Suitcase and World: Cenote.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Millenia ago, the Yucatán Peninsula was originally under the ocean.

Through a combination of geological events and climate changes, the foundation of the Yucatán evolved into is a porous limestone shelf of fossilized coral.

One of the unique geological facts about the Yucatán is there are no above ground rives; the rivers are underground.

All of the ground water sinks through the porous limestone and travels to the sea in these underground rivers.

Cenotes ("seh-no-tay") or water sinkholes were formed when parts of the porous limestone weakened over time and collapsed, leaving underground caves where the fresh water, seeping from above ground, collects. 

Over the past 20 years, experienced scuba divers have explored these caves discovering more than 300 miles of interconnected passageways and caves that make up this amazing one-of-a-kind ecosystem.

In some cenotes, stalactites and stalagmites have formed over the centuries, creating natural works of art. In others, holes in the cave ceiling allow the sunlight to filter into the cenotes, giving the landscape a magical feeling. 

The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is a crystal clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 78° F (25.5º C) making them perfect spots for a dip. 

The word “cenote” is derived from the Mayan word, “dzonot” which means sacred well. 

The Mayans believed the cenotes contained curative elements and considered many of them to be sacred. They also believed cenotes to be portals to the underworld and a way to communicate with the gods. The Sacred Cenote (Cenote Sagrado) at Chichén Itzá was used to perform human sacrifices and as places for making offerings to the gods.  Divers exploring Cenote Sagrado have found copper and gold necklaces, pottery, jade beads, and skeletons of both sexes and all ages.

For the Mayans, cenotes also served a practical purpose because they were the only resource for water - both for drinking and irrigation - and in religious ceremonies. Some of their cities were built around cenotes or wells dug down to the ground water.

It is estimated that there are more than 6000 cenotes in  the Yucatán , although only 2400 are registered.  Luckily for is, we'll be spending a few days in Tulum and there are at least two cenotes that are open to the public and are worth making a trip to. Both are located just a short drive away from town center so a taxi ride should get us to both easily.

When I first came to the Yucatán in 1986, we made a trip to a cenote and I loved every minute of being in the water and exploring the surroundings.  I'm glad I get to go back and introduce my brother to these amazing geological wonders.

Dos Ojos means two eyes and this cenote was so named because it's two neighboring, circular shaped cenotes which connect into a very large cave system shared between the two.

Water temperature is 25 °C/77 °F throughout the year and the maximum depth near the Dos Ojos cenotes is approximately 10 metres (33 ft). The water is exceptionally clear as a result of rainwater filtered through limestone and there being very little soil development in this region since the limestone is very pure.

Dos Ojos is located about 9m miles from town - a short taxi ride or if we are ambitious and the weather accommodating, perhaps an enjoyable bike ride.  There are bathroom facilities and snacks available.  We're set!

Gran Cenote is a large beautiful garden cenote with gentle white sand beach type areas along with easily accessible caves for snorkeling and diving.  With a circumference area of 202 meters, it is very popular with families and first time cenote swimmers.

Visitors pass through well kept gardens before descending a natural rock and wooden plank stairway to the wooden platforms and gardens below.

At the bottom of the stairs, first timers tend to veer to the right where you´ll find a shallow snorkeling area with a soft white sand bottom. With a snorkel mask they can see large stalactites up close and personal. Non swimmers can wade to the other side of the cave where they can walk around a natural open hole to the jungle above.

Snorkelers can swim around the edges of the cenote, viewing depths up to 10 meters.
Gran Cenote is located 4 km from Tulum town which will be an easy bike ride away for us.  Swim fins, life jackets, masks and snorkels are available for rental.

It's going to be very hot in the Tulum in July.  A dip in the cenotes will be a perfect way to cool off!  Very excited about going back!