Which are the best Cenotes for Scuba Diving?
This is probably the most common question we get and is a difficult one to answer. All along the coast of the Mayan Riviera we have the amazing and unique Cenotes. The Cenotes are world famous due to its legendary significance for the Mayans, the impressive limestone formations such as Stalactites and Stalagmites known as Speleothems, the underwater visibility exceeds 100 meters and there is the possibility of seeing bones and fossils in many of them. When diving in Cenotes, you get the impression of floating in midair.
The value of the Cenotes as open windows to the underground biodiversity of this karstic area, has only acquired real importance recently. Due to the relative isolation of these bodies of water, its geology and the geographic features, many of the organisms that live in them are endemic. 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. These are basically places where to cave collapsed making a natural entrance to the water and in many cases connecting to the subterranean river systems.
There are several types of cenotes. Some are open and cylindrical shaped with vertical walls that reach great depths such as The Pit and Angelita in the Riviera Maya and many others in the Yucatan side. Others, however, have a narrow outlet to the surface and the light in them is very low. In the Cenotes that are close to the coast, the level of the water is much closer to the ground’s surface and contain salt water under a floating layer of freshwater. The visual effect of this two different densities of water is called Halocline and it really is an undescriptible sensation when cenote diving.
For many years, cave divers have been exploring in this area and have demonstrated the existence of interconnections between Cenotes and between these and the ocean in the Yucatan peninsula. The Riviera Maya is home to the longest underground rivers systems in the world. Today the longest system is Ox Bel Ha with 270 kilometers of explored caves. The second longest is Sac Actun with 259 kilometers but these numbers grow in a daily basis as there are always explorers looking for more underground passages and trying to connect these systems together.
Importance of the Cenotes
The Cenotes were the primary source of potable water for the Maya, hence all the major settlements were built around them, like Chichén- Itzá. The Cenote found in the city of Chichén- Itzá, as most of them, was considered Sacred and played an very important role in Mayan rites. They believed that these wells were gateways to the afterlife and the underworld which they call “Xibalba”. Young human sacrifices were offered to the gods as well as sacrificial artifacts.
These legendary Cenotes and Caves are here for us to witness and protect. WE STILL CONSIDER THEM SACRED and should be treated with the utmost respect.
Ultimately, the best cenote diving is when you dive all of them. They are all very different and all of them are amazingly beautiful. In all the years that we have been guiding divers in these caverns, there is never been one that has been disappointed and this is one of the reasons we love this job so much. We make people happy!!!
Cenote Diving in 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
Due to the large amount of unexplored underwater caves, the Riviera Maya has attracted cave divers from all over the world, making in the place to find the best professional cave diving explorers and instructors in the world, many famous for their explorations and discoveries starting in the 1980s.
It was here, around 2008, that the Razor Side Mount System was developed by cave diver explorer Steve Bogaerts and his business partner Hp Hartmann while Steve was working in a cave exploration project trying to find the connection between Sac Actun and Dos Ojos systems.
Although the Riviera Maya holds highest level of cave diving training, expertise and safety in the world, following strict rules in both cave diving and cenote diving, there are always some unscrupulous dive centers and guides that will break them.
Make sure your guide is properly certified and has the experience and knowledge to guide you in these beautiful but unforgiving overhead environments. NEVER allow your guide to take you away from the guideline which is a common practice for some and it is the number one cause of Cenote Diving accidents.
Standards for Cenote 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 landowners 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 placed by your cavern guide as a constant visual reference starting from the Open Water area.
- Adhere to rule of thirds for air consumption: 1/3 for penetration, 1/3 to exit and 1/3 reserve
- Be conservative with your limits
- 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
- Proper no silting kicking techniques for propulsion
- Show environmental respect and conservation
- Do not exceed 40 meters / 130 feet depth