The state of Yucatán, Mexico is home to some of the most beautiful and intricate underwater caves and caverns through entry points or sinkholes known as Cenotes. Cenotes (pronounced say-noh-tays) are actually a type of freshwater-filled limestone sinkholes. These natural wonders are known to connect with other underlying cave systems,which have been explored for lengths of 100 kilometers or more.
In the Yucatán Peninsula there are over 3000 Cenotes, 1400 of which have been studied and recorded. These cenotes are located between Cancun and Tulum and the Riviera Maya. The Riviera Maya has the World’s three longest running underwater Cave Sytems – Ox Bel Ha (146.7Km.), Nohoch Nah Chich (61Km.) and Dos Ojos (57.7 Km.). Cenotes were once sacred places of the Mayans as they represented entrances to the underworld. Their natural beauty that can best be described as crystal clear turquoise waters with sunlight reflecting stalactites and stalagmites, are truly enigmatic works of art and draw Scuba divers the world over to explore its waters.
The Riviera Maya’s Cenotes have been rated among the best cave diving of the World. Some notable cenotes of the Riviera Maya are:
Cenote Chac-Mool – 22 km south of Playa Del Carmen/Almost across from Puerto Aventuras lies the Chac Mool Cenote meaning ‘Claw of the Jaguar’. This cenote has two entries both leading to relatively large cavern with a lot of natural light entering from the opening. From there leads to a Dome Room. Here a portion of the ceiling has collapsed under an air dome where divers can surface and admire a lot of beautiful stalactites and some fossils. Since the maximum depth is about 12 meters/36 feet, Chac Mool is a perfect place for novice cavern divers.
Cenote Kukulcan – A couple of hundred feet away from Cenote Chac-Mool, is another entrance to the Chac Mool system called Cenote Kukulcan. On Kukulkan side, in sunny days, you can witness an amazing light show as sunlight reflections project on the walls of the Cavern colors of the rainbow towards the ceiling.
Cenote Dos Ojos – This famous and popular cenote is situated one kilometer South of Xel-Ha and roughly 48 Kms from Playa del Carmen. The name “Dos Ojos” means “Two eyes” and originated for the two circular shaped Cenotes which are located very close to one and another and look like eyes. In the 1980’s the Dos Ojos and Nohoch Nah Chich cave systems were discovered with a competition of two exploration teams on which had the longest underwater cave system in the world. Two dives are conducted in Dos Ojos, the first starting from the first (east) eye and going through a crystal clear fresh water cavern leading to the second eye (west eye). The second dive is a darker dive into a series of rooms and passages underneath an air filled “Bat Cave” in which only little daylight enters. This dive features passageways filled with beautiful and fragile speleotherms. With about 60 Km of explored length and connected to over 25 cenote , Dos Ojos is one of the longest system on the Peninsula. A great cenote for non-divers too, as you can snorkel through the shimmering caves.
Cenote Tajmahal – 29 Km south of Playa del Carmen is are 4 interconnected cenotes with much to offer both Cavern and Cave Divers. One of the most beautiful cenotes in the Riviera Maya, the cavern is filled with light streaming through holes in the ceiling of the bat cave. On a dive through the Taj Mahal cenotes one crosse the two smaller cenotes called the Sugar Bowl Bill’s Hole Cenote. As the fresh water creates a layer over salt water, Haloclines appear in the deeper areas and create an interesting mirror like effect.
Gran Cenote – One of most popular cenote sites in the Riviera Maya, Gran cenote is part of the system Sac-Aktun which means “Cave” in Maya. Ladder steps lead to half moon shaped cenote decorated with small passages & openings. Huge stalagmites, stalactites, and columns are yours to be seen by just sticking your face into the water without even having to dive in. Good buoyancy control is required if you are diving here with as the walls are heavy with the formations. Maximum depth 21 meters/70 feet.