Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Xcalak (Xcalak Reef National Park) was established at the end of 2003, affording protection to the coastal ecosystem as well as Xcalak’s nascent tourist economy. The park spans nearly 18,000 hectares (44,479 acres), from the Belize border to well north of town, and includes the reef—and everything else down to 100 meters (328 feet)—as well as the shoreline and numerous inland lagoons.
The main coral reef lies just 90-180 meters (100-200 yards) from shore, and the water is less than 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep almost the whole way out. Many snorkelers prefer the coral heads even closer to shore, which have plenty to see and less swell than the main reef. The shallow waters keep boat traffic to a minimum, and anglers are good about steering clear of snorkelers (you should still stay alert at all times, however).
Divers and snorkelers also can explore the reef at 20 or so official sites and many more unofficial ones. Most are a short distance from town, and shops typically return to port between tanks. La Poza is one of the more distinctive dives, drifting through a trench where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of tarpon congregate, varying in size from one-meter (3-foot) “juveniles” to two-meter (7-foot) behemoths. If you have an underwater camera, be sure to bring it.
A fee of US$3.25 per day technically applies to all divers and snorkelers (and kayakers and anglers) in the Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Xcalak; dive shops typically add it to their rates, while most hotels have a stack of wristband permits to sell to guests who want to snorkel right from shore.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Xcalak
XTC Dive Center is a highly recommended full-service dive shop offering dives to dozens of sites within Xcalak Reef National Marine Park (US$80 for one tank, US$125 for two tanks). It also specializes in trips to Chinchorro Bank (US$275 for two tanks, US$185 per snorkeler), including lunch, drinks, and a hike on Cayo Centro, the main cay; overnight trips are also offered. Full gear rental costs US$35 extra. A variety of dive classes also are available; a nice three-meter-deep (9-foot) pool is used for the open-water certification course.
A variety of snorkeling tours are offered by a handful of local tour operators. They cost US$45-75 per person depending on how long and far you go; five-hour trips include jaunts into Chetumal Bay and Bird Island, which can be fascinating, especially in January and February when the birds are most plentiful. Recommended guides include XTC Dive Center and Osprey Tours.
Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddling
XTC Dive Center (US$35-70 pp) offers 2-5-hour kayaking tours in Xcalak’s coastal habitats, including the reef, mangroves, river, and lagoon. If DIY is more your thing, kayak rentals, including an hour of instruction, are available for US$40/60 half/full day. Paddleboards rentals are offered at the same rates.
Xcalak boasts world-class sportfishing, with huge saltwater and brackish flats where hooking into the grand slam of fly-fishing—tarpon, bonefish, and permit—is by no means impossible. Add a snook, and you’ve got a super slam. Oceanside, tarpon and barracuda abound, in addition to grouper, snapper, and others.
Costa de Cocos is the area’s oldest fishing resort, with highly experienced guides and numerous magazine write-ups. Two- to seven-night packages (US$2,130-4,405 s, US$1,720-3,395 d) include transportation to and from the Cancún or Chetumal airport, lodging, meals, open bar, fishing license, marine park wristband, and, of course, nonstop fly-fishing. The resort also offers half- and full-day fishing trips (US$175-350), in case you want to fish while in Xcalak without making it a full-on fishing vacation.
Hotel Tierra Maya also offers fly-fishing packages for 6-7 nights (US$3,496-4,237 s, US$2,243-2,760 d), though they don’t include all the perks—like airport transportation, open bar, and fishing license fees—that the Costa de Cocos packages do.
With several experienced guides, Osprey Tours is a good option for longtime and beginner fly-fishers. It offers half- and full-day fly-fishing excursions in nearby Chetumal Bay (US$200-300) that include drinks, snacks or lunch, and a guide. Gear is available for rent.
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