Cenotes of Yucatán

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula reaches out between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where it might have formed a land bridge connecting Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Antigua island chain during the last ice age. We may be looking at the fallout from a giant comet that crashed down eternities ago; however the Yucatan Peninsula cenotes are of more immediate interest.

The Yucatan Peninsula Cenotes

Yucatán – where the ancient Maya reigned supreme before they dispersed like morning mist – is covered over by a gigantic sheet of limestone through which rainwater has percolated creating a gigantic reservoir of almost unbelievably clear water just below the surface. Every few centuries a small piece of this ceiling collapses due to erosion. This opens up the possibility of entering into an underground chamber , and swimming in crystal clear water that is almost as old as time itself.

Swimming Pools of the Spirits

Yucatan Peninsula Cenotes: Ik Kil Cenote
Ik Kil Cenote

‘Cenote’ is derived from Mayan ts’onot means ‘natural sinkhole’ or ‘natural pit’ . The Mayan warrior nation believed that rain gods lived there, and they built their temples nearby so they could worship and make human sacrifices. When you swim in one, you may sense their spirits calling from their heaven. Respect the beauty of these natural swimming holes. Leave nothing – not even suntan cream floating on the surface when you leave.

There is a large volume of pure water down there, perhaps as much as all the fresh water on Earth’s surface put together. Below it the cave system connects to the ocean, meaning that if you plumb the depths the water turns to saline. Not all Yucatan Peninsula cenotes are the same. Cantaros have vertical walls, but Cilindricos are bell-shaped. Aguadas are shallow water basins, while Grutas are semi-dry, deep underground caves

Yucatan Peninsula Cenotes: Snorkel Trip in a Cenote
Snorkel Trip in a Cenote: Photo: Graeme Churchard/CC 2.0

Shadows of History

Cenote watering holes, for this is what they are outside of tourism, contain many secrets, including human skeletons as old as 13,600 years and the remains of giant Mastodon Elephants that lived around those times. While most people who intrude  are in search of a cooling swim, there are also an intrepid few (should I say foolhardy) who dive for treasure.

Rumours abound of Maya jewellery sacrificed to rain gods. This is probable, as some of it has been found. There is also a persistent rumour that the Mayans hid vast quantities of gold in limestone caves to prevent the Spanish conquistadors from seizing them. I hope they never find the treasure. Some things are best left the way they are.

Yucatan Peninsula Cenotes: Rio Secreto, an Ancient Treasure Chest
Rio Secreto, an Ancient Treasure Chest

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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3 Responses

  1. Underwater Rio Secreto Cave Tour - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] caves are also homes to cenotes, deep caverns in the rock that go hundreds of feet deep. This is where free divers have had competitions for a sport in which […]

  2. Avatar for Richard Farrell


    Your photography is fabulous! The shots capture it so well. That was one thing I found difficult on my trip. I have recently blogged about cenote Ik Kil at http://www.piezloves.com. Loved your post! 🙂

    • Avatar for Richard Farrell


      Glad you liked it Kelly! Lets start a conversation. Catch me on Skype at flashfarrell . Richard


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