THE CENOTES OF THE RIVIERA MAYA

There are many places in the world that offer cave and cavern diving. But there is only one place in the world where cave and cavern diving are simply unique.

The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is home to the Cenotes. They are the largest underground fresh water system in the world. The word “cenote” comes from the Mayan language and means “entrance”.

The ancient Mayas believed that the Cenotes were sacred places and that they were the passage to the afterlife world. They used to make sacrifices in them. They scarified mainly children, because they believed children were pure and therefore a better offer to the Gods.

Anthropological remains were found in many Cenotes...


WHAT IS A CENOTE

Millions of years ago the Yucatan Peninsula used to be a coral reef.

After the last ice age the coral reef emerged and remained dry. Because of this, the rock that forms the land of the Peninsula is limestone which is the structure that once formed the coral reef. With the fall of heavy acid rain, the porous ground started to absorb water which eventually started to drip through the rock and formed these underwater passages and caves. Later on some parts of the caves ceiling collapsed creating the entrances to this underground world.

The constant drip of water filtering through the caves formed amazing stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Once again the power of Mother Nature leaves me speechless.

The Cenotes are fresh water caves. Eventually they all end up in the Ocean. The ones that are closer to the ocean get sea water filtered through them; in fact some caves have a halocline (which is a phenomenon that happens when salt and fresh water mix).


SCUBA DIVING IN THE CENOTES

Scuba diving the Cenotes has become one of the main scuba diving activities in the Riviera Maya. There are hundreds of Cenotes located nearby Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

To dive the caves it is required a full cave diver certification. However, to dive the cavern area it is required the minimum Open Water level certification. For some Cenotes, an Advanced Open Water certification is required due to more challenging conditions and deeper dives.

The water is crystal clear. The visibility is simply as far as the eye can see. It is a near flying experience.

Diving in the Cenotes is a very different experience from an open water dive. I normally recommend it to any certified diver that wants to dive in the area. It gives the opportunity to explore inside our Earth. It is a rare opportunity and it takes diving to a different level.

The Cenotes can be dived all year round, no matter the weather.


BEST CENOTE DIVES AROUND TULUM

Tulum is mainly about diving in the Cenotes.
The following are in my opinion, some of the best Cenotes cavern dives to do.

Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes)
Max depth 8-10 meters. It is recommended for all level of divers. This is one of the most famous Cenotes in the area. The name comes from two round entrances next to each other resembling two eyes.

This Cenote offers two dives to explore two different parts of the cavern. There are two lines to follow, the Bat Cave Line and the Barbie Line. The dives take approximately 40 to 45 minutes each to complete.

The cavern is large and light beams filter through the several openings in the ceiling. This creates a magnificent game of lights and shadows underwater. This is what makes diving in Dos Ojos spectacular. There are also some fossils of shells that can be admired during the dives.

Cenote The Pit
Max depth 30-35 meters, advanced divers only. This cenotes is a deep sinkhole reaching approximately 120 meters into the ground. It is the deepest Cenote in the State of Quintana Roo. The edge of The Pit is approximately 6 meters up the water level.

Once upon a time, divers used to jump into the hole with all the gear on. A wooden ladder was built approximately two years ago, making it easier no to climb out of the water after the dive. The entrance of this Cenote is quite small compared to the rest of the hole underneath. The landscape in The Pit is impressive. The sun rays come in from the small opening creating spectacular turquoise light beams reaching down to over 30 meters.

There is a spot at approximately 5 meters where there are marks of an old fireplace (testimony that once upon a time there was no water and the Mayas have been here). Along the walls there are much defined marks of where the water levels used to be and several stalactites.

At approximately 20 meters the divers are met by a layer of sea water and down below at approximately 25-30 meters there is a cloud of hydrogen sulphate.

The settings in this Cenotes make for a very unique dive. It is in my opinion the best Cenote dive in the area.

Cenote Dreamgate
Max depth 8-10 meters, intermediate to advance dive. This Cenote is still not very well known which makes it even more interesting to dive. It is not sign posted on the road, and there is quite a way through the jungle before getting to it.

The entrance to the Cenote is few meters below the ground level, but there is a ladder to get down and a pulley to lower down the scuba gear.

This is one of the best Cenotes in terms of decorations as there are many impressive stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Because of the fragile environment and some narrow areas, this dive requires very good buoyancy control skills. It might not be recommended as a first Cenote dive if divers are not very experienced.

Cenote Angelita (Little Angel)
Max depth 35-40 meters, advanced divers only. This is another very surreal and unique dive. The landscape of this Cenotes looks straight out of a Tim Burton movie.

As soon as you start descending, the view is breathtaking. The visibility is unlimited; there is a sulphur cloud down at 30 meters with tree branches coming out of it. It really seems like flying above the clouds, unreal!

While going through the cloud you can smell the sulphur and you can feel your buoyancy changing as you hit the salt water below. Once out of the cloud at approximately 35-40 meters it is a totally different landscape. It is darker and greener. It looks like being in a forest.

It is imply amazing.

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There are so many Cenotes and each one is different. Some of them are also great for snorkelling so that even non divers can have a little taste of them.


@ This article is written by Carlotta Arona (PADI MSDT #284952), please give respect to her copyright!
This article & photos are not to be reproduced or distributed without written permission of Carlotta Arona.
You can find more articles written by Carlotta Arona via her personal blog here: HOPSKIPDIVE.

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