What are the Cenotes?
Hidden in the middle of the Jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, you will find something amazing and unique: The world famous Cenotes. Famous for its legendary significance, impressive lime stone stalactites and stalagmites and many boasting visibility of more than 100 meters. When diving in these Cenotes, you get the impression of floating in midair. However, the value of the Cenotes as open windows of the underground biodiversity of this karst land, has only acquired real importance in recent times. Due to the relative isolation of these bodies of water, its geological history and geographic features, many of the organisms that live in them, like crustaceans and fish, are endemic and some even endangered. Besides the history that these wells hold, the sheer beauty of mother nature is truly breathtaking.
The Spanish word Cenote comes from the Mayan term ts’onot or D’zonot’ meaning Sacred Well, or water hole, which are sinkholes or surface connections to subterranean water bodies. These bodies of water are connected to the underground water flow, like real rivers that maintain their own dynamic. Generally, Cenotes are formed when the roof of the underground cavities, that had been created due to the dissolution of calcium carbonate bedrock, collapses. There are several types of cenotes. Some are open and cylindrical shaped with vertical walls that reach a few meters from the water’s surface, such as The Pit. Others, however, like caverns, have a narrow outlet to the surface and the light in them is very low. In the Cenotes that are close to the coast, as most of them in the state of Quintana Roo, the level of the water is much closer to the ground’s surface and contain salt water under a floating layer of freshwater. The water levels of the latter cenotes depends on the fluctuating tides.
Speleology has demonstrated the existence of interconnections between Cenotes and between these and the ocean in the Yucatan peninsula. Evidence of a true system of underground river flows.
Due to the limited amount of fresh water bodies in the Yucatán Peninsula, the Cenotes were the primary source of potable water for the Maya, hence the major settlements around them, like one of the seven wonders of the world: Chichén- Itzá. The Cenote found at Chichén- Itzá was considered Sacred and played an important role in Maya rites. They believed that these wells were gateways to the afterlife, young human sacrifices were offered to the gods as well as sacrificial artifacts.
These legendary Cenotes & Caves are here for us to witness and protect. WE STILL CONSIDER THEM SACRED and should be treated with the utmost respect.
Cenotes and The Riviera Maya:
The Cenotes of the Riviera Maya have been rated among the best cave and cavern diving in the world! (#1 in Scuba Diving Magazine 2017!) Besides having the best cavern dives in the world, we are very happy to say that the Riviera Maya has the World’s longest and intricate underwater cave systems:
1. Sistema Ox Bel Ha
2. Sistema Sac Actun
3. Sistema K’oox Baal
4. Sistema Dos Ojos
Not only, this is also home to the best professional cave diving explorers and instructors in the world, many famous for their explorations and discoveries starting in the 1980s. This is also the birthplace of the Razor Side Mount System.
The Riviera Maya holds a very high level of training, expertise and safety with extremely strict rules in both cavern and cave diving.
Standards for Cavern Diving:
Due to the risks involved in diving in overhead environments, this list of standards for safe cavern diving has been accepted by major international organizations of recreational and technical diving, the local cave diving community and the land owners who provide access to these Cenotes.
- Stay within the limits of natural daylight during daylight hours only
- Do not exceed a distance of more then 60 linear mts / 200 linear feet from an open water area
- Never exceed a maximum of 4 divers per guide
- Minimum 1 light per diver (Dive guide must have extra lights for the group)
- Perform the dive by following permanent or temporary guidelines (life line) placed by cavern guides as a constant visual reference.
- Adhere to rule of thirds for air consumption: 1/3 for penetration, 1/3 to exit and 1/3 reserve
- No decompression
- No restrictions (a restriction is when 2 divers cannot pass thru at the same time, side by side)
- No snorkels, gloves, knives or excess equipment that can dangle or get caught
- Maintain horizontal position, and good buoyancy, no silting
- Show environmental respect and conservation
- Do not exceed 40 meters / 130 feet depth