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DiverWire Destination: Diving the Cenotes of the Riviera Maya

(DiverWire) The Mayans considered the Cenotes as the entrance to their “Underworld. Last month, my dive buddy Bill and I, experienced the uniquely famous Cenotes, the flooded cave system north of Tulúm, Quintana Roo, Mexico. On our way to the site we learned that pre-Columbian Mayans sacrificed objects and even human beings into the Cenote as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac.  After a short vote, it was decided that my husband would be the sacrifice (noted: he did not get a vote.)  Also, parts of the Hollywood 2005 movie “The Cave” were filmed in the cave system.

After a 45 minute drive on the freeways and into the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, the group finally reached our destination.  Dos Ojos, which is part of a larger freshwater cave system, and it also connects to naturally intruding marine water including tidal influences.  Unlike a true cave dive, natural light is visible throughout the dive. Dos Ojos means two eyes, as named for the two Cenotes which are connected.  The Cenotes themselves are mysterious dive sites, as it literally means sunken cave.  Many people have yet to experience this awesome environment as there are few locations that offer this type of diving.  The Mexican Yucatan Peninsula happens to be one of these, as there is an underground river connecting all of these freshwater caverns.  The difference between cave diving and diving the cenotes is a bit different, due to the surface entry points.

The opening of Dos Ojos is a beautiful turquoise blue water pond-like entry point, the water dense with minerals.  The water is exceptionally clear as rainwater is filtered through the limestone.  As this is a fresh water environment less weight is needed, but buoyancy must be neutral and well controlled.  It all becomes obvious as soon as you enter the first eye, as there is a thick layer of silt which is easily disturbed.  Once you’ve descended into the shallow opening and begin to swim, you come upon “The Madonna”, a beautiful mineral formation which name represents it perfectly.  The cavern itself is completely dark, so it is very important to have strong torches to see.  There is a guide line to follow, and it is important not to stray from it, as it leads you through the darkness.  All around you are incredible stalactites and stalagmites, the reason you want your buoyancy fine-tuned.  One bump and you could suffer an injury on the hard minerals or even break off these beautiful rock formations.

The rules of diving the Cenotes are similar the rules of Cave diving. The protocol we followed is the ‘rule of thirds,’ in which one third of the initial gas supply is used for ingress, one third for egress, and one third in the case of an emergency.  A continuous guide line is maintained throughout the Cenotes, along with markers denote the phase of the dive. The marker in the first Cenote is designated by a rubber crocodile with a Barbie in it’s mouth.  Continuing along the line, the guide begins leading the group back towards the entrance.  The dive is slow and it is very important to frog-kick your way along, as there is much sediment lying along the bottom and kicking up the silt will affect visibility for the group.  There is not much life to see, although there were some minnow type fish and several translucent shrimp.  The water is a delicious mineral taste, which may come though the regulator, so take a taste!  Finally at the end of the first line, before ascending into the pond area, there is a reminder not to go the wrong direction, it is the deadly one.

During the surface interval, tanks are changed, torches checked, along with the gear then it is time to be ready to experience the other “Ojo”.  This one is called the “Batcave” and it’s name gives you a hint of what you are about to experience.  The entry into the second eye goes past the loving “Madonna”, however, this time you go to the left.  This cavern seems larger than the “Barbie Line”, and the lights do not light the darkness as in the first eye.  The formations are larger, and there is more maneuvering around, over and under.  Once again, it is very important to swim slow and to frog kick gently.  The areas you are swimming though are tight and low to the bottom silt.  At the 1/3 point of the dive, you’ll reach an area that is reminiscent of a cathedral.  There are also fossils in this area, as it at one time long ago was part of the coral reef system.  Here, you will also experience halocline, the density interface between the fresh and sea waters occurs here.  When the fresh and saline water meet, it results in a blurry swirling effect due to refraction between the different densities of the waters. Once you continue on, the leader with begin an ascent to the surface in the “BatCave”.  This is an actual cave that has a small opening that bats enter and exit, and as you look around all of the stalactites, try to find bats resting or flying.  The ceiling is very high up, but it is worth removing your mask to spot some of these nocturnal animals.  But beware that the water surface has a layer of guano, and speaking from experience be sure to exhale or purge you regulator after you descend before taking a breath.  It is nasty stuff.  Also look towards your right and the light filtering down through the water from the hole at the top of the cave is quite beautiful.  After the BatCave experience, it is time to head back to the entry and the end of this unique dive.

This dive is shallow, ranging between 15ft and 35ft, and the water temperature stays around 77 Fahrenheit.  Some people were diving in a 5 or 7 mm, although 3/2mm seemed sufficient once the initial phase has passed.  Diving the Cenotes is somewhat of a bucket list dive for many and it does not disappoint.  There are a number of cenote dive sites, since 1986, 25 have been discovered. Plan on spending the day, especially coming across from Cozumel.  Diving in the Cenotes is regulated to be led by trained guides. There are operators on Playa Del Carmen that specialize in these trips, but diveshops on Cozumel organize excursions, so there are opportunities to travel to many of the different Cenotes which is part of the along the Nohoch Nah Chich cave system.  Wherever you end up diving, it is a wonderful adventure and well worth the experience.  Just be careful not to bump your head.