A cenote is a natural sinkhole filled with freshwater. It was formed when the limestone bedrock collapsed into the fresh groundwater.
With its extensive underground river systems, the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is the world’s best place to experience and explore cenotes.
There are over 3,000 cenotes in Mexico, mostly in the area covered by the Chicxulub crater, the crater that was formed after the meteorite impact that extinguished dinosaurs.
The word has Mayan origins, dzonot or ts’onot meaning well. They played a crucial role in the development of Mayan civilization as well.
Since the Yucatan peninsula has very few rivers and lakes the cenotes represented the main source of water. Consequently, Mayan settlements were built next to a cenote, including Chichen Itza or Tulum.
Mayans believed that the cenotes were openings to the underworld. It is easy to see why they held that belief. Diving inside the cenotes reveals a whole new world of interconnected subterranean rivers with stalactites hanging in the turquoise waters.
Many of the Yucatan cenotes contain remains of offerings to the gods. For instance at the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza (Cenote Sagrado), Mayans paid tribute to the god of rain, Chac. Over fifty bodies of warriors and young virgins were recovered from its waters along with gold jewelry.
Nowadays the cenotes represent a major draw for tourism in the region as divers are keen to explore their depths. Most of the cenotes are free to visit but some of the privately owned ones require an entrance fee.
Cenote hoping is a popular activity among tourists in Mexico generally and Yucatan especially. Often times it is problematic to find information about some particular cenotes, they location, the times they can be visited and entrance fees if any. This website addresses this issue and provides a starting point to explore these unique formations.
Before you go:
- Keep in mind that some cenotes can be dangerous for the inexperienced diver. Dive carefully and if you feel you can’t dive, opt for snorkelling or swimming instead.
- Consider hiring a dive tour guide who knows the place
- Do not wear sunscreen in the water; it can damage aquatic life.
- Do not grab or pull speleothems and try to not touch the sediments while diving
Photo credit: terbeck