Cenotes are natural underground sinkholes filled with water that are characteristic of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Learn more about them.
Cenotes are natural underground sinkholes filled with water that are characteristic of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico that attract cave divers and snorkelers from all over the world.
The clear water in the Yucatan cenotes comes from rain water as it slowly makes its way through the limestone ground. The water slowly seeps through the limestone eating away at the rock and eventually forming underwater caves. The cenotes are formed when the rock ceiling collapses revealing the underground cave system. When this occurs, the large underground pools of crystal clear water are exposed to the surface, as occurs in the famous Mexican cenotes near Chichen Itza in the Riviera Maya.
Additionally, many cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula are connected by underground tunnel systems that reach up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) in length. These underground cenote caves offer spectacular opportunities for cenote diving and cenote snorkeling.
The Riviera Maya cenotes on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula boast special characteristics which distinguish them from the rest. Most cenotes in the Yucatan are simple sinkholes without much depth; however the famous cenotes of the Riviera Maya are often connected to extensive labyrinths of underground tunnels of water. The Riviera Maya´s proximity to the coast means that some of the cenotes found here, such as the Ox Bel Ha, Sac Actun and Dos Ojos cenotes, are unique in that they contain a mixture of fresh and salt water due to their connections with the sea.
The Riviera Maya, in addition to all of its other virtues as a vacation destination, offers numerous cenote tours, cenote diving adventures, cenote cave exploring expeditions and cave snorkeling.
Cenotes in the Maya Culture
From an anthropological standpoint, the Mexican cenotes were of vital importance to the Maya culture. The Yucatan Peninsula is a limestone plateau with no rivers or streams, meaning that the cenotes of the Yucatan were the only source of fresh water to the Maya people. As a result, their largest settlements were built near these underground freshwater reservoirs. In fact, the word “cenote” is derived from the Mayan word ts'onot which means “well”. As a result, the important ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza is located next to a large cenote called the Sacred Cenote.
Due to the importance of the Yucatan cenotes to the Maya people it is no surprise that they acquired mythical characteristics. The Maya believed that the cenotes served as a portal to communicate with their ancestors and Gods, the most important of which was Chac, the God of Rain.
The Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza was especially important to the Maya civilization because it was said to be the gate to Xibalbá, the Maya underworld. In the 20th century human remains were found in the Sacred Cenote along with signs of offerings in the form of gold, jade, copper and more. Surprisingly, the best preserved objects found in the Chichen Itza cenote were made of perishable materials made of wood and fabric.
Cenote Diving Tours
In addition to the cultural importance of the Mexican cenotes, they are also highly regarded for other reasons. The underground galleries of water filled tunnels are one of the world's best places to practice scuba diving. The most popular one among cenote divers is the Sistema de Dos Ojos Cenote (Two Eyed System) located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, not far from the popular vacation destination of Cancun. This popular diving cenote earned its name from the fact that it has a double entrance that resembles human eyes and is possibly the longest system of underground tunnels in the world, a title it disputes with the Sac Actun Cenote. However, there is no doubt that Dos Ojos Cenote, reaching 119 meters deep, is the deepest of the Riviera Maya. In fact, its true depth could be more as many parts of this Riviera Maya cenote have yet to be explored. Scuba diving cenote tours of Dos Ojos normally include two daily dives that take brave cenote divers through crystal clear waters through to the adjacent Cave of Bats.
From Cancun, visitors can sign up for a cenote tour called the Route of the Cenotes that visits the principal cenotes near the city. The cenote tour also includes snorkeling and zip-line adventures among other activities. This cenote tour is an ideal alternative for those who want to experience the magic of the Yucatan cenotes but are not adept scuba divers prepared to explore the depths of underwater tunnels.
With thousands of cenotes scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, some yet to be explored, the opportunity for adventure in Mexico is unlimited!