The Cenotes caves in Mexico have always been on top of my bucket list. I think every serious diver does – because there’s probably not many better places to have a thrilling dive! Very outside most people’s comfort zone, the Cenotes cave and cavern system spread out into the underworld of Quintana Roo, on the peninsula of Yucatán in Mexico.
Ancient Maya believed these watering holes in the middle of the jungle to be entrances to the underworld, called Xibalba. This myriad of Cenotes caves is nowadays mostly filled with water, and so far already several hundred kilometers of length have been explored by divers. The systems are so complex and wide that speleologists still haven’t seen all of it.
Can you imagine how it feels like to dive not only underwater, but under miles of rocks, with only a few tanks of air, no daylight for hours or maybe days, and no chance at all to surface in case anything goes wrong? Well, if you want to get an idea, the Cenotes offer the perfect chance to sniff the surface of these caves, by exploring the cavern systems at the entrances of the Cenotes.
Caverns are the parts of the cave around a Cenote, or watering hole, that can be safely explored by certified scuba divers and that are not more than 60m inside a rock (or, away from the surface, so to say). During our dives in the different Cenotes it became very clear that some of these caverns are probably already beyond that point, but they are all well marked by lines and you can only enter with certified guides anyway.
During these breathtaking dives, we came by several of the entry points to the real cave system. They are unmistakingly marked with a skull sign, and should be taken seriously. Our guide told us that every year, divers die inside these systems because they “just want to take a look beyond the first corner”. But without proper cave navigation skills, you can get lost even at the first corner, and instead of going back, some divers mistakingly go even deeper into the system.
As scary as this may sound, these are still some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and offer postcard-perfect picture opportunities. Nestled into the middle of the jungle, the Cenotes are actually parts of the ground that have collapsed due to the caves below, opening an entrance into this mysterious cave world. They are usually very hard to find, and many of these Cenotes have been found accidentally by divers entering another Cenote and then surfacing in a new one. Can you imagine how it must have felt to discover one of these huge domes of light in the middle of the jungle?
On our visit, we have seen four Cenotes:
- The Pit, which is actually a huge underwater dome with a smaller light opening. Its walls go vertically down to about 50 meters, and at around 30 meters there is a murky hydrogen sulfide layer that blocks out most of the light for the part that comes below.
- Cenote Dos Ojos: This is the entrance to the Sistema Dos Ojos cave system, which is believed to be the world’s third-largest by length;
- Cenote Taj Mahal: A beautiful system where you enter literally in the middle of nowhere, and can dive to other surrounding small cenotes; and
- Ponderosa / Garden of Eden: A large Cenote that resembles the definition of a tropical oasis in the middle of the jungle