Rio Secreto?
You may have noticed above that some of the packages include a photographer. This is because cameras are not permitted at Rio Secreto. Don’t worry – the photo packages are reasonably priced and the photographers know what they’re doing. Low-light photography is tricky! Just focus on enjoying the experience.
Exploring the Underground Caves of Rio Secreto
After a quick briefing, you’ll suit up in your wetsuit (the water is chilly!) and venture down into the caves with your trusty guide.
When I did this excursion, they offered us walking sticks which I thought was cheesy but it turned out they were pretty useful. Remember, you’re going to be exploring an underwater cave system. You’ll be stepping over wet rocks which can get slick, so having a walking stick is pretty helpful.
Throughout the tour, the guide will stop and tell stories and history of Rio Secreto. It’s really cool because you really feel like you’re exploring an untouched cave system in a really intimate environment. It isn’t one of those over-visited tourist traps (and you certainly won’t find anyone selling cheesy souvenirs down in the caves!). It just feels authentic.
My favorite part of the whole experience was when we made our way to a really dark, quiet part of the cave. The guide had us all sit down and remain still long enough to get the water to settle down. Then we turned off our headlamps and just existed. It was the quietest silence and the darkest dark that I had ever experienced. I really felt intune with myself, nature, and the river system in that moment. It sounds silly, maybe, but it was an experience unlike any other I have had before (and, frankly, since).
I can’t describe the caves and do it justice. You really just have to visit and experience Rio Secreto for yourself. Trust me – you won’t regret it!
If you’re looking for other excursions near Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you absolutely can’t miss Xel-Ha!