Cenotes are one of the most fascinating, unique, magical, and bizarre features of the Yucatan peninsula. Pronounced: suh–noh-tee, a cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes fresh groundwater underneath. While they are very rare in most parts of the world, they actually occur in great number in the Yucatan peninsula. Several thousands have been documented in the area.
Several of our friends and family had highly recommended that we check out the cenotes in the Yucatan. We had brought free diving fins and snorkel gear with us to Mexico, so we were looking forward to experiencing this natural wonder. When we pulled into Chichen Itza, the owner of the campsite we were staying at recommended that we go for a swim Cenote Yaxunah, which was about 20 miles a way. She told us that we would be the only ones there…and she was right. We paid a small fee to support the community center that was built next to the cenote, and climbed 50 feet down a steep ladder to access the water. The cenote went down at least another 100 feet, but because the water is extremely fresh and clear you could see almost all the way to the bottom. Frankly, I was a little terrified at first. But, once the sun came out, we started swimming and my fear gave way to thrill!
Cenotes were the primary fresh water supply source for the Mayas for hundreds of years, and numerous artifacts (including human sacrifices) have been recovered from the depths. Even today numerous towns take advantage of the fresh water. We swam around at Cenote Yaxunah for about an hour, and then took a little time to see the community museum before heading home. After that first experience we knew we had to check out as many cenotes as we could find.
The next day we waited until the sun was high overhead, and went to to Cenote Yokdzonot. This cenote is operated by the women of the town. There were a few other people at the cenote, but it was still incredibly peaceful and beautiful. While this cenote was not as clear, it was a little bit bigger, and had a large number of fish swimming around on the surface.
Still wanting more cenotes, the next day we decided to go down some narrow roads deep into the heart of the Yucatan peninsula. As we were driving, many people tried to flag us down to show us their local cenote. We finally stopped at a place that promised to take us to three different cenotes. The only catch was that it was only possible to visit the cenote by riding in a horse drawn cart along railway lines. (See the first few seconds of the video I posted above.) While it was a little sketchy…we decided that we had to check it out since we had come so far! It was definitely worth it to see the cenotes. The light streaming into the cave-like cenotes created the most amazing blue colors – it was almost like seeing ultra-violet light.
Swimming in cenotes is definitely among my favorite experiences from our trip to Mexico – and is one of the most adventurous things I have done in my life. It is not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy free diving then it is well worth it.