Why the Cenotes need to be on your bucket list

What to expect from diving in the Cenotes? The Cenotes are a different world - pure magic, ancient formations and fossils, amazing visibility and breathtaking underwater landscapes.
You need to dive there!
Experience level? Beginners to advanced

Best time to dive there? All year round. Low season (May, September, October) is great because you find less divers in the Cenotes.
How to dive in the Cenotes? Most dive operators in the Riviera Maya (all the way from Cancun to Tulum) offer diving in the Cenotes. Please go to one with a good and safe reputation. Remember you are going diving in a cavern!

Water temperature? 25° Celsius
Visibility? Endless!

Dive equipment needed? A full 5mm wetsuit is recommended, however, water is 25oC so a lot of people is also comfortable with a full 3 mm.
This blog entry is quite special for me, since I’m about to tell you all about one of my favorite dive sites in the world... the magical Mexican Cenotes. For 6 years I was very lucky to work as an instructor & cavern guide in the Riviera Maya. After a few months living there, and after my fist Cenote dive as a regular “client”, I realized quickly that I wanted to be a Cenotes guide, so I did my Full Cave certification and went for it!
Let me tell you more about this place...
But wait... What is a “Cenote”?
The Mexican Cenotes are sinkholes that open into an extensive subterranean river system in the Yucatan Peninsula, which at the same time form huge underwater cave and cavern systems. The largest uw cave system in the world can be found there!
According to the latest data available, there are around 6.000 Cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, in total.
A bit of history
The history of the Cenotes is just fascinating for two main reasons: the importance they had (and still have) for the Mayan culture, and the years and years it took for them to form.
For the Mayan civilization cenotes were very important. These sinkholes were their main fresh water supply, as there are no regular rivers in the area, only a few lakes. All the rivers in the Yucantan Peninsula lay under the ground.
It was also a very sacred place for the Mayans, as they represented the entrance to the spiritual underworld, home of their Gods. It was common for them to do different type of sacrifices as a thank you to their Gods, or to ask them for different things. Many objects such as jewels, pots, sculptures and even human skeletons, were found while exploring the Cenotes for the first time. Human sacrifices were common hundreds of years ago in the Mayan civilization.
The history of how they were formed begins millions of years ago, when the Yucatan Peninsula was mostly a huge coral area under the water. During the different ice ages, and when the ocean levels were much lower than they are today, an extensive coral reef area became exposed to the atmosphere and eventually became what we call today the Yucatan Peninsula. The coral then died, and formed a mile thick limestone platform.
Several tunnels, cave and cavern systems were formed when the water penetrated little by little the coral limestone, dissolving the rock. Those drops of water, penetrating and dissolving the limestone, and at the same time carrying along multiple minerals from the ground, started forming amazing geological formations such as stalactites and stalagmites inside those dry tunnels. Many parts of the ceiling of these tunnels eventually collapsed, and this entrances or sinkholes is what we call now “Cenotes”. Years after that, the sea levels increased again to its actual levels, flooding the tunnels and forming, along with fresh water from the rain, the underwater river system of the Yucatán Península.
Ok, thats cool, but isn’t it just rocks or flooded tunnels? What do you see there?
These are just some of the questions divers asked me, before going there for the first time. But actually is so much more than that...
Let ́s just start with that fist impression, when you arrive in the middle of the jungle, and see a beautiful hole in the ground with cristal clear water, surrounded by nothing else than nature. Pure green, amazing jungle colors, mixed with enormous rocks and a water entrance with the most transparent water... wow
Which brings me to the visibility, over a 100 mts./300 feet visibility. So clear that sometimes, you feel like you are flying in the water, that there is air instead of water around you, and you are just there admiring the beauty of this mysterious & magical place.
Then you start seeing the beautiful formations; ancient stalactites, stalagmites & gigantic columns. It took hundreds, and even thousands, of years for each one of these to form. And they are beautiful.
You also get to experience the weird visual effect caused by the halocline. This happens when water of different salinities forms distinct layers, similar to that when you mix oil and vinegar. The interface between the two layers is called a halocline. This happens because the water in the deeper areas of the Cenotes come from the sea, while the water on the shallower area is fresh water from the rain. The visibility becomes very blurry for a second while you are going through it.
One of my favorite things about diving in the Cenotes, were the amazing light effects you get to see when the sun light penetrates the water...different tones of blue and green, or just very intense beams of lights. Breathtaking.
Also, remember that this was once a coral reef? Well, is because of that you also get to see marine life fossils such as conk shells, sea urchins, that are millions of years old... a truly natural museum.
Is hard for me to explain why this place is just magical, because is not only what you see there, but also what you feel when diving inside them... You just have to experience it.
What certification do I need to go diving there?
You can go diving in the cavern area under the supervision of a qualified instructor/cave diver, and you only need to have an OWD certification from any organization. You need a good buoyancy control to dive there so you don’t damage any of the beautiful formations, or so you don’t harm yourself. When diving in any overhead environment, good buoyancy is crucial. However, keep in mind that the guides there are only allowed to take maximum of 4 people, so if you are not 100% sure, you can always tell your guide and stay right behind him/her in case you need any help.
You can only go on the cave area if you hold the full cave diver certification. Different tech diving organizations such as IANTD, TDI, etc. offer this certification. I did mine with IANTD and it was brilliant!
Which Cenotes are the best ones?
Well, this is always a bit personal of course, but depends on what you want to see as well. Also, not all operators offer diving in all of them, so I will mention the ones that are easier to go to with most dive operators.
If you want to experience a little bit of everything you get to see in a Cenote, then Tajma Ha is probably one of the best ones where you enjoy it all! Chac Mool is also a good option for this, but you can definitely expect a lot more divers there.
If you want to focus on formations, then Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, and Dream Gate are the most impressive ones to enjoy these.
And if you want to go deeper, and experience something truly unique, weird and impressive, go to Angelita, where at around 30 meters you will find a a thick cloud of hydrogen sulphide. It looks like a gigantic cloud inside the water, or a bottom made of cotton... It is just surreal!
Worth visiting as well for their uniqueness: Car Wash and The Pit.
Also important for you to know, all the Cenotes are private owned lands, and most of them belong to Mayan families and communities. When you pay the entrance you pay these families and help them maintain their communities alive. If you bring a camera with you, please note that you have to pay an extra ticket for the camera. Totally worth it!
If you ever visited the Cenotes, please let me hear about your experience there! And of course, if you have any questions, you have a Cavern fan here ready to answer all of them :)
Happy cavern bubbles,


Planning your own trip to the Riviera Maya? Let me help you: lucia@divingspecials.com
April 2019

0 comments so far