For millions of years, this mystical underworld stayed hidden deep underground in the Riviera Maya, Yucatan, Mexico. It’s where the underworld meets the heavens. This womb of the earth is a sacred place to the Mayans who believed it was the doorway to the afterlife.
We were exploring Mexico’s cenotes and caves, looking for that something special when we discovered one of the true Wonders of the World – ‘Rio Secreto’. So much more than a cenote, it’s a living breathing cave system.
“Very few humans walk on the moon, or climb Everest… and also, very few explore Privilege at Rio Secreto”
Today Des and I joined those privileged few, and I felt like I had indeed walked on the moon.
‘Rio Secreto’ …the very name itself has the mind conjuring up some sort of secret, mystical place… dangling stalactites, stalagmites, cenotes, crystal clear pools. Our heads were spinning with anticipation.
First a little bit of Yucatan history. One evening back in 2005 a local Mayan farmer shifted some rocks while chasing an Iguana. Inadvertently, he exposed a deep hole that immediately caught his attention – secretly hoping he had discovered a ‘cenote’ [suh-noh-tee].
In his culture cenotes are sacred. They represent a doorway to the underworld or Xibalba, and also serve as a valuable source of fresh water on the Yucatan.
Digging deeper, he discovered a secret river that had been carving out spectacular underground geological formations for over two million years. Right on his very land.
He had uncovered a place of ‘unimaginable and indescribable beauty’.
Today it’s known as Rio Secreto. A fine jewel in the Riviera Maya, just a few kilometres from Playa del Carmen, on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
The Mayan farmer has allowed a minimal 10% of the Rio Secreto cenote cave system to be explored by visitors, in order to fund the preservation of the remaining 90%.
Opened just seven years ago, the care taken by the owners and guides to ensure it stays pure for future generations is heart-warming.
Before entering, everyone’s briefed on how to avoid touching the stalactites and stalagmites to limit human contamination. A fresh water shower is required before entering the cenote cave system. There’s no electricity, or glaring lights to show the way, or footways.
It’s just you, a headlamp… and an awesome natural paradise.
Those who take the journey to visit Rio Secreto are changed forever, and I was no exception.
As I mentioned before, our special journey takes us where only a few ever go – and that is the “Privilege Tour”.
This expedition was designed especially for us. We are ecstatic and grateful at being invited to visit such a rare place. It’s pristine, and pretty much untouched by man… which makes the experience so much more unique.
A short orientation, full wetsuit, booties, lifejackets, helmet and headlamps on. We embark into the underworld journey, deep into the Yucatan jungle to find one of many hidden entrances of Rio Secreto.
Descending 20 metres down the steps on the only man made structure we see all day. My eyes and senses are hit with pure natural beauty that I have not seen anywhere before in my life.
There’s just four of us; our gentle guide extraordinaire ‘Alfredo’, our very own photographer ‘Carlos’, and us.
Alfredo, formerly a Forensic Psychologist is now living his dream everyday –cenote guiding at Rio Secreto. A true Mexican, he calls these caves his ‘Casa,’ his house. His passion and deep personal connection for this place echoes from every single word he speaks. Carlos meanwhile smiles quietly in the background capturing our marvel on film.
I am beginning to feel like a star in a movie… lost on an amazing endless stage, deep in the Yucatan.
Descending below the earth’s surface, the world goes silent. We enjoy the dramatic scenery in total peace and quiet… I feel like we should whisper, so as not to disturb the afterlife nestled down here.
Every now and again, we hear water drops… slowly filtering through from above – filling the giant chamber with their gentle echoes. Almost magically, ever so slowly doing natures work of growing the formations – growing at around 1cm every 100 years.
These stalactites begin with a single drop of water. Rain water filters down through the limestone creating a calcium bicarbonate solution. Once this solution reaches the roof of a cave, it forms a drop of water, which deposits a thin ring of calcite. Eventually, stalactites form from these mineral-laden drops of water.
Drops from the ceiling form the hanging stalactites… and drops from the stalactites form the stalagmites below.
These formations are alive… we feel like real life explorers, freshly discovering one of Earth’s true hidden gems.
Treading ever so carefully with my soft booties, I almost feel as though I shouldn’t be walking on this beautiful limestone… Everywhere I look, we’re surrounded by literally thousands of breath-taking formations.
We follow Alfredo in a line, so we make just one trail through the cave – all part of the preservation that is evident here.
Every step I take I see something new. A new shape, a new formation, another opening, another cave, another crystal clear pool…
Then comes the conquering of a fear; my personal transformation. The path narrows down to a tight point… a small crawl hole to the next chamber – a ‘constriction’.
Crawling through on my back, I kept stopping, completely jammed between the rocks… and laughing. I was so engrossed by this natural beauty that I forgot to worry about the small space I was in. I had conquered my fear of claustrophobia and small spaces.
Such is the spell of this place – that is the transformation Rio Secreto gave me today.
Continuing we walked, climbed, crawled, swam, snorkelled and floated through a maze of chambers. Each one richly decorated with the finest of formations. I loved the warm feeling in here so much, lying on my back, floating and just being in the crystal clear waters. It seemed to go on forever and ever. I didn’t want it to end.
Continuing on our dream… we floated on our backs, motionless in the water…
Closing our eyes – turning off our headlamps, and laying in complete darkness.
You can’t see darkness…
There was nothing before my eyes, absolutely nothing.
Now I understand if you are blind, how other senses come to life. I could hear the water dripping, the bats flying – the sounds of the cave. I could feel the cool cenote water against my face – and the warm water inside my wetsuit… I could feel the cave, almost breathing, and alive as it were.
Open your eyes and still nothing, not even your hand in front of your face.
Still totally mesmerised, we wandered through yet another beautiful cave.
An immense cavern full of countless stalactites stretching down from the roof… and with countless stalagmites reaching up from the floor to meet them.
I was speechless, the beauty is truly indescribable.
In the distance I could see a small table… and if my eyes were seeing right, it looked like a bottle and two glasses sitting on it.
We had been in exploring already for over 2 hours, and it was time for refreshments. How nice was that! Over some wine, fruit and cheese, we chatted with Alfredo and Carlos about how you would describe Rio Secreto. We all agreed, we were completely overwhelmed, and lost for words at what we were experiencing.
Finishing the wine easily, we still had a few hours to go. Thank goodness I sure wasn’t ready to leave yet.
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Privilege’ was designed especially for us.
There was no time restriction, and in the end I think we were down there nearly five hours.
Five hours of amazement, and pure bliss!
All too soon our dream had to end, and we had to return to real life. Emerging from underground we were again lost for words at what we had just encountered. Alfredo gave us a warm knowing smile – he is just as memorized as we are.
Then… we were then led through the Yucatan jungle, to a private dining area, set up just for us – and served a delicious Mexican lunch by our own private chef.
This day was going down in my memory bank as one of the best experiences of my life.
I really didn’t want to wake up from my walking on the moon dream.
We had been refreshed, revitalised and transformed down below in the Mystical Mayan Underworld.
Today I still wake in the night thinking about this place. Des says, “the beauty, and awe of Rio Secreto still haunts him, in the nicest possible way – it’s part of him, and one day we will return”.
In our ongoing discovery, and wandering around the world we are truly fortunate to explore exquisite places like the Rio Secreto cenote cave system.
Over the years we’ve visited lots of caves and spectacular natural places like the Galapagos Islands, the Canyons of the Grand Circle… and more – but never before anything like Rio Secreto cenote in Mexico.
Rio Secreto unreservedly deserves world recognition. We would not be surprised to see it listed on the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the very near future.
What’s so pleasing about Rio Secreto, aside from being Mexico’s jewel destination… it’s 100% Mexican-based, and it’s mission is based around Eco-Tourism. This is truly evident is everything we saw.
They say on their website:
“All of us involved in Rio Secreto passionately support and promote sustainability and social responsibility. Although our company is still very young, we are working to create a culture of environmental awareness and socio-economic responsibility that goes beyond the borders of Rio Secreto.
Our goal is to share our message and inspire our collaborators, visitors and society at large.”
Also from the Rio Secreto website:
The Privilege route forms part of an extremely extensive area of the cave. Due to its extraordinary beauty and distinctiveness, it was decided to allow only very limited visitor access – and to instead allocate it primarily for scientific study and preservation.
Privilege is a custom-made journey. The guide and visitor decide together on the degree of difficulty of the tour – always with a view toward the preservation of this natural wonder. Even more than breathtaking natural beauty and superb aesthetics,
Privilege is an experience for every one of the senses. It is a lifetime memory, a unique and unforgettable experience.
“Very few humans walk on the moon or climb Everest, and also very few explore Privilege”
Our Rio Secreto cenote experience was with the ‘Privilege Tour’. They also have other tour options (wet and dry) suitable for all ages.
Feel free to ask me any questions. Or if you’d like to experience Rio Secreto Cenote for yourself, you can visit the Rio Secreto Website.
Our Privilege Experience and the photos here were sponsored by ‘Rio Secreto Mexico’. As always, our thoughts and writings are based solely on our experiences.
Have you been to Rio Secreto Cenote? What was it like for you?