The Maya were able to survive droughts, and
even flourish, because they used an unusual system of natural wells for their
water supply. The northeastern Yucatan has approximately six thousand such
wells, which gave the Maya access to an extensive system of underground rivers.
The Spanish colonials named the sinkholes cenotes, from ts'onot or dzonot,
the native words for the the natural wells.
Cenotes vary considerably in shape and size;
some are tiny and others gigantic. One of the most famous is the Sacred Well
at Chichen Itza, a Maya ceremonial center in the Mexican state of Yucatan.
Shaped like a slightly oval well, it is fifty-eight meters in diameter, with
vertical walls that measure twenty meters from the ground's opening to the
water's surface. It's depth is eleven meters of water with a twelve meter
layer of mud underneath.
Some cenotes form inside coastal lagoons,
acting as fresh water feeders that lower the salinity levels of the sea water.
Most can be easily recognized, like the enormous Cenote Azul de Bacalar, located
in the state of Quintana Roo. However not all can be seen from the surface.
Some are discovered because their depth is greater than the lagoon's. Diving
expeditions often reveal that there are large holes in the mantle of hard
rock situated under the lagoon's muddy bottom.
A fascinating feature found in many cenotes
is that regardless of being flooded with water, stalactites and stalagmites
are found. Stalactites and stalagmites are formed when drops of water partially
evaporate before or after they fall from a cave ceiling, leaving small amounts
of mineral salts. Over centuries, the accumulation of mineral salts forms
stalactites which hang from the roof, and stalagmites which rise from the
floor like pillars
These rock crystals can form in partially
empty caverns where water filtrates down and drops from the ceiling. But it
can not happen in completely inundated spaces such as cenotes. How is it possible
for their to be cenotes with stalactites and stalagmites? These formed over
more than fifteen thousand years ago, during the last ice age. The sea level
in the Caribbean was seventy five meters lower then than it is today. The
subterranean waters that flowed to the sea had an equally lower level and
what today are inundated cenotes were then air filled grottos. Latter, when
the climate changed and the the ice glaciers melted, the oceans ascended,
and with them the level of the subterranean rivers also ascended.
As a result of the changing sea levels and
also the geological movements that have lifted and continue to lift the Yucatan
peninsula, cenotes are the habitat of unusual animal life forms. Principally
cenotes house creatures whose ancestors were marine life and later, trapped
in the depths of the earth, evolved and adapted to life in fresh water and
The ancient Maya had different uses for the
cenotes, some were exploited as water supplies while others were exclusively
designated for ceremonial ends. Today, cenotes are used principally as tourist
attractions, especially in Yucatan and northern Quintana Roo. In some cases
as part of large eco-touristic centers, others as specialized sites for cave
diving, and the rest of the time as small family enterprises in farmer communities.
In this way cenotes, those subterranean marvels, are taken advantage of by
the heirs of the people, that more than two thousand years ago, to part of
the rise and life of the villages of the northern Mundo Maya.
Some of the cenotes:
27 steps, Abejas, Ak Tulum, Aktun-Ha, Akumal, Alaina's Garden, Alhambra ,
Azul, Bosch Chen, Buena Vista, Calimba, Carwash, Chac Mol, Chemuyil, Conch's
Hope, Corral, Cristlino, Dos Ojos, DOS Palmas, Ek Be, Esteban, Garden of Eden,
Grand, Half Moon, Ho-tul, Jailhouse, Ka' aam, Kentucky Castle, K'oxul, Little
Joe, Little Maya, Luke's Hope, Maraville, Maria Isabel, Mayan Blue, Mayan
Naharon, Monolith, Morharra, Mundo Escondido, Nahoch Nah Chich, Nahoch Nah
Chich, Najaral, Naval, Nochoch, Pascal , Ponderosa, Ponderosa, Repair Shop,
Sac Actun, Sugar Bowl, Taj Mahal, Tapir's End, Temple Of Doom, The Pit, Tortuga,
Toucha Ha, Toucha Ha, Tuhx Cubaxa, Vaca Ha, X'onot, X'tabay, etc.
First discovered and explored during August, 1986. This cenote is located
on the Ejido Tulum property three kilometers south of the Pueblo Tulum.
It serves as part of an Ecological Park for the local community. The entire
cave system includes such cenotes as Naharon, Maya Two, Cenote of the Sun,
Sunhole Cenote, Lost Cenote among others and contains over 64,000 feet of
surveyed lines and ranks #4 in longest underwater cave systems in the world.
This "unique" hole was also part of the August, 1992 expedition
with the first cave dive performed by Steve Gerrard during May, 1992. A wooden
ladder is installed making entry and exit very easy. The first 600 feet is
typical fresh water zone dominated by massive columns, stalactites and stalagmites.
The line takes a quick "Z" turn and the cave changes personality
as the passage follows a fracture that actually parallels the Coba road underneath
the power lines. The roadway is 3,000 feet from the Cenote Carwash closest
to Tulum. 200 feet exist between Vaca Ha and "The Drain" passage
of downstream Cenote Carwash but no connection has ever been made. A favorite
for many cave divers!
This cave system was first dived in March, 1995. The dive leeds you to what
is known as the "Room of Reflections" and the "City of Agra"
Room. Later the JUMNA RIVER was discoverd which is considered one of the biggest
passageways among all the caves in the Akumal - Tulum area. Many more discoveries
of rooms, passageways and two more cenote such as the "Room of Cheers"
have followed. In total 15,000 feet has been explored. A great cave system
to tour and enjoy. Entrance fee is 40 pesos.
A new cave system discovered and explored by a French Cave Diving team during
1996. Located off Highway 307 between the Taj Mahal and PonDeRosa entrance
roadways. This entire cave has been resurveyed with more line added by our
team members Bernie Birnbach and Christophe Ale Malliot and their best friends
Fred Devos and Yayir Azubel. Containing over 10,000 feet of passageways, the
"main" cenote provides both upstream and downstream tunnels. Upstream
begins with a series of huge rooms with a vast array of speleothems and decorations
staying within the fresh water zone. . Many passageways lead off going into
the saltwater layer offering the typical Swiss cheesy characteristics. The
downstream traverses 1200 feet to another cenote with multiple lines available
to explore. Impressive formations abound and creates a toss-up of what is
better of the two choices of direction. A great tour cave dive with easy entry.
Property owned by a family living in Playa Del Carmen.
First dived and explored in August, 1986 by Steve Gerrard, it represents a
nice cave for a small team to tour. Located next to the power lines one kilometer
north of the Akumal water tower road directly west of the Akumal Caribe entrance
on Highway 307. The road is rough so cars cannot make it there. Two directions
to choose with permanent lines beginning in the cenote basin requiring no
Considered one of the best cave dives because of the tremendous abundance
of decorations, shallow depths and consistent crystal, clear fresh water.
Discovered during November, 1988 by Steve DeCarlo by airplane this cave system
was originally explored Jim Coke, Tom Young and several other cave divers.
A beautiful map was drawn by Jim Coke with total exploration totaling near
18,000 feet. The fall of 1996 provided the opportunity for Bil Phillips and
Sam Meacham to find a small dry cave that contains a pool of water that they
named CALIMBA (a musical instrument) located 3,000 feet+ further along the
Coba Road. From this point they were able to push a passageway through some
incredible cave and a couple of tight restrictions that finally connected
with Sistema Sac Actun.
It was June, 1990 when Bill and Joyce Matthews of Paalmu told Tony & Nancy
DeRosa about a cenote on a friend's property located four kilometers south
of Puerto Aventuras. A large pool of water, they jumped in with single tanks
and quickly discovered a 300 feet traverse to a second cenote. Returning the
second week of July with Steve Gerrard the team of three spent four glorious
days laying line, naming cenotes, hallways and big rooms. The grandest prize
discovered was an air dome located at the farthest side of a huge room (The
Pool Room) called The Chapel 2400 feet due east from the Cenote Ponderosa
This air dome still remains the most spectacular and decorated air space ever
found in The New Frontier! Over 8,000 feet of line installed with names such
as the "Hoss" line, The Corral Cenote, Cenote Alaina's Garden, and
Little Joe Cenote.
Maximum depth: 55 feet. Average: 27 feet. Visibility: 300 feet+ Water Temperature:
77 degrees F - Freshwater. 79 degrees F - Saltwater. Access: Very easy. Steps
leads down to cement platform from parking area. This cavern dive is a 100
meter traverse from the Cenote Ponderosa to the Cenote Corral. This passageway
is 15 - 20 feet from floor to ceiling and eighty feet wide. Some speleothem
decorations, a variety of five different freshwater tropical fish and an excellent
display of geological and fossilized history. Located on private property
with "sign-in" required. Excellent snorkeling. First divers to explore
this cenote were Tony and Nancy DeRosa and Steve Gerrard during June, 1990.
Maximum depth: 26 feet
Visibility: 300 feet+
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F
Access: Located on the Ejido Jacinto Pat property.
Dive site fee is $10.00.
125 meter hike from parking area to the water.
Considered the "best" of all the cenotes. These two giant collapses
offer a huge passageway traversing 250 feet from DOS Ojos East to DOS Ojos
West. Highly decorated with immense columns, stalactites and stalagmites.
We offer two different dives within these two cenotes. The BAT CAVERN is a
dreamland of it's own.
Superb snorkeling. A underwater photographer's paradise.
First divers to explore it were Jim Coke and Johanna DeGroot in 1986.
Maximum depth: 55 feet
Average: 27 feet
Visibility: 300 feet+
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F - Freshwater, 79 degrees F - Saltwater.
Access: Very easy. Steps leads down to cement platform from parking area.
This cavern dive is a 100 meter traverse from the Cenote Ponderosa to the
Cenote Corral. This passageway is 15 - 20 feet from floor to ceiling and eighty
feet wide. Some speleothem decorations, a variety of five different freshwater
tropical fish and an excellent display of geological and fossilized history.
Located on private property with "sign-in" required. Excellent snorkeling.
First divers to explore this cenote were Tony and Nancy DeRosa and Steve Gerrard
during June, 1990.
Maximum depth: 26 feet. Visibility: 300 feet+ ... Water Temperature: 77 degrees
F. Freshwater completely. Access: Located on the Ejido Jacinto Pat property.
Divesite fee is $10.00. 125 meter hike from parking area to the water. Considered
the best of all cenotes. These two giant collapses offer a huge passageway
traversing 250 feet from DOS Ojos East to DOS Ojos West. Highly decorated
with immense columns, stalactites and stalagmites.
Maximum depth: 48 feet.
Average: 23 feet. Visibility: 300 feet+.
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F, 79 degrees F.
Access: Very easy. Cement walkway and platform from parking area to the water.
The dive involves a 200 foot traverse from the Cenote Taj Mahal to the Cenote
Sugarbowl including a very beautiful room with huge airspace involving three
holes allowing beams of daylight to penetrate the cavern area. This room is
called the "Points of Light". The second cavern area beyond Cenote
Sugarbowl leads past a third small opening. Many fossils in the limestone.
Awesome exit views.
Located on private property requiring "sign-in" with Mayan owners.
First explored by Nancy Derosa, Wayne Nefzger, Tony DeRosa and Steve Gerrard
during spring of 1995.
Maximum depth: 52 feet.
Average: 29 feet.
Visibility: 300 feet +.
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F.
Access: Very easy with wooden platform and steps.
First dived during the early 1980's, this was the "original" cenote
dive for the Akumal - Tulum area. Very wide entrance area over 150 feet with
an assortment of tree limbs and branches. This "cavern zone" tapers
to a shallower loft area turning into a cave dive. Warning signs installed
to stop divers from going beyond unless cave certified. Spectacular exit view.
During the warmer months a 5 foot layer of algae exists at the water surface.
No permanent guidelines thus requiring a reel and line. Good snorkeling during
winter months. Property owned by the Ejido Tulum with a nominal dive site
Maximum depth: 24 feet.
Average: 18 feet.
Visibility: 400 feet+.
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F.
Access: 50 meter walk requiring climb down wooden ladder and wooden boardwalk.
Platform for easy entry into water.
Considered the prettiest of all the cenote dives with exception to the "Bat"
cavern at Cenote DOS Ojos. Highly decorated with speleothems and columns.
Water clarity exceptional. Very sensitive environmentally. A snorkeler's paradise!
Located on "private property" with a nominal dive site fee charged.
First explored by Jim Coke, Johanna DeGroot and Stephen DeCarlo during November,
Maximum depth: 58 feet.
Average 38 feet.
Visibility: 150 feet +.
Access: Requires 120 meter hike through jungle on a rocky path. "Giant
stride" entry eight feet to the water or the use of a galvanized pipe
ladder for entry/exit.
This cenote is a geologically unique 25 foot diameter hole with a huge undercut
ledge. A huge debris mound with all sides leading down to the saltwater level
at 33 feet. Along the shallow freshwater depth of twenty feet or less are
located speleothems. A 360 degree
permanent guideline is installed allowing divers to safely explore the entire
cenote within "natural daylight". Several cave passageways lead
off from the cavern zone. Extreme care should be exercised not to wander into
the cave system. Great place to go swimming and cool off. Private property
but no dive site fee charged.
First explored by Mike Madden and Denny Atkinson during July, 1986.
Maximum depth: 52 feet. Average: 29 feet. Visibility: 300 feet +.
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F. Completely freshwater. Access: Very easy
with wooden platform and steps. First dived during the early 1980's, his was
the "original" cenote dive for the Akumal - Tulum area. Very wide
entrance area over 150 feet with an assortment of tree limbs and branches.
This "cavern zone" tapers to a shallower loft area turning into
a cave dive. Warning signs installed to stop divers from going beyond unless
cave certified. Spectacular exit view. During the warmer months a 5 foot layer
of algae exists at the water surface. No permanent guidelines thus requiring
a reel and line. Good snorkeling during winter months. Property owned by the
Ejido Tulum with a nominal divesite fee charged.