As I explore the awesome underwater cenotes of mexico, here’s the second part of my vacation report, as From Cancun, I took a shuttle around 60 miles south to the small town of Akumal.
This town is known for one thing: it is the gateway to the most spectacular cave and cavern diving in the world.
Photo Credit: grubsroom
What is a Cenote?
The Yucatan peninsula is composed of limestone. Over the years, a massive cave system, hundreds of miles long, has honeycombed it. This system has gradually filled with fresh water from underground springs. In fact, there are no rivers in Yucatan; the caves are the only source of fresh water.
Occasionally, the roof of a cave would collapse, forming a sinkhole, or cenote. Diving in cenotes has been a craze both down here and in central Florida for over twenty years now. I had long wanted to do it, now I was going to.
My destination was a small resort, the Villas de Rosa. It was a nice, unpretentious place. Its accompanying dive operation, Auqatech, was one of the pioneers of cave and cavern diving. I settled into my clean comfortable room and relaxed for the evening. In the morning, I got ready for the first of what would be six guided cavern dives.
Scuba diving cenotes is not the same as cave diving
cenote diving can be dangerous, and people get themselves killed periodically because they do it without proper training or equipment. They venture into the maze of the cave systems, can’t find their way out, and drown.
To safely dive caves, you must finish an approved training course. You attach a safety reel to your belt, tie one end off at the entrance to the cave, and unreel it as you penetrate. Then when you come out, you follow it out, reeling it in as you go.
You learn to keep your feet higher than your head as you swim so your kick doesn’t stir up silt which can interfere with visibility. It is pitch-black in the caves, so you must carry three underwater flashlights, one primary and two back-ups.
You follow the rule of thirds: go into the caves on 1/3 of your air supply, exit the caves on 1/3 of your air supply and leave the remaining 1/3 of your air supply as a safety reserve.
There is a lot more what you learn when doing a full cave course trust me, but I wanted to let you know that cave diving is a complete other discipline then open water diving.
Photo Credit: bmward_2000
Lets go cenote diving
Since I had received no training in cave diving, I could not go into the cave systems. What I could do, however, was accompany a trained guide in cavern diving, where I would be with him at all times and never out of sight of the entrance to the cenote.
My guide was named Roberto Tuz, but everyone calls him Tito. He has been a fully qualified dive master and cave diver since 1997.
He looked a little bit like a Mexican Charles Bronson with a mustache, but he was a great guy and we had some good conversations. And he definitely knew his way around the cenotes.
We loaded up our gear and headed out to our first cenote. They are almost all on private property, so we had to pay a small fee at a toll booth before driving up to it.
The more popular ones have had wooden stairways built down to them. This cenote was named Ponderosa (and before you ask, no, Hoss and Little Joe were not there). Ponderosa actually means “Eden” in Spanish. At my first look, I almost fell over.
Photo Credit: mtkopone
The sinkhole was almost perfectly circular and about 100 feet across. I could see straight through the water all the way to the bottom. The water was incredibly pure, the visibility about 300 feet! I suited up on the wooden platform and jumped in.
The water was cool and refreshing after the hot humid topside. As I waited for Tito, a bunch of the little fish that live in the cenote gathered around my face and started nibbling on my chin. I don’t know what they found so appetizing, but they tickled.
Love at first (dive) site
When Tito entered the water, I followed him as he took me on a tour from the opening of cenote Ponderosa, through a huge underwater corridor to cenote Corral. Since we were only about 50 feet deep, our air lasted over 40 minutes.
As I played my flashlight along the walls, I was more and more blown away. The whale sharks had been an adrenalin rush of seconds; this was a slowly increasing sense of awe.
The corridor between the cenotes was huge, 80 feet wide, 20 feet tall, and over 100 yards long. Claustrophobic was the last thing I felt. Great stalactites sprouted from the ceiling like fangs, while stalagmites jutted up from the floor. Sometimes they met and formed pillars.
Below me and to the sides, I could see distant chambers fading off into the distance, leading who knows where. As I looked up at the stone ceiling above me, I could see the air I was exhaling forming silvery pools along its surface. They looked like mercury.
Eventually, the air would filter though the porous limestone to the surface. The water was so clear that I couldn’t see it even if I tried. Tito looked like he was hanging in empty air! I had never experienced anything like this before. I ended the dive astounded by my experience. I really felt like I had visited another world.
Beautiful decorated Cenotes
My second dive was at the Cenote Taj Mahal. This was another beautiful place. It was noteworthy because it had a dry cave in the middle. Sunlight stabbed through small openings in the rock ceiling and into the dark water like a blade of blue light. It looked incredible. Tito also showed me some fossilized shellfish in the rock wall.
The next day’s dives were even better. Our destination was Cenote Dos Ojos, “Two Eyes.” It is considered the best of the cenotes for cavern diving.
This was much bigger than the previous cenotes; and spectacular on an even higher level. Again, the water was so clear that visibility was virtually unlimited. As I swam down the corridor, I felt like I was in some great cathedral, the chambers were so huge, the rock formations so massive. Except for the sound of my bubbles, there was silence.
To the bat cave!
Dos Ojos was so big that we did both of the day’s dives there. On the second dive, Tito took me to a dry cave section. As I played my flashlight across the ceiling, I could see that it was covered with hundreds of sleeping Mexican free-tailed bats. They exit the cenote every evening in search of insects.
Photo Credit: YvettesArts
The last day’s diving was first at Cenote Carwash. This one was unusual; it was surrounded by foliage and looked like a big pond. It had a green algae bloom on its top surface and looked murky. When we entered, we found the murk stopped three feet down, and below it was crystal clear water, with the green algae above forming a canopy.
It had a lot more little fish than the other cenotes, and I saw a fresh water eel a couple of feet long. He looked like a stick until I poked him and he swam off. The entrance to the cenote was framed in dead branches and looked spectacular.
The last dive was Gran (Grand) Cenote. This was a lot like Dos Ojos, but on a smaller scale, with incredible rock formations right off the entrance. As I finished, I had an incredible sense of fulfilled adventure. Not many people have seen these systems, and I feel very privileged.
There is nothing I can say that will allow you to see just how awesome these caves are. I probably will never train to become a full cave diver, since I don’t anticipate being down here or in Florida very often, but I hope to do this again someday.
What are your thoughts about scuba diving the Cenotes in Mexico? Let us know in the comments below
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This trip report is written by Alan Kempner