As soon as you walk in the gates of PAO (Parque Aquatico Oaxtepec) you know that everyone in your family is going to have fun. Right in front of the entrance is a sparkling pool with child-accessible water slides under towering palm trees surrounded by an impeccable lawn. All the paths are swept and, if you were to take your shoes off right there, you could comfortably go barefoot all day. But don’t take your shoes off quite yet. The park extends 24 hectares (59 acres or almost 78 American football fields with the end zones included) and is divided into three different sections. You have a lot of exploring to do!
The Bugambilia Zone
The first section, called the Bugambilia Zone has two shallow pools for young children, equipped with water slides that are just right for children of elementary school age. One of the pools even has water sprayers that the little ones love to play with for hours, redirecting the water with their hands and tummies. There is also a deeper lap-pool, a chest-deep whirlpool that carries swimmers in lazy circles, a curlicue water slide falling into its own pool, an Olympic high dive, and two ankle-deep wading pools with fountains that move and fall in cascades that are fun to touch and explore. There are a number of covered picnic areas with tables, grills, and tile covered preparation areas. These are clearly numbered and are available for the additional cost of 50 pesos, payable at the front gate.
The Orange Zone
Young children, older children, teens and adults will all like the orange zone. The pools and water slides are clustered so that swimmers of all ages and skill levels can find enjoyment within sight of any shady spot that their family might stake out in the surrounding impeccable grassy areas. One of the pools is shin deep with an arch from which falls a curtain of water that children can turn on and off by rotating a wheel, as well as a set of large cones that fill up and spill randomly. There are also two different pools with floating pads that are connected to the bottom of the pool. Overhead bars are mounted above these pads for people to hold as they cross the water without falling in. Of course falling in is accompanied by splashing, and peals of laughter. The author’s favorite water slide was in this area, too, with a fast corkscrew that dumps you out energized and ready to run back up the stairs for another trip.
The Blue Zone
The Blue Zone is the most exciting. Arriving, you see water falls pouring down on bathers floating on yellow inner tubes. There are a variety of places where you can access this slow-flowing river by simply walking down some stairs built into its bank and climbing onto one of the many inner tubes as they go by. The river is shaded and surrounded by trees and plants creating a very relaxed feel. For excitement, on the straight stretches the inner tubes are perfect for kicking, splashing races. Crossing a bridge over the river you see an extensive wave pool creating huge waves that will lift you right off your feet with shaded lounge chairs lining the beach. For younger people there is a large colorful play structure in a wading pool with slides, wheels and bridges. Further along the trail there is a long, tummy slide that you go down on a sled-like mat. The wind whistled in the author’s earrings as she zipped down that one. Next to this are two steep slides that are almost free-falls, but the author recommends avoiding these because people exiting had huge, red patches on their backs. The blue zone also has two very large water slides with multiple loop-the-loops.
Overall Park Experience
The entire park has plenty of trees providing shaded areas on the grass surrounding the pools. In Oaxtepec, you don’t have to worry if the weather will be warm enough. The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius (over 80 Fahrenheit). The author and her family visited on a Sunday in January and there were no lines to any of the water slides. Sundays are typically busy days at parks in Mexico, though the slightly cooler days in January might have reduced the number of visitors that day.
There are restrooms, snack bars, and souvenir shops selling water toys in each of the three areas of the park. Some areas have piped in non-intrusive music that adds to the feeling of relaxation. Visitors are allowed to bring in food, water, portable barbecues, and other things to make a picnic lunch (as long as they bring it all in with them the first time they enter). To protect the feet of bathers, no glass containers are allowed and there is no garbage in sight.
Small lockers are available to store your valuables all day for 15 pesos. The dressing areas provide limited privacy since they are large rooms with benches along the walls. The shower area is visually separated from the changing area, but doesn’t provide privacy among those showering simultaneously. The restroom area adjoins the changing area, but there are few stalls. At 5:00 p.m., the pools close and the bathrooms are suddenly very busy. Since the dressing areas don’t provide privacy, many people were changing in the toilette stalls, causing quite a wait.
Safety at PAO
The stairs leading up to all of the slides have handrails and are made of comfortable, non-slip plastic. Rubberized non-slip matting covers most of the pools. The cement walkways are level and not too rough for tender bare feet. There are ample personnel and life guards stationed throughout the park, particularly at the entrances and exits of water slides. The exit pools are dedicated to the slides. Park personnel at the top of the slides maintain strict control; no one can enter the top of a slide until the person before them is in the water and moving toward the ladder to exit the pool. The author didn’t notice any wiring or outlets where little children might touch it, nor any major tripping hazards on the ground.
Getting to Parque Acquatico Oaxtepec and Entrance Fees
PAO and another water park, called the Centro Vacacional Oaxtepec*, share an entrance in the town of Oaxtepec marked with huge stone arches. If you drive to Oaxtepec, head in the direction of Cuautla and, before you get there, follow signs to the town of Oaxtepec. Parking costs 24 pesos.
The Pullman bus line provides service to the town of Oaxtepec from the Cuernavaca Centro and Mexico City Taxqueña bus stations. The station in Oaxtepec is very close to the entrance to the park. Additionally, there are reduced price all-inclusive tours that provide transportation from various points in Mexico City. Park fees (as of February 2008) are 135 pesos for adults and 65 pesos for children under 1.20 meters tall. There is also an option for an all-you-can-eat buffet that can be purchased at the restaurant for an additional 100 pesos for adults and 70 pesos for children or at the park entrance as a package that includes both entrance fee and buffet for 205 pesos for adults and 135 for children.
Between the hours of 11:00 and 4:30, the buffet is the only meal served in the restaurants. While the buffet seemed of good quality it may not be right for everyone. The only other foods available inside the park were hamburgers (35 pesos), French fries (22 pesos), and Foster Farms corndogs (20 pesos). A package deal of burger, fries, and pop was 65 pesos. The reader should choose their preferred meal option ahead of time, since no one is allowed to leave and re-enter with food.
Following is PAO’s weekly schedule (entrance fees are the same throughout the week):
- Saturday, Sunday, and Mexican holidays – all three zones open
- Monday – closed
- Tuesday and Wednesday – Bugambilia Zone open
- Thursday and Friday – Orange Zone open
Sneak a peak at the park on flashearth
Oaxtepec – Home of One of the World’s First Botanical Gardens
According to the National Commission of Protected Areas, the Mexica emperors preserved natural areas throughout their lands. The concept of the preserves was similar to that of today’s botanical gardens and in fact was begun centuries earlier than in Europe. The Mexicas limited hunting and gathering of resources within their gardens and even conquered a place in Oaxaca to get a sacred tree that grew in that area. One of these preserves was located in what is now Oaxtepec, Morelos in the area of the current Centro Vacacional Oaxtepec. When the Spanish arrived, the garden in Oaxtepec was under the control of Moctezuma Xocoyótzin and had been functioning as a protected area for more than 75 years. In 1522, Hernán Cortés wrote that the garden was “the best, most beautiful and fresh ever seen.” He continued to say, that “there are pools, and very fresh gardens, and infinite numbers of diverse fruit trees, and many herbs and aromatic flowers.” A phone call to someone at the Centro Vacacional Oaxtepec seems to confirm that the springs and possibly the oldest trees are the only things left of Moctezuma’s original preserve.
*The neighboring, Centro Vacacional Oaxtepec has rustic pools, a convention center, a camping area, hotel, cabins and houses that can be rented for larger groups. Guests at these facilities are entitled to a 50% discount on their entrance fees to PAO.
Source (quotes translated by the author of the article)
- De la Maza Elvira, Roberto and Javier de la Maza Elvira. Comisionado Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (National Commission of Protected Natural Areas). “Historia de las Áreas Naturales Protegidas de México” (History of the Natural Protected Areas of Mexico). Accessed February 9, 2008.