It is August, it is HOT in Cancun, it is most definitely a cenote weekend. Going to the beach is great (I'll probably do that too), but when it is demon hot I dream of crawling inside a cool cave and submersing myself in the clear, chilled waters that run through it. Eating a picnic lunch in the lush jungle. Snorkeling to check out the small fish slipping around the stalagmites and boulders. Watching the butterflies flutter by and listening to the birds calling and a chicken squawking nearby. Refresh.
A cenote (seh-noh-teh) is a natural limestone sinkhole that occurs mainly in Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula and in parts of Central America. The word "cenote"orginates from the Maya "dzonot" meaning "well" or "abyss". The ancient Maya placed great importance on the cenotes as the only source of potable water in a region with few lakes and almost no rivers. They drank from their waters and used them as a place to honour the rain god Chaac. The "Cenote Sagrado" at Chichen Itza is an enormous crater, valuable objects and human skeletons were found in its depths during early 20th century excavations leading to the speculation that the Maya may have practiced ritual sacrifice.
There are thousands of cenotes throughout the Yucatan, each with their own unique characteristics. An "open" cenote is found at ground level, appearing like a pond in the jungle. "Semi-abierto" cenotes are half open and half in caves, the result of a partial collapse of the limestone shelf. Some cenotes are only accessible by small openings in the surface that lead to large, gorgeous chambers characterized by stalactites and stalagmites formed over millennia. Still others are found deep inside dry caves, quite a distance underground. The water found in cenotes is rich in minerals and appears crystal clear and turquoise.
A catfish swims through the stalagmites
Given their beauty and history, cenotes are naturally an attraction for tourists to Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The curious will enjoy a trip to one of the cenote parks, with ample facilities like rest rooms, showers and restaurants. The adventurous may seek the lesser known cenotes marked only by cardboard signs on the side of the road or go scuba diving in the underground cave system. Many tour companies include a stop at a cenote as part of their day trips. Visitors to Chichen Itza may stop at Il Kil, one of the largest and most stunning cenotes in the region.
Any regular readers of my blog know that I am a cenote junkie, seeking out hidden spots on the weekends with my son and visiting the big parks as part of my "day job". I always bring my visitors on at least one cenote adventure. Being they are one of my very favourite things in Mexico, I ask of you this. Respect the cenote and it's connection to all the underground rivers, tying pueblos and cities for kilometers around and providing them fresh water. Do not use chemicals on your skin, you will be in the shade, no need for sunscreen and if you must use bug spray, please ensure that it is eco-friendly. Do not ever ever ever touch a stalactite or stalagmite, the oils on our skin will stop them from growing. If you bring garbage in, take garbage out. Leave no trace and the cenotes and the waters that flow through them will continue to provide refreshment, life and pleasure for years to come.
It's still a hot one in Cancun, who's up for a cenote adventure with me this weekend?
Insider's Guide to Cancun