Over 6,000 cenotes are part of the landscape of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Often also called sinkholes or swimming holes, these underground limestone caverns and caves are filled with water. They were created by natural forces when sections of the limestone bedrock collapsed to expose the groundwater below. These sinkhole openings let light in and visitors come here to explore the underground cave systems. Many of these cenotes are less than an hour away from Cancun or Cozumel, and can be visited enroute to some of the most famous Maya ruins, Mexico’s popular travel hotspots.
The Mayans referred to these cave systems as tz’onot (abyss) from which the modern word cenote is derived. Popular legend states that the Maya used these underground spaces for special rituals and ceremonies, and possibly points of entry into the otherworld.
I visited a dozen different cenotes, diving deep into the tunnels and caves to survey their fascinating depths. This involved cavern and cave scuba diving with a specialist, and often carrying torches and lights to illuminate the darkness below. Cavern diving is different from cave diving. In the former your path is illuminated by natural light, while a cave dive could lead you into the depths where no natural light penetrates at all.
Even those who don’t dive can enjoy the lucent beauty of the cenotes as shafts of light pass through the transparent blue waters. Those who do dive can experience stalactites, stalagmites, pillars, unique underwater vegetation and mangroves, freshwater and saltwater separated by turgid haze. The cenotes are truly a world of their own.