UNDERWATER CAVING: Combining caving with swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, you can explore miles and miles of underwater caves in the Yucatan Peninsula, where cenotes, those circular, water-filled sinkholes, serve as passageways into the underwater
world. It is estimated that there are more than 6000 cenotes, although only 2400 are registered. The Mayas called them dzonot, which the conquering Spaniards translated as cenote. There are four different types of cenotes – those that are completely underground, those that are semi-underground, those that are at land level like a lake or pond, like the one at Dzibilchaltún, and those that are open wells, like the one in Chichén Itzá.
There are a number of user-friendly, fully-developed cenotes which can be swum or dived in. Given the myriad possibilities, we did a little research and came up with a list of several top cenotes. Ik-KilLocated less than 2 miles from Chichén Itzá, this “Sacred Blue Cenote,” is a perfectly round well-type cenote with hanging vines and waterfalls. This is an ideal place for cooling off after visiting the ruins! The open cenote sits about 85 feet from the surface, and a grand stairway leads you down the steps into the water. Access is safe and easy.
The town of Cuzamá is known for the large number of cenotes. Head to the hacienda and take the tour on a platform buggy pulled by horses on paths through the countryside. The main cenotes are: Chelentun (laying down rock), Chansinic’che (tree with small ants) and Bolonchoojol (nine drops of water). The Chelentun Cenote has incredibly blue and clear water, with excellent visibility. Stalactite and stalagmite formations add to its unique beauty.
Located in the center of Valladolid, this is a great cenote for swimming, and is home to a rare species of eyeless black fish known as “lub.” A third of the cenote is covered with stalactites and stalagmites, and a patch encircles the entire opening.
This small village is home to over 150 cenotes. You could spend weeks here and not explore them all. Dzitnup or KekenLocated about 4 miles southeast of Valladolid, this cenote is located underground, with a ceiling hole. Lighting and a guide rope to make it easier to enter this much photographed, visually archetypal cenote.
At the Kankirixche (tree with yellow fruit) Cenote, crystal clears waters offer great opportunities for snorkeling and scuba. You’ll need a guide for this one: Try www.mayanecotours.com
BASIC CAVE TOURISM
In Mexico, you can almost always find a good cave to walk or rappel into and have a look around for an hour or a day, as there are caves to be explored all over Mexico. For example, at Cerro Grande in Jalisco on the Jalisco-Colima border, more than 100 deep caves have been explored and mapped. Three of these caves are quite deep, at more than 200 meters. And there are plenty of as yet completely unexplored passageways. Jalisco’s Resumidero de Toxin, at 30005 meters, is the longest horizontal cave in Western Mexico. In Michoacan, the Cueva Del Rio Durazno, at 3,000 meters, is the next longest. Near Colima City, you’ll find the Cueva de Tampumacchay, home to The Thousand-Layer Cake – an unusual natural formation – along with giant stalagmites and stalactites. Much of this cave remains unexplored. And if you’ve ever wanted to watch a colony of bats take to the night sky, you can do that at Cueva de Tampumacchay. At dusk, vampire bats and insectivore bats emerge from the cave in search of their meal for the day, and head straight for your neck…
In addition, in Jalisco, you can visit the volcanic Chapuzon Cave, while in Nayarit, Cueva Del Zurdo can be explored. Up near Tequila, there’s a multi-level fissure cave called Chiquihuiton that’s been explored down to 413 meters, but much of it remains unexplored.
All this goes to illustrate that the possibilities for caving in Mexico are many, and the sport is in its early stages. If you’re into it, this is an opportunity to spelunk into underground regions where no human being has ever been. It’s not often one gets such an opportunity.
Go for it!
- Mexican Eco Tourism: Just say No to the popote! (cuponismo.com)
- An underwater river (jstorer2.com)
- Chichen Itza – the home of the Mayans (newsguy.co.uk)
- Mexico’s president becomes TV adventure guide (sfgate.com)