In case you thought the Yucatan in Mexico was all white sand, and beaches… well, it’s not. Today we are at a cenote known as, the Grand Cenote. We expected it would be a grand and gorgeous swimming hole – and it was. …but we were in for a very cool surprise!
Until I came to Mexico I had no idea what a cenote (‘say-no-tay’) was. I heard people talking about them, so I secretly Googled to find out what they were talking about…
From that moment on, I was hooked, it was something I had to try. And after visiting my first cenote, I couldn’t wait to get more – and with 8,000 cenotes in the Yucatan to choose from… it wasn’t hard to find the next one! So, as you can image, swimming in the beautiful fresh water Cenotes has become a pretty cool (excuse the pun), thing to do in the Yucatan.
A cenote is best described as one of Mother Nature’s sinkholes…
The Yucatan Peninsula is limestone, and below this is a web of these underground rivers, and caves. A cenote forms when the limestone land surface collapses, and exposes the ground water underneath. …and because the water has been filtered through the limestone, it’s cool, and usually crystal clear!
Everything flows underground here, there are no surface rivers – so cenotes form an important source of fresh water. Cenotes are of special significance to the Mayan Culture. In ancient times, they used these sites for sacrificial offerings… and, they were believed to be entry points to the underworld – or the after-life.
Although there are thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan, not all are created equal. While we explored a few, nothing compares with the spectacular Rio Secreto cenote cave system… and of the smaller ones we visited, the Grand Cenote was by far our favourite.
The Grand Cenote is nestled in the Jungle, just a few kilometres from Tulum, on the road to Coba. A short inexpensive taxi ride and we’re there! We wander through the beautiful jungle garden, before descending a natural rock, and wooden plank stairway… We enter the midst of the Grand Cenote. It looks like a hidden gemstone – resembling an emerald, or some other precious stone.
In the past few days there had been torrential rain, and the water level in the Grand Cenote had risen significantly. The walking platforms were all under water – it looked like it might have been a good two foot (60-70cm) above normal. No one seemed too worried, and under this sun and 34C (100F) heat – it looked scrumptiously inviting.
We’re excited… we can explore the Grand Cenote in our own time, and without a guide. Decked out with mask and snorkel, we quickly wade to the end of the flooded platform… then slip gently into the cool, clear water.
My face hits the water…
…And immediately, I see the real life of the Grand Cenote… small turtles, and schools of tiny fish. Turtle Love is happening again, this time it’s miniature turtles, with green moss growing on their backs – just way too cute.
This was such an unexpected surprise!
We spent ages in the ‘Turtle Zone’, amidst the garden of brightly coloured chit palms, terms, water lily and elephant ears. Just like our swimming with Green Sea Turtles at Akumal Beach – they danced the same dance, parading like ballerinas coming up for air now and again.
However there is much more to the Grand Cenote than tiny turtles and fish. There’s a visual feast of huge stalagmites, stalactites, and columns… All yours to see, just by putting your facemask into the water. Then there’s the dark, mystical caves… and all those tight, little places – where I’m now fearless, thanks to my life-changing experience at Rio Secreto Cenote.
Snorkelling around the edge of the main pool, I can see about 8 metres down into the darkness. Below us, there are two scuba divers… creeping around slowly, trying not to stir up the bottom. We float, and watch for a few minutes as they prepare to enter an underwater cave…
With underwater torches they light up the eerie cave… then slip off into the darkness. Then, they’re gone, just their bubbles remain.
We snorkel away, and into a dark cave grotto… Its blue, its green, its grey… and then blackness. It’s a little creepy way back there – that might have scared me once, but not now.
I can’t explain, maybe it’s just the Ancient Mayan Magic?
All around me, there are a mass of stalactites and stalagmites – so large they resemble models of a New York Skyscraper. Large balls of roots and vines seem to grow out of the underwater ceiling, connected somehow to the jungle trees above.
Bats are ducking, and diving around our heads, flying in and out of the cave… and the swallows are making their homes in the limestone walls. The Grand Cenote is a truly remarkable eco system.
It’s spooky, and inspiring… all at the same time.
We snorkel over to the other side of the Grand Cenote. As we continue exploring this underwater wonderland, we follow a rope-line into another cave grotto… it quickly gets darker, and the space gets tighter.
The waters high, and the ceiling is closing in… now there’s precious little space left for air.
…Looking downwards, I see the shadows of other snorkellers in the underwater darkness – it’s an eerie feeling. The interior silence feels like I have entered another world… maybe I have?
We follow the rope, and then emerge into daylight of a side chamber of the Grand Cenote. There’s just us, the quiet, and the crystal clear waters.
Returning to the main pool, I notice a couple hold their breath, dive below and return to the surface inside an underwater cave with a little air pocket above their heads. Amazing!
I wasn’t game to try it though, there’s still that thing about water up my nose.
We share the Grand Cenote with divers, snorkellers, swimmers, paddlers – there’s something for everyone.
It’s the kind of place you can stay dry, yet still enjoy the beauty and intrigue of this Yucatan gem.
You can enjoy the Grand Cenote without getting wet… just click on our video below.
The Grand Cenote is called ‘the Big Cenote’ for a few reasons. The formations are big, tall and wide. The second reason is its cavern opening. The Grand Cenote has a huge opening that has vegetation, jungle trees and interesting water plants in the entrance of the Cenote. Grand Cenote has it all, big formations, decorated caverns and amazing vegetation. And as I said previously – For us, nothing compares with the spectacular Rio Secreto Cenote cave system… but of the smaller ones we explored, the Grand Cenote was by far our favourite.
A combination of geological events and climate changes created the incredible and unique ecosystem in the Yucatan Peninsula. These caves and underground rivers were created naturally over 6,500 years ago. Over the past 20 years, experienced scuba divers have explored these caves – discovering over 300 miles of interconnected passageways and caves that make up this amazing ecosystem.