Tired of the beach? Swim underground

<p>To say the water is cold or warm would shortchange the sensation one gets when submerged in a cenote. The pools are so intensely clear and refreshing — and the surrounding 80-foot high walls of vine-covered rock so dramatic — that the whole experience is unique to say the least.</p>

 

The cenotes of Mexico’s Yucatan are a cool option


 

 

photos by matthew romanada/metro toronto

 

An overhead view of a cenote, essentially sinkholes that have been worn over time by rainwater eating into the porous limestone shelf of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.





To say the water is cold or warm would shortchange the sensation one gets when submerged in a cenote. The pools are so intensely clear and refreshing — and the surrounding 80-foot high walls of vine-covered rock so dramatic — that the whole experience is unique to say the least.





When most people visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the time they spend in water involves either a massive winding pool at a resort, or some toe-dipping in the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea. But the more adventurous traveler should seek out one of the thousands of cenotes that dot the landscape.





If you’ve never heard of a cenote, think of them as caves filled with water. The Yucatan Peninsula is on a porous limestone shelf that, over the centuries, has been eaten away by rainwater, thus creating cenotes or water sinkholes. The underground rivers connecting various cenotes and caves attract divers from all over the world; stalactites and stalagmites that form in many of the caves just add to the beauty and wonder.





There are four basic types of cenotes: underground, semi-underground, land level and open well. The latter two are the best options for the average traveler. The cenotes at land level look like natural swimming pools or ponds, and can be found all around the Mayan Riviera.





Looking down into the Blue Cenote near Chichen Itza.





One of the best examples of an open well cenote is the Blue Cenote, also called the Sacred Blue Cenote. It’s located at the Ik Kil eco-archaeology park — which is about two kilometres from Chichen Itza, the massive Mayan archaeological site recently voted one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World — and is a popular destination for tourists.





Many day trips from Cancun to Chichen Itza will include a stopover at Ik Kil for an hour or two. Once there you can explore the grounds and visit the cenote, either by looking down into the pool from above or climbing down rock stairs to get inside and have a dip. You can choose to slip into the water, or jump from a platform about 15 feet up.





Once immersed, you begin to notice the little black fish all around and how different the water feels on your skin. Since the water in a cenote is all rainwater, there’s little to no particulate in the water.





Throughout the cenote there are mini waterfalls of rainwater dripping off the rock walls. Swimming under these waterfalls is a must — the falling water doesn’t hurt, as the pressure is little more than that of a good strong showerhead.





It is easy to understand why the cenotes were considered mystical places by the Mayans. Not only were the pools the best local water source — there are no rivers and very few lakes at ground level in the Yucatan — but the Mayans also viewed the cenotes as the entrance to the underworld. In some cenotes, archaeologists have even found human remains which they believe to have been a sacrifice to the rain gods.





Even more adventurous travelers can spend a whole day snorkelling and scuba diving in one of the larger cenotes connected with underground rivers. However, it’s best to have a professional guide in tow, and some prior scuba training, before undertaking such an experience.





















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