The ancient Mayan people worshiped the Cenotes, considering them to be the gate to the underground kingdom of Xibalba. Today, you can discover the Cenotes in any number of popular resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula. Most offer diving locations with stunning views of caves for all scuba diving enthusiasts.
The Cenotes were initially formed during the collapse of limestone rocks. The Yucatan peninsula is rich in these rocks, especially in its underground rivers. The Cenotes form a connection with underground rivers that has been formed for many years due to leakage of rainwater through the soil of the earth and underground channels into the systems of underground caves. Divers come from all over the world to explore the mysterious underground rivers and caves of the stunning Cenotes.
Cenote Aktun Ha
Located about five kilometers from Tulum, this sight is perfect for novice divers. Some call this Cenote the “Car Wash” as it has fairly convenient access to the water.
The descent to a depth of 15 meters does not require additional training or obtaining the OWD certificate that deep-sea divers require; however, a certificate Padi OWD or equivalent is still necessary. The dive is about 45 minutes and is clear of sudden drops.
Located approximately 17 kilometers from Tulum, Cenote Angelita is often compared to an underwater river; it’s a deep well with a diameter of about 60 meters and a length of 61 meters and as it is vertical, it does not require diving training in caves.
A specially equipped platform has been recently constructed from which all divers can conveniently dive straight into the Cenote Angelita. You’ll see muddy water at first until the faraway sight of the underwater peninsula begins to clear, as if you’re floating above the island.
As you immerse yourself further, you’ll reach Halocline, located at a depth of 28 meters. Halocline consists of a three-meter thick water column concentrated with hydrogen sulfide, and above it is like an island, the top of the hill which consists entirely of sediments falling into the well. Since the water is saturated with hydrogen sulfide, it is significantly less transparent. On the slopes of the “islands in the lake” hill, you can see the trunks of the trees stuck in a deep layer of silt. Through here, you move cautiously as the sludge can rise with even the slightest impact of water flow and completely covers all beautiful views of the Cenote. The dive time can be around 45 minutes with a relative depth of about 35 meters.
Angelita Cenote is considered to be intended only for experienced divers with appropriate AOWD certificates.
With its beautiful thickets and abundance of living creatures, Cenote Casa is extremely popular. Located about 60 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen, this Cenote resembles a jungle. You’ll happen upon huge varieties of fish, both marine and freshwater.
The dive into the Cenote passes through the thickets with various grottoes and rifts. The overgrown bottom is marvelous due to its overflow of colors and the play of light from the undergrowth. The average dive time is 45 minutes and is suitable for beginners with a PADI OWD certificate.
Translated from Spanish, Calavera means “Skull” or “Temple of Fate.” This Cenote rightly received its name from the play of light that passes through it. Near Tulum and about three kilometres away on the highway, the dive into the Cenote is conducted from a two-meter height, or along a vertical arch.
Divers are invited to view a huge hall with a hill consisting of sediments. Usually the diving process consists in exploring a given hill from the outside. The average dive time is 45 minutes and requires a PADI OWD certificate.
Cenote Chac Mool
With its beauty and close proximity to Playa del – approximately 22 kilometres south –, Chac Mool attracts many divers. Divers immerse themselves 12 meters under the surface and require an OWD certificate to join in this comfortable yet enchanting adventure.
You’ll explore the “house of air” where you can see how beautifully and surprisingly the light flows in as it falls into the cave through its channels. This Cenote is ideal for those diving into a cave for the first time.
The Cenote is conveniently equipped with a special platform as well as a zone where you can prepare equipment for diving. The duration of the dive is 45 minutes.
Cenote Chikin Ha
Located 25 kilometers from Playa del Carmen, this Cenote is comfortably provided with toilets, tables, and additional amenities to prepare for diving. The maximum depth of the dive is 15 meters, but you must have an OWD level certificate.
With its mix of salt and fresh water, Chikin Ha is a bizarre display of glorious light. Novice divers must be careful, however, as its surface is changeable and has quite sharp ledges.
The dive ends with an exit to the adjacent Cenote RAYNDOW and the subsequent return to the Cenote Chikin Ha. Ideal for pictures, this dive lasts roughly 45 minutes.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Due to its popularity, Dos Ojos is always crowded with people; dozens of dives occur here each day. Journey to Amazing Caves was filmed in this very Cenote, and it was very much this film that blew Dos Ojos into such popularity. Located 48 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen, its diving depth is approximately 14 meters and is suitable for divers with OWD certificates.
The Cenote is abundant in stalactites and stalagmites, which form a complete picture of the beauty of the caves. As it is one of the most popular, this Cenote is perfectly equipped for stopping to rest. Experience divers highly recommend it to first timers. Dive duration is approximately 45 minutes.
Cenote Dream Gate
This Cenote is interesting because of its complete darkness and subsequent flowers of calcite. The dive is relatively comfortable as it lacks drops and sharp profiles. As a result, it is very suitable for entry level divers with PADI OWD certificates.
The duration of the dive is an average of 45 minutes.
Cenote El Eden
Resembling calm lakes in the middle of a jungle, this Cenote is located about 25 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen. The Cenote itself is very large and quite beautiful, mainly due to abundant algae growing at the bottom as well as large numbers of fish living in the thickets.
The entrances to the cave Senoda are also near the dive sight. Divers marvel at the beautiful lighting inside the cave. As you swim through channels and view their contrast to algae thickets, you can’t help but see how the light plays with water and shadows while fish scurry through the thickets. The diving site is equipped with all the amenities for a rest, which allows you to fully relax. Even for those who have never done diving at all, this Cenote is suitable; a simple mask and breathing tube is enough.
An average dive time is 45 minutes and requires the certificate of a PADI OWD diver.
Cenote El Pit
Rich in beautiful views of haloclines as well as the purest water, almost no one can resist the beauty of El Pit. Reaching a depth of 35 meters, more serious diver knowledge is required to dive – that is, a PADI AOWD certification.
The duration of immersion in this Cenote is about 45 minutes.
Cenote Hell Bells
The Cenote of Hell Bells is actually three adjacent Cenotes – Hol Box, Zapote, and Kin Ha. You can get to the Cenote by moving about 50 kilometers north of Playa del. The Cenote structure is very similar to the hourglass as they are divided into wide sections with narrow passages. Once you’re deep enough, you can come across huge portions of water supersaturated with hydrogen sulfide, making it rather dark at the bottom of the Cenote.
Divers enjoy stalactites of amazing beauty at the Cenote’s arch while at its depths, rocky deposits form bells. Professional divers ought to be consulted, however, as the Cenote is quite deep and considered difficult. Special PADI AOWD certificates are required for the 35-meter dive, and the average diving duration is 45 minutes.
Cenote Tajma Ha
Tajma Ha is one of divers’ favorite haunts. Located about 5 kilometers from Puerto, you’ll see a wide variety of stalactites, stalagmites, caves and corridors, and huge halls. As the bottom is covered with protruding sharp stalactites, be aware that you might get pierced here and there while you float above it. It’s almost as if your swimming around in a large castle containing numerous rooms, and the piercing light adds to its fanciful look. Whether beginner or advanced, all divers can enjoy the unique beauty of its underwater caves.
Look out for its “Leaning Tower of Pisa,” located in the lowest part of the Cenote, as it creates a mirror effect when divers cross the border of fresh and salt water.
The duration of the dive is 45 minutes and requires a PADI OWD certificate.
Cenote Diving, Yucatan Mexican Peninsula
The Yucatan Peninsula possesses not only jungles and historical reserves, but a whole other world literally under your feet. Diving in these waters will open your eyes to all sorts of caves, channels, and haloclines. Keep in mind, however, that not all Cenotes are safe for beginners, yet there are still many appropriate for them. Bringing an instructor and examining which Cenotes are equipped with recreational facilities is highly advised. If the Cenote is prepared for diving, you are guaranteed the most enjoyable experience!
All divers need to make at least one trip to the Yucatan Peninsula to see its unique and diverse beauty both under and above water. The Cenote is one of the forms of karst topography, a dip formed by the collapse of a vault of a limestone cave. Once underwater flows in such a cave, it becomes a Cenote. In fact, the Mayan word “Cenote” translates to “well,” a similarity easy to observe. It is believed that the meteorite, which fell on the territory of present-day Yucatan more than 60 million years ago, became the root cause of the appearance of the Cenotes. The seismic wave provoked formed fractures and cracks in the earth’s crust, which later became voids and caves. Over time, water has appeared in many of them.
Despite the fact that the Yucatan is a peninsula, this water, as a rule, is fresh; the calcareous rocks, through which it must pass to enter the caves, serve as an ideal natural filter. Such cleanliness of water is perfect in Yucatan’s absence of rivers, forcing its inhabitants to use the Cenotes as wells to mine fresh water.
The Story of the Cenotes
The superstitious Indians believed that the Cenotes were sacred places that had the capability of transporting you into a parallel world from whence you could not return. Though these superstitions have faded, the caves still hold a large of mystery and sanctity. Many caves stretch underground for kilometres, have several exits, and are literally able to lead, if not to another world, to another place, sometimes not at all like the previous one. In fact, the longest underwater caves studied in the world are located on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Out of over six thousand Cenotes, only two thousand of them are registered and open to the public, but even not all of those are accessible to divers. Some only allow swimming.
Cenotes are divided into three main types. The first is closed caves where the sunlight is visible only from small openings in the once collapsed vault; these are often the largest. The second is open Cenotes where the arch above them is almost gone, and the water is almost on a par with the level of the surrounding land; such Cenotes are very similar to lakes or ponds, and if you do not look closely, they can even be hard to decipher. The third type is the Cenote well, which is almost completely open-air; the water, however, is still deep enough.
Each of these types of Cenotes are suitable for diving, but the most extreme is diving into Cenote-caves. Open Cenotes are more suitable for beginners or for those desiring a nice, relaxing time. In any case, it is important to remember that diving in Cenotes is more difficult and extreme than diving in open water. An experienced instructor should lead the process, and the diver’s equipment should be in perfect order. Separate, organized diving tours are led to the Cenotes, but independence-lovers have the option of going alone in Cenotes that are privately owned. You’ll often be able to find any equipment you need right next to Cenotes along with instructors.
Fauna in Cenotes
Diving in Cenotes is attractive because it’s a unique opportunity to plunge into the underworld and see it from the inside. The Cenote fauna, although quite interesting, is generally poorer than coral reef fauna. However, this is completely compensated by new impressions, an unusual play of light, and the beauty of the original stone. Just as you would in above-ground caves, you’ll discover stalactites and stalagmites in the Cenotes. In some places they are of natural origin while in others they have been skillfully imitated by human hands. Also, some caves are equipped with a special light which makes the dive safer and the impressions more colorful. Some of the Cenotes are equipped with ladders for cliff-diving lovers, from which it is convenient and safe to jump into the water.
Water in the Cenotes
The water in the Cenotes is consistently warm, and its temperature is almost the same throughout Yucatan – about 25 degrees Celsius. It’s most often more transparent than sea or ocean water, and almost all of it is fresh, except for those places where fresh water is mixed with sea water. Here, you can observe a unique phenomenon called “halocline” – a ghostly, barely-noticeable-to-the-human-eye difference between the layers of water. If you swim through such water, you can see around you the illusion of a light iridescent cloud.
Dos Ojos (Two Eyes in translation from Spanish), Chuck-Mol, Ik-Kiel, and the famous Grand Cenote are the most famous Cenotes of the Yucatan, but there are numerous more that hold unique and impressive beauty.