The “Rio Secreto” was a fabulous port adventure! My kids claim it was the best port adventure they’ve ever been on in the Caribbean, although my husband claims it tied with the Stingray Adventure in Grand Cayman. The “Rio Secreto” or Secret River, is a recently (2006) discovered underground cavern with water flowing through it. It has beautiful limestone formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. You venture through the Secret River for about 90 minutes, at times walking and at times swimming. You feel like Indiana Jones exploring undiscovered magic!
Although this port adventure originated in Cozumel, it is actually on mainland Mexico. From the cruise ship, we took a 40 minute ferry ride across a stretch of the Caribbean Sea to Playa Del Carmen, a cute seaside town with a nice free beach, shops, restaurants and a Starbucks. From here we took a van in small groups of ten to Rio Secreto. It was about a 30 minute ride, with part of it over very rough roads. Don't let the length of the trek scare you off -- it is worth it. Once we arrived, our small group was met by a guide (Rodrigo) who led us through the preparation process. We were given water shoes, a helmet with light and wetsuit. A quick shower to rinse us off, to protect the environment inside the cave, and we were off.
We walked for about 5 minutes along a path in what appeared to be rain forest, spotting big spiders and beautiful butterflies. Although it was tarantula season, we did not view any. We stopped at the hut of a local Mayan leader who said a quick invocation to bless us and allow us to proceed into the cave which is a sacred Mayan site. Down wooden steps, we emerged into the cave. At first, it was a little scary. It was lit only by the light of the sun and the kids looked around expecting to see creepy and crawly creatures. After some more information from our guide, we clicked on the lights of our helmets and proceeded single file through the cave being careful where we stepped. It had been rainy the past couple of days and the water level was higher than normal. We came to the water and stepped right on in! The floor of the cave was not slippery, but given that the water covered rock formations previously seen, we did need to be careful.
At first, the kids were nervous. But by the time we had crossed through a couple caverns in water waist high and at times swimming, they became comfortable and loved it. At one point we all turned off the lights on our helmets so that we could see exactly how dark it was in the cave. You could not see your hand in front of your face, it was so dark. Our trek through the cave lasted about 90 minutes, with lots of knowledge gained and a sense of wonder at the unexplored regions still in our world. As our guide summarized the experience, you felt like Indiana Jones in the Batman's cave. (No, we did not see any bats although I am sure they were there.) As cameras were not allowed on this trek, we were joined on our journey by a photographer who captured the experience. You could purchase a CD of the photos at the end of the trip. The Rio Secreto did supply lockers, bathrooms, and a changing area free of charge.
Once we completed our tour of the cave, we climbed back out into the sunlight and walked about five minutes back through the jungle to the location where we started. After turning in our equipment we were treated to an authentic Mexican lunch, purchased our photos, and piled back into the vans. Once back in Playa del Carmen, we had a little over an hour to shop or enjoy the beautiful beach. Then, we headed back onto the ferry to return to Cozumel.
A few notes when considering this excursion.
First, from Cozumel it is an all-day excursion. You will have limited to no time in Cozumel.
Second, you should be in decent physical shape to do this excursion. You don't need to be at your peak of fitness, but you shouldn't have back problems, knee problems, or other similar infirmities. There will be times when you will need to crouch, bend, take a few steps while crouched, and have a decent sense of balance. You are given a life vest, so you do not need to be a strong swimmer, but basic familiarity with swimming is recommended.
Kids are allowed over the age of 6, but I wouldn't recommend taking a child under 10.
Finally, the ferry ride can be a little nauseous especially if you are prone to motion sickness. I will spare you the details, but let's just say the trash bags were replaced frequently on those 45 minutes over. It is not what I would call a "rough" ride, but there are a lot of rolling waves, ups and downs or side to sides. If you think it may be a problem for you, take a dramamine about an hour before the ferry and you will be fine.
A couple quick kudos to Disney. When our group met on-board the cruise ship prior to departure, we were given free motion sickness medicine and towels to use during our adventure. Both came in handy!
I know that my explanation may not do this excursion justice. It really was amazing! If you want a natural excursion that is active, and offers you a chance to explore, this one is for you! And you do not have to be on a cruise ship excursion to enjoy it.