Cenote Diving: A Journey to the Underworld

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Prepare your dive gear and a pair of lights before you get in this selection of five cenotes.

Before we jump into these mystical formations, we need to understand their importance and the significant events contributing to their formation. Cenote comes from the mayan word Dzo Not which means ‘hole filled with water’ a main idea from the tribes in this area that all these holes were a connection with Xibalba (the underworld).

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

The first event dates back to over 45 million years ago, when a meteorite impacted the Gulf of Mexico, changing the features of the land, and introducing different minerals to the area. Next, the tides of the ocean went down approximately 15 to 30 meters, leaving the caves empty of salt water causing the corals and other types of life to dry up and fossilize. At that time, the rain was plenty and each drop that fell on the ground had a high percentage of acidity (carbonated acid) which came from the mixture between water, fires of the nearby areas, and from the animals living in the outskirts.

Another fact is that the carbonate water reacted with other raw materials from the lands to produce calcium carbonate, which combined with the continuous flow of the rains caused the deformation of the floors; opening small holes which began to expand more and more, evolving into big sinkholes or huge entrances to underwater channels connected to the sea.

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

Then, at the end of the Ice Age (25-30 thousand years ago), the water level went down again (+/-20 m.). and the rainwater continued to flow down creating new shapes named stalactite (stone formations grown in the ceiling at a rate of 1 cm/100 years) and stalagmite (stone formations grown in the floor, 1 cm/100+ years).  Finally, when those two met together, they formed a stalagnate or column.

As we mentioned before, inside the cenotes we may find limestone formations, fossils of corals, shells and other kind of marine stuff, as well as bones of animals and humans that were sacrificed by the tribes as an oblation to ‘Chac’ (the god of rain) to make sure he provides water to all the communities.

It is well known that all cenotes are interconnected to the sea through different systems, but the truth is that not all are discovered yet. Archaeologists, full cave divers, cenote guardians and other specialists estimate that there are more than 2400 formations within the Yucatan Peninsula.

Now with the help of our specialists we explore five cenotes for you to experience the joy of diving in one of them.

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

Beginners or Non-experienced divers

Chac Mool

If coming from Playa del Carmen, the entrance to Chac-Mool appears on the right just as you descend the bridge beside the street that takes you to Puerto Aventuras.  A five-minute drive on a good dirty road leads you to the main area. Once you park there, you’ll find toilets and solid tables to assemble your equipment. Also prepare a sandwich if you visit this place on Sunday, because the restaurant opens from Monday to Saturday.

The maximum depth of Chac Mool is 13 m. (40 ft.). Inhale when you start descending because the views from below through the crystal water and up to the greenish sky will astonish you.  With the many sunken trees and branches, the cenote looks surreal and like something out of a fairy tale. From winter to spring, the water at the surface is quite clear and undisturbed that you literally can see the birds singing in the trees from a depth of 10m.

“Is a very easy entrance, and if you go for the first time in your life in an overhead you have no idea of how could you react. It has the best conditions to look how the people react for the first time in a cenote. You have a big covered area, so you can help your diver to go in slowly and then you can higher the level and see how your divers’ work.”  Dirk Penzel Cenote-Diving

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

The most challenging


This cenote is not for everyone, perfect buoyancy and trim are required. Most of the shops that offer diving here will take you first to an easier cenote to see if you have the skills and level to dive in this palace of 7 m. (21 ft.) depth, which is full of stalactite and stalagmite wherever you point the light. To get inside, you need to go down using a narrow ladder while your equipment is lowered with a rope. Once under the water, you have to dive smoothly through the channels. Some divers from the specialty say that diving Dreamgate is a taste of how diving is in caves, but still a cavern.

“Dreamgate is a very challenging cenote for recreational divers. You need to have certain level of buoyancy and trim to go there. Is one of the smallest and most fragile places, is fully decorated. No matter what you see you will see stalagmite or stalactite everywhere.” Matías “Mati” Lopez Cenotexperience

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

For deep and technical divers

The Pit

To arrive to this beautiful and huge sinkhole you drive from Playa del Carmen to the park ‘Dos Ojos’. As soon as you get to the main entrance continue driving through the terrace around 10 minutes. When you finally reach the place, you will find nice tables and jungle toilets. A new platform has been installed to make it easier for scuba divers to lower their tanks.

Although the depth is of 119 m. (355 ft.), this site just allows recreational divers to dive down to 35 m. (115 ft.). When you start diving you feel the power of nature and see reminders of the mayan people who lived there many years ago. The entire wall has the force of their gods and the mystery of Xibalba.

“We have The Pit is the deepest cenote. Is a lot of technique and is very expensive to go down. You need different gases, special training.” D.P.

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

The favorite of photographers


The Eden, better known as Ponderosa (15 m. or 30 ft. max. depth), is one of the most popular and visited cenotes of the region. It welcomes swimmers, snorkelers and divers from all over the world. The divers like to go there to take breathtaking pictures of the light effects caused by diffraction and deflection of the sunlight entering through the shadows of the roof that covers the cavern. What you can see? A wide variety of fish, eels, turtles and aquatic plants, and of course, a great visibility.

“For photographers, they really like Ponderosa and Kukulkan. Because they have a lot of daylight effect, which is what they want.” M.L

Simon Abdul MK

Image credit: Simon Abdul MK

The sacred

Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha means “water of the west” and has a maximum depth of 13 m. (40 ft.). It features only one cavern and for that reason, is not so often dived. The line is quite long so you can easily dive up to 60 minutes here.  A tunnel leads into the halocline before you ascend into the shallower areas around Cenote Rainbow.

Before accepting this cenote as one of the most special and sacred for him, Dirk mentioned, “As the name suggests, the white sun beams are split into the different colours of the rainbow and when you look up to the untouched surface, you will see this cenote is aptly named.” And he added, “Chikin Ha has less formations, but the fragile stone so quickly dissolved that it uncovered numerous fossils of which my personal favourites are the many sea urchins that you can see there.



About Author

Simon is a Divemaster with a passion for adventure and writing, and enjoys sharing stories about motocross, surfing and diving. He has recently finished his second novel ‘Ciudades Gris' (Grey Cities), available on Amazon.

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