The Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico is a Caribbean paradise of crystal clear turquoise water, white sandy beaches and dense green forests. The Great Maya Reef extends along most of the coast and is teeming with coral marine life. This is the land of the ancient Mayan civilization.
Underneath the peninsula is where over 3,000 cenotes can be found. Cenotes (say-noh-tays) are natural limestone sinkholes, some hundreds of feet deep, filled with freshwater that lead to a labyrinth of underwater rivers, caverns and caves. The longest cave systems of the world lie here in the Riviera Maya: the Ox Bel Ha (91 miles), the Nohoch Nah Chich (37.9 miles) and the Dos Ojos (35.8 miles). The Mayans felt these Cenotes (or Dzonot) were sacred as they considered this source of fresh water beneath the earth to be the home of their Gods and the entrance to the underworld. Besides 78º F water temperatures and the visual beauty of sunlight reflecting off the amazing natural works of art in the form of stalactites, stalagmites, columns formations and fossils, it’s the fish and marine life that make these sinkholes great places for cave diving and snorkeling.
Here are some highlights:
Casa Cenote: An open lagoon that has both fresh and saltwater fish because of its connection with the ocean. It’s one of the few surface rivers that follows the jungle giving a diver the feeling of diving beneath the jungle and manatees frequent the smaller caves off the cenote.
Cenote Angelita (Little Angel): Experience divers descend this circular sinkhole 200 feet through fresh water, passing giant stalactites before reaching a hydrogen sulfide layer (a huge cloud) at 100 feet. Beneath the cloud the saltwater starts and darkness envelops a diver from this point on.
Cenote Chac-Mool (Claw of Jaguar): This cavern has a depth of 36 feet, making it perfect for the beginner cave diver. It has two large caverns with natural light, the largest underwater stalactite and a Halocline, a visual effect created by salt and fresh water.
Cenote Dos Ojos & Bat Cave (Two eyes): Two cenotes close together flow from one into the other through a clear fresh water cavern. Dos Ojos is popular and perfect for divers and snorkelers alike due to it being one of the longer cavern systems with a length of 37 miles and connecting to more than 25 other Cenotes, a real underwater maze. It gets plenty of daylight to view the rim pools, stalagmites and stalactites. Several dark rooms and passageways, comprised of speleotherms, make up the Bat Cave.
Cenote el Eden (Pon-de-Rosa): A large swimming pool size sinkhole with moss-covered rocks at the bottom where marine life, like fresh water eels, live. Along with plenty of plant life there’s plenty to see while snorkeling. Beginning cave divers are treated to a Halocline in the Cenote Coral Garden as well as passages to other cenotes.
Gran Cenote: This is the “it” cenote for cave and cavern diving as well as snorkeling on the peninsula. This half moon shaped cenote has a depth of 70 feet and has plenty of large stalagmites, stalactites, and columns. It has everything from clear water, to white walls to several routes to explore. It’s important to have good buoyancy due to the beautiful formations along the walls.
Here are a few local dive centers to get you properly suited up for your dive to the underworld.
Explore the underwater world of the Mayan Gods and prepare to be amazed.
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