On the surface, Mexico may appear to be nothing but a spring break destination where the drinking age is ‘if you can see over the bar’. Your days are spent laying tipsy by the beach taking pictures of your "legs or hotdogs", and your nights spent hammered at a foam party taking pictures that need to be burned immediately if you ever want to have a job.
Take a look below the surface though (literally) and you can find a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools!
These pools are called cenotes (pronounced say-no-tay). They’re natural sinkholes that are the result of collapsed limestone and there’s over 3,000 that have been discovered throughout the Yucatan!
Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is low and relatively flat with no surface rivers or streams above ground, but below ground runs the three longest underground water systems in the world:
Ox Bel Ha 180 km; Sac Aktun 172 km; Dos Ojos 82 km.
Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization, thus directed the distribution of human settlement on the peninsula for the last 10,000 years,
More than just a water system though, the Mayan considered cenotes to be an entrance to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, where their gods and their spirits reside after death.
Archeologists have recovered offerings of gold, jade, pottery, and even human remains that were believed to be sacrifices left for the gods. Tests on charcoal found beside one female skeleton would place it at least 10,000 years ago, which makes it one of the oldest human skeletons found in the Americas. Along with offerings, archeologists have found ancient fossilized remains of camels, giant jaguars, mammoths, sloths, and horses.
Some cenotes are large open-air, vertical water-filled shafts, others are caves that contain pools and underwater passageways in their interior.
Most have clear fresh water that has been meticulously filtered by the earth, making them so clear and pure that you can see straight through to fish and plant life below. They’re also home to vitamin and mineral rich algae that nourish and protect your skin.
I checked out both an open-air and a cave cenote. Aside from being filled with water, these two cenotes were completely different.
Cenote Ik Kil:
*Located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula and part of the Ik Kil Archeological Park near Chichen Itza.
*Entrance fee: 100 pesos ($6) per person.
*There is a changing facility with life vests and lockers to rent.
This cenote is about 200 ft in diameter and about 130 ft deep!
The water was crystal clear. You could see hundreds of little catfish swimming by your side!
Aside from being a little creepy, they're totally harmless.
Cenote Chaak Tun:
*Located about a mile outside the center of Playa Del Carmen.
*Entrance fee: 400 pesos ($25) which includes: tour guide, flashlight, mask, water shoes, and locker. Life vests and wetsuits are also available if you prefer.
Ik Kil is mainly two underground caves full of hidden dark corners and mini-chambers. Aside from your flashlight, the only source of light comes from a hole in the ceiling.
The view of stalagmite and stalactite formations were the most impressive I have ever seen! With the added element of seeing it all under water, this tour was one of the coolest things I have ever done!
These limestone stalactites form extremely slowly – they usually take a century to grow even an inch!
There are a lot of tight spaces and some spots where you need to hold your breath to get through. This is not for those who are afraid of the dark or are claustrophobic!
If you're afraid of bats and spiders, this cave isn't for you either!
Our tour guide, Felix, was the best! Gratuity isn't included, so don't forget
to tip your guide!
*Get there early; we arrived around 9:30am and were the only two there until noon!
*The tour lasts about 2 hours, but you're welcome to stay longer to explore the last cave on your own.
This isn't the best quality video but it shows what you can expect. I took it with my iPhone 6 inside of a Lifeproof case. I can't rave enough about how much I love this phone case!!
Well known cenotes to check out on the Yucatan peninsula:
Cenote Angelita, Tulum
Dos Ojos, Municipality of Tulum
Gran Cenote, Municipality of Tulum
Ik Kil, Yucatan
Sacred Cenote, Chichen Itza
See more of Mexico than your resort! Cenote's are just one of the many things the Yucatan has to offer!