I am aware that I am at Xenses Park, however, I see nothing but black. My bare feet step on soft sand and my hands brush past the rough surface of rocks and the occasional bristle of a cactus pad. At least that is what my sense of touch has been led to believe.
I can’t see anything. The air is hot and surprisingly dry considering before I entered this blackness I was in the tropic humidity of Mexico’s Quintana Roo region. What is happening?
I am inside the Xensatorium at Xenses, an unusual theme park near Cancun on the Mexican Riviera. The park’s theme is to explore our senses and even use those senses to fool our brains about reality.
Xenses forces us to experience the world differently because things are not just what we see. To prove it the Xensatorium is a lightless tunnel where those who enter experience the five major ecosystems of the planet using only the senses of touch, smell and sound.
Continuing in the Xensatorium, I hear a gentle breeze and warm air turns cool causing goosebumps on my skin. Instead of rocks and cactus, my hands – which I was told to hold up in front of me – touch what feels like the bristles of a hair brush that represent pine tree needles.
Juniper scent fills my nostrils. Then the temperature drops down, way down, and the sound of wind gets louder and cold air blows onto my face. My right hand finds the cold, hard surface of what I perceive is an icy rock. This must be the mountain zone.
After gingerly moving through the first three eco-systems of desert, forest and mountain, I move into the tunnel’s last two, jungle and rainforest.
During this journey in Xenses Park, the ground beneath my feet has turned from sand into dirt then rock and finally to a wet stream with smooth, round pebbles. As the air warms, I hear birds chirping and insects buzzing and smell a mix of coconut and hibiscus.
Suddenly, a gentle mist envelops me. I walk into what feels like leafy vines, and the air is thick with humidity again. Starting to wonder if this tunnel will ever end, I hear faint New Age music that gets louder as I walk.
The soggy path under my feet smooths into tile and my eyes detect the soft glow of candles in front me. I emerge into daylight with a few people from other tunnels looking as dazed as I am.
The journey ends at a beautiful jungle waterfall with live flamingos and macaws. Trying to process what I’d just walked through, I sit on a rock awaiting my travel companions.
Path of Feeling
Xenses is unlike any theme park you’ve ever been to and the Xensatorium is a big reason why. Guests receive detailed instructions from staff in both English and Spanish and walk through a short “test tunnel” first because people can freak out in total blackness.
As a last resort, we are told that if we do panic inside, we are to stop, stand up straight and wave our arms over our heads. This will show up on the tunnel’s infrared cameras so staff can enter the tunnel and retrieve you. While being in total darkness is unnerving, I didn’t want to be “the one” who chickened out, so I persisted.
Xenses is divided into two parts with those areas subdivided into a few smaller ones. The Xensatorium is part of the Path of Feeling, which includes the Way of Dwarfs and Giants, an area that plays with perspective.
You can sit in a giant chair and appear small or stand next to a tiny doorway and look large. The Xensatorium ends in the Xitric Garden where you can quench your thirst with lemonade that comes from a tap in the trunk of a lemon tree.
Path of Doing
The other side of the park is the Path of Doing with more traditional park activities. However, to get to those activities you must first walk through The Pueblo, or town, where reality and your senses collide.
Walking under a waterfall we emerge onto a cobblestone street where our eyes see a village on a steep hill. We all walk leaning forward, perceiving an incline that isn’t there. That’s because the town is built at an angle.
Our eyes tell us that we’re walking uphill, but our sense of balance, located in our ears, tells us everything is level. Even the stream looks like it’s flowing uphill. That’s The Pueblo messing with our senses.
Once through The Pueblo, we begin our action adventure on The Slip, a water slide that starts in a high tower and ends with a plunge into a cave pool. Bird Flight is a zip line where you fly through air as giant iguanas sun themselves below you.
Next is Riverlaxing, a saltwater lazy river where you float through an underground cavern in peaceful serenity. Lastly, Sludgerie is another floating river filled with an organic liquid mud designed to cleanse the skin while washing your cares away. The adventure concludes with a refreshing walk through a rain shower and hot steam cavern.
Does it sound like sensory overload? It can be, if you let it. I suggest going into Xenses with an open mind and willingness to suspend reality. It is a distinctive experience unlike anything else in Mexico.
If You Visit Xenses
Xenses (https://www.xensespark.com/) is located at Puerto Juarez Highway km 282, Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Because many activities involve water, wear a bathing suit and bring a change of clothes.
Men’s and women’s changing rooms with private lockers are included with entry. There is also a gift shop, snack bar and café onsite. Instagrammers will love the park’s many photo ops, which are filled with optical illusions and triggered by park wrist bands.
Cost is $69.99 for adults and $34.99 for children 5 and up. Discounted rates are available in advance online.
Author Bio: Carrie Dow is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in regional and national magazines. Former editor for The Drink Nation, she uses her expertise on the food and beverage industry to travel the world looking for unique eats and experiences. She also founded What’s Pawsitive, a website that profiles animal-based travel, animal rescue organizations and animal welfare advocates around the world. When writing, she is supervised by her editorial staff, a vocal Siamese cat and a contemplative Siberian husky.