I shared many parts of my Christmas vacation in Mexico in my last post, but I saved the best for last: Scuba diving in cenotes! And I have gorgeous photos to prove it.
Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is full of underground rivers that wind through limestone caverns. You can access these rivers at places where the ceiling of the caverns collapsed. These access points, called cenotes (pronounced ‘sin-oh-tays’) are all over the Yucatan, and look like flooded sinkholes. Some are big enough to swim and snorkel in, and others are much smaller. There was one a block from our hotel that was only about six feet in diameter.
The last time I was in the area, seven years ago, I snorkeled in a cenote while my sister Laura went scuba diving. I had a great time, but I was jealous of her experience. I became a certified scuba diver in 2013, dove alongside sea lions later that year, and explored the underwater terrain with Laura in two other parts of Mexico.
And now I was back on the Yucatan peninsula, with Laura, diving in the region that inspired me to get certified in the first place! Our divemaster from Vida Aquatica Dive Center, Roman, took us to two cenotes, located a few dozen yards from each other, and 25 minutes from our hotel.
It was just the three of us, and Roman went over the additional safety protocols that diving in cenotes requires. When you’re diving in the open ocean, if an emergency arises, you can always return to the surface. That’s not as easy to do in a cenote, when you’re diving in an underground, underwater tunnel and there’s 10 feet of limestone between you and the air that can save your life. But with proper communication between divers, and some extra rules, everyone can stay safe and have a jaw-dropping, other-worldly experience.
Our first dive was in the Kukulcan cenote. Someone had installed a staircase into the water (not pictured), and a pool ladder (pictured), so it was easy to get in and out.
It doesn’t looks like a huge body of water from the surface, but we dove as deep as 45 feet, and spent 45 minutes exploring down there. To our surprise, there was a photographer diving as well, taking photos of tourists like us, and then selling them to us afterwards. Laura and I purchased the photos, and it was $25 well spent.
Much of the cenote was in darkness, but rays from the sun pierced through the openings in the rock, and the effect was dazzling. Click on any of these pictures to see them larger.
Roman was in the lead, I was in the middle, and Laura was in the back. You can see a guide rope in that photo, and while we didn’t hold on to it, we did follow it through the cenote. An underwater cavern is not a place where you’d want to get lost, especially with a very limited air supply strapped to your back!
That’s me shining my flashlight at the photographer:
The area lit by the sun was pretty bright, but we also explored areas under rocks and ledges, and there were times that the only light we saw was coming from our flashlights. Roman pointed out fossils and crystals in the rock, and tunnels filled with stalatites (too narrow to swim through).
Here’s Laura and me are ascending from the depths:
I’m ready for my close-up!
Whenever you exhale while scuba diving, you release a flurry of bubbles to the surface. One of my favorite things about this dive was watching Roman’s bubbles rise up and get trapped along the rock ceilings. They’d get stuck, unable to rise all the way to the surface, and become pulsing gray blobs that glistened like molten metal.
The photographer also took short videos of us, and put them together into an 80-second Youtube video – check it out!
Our second dive was in Chac-Mool. We entered through the Little Brother cenote, which is accessed by taking some stairs down into a little cave.
This cenote was bigger than Kukulcan, but you’ve never guess it by how small the surface area was.
The water is so clear and still that it’s hard to judge depth, but it drops down 20 or 25 feet just a few yards past those steps. Then we made our way into deeper waters through pitch-black tunnels and caverns. I felt like an astronaut exploring a foreign planet, our flashlights providing the only light.
There was no photographer on this dive, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but it was an unbelievably unique and mind-blowing experience. We followed guide ropes around corners, through rock formations and stalagtites, over ledges, past the sunken wreckage of a small rowboat. We were all alone for most of this 45-minute dive; we only came across a few other divers in the final few minutes.
A highlight of this dive was surfacing, mid-dive, in an air dome – a small room, carved out of limestone, with a little bit of sun peeking through a single skylight in the rock. We oohed and aahed for a few minutes before putting our regulators back in and descending back into the depths.
This is a day I’ll never forget.
Scuba diving is definitely something I couldn’t do when I was heavy, and I savor every moment that I’m underwater, knowing that I’m doing something that my own hard work and dedication has allowed me to do. I’ve completed 17 dives, and spent nearly 11 hours at the bottom of various oceans, seas, and now, cenotes!
Keep it up, David!
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