Cenote - Mexico's treasure not to be missed
Updated: Jun 27
Following on my first article on Yucatan must see places, I ended it with recommendation of seeing Cenote and swimming in them. If you are like me, a bit sceptical, and asking yourself why would I like to swim in a pond of water, potentially underground or partially underground...? Read on and let me tell you why....
Cenote Tak-Be-Kha - view of the cave
Cenote in Mayan culture was a sacred place. These were places where people were sacrificed and the prayers to Gods were made (it is believed they were asking for rain) they were also a source of drinking water, therefore a lot of settlements were build in close proximity to cenotes (e.g. Chichen Itza pyramid is build on a cenote). So do not be surprised that if you are in Mexico and yo are are visiting Chichen Itza as a part of a tour, you will have swimming in Ik-Kil cenote included.
I visited 3 of them and I wish I had visited more. Here are short descriptions of the one we saw and why I think it would be great to see them.
Yes the foams were needed, the water was cold! Cenote Tak-Be-Kha
Cenote - Tak-Be-Ha (visited just after swimming with turtles in Akumal) In order to enter this cenote we had to go through narrow hole in the ground and down steep staircase to suddenly see a cave with stalactites and stalagmites and crystal clear water. It was cold and we wore foam suits for the swim. We had a guide to swim with, but if you are on your own you have a choice of either swimming alongside the rope (for beginners) of swim whenever you want (but that is for more experienced cave divers). We were able to swim in places where there was no natural light and it got a bit thrilling but it added to a great swim in cenote. We were swimming with a torch, as parts of the cave are very dark. It definitely gave me thrills but it was such a good experience.
The funny story is that we chatted to our guide and it turned out that his girlfriend is Polish and so we quickly connected and when everyone left the cave he stopped us and said he will show us a true meaning of the Tak-Be-Kha - in Mayan meaning "no lights water". He switched off the light and the cave was pitch black. Little did we realise earlier, that the light we saw in a cave was not a natural light but a neon light.
Cenote Ik-Kil - view from the way down the stone steps
Second cenote we explored was Ik-Kil - we visited this cenote after our tour to Chichen Itza. It is the cenote that you will see very often on Instagram or when you google the word cenote and this will come up quite often. This cenote is totally different to the one we swam in earlier. Firstly you have to walk down 26 meters to get to the water. Walking down stone steps you can see every few 'floors' an overview of the cenote with beautiful plants hanging down from the entrance of opening of the cenote. It has 40 m in depth and it has facilities for visitors like restaurant and even a hotel (with no electricity). Archaeologist found bones and jewellery in the deep water of this cenote proving it was a sacred ritual place.
Cenote Ik-Kil can get really crowded, try visiting as early as you can
Our last cenote to visit was Grand Cenote - this cenote is located close to Tulum, after visiting the ruins in Tulum we had opportunity to swim in this cenote - and again so different from the previous two we had visited. On entering this cenote we spotted some iguanas relaxing around in the sun and small turtles paddling in shallow water by the entrance. Once we got in the water we could swim in a semi-cave waters where we had cave over our heads and it wasn't that deep. The main entrance to this cenote border with deep dark underwater caves that were available to those more experienced that me. While we were swimming close to the entrance / exit 'jetty' we spotted turtles swimming along side us and it was just such an amazing feeling to be next to them. There were also many tiny fish which we did not see in previous cenotes. Although it can get very crowded, it is a cenote worth visiting for the animals and again so different look and structure to the previous two.
Swimming along turtles in Grand Cenote and getting this shot!
What made me very concious during this travel, was the fact that you were not allowed to enter cenotes with sun screen protection on. While I was researching information before the trip, I came across advise to buy biodegradable creams. So I did and since then this is the only creams I use! The reason for this rule is that the water is a fresh water with no other fresh water source to exchange, apart from rain which is not enough, and if you imagine how many people swim in cenotes a lot of natural habitat could be negatively affected by the chemicals. I embraced that new eco-friendly habit.
Grand Cenote gives variety of open and semi-cave swimming; here hubs and I :-)
Summing up my visits to the cenotes, it is something you must add to your itinerary when you are visiting Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Cenotes are specific natural phenomenon to Yucatan peninsula and you will not find anything like that anywhere in the world.
Each cenote is different so no matter which one you visit I am sure you will see something very specific and have an amazing time.