“That would definitely have been on my Bucket List, if only I’d known about it beforehand.”
Have you ever looked back on an adventure that came out of the blue, and thought something along these lines? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me in Mexico two years ago. Several times, in fact.
The northern half of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has no surface rivers, due to the soluble nature of the mainly limestone rocks. But beneath the arid surface exists a complex network of subterranean caves and passages, which have been gradually carved out by underground rivers over thousands of years. And linking these two worlds are cenotes, or sinkholes, formed when the roofs of subsurface caves collapse.
Back in 2011, we had a whole lot of fun in and around a handful of the Yucatán’s myriad cenotes and caves, and a couple of things I’ve read recently have got me reminiscing. The first was an article called ‘Underwater Secrets of the Maya’ in the August 2013 issue of National Geographic. The second was ‘Climbing Palenque in the Mayan Jungle’, posted earlier this month by Rose Boras, right here on Bucket List Publications.
Rose’s article reminded me of the intimate excursion we arranged through Playa Del Carmen Tours to visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and the Spanish colonial town of Valladolid. At the magnificent Chichen Itza, our knowledgeable guide, Miguel, introduced us to the two cenotes within the confines of the site. The most famous of these was the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote), into which the Maya once cast offerings to their rain god, Chaac, including human sacrifices! You’ll be pleased to know that this wasn’t one of the cenote-related activities we did during our time in Mexico. Yet almost as an aside to the main attractions of the day, on the way from Chichen Itza to Valladolid, we did get our first up-close-and-personal experience with a cenote.
Cenote Samulá was an absolutely incredible introduction to the underground world of the Yucatán. The majority of its domed roof is still in place, so that light and tree roots penetrate into the circular cavern through a relatively small hole in the ceiling. Steps cut by locals allow access to the crystal clear water, turned a stunning shade of blue by the shaft of sunlight. And on one of the hottest days I’ve ever experienced, we were overjoyed by the opportunity to swim in that cool, clean water.
Our next semi-accidental encounter with a cenote was thanks to the wonderful people at Selvatica Adventure Kingdom. We love to go ziplining whenever we can, but our Selvatica tour had a unique ending. After we’d finished whizzing through the Mexican jungle, we headed back to the camp, where we changed into our swimming gear for a ziplining experience with a difference.
This final zipline involved no safety harness or headgear. You simply grabbed hold of a metal handle and stepped off into space. Then, as you gathered speed, the wind rushing past, a shout from one the guides instructed you to, “Let go!” After falling for at least half an hour (or perhaps only a second or so), you’d splash down into the refreshing waters of a cenote, swim back to the side, and do it all over again!
Our final foray into the Mayan Underworld was at the wondrous Río Secreto. Unlike the other tours described here, we’d never even heard of Río Secreto before arriving in Mexico. But I’m eternally grateful that we had just enough space in our typically gruelling schedule into which we could squeeze this natural wonder.
Our guided tour followed a subterranean route roughly 600 meters long (about a third of a mile) through caverns and tunnels full of stalactites and stalagmites. But unlike other cave tours we’ve been on, there were no carefully laid pathways along the Secret River. Instead we part-walked, part-waded and part-swam between the incredible dripstone formations. And the only illumination on this untainted underground expedition was from the lamps on the helmets of the participants. It was absolutely magical!
So, in the space of a week I managed to swim in, zipline into, walk through, wade through and swim through the cenotes and caves of the Yucatán. And, thankfully, not a sacrifice in sight! What would you do (have you done) in a cenote?
My name is Jaspa, and I’m the main character in the Jaspa’s Journey adventure novels by Rich Meyrick.