Friday, July 17, 2009

Rio Secreto - Hidden Caves of the Riviera Maya

Traditional Sunday morning conversation in the Canuck household....

Hubby- "Que quieres hacer hoy mi vida?" ("What do you want to do today my life?")

Canucka- "Something new!"

Yes, that is every Sunday morning, I am always looking to see something we haven't seen before, have a new experience, find a hidden beach. This past Sunday our conversation led to a call to Rio Secreto to find out if they had a discount for Quintanaroonenses. Upon discovery that yes indeedy-do the entrance fee is half price for locals (250 pesos instead of $50 USD), we hit the road in a race to make the 11:00 tour.

Oh, wait, where and what is Rio Secreto you ask? Rio Secreto is located just south of Playa del Carmen and is a series of underground caves and cenotes that are absolutely out of this world. Deep in the jungle, a local man stumbled upon the entrance to this amazing hidden world about five years ago. He contacted the local authorities and cave specialists and they discovered that it was a huge system loaded with incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations. Local eco-tour company Alltournative came on board to develop safety standards to allow tourists to experience the caves without injuring themselves or the delicate structures.

We arrived at 10:59 and got our tickets for the tour set to start at 11:00. There were quite a few people waiting for the transportation to the entrance, though I was surprised to learn that everyone was local, no "real" tourists to be seen. We hopped in a van for the 8 km trip to the caves and watched the jungle scenery go by on our bumpy journey. There were an amazing number of butterflies, I saw some colourful birds and got a quick peek at a monkey flying through the trees. It took about 20 minutes to get to our destination where we were greeted by our guide. He quickly got us set up with all the gear, helmets with lights, shortie dive suits, water shoes and life vests. Everyone was encouraged to shower first to remove any sunscreen, deodorant or bug spray to keep the caves contaminant free (yes, I stank the rest of the day and got eaten alive, but it was worth it!).

After a quick walk through the jungle, we headed down a dirt path to the entrance. I have to say, it literally took my breath away and we hadn't even entered the cave proper! The guide told us about the history of cenotes and the caves and their significance in Mayan history, he was obviously passionate about his job and what we were about to see. He asked us to be respectful and to remember that we were in a sacred place. We passed by an altar and the burning copal and entered wonderland.

Max and Hubby with burning copal

The tour was part walking on the uneven paths and part swimming in the chilly underground river where there was no path to cross. There is little life in the cave, though we saw a "pez ciego" ("blind fish"), a small catfish and a couple of large spiders (yep, after seeing the first one every drip of water down my leg felt like a tarantula!) Bats were evident, though we didn't see any that day, just their, ahem, leavings. For the most part you are walking in the dark, guided by the light on the helmet and the flashlight of the guide. There were certain areas that had been illuminated by artificial lights, perfect spots for the photographer to get some pics (which they later sold to us at ridiculously high prices) and for us to see the otherworldly formations.

Photo op! Looked like a snowy mountain at that spot

Photo op! Moon icicles anyone?

Photo op! In the jaws of the shark?

At a few points during the hour and a half tour, I felt a little pressure in my skull and got a little lightheaded. Nothing horribly uncomfortable, but enough that I knew we were pretty far below ground. We asked the guide how far down we were and he guessed at that point we were at about 25 to 30 meters underground. Nobody else seemed to be affected, I guess it was just my old ear problems resurfacing.

While I greatly enjoyed the whole tour (I must have said "Holy sh*t wow!" a hundred times), the highlight for me was the moment when we came to a large pool-like area of the river. The guide had us sit in the water as a group for another photo op, then he asked us all to shut off our helmet lights. He shut off his flashlight and we were in total darkness, black as pitch. We were completely silent, listening to the dripping water, embracing the magic of the spot, connecting with the history and the sacredness of the space. I forgot for a moment that we had a four year old with us, he was being a fantastic little spelunker, but you can't ask a kid to be quiet for that long and he got a huge belly laugh as he broke the silence with a long drawn out "Hellloooooooooooooooooooooooooo". I was embarrassed and apologetic that he broke the spell, but no one really seemed to mind.

Sacred dark quiet.....until comedian Max got his laugh
(Gotta admit, the kid's got timing!)

Overall this was an amazing experience. Hubby claims it's near the top of his list of "Best things to do in Cancun". Max liked it, though I don't think he fully understood the wonder of what he was seeing. This tour is great for families, though I would suggest that you be ready for a long walk and some swimming in cold water. The tour website says that children must be 6 years old, but they had no problem with Max joining us after they asked us some questions about his level of fear and abilities in the water. (The kid's not afraid of anything!) Be careful while walking, you don't want to whack your head on the stalactites (not because it will hurt, you are wearing a helmet, but you don't want to damage the caves!). Walking in and out of the water is tricky at times as visibility is low, I banged my ankle on rocks a couple of times. I wouldn't recommend this tour to people that are claustrophobic and I don't think it would be good for kids younger than four or elderly with mobility problems. Everyone else should certainly consider giving this one a go, history, culture, nature and spelunking, you just can't go wrong!


Anna said...

This looks beautiful. Which tour company did you use? Is the locals price just on Sundays? If I can drag my boyfriend off the Island I just might do this.


Frankly Ronda said...

Wowie! I can see why it is at Hubby's top of list. Incredible. You do so many things our boys would love ...

Susana said...

I was impressed with Xcaret when I was there many years ago. This is wondrous.
Please take a moment to visit my mexico blog!

Croft said...

Rio Secreto just got added to my list of things to see next time we are in Cancun! Great post and really good photos. Thanks

Gaelyn said...

What an awesome tour and great way to spend a Sunday. I really like caving. They sure knew where to take the pics. You all look happy. Really like the jaws pic.

That hadn't been discovered yet when I was down there. Went on a tour farther south with short jungle walk and snorkled from a huge cenote into a cave with air above us always and access to underwater caves.

Very cool post. Can't wait for next Sunday's adventure. That Max is a trooper, and funny too.

Anonymous said...

Wow! How gorgeous those photos are. Thanks for taking us along on your tour.

minshap said...

good thing I tuned into this one... what a great tour you gave us!!! And Max stole the show at the end, and rightly so! You know, parts of your post and pics reminded me of Dzit Nup, that underground cenote outside Valladolid!! The photos were great and the jaws photo was nothing short of genius!

CancunCanuck said...

Anna- We just showed up at the site, no tour company, though I think it's only offered through Alltournative. Pretty sure the locals price is anytime! I remember living on Coz how hard it was to think about leaving the island and how great it was once we hit the mainland. Just seems to "far", lol!

American Mommy- You're boys would love all the fab things we've got over here on the right coast, perhaps vacation next year? ;-)

Susana- Xcaret is pretty cool, we went a couple of years ago, would love to go back. Clicked over to your blog, but no posts, is there another link?

Croft- I think it's a must do next time you are here, fantastic sights! We were very pleased with the photos, though not pleased with the prices, ouch! You can't take your own camera in, not that it would do you much good without all the gizmos for really low light situations. I needed both hands for maneuvering around in the caves, would have banged up the camera pretty good. Sooo, while we felt we were gouged on the price, we knew we couldn't say no to the beautiful photos.

Gaelyn- They keep discovering more and more caves down here, in fact, I believe it was last year that they found the longest underground river in the world! Tomorrow's adventure is BIG, no last minute decisions this week, it's been planned for a while and I am really excited! Can't wait to share the fun, it's going to be a "whale" of an adventure, hint hint.

Jackie- Glad you enjoyed, love bringing folks along on the journey.

Minshap- Max always seems to steal the show, lol. I'm looking forward to exploring the area around Valladolid, the cenotes are supposed to be spectacular!

Dangers said...

Terrific Blog CC, thanks for the superb photos and review of "Rio Secreto", definitely on the list of places to visit now. ;-)

Heather said...

WOW! I have never seen anything like that before. Thanks for sharing the earths beauty!

Michele in Playa said...

That looks great! We are so bad, I really need to get off my duff and chck out all these discounted tours/attractions. Good nudge for me. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I gotta to to Cancun again. Hubby and I are still searching for good deals. I'm gonna show him this blog entry so he can get on it! :D
Hugs from Chicago

CancunCanuck said...

DAngers- Always something new to check out, you gotta come back!

Heather- It was my first caving expedition, fantastic stuff!

Michele- Nudge, nudge, get out there girl! The QRoo discounts are great. :)

Karina- What have you found? Tell me you are coming! What else can we do to convince your hubby (if he isn't convinced already)?

Unknown said...

I have no words. That's the most amazing thing I've seen.

CancunCanuck said...

anthlee07- It took my breath away, something you must see to believe!

Unknown said...

Great article. So you took your 4 year old... How about a 2 & 4 yr old is it easy for them to do?

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