We felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. Except we were climbing down a ladder instead. And this hole was a cenote in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
But what we gaped at inside was every bit as trippy as what Alice encountered.
Cenotes are sinkholes in the limestone ground, where the roof has caved in. Most are fed by underground rivers and so they’re filled with freshwater.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is pock-marked with more than 8,000 cenotes. The Riviera Maya alone has about 300 of these natural pools.
Many Riviera Maya cenotes are adorned with fantastically-shaped stalactites and stalagmites.
Don’t know your stalactites from your stalagmites?
Eduardo Galeano in “Mirrors” poetically explains:
“Stalactites hang from the ceiling. Stalagmites grow from the floor.
All are fragile crystals, born from the sweat of rocks in the depths of caves etched into the mountains by water and time.
Stalactites and stalagmites spend thousands of years reaching down or reaching up, drop by drop, searching for each other in the darkness.
It takes some of them a million years to touch.
They are in no hurry.”
With their crystal spires, and water that shines an unearthly brilliant blue, the Riviera Maya cenotes look like wondrous underground cathedrals.
In several cenotes, you can swim and snorkel – sometimes exploring dreamlike subterranean passageways that connect to other cenotes.
We even spotted catfish and bats in some.
The cenotes are truly magical places – and an absolute highlight of a visit to the Riviera Maya!
Have a look at these photos and see if you don’t agree:
Riviera Maya cenotes and underground river systems to try
On a recent trip to the Riviera Maya, we explored these cave systems:
- Kantun-Chi: Wade through watery passages, dripping with stalactites, in an underground grotto at Kantun-Chi ecopark. Helmets, lifejackets and booties are supplied. You’ll likely be the only people following your guide – an intimate look at a wondrous world!
- Jungle Maya (Sac-Actun): Snorkel through pitch black caves of the Sac-Actun subterranean cave and tunnel system at Jungle Maya ecopark, operated by Alltournative Ecological Adventures. You follow a guide, and with flashlights, you can see amazing, icicle-like creations.
You can also go scuba diving in some cenotes – that’s jumping on our to-do list when we next visit the Riviera Maya!
Photo credits for pics that aren’t ours go to Alltournative Ecological Adventures.