Sacred Pools | Yucatán, Mexico

Usually synonymous with the Yucatán Peninsula, cenotes are sinkholes that create natural pools filled with rainwater and freshwater (or saltwater occasionally, depending on underground water sources) creating convenient swimming areas. They come in many different forms and range from the open-aired to underground caves. There are around 7,000 cenotes found across the Peninsula. Cenotes held significant importance to Mayans as a source of freshwater and some claim they were also used in rituals of human sacrifice.

"Cenote" by Jaime Guzmán T.
“Cenote” by Jaime Guzmán T. via Flickr

We managed to visit three during our week there, and all of them were radically different from each other.

Our first cenote was Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes), two entrances to a part of an underground cave system that crawls 82 kilometers (51 miles).  It’s named Dos Ojos because the two cenote “entrances” are right next to each other and connect together in a cavern.

We had some of our own pictures from that day but SOMEONE lost the GoPro.

“Cenote Dos Ojos” by Oswaldo Rubio via Flickr

The crystal clear water progressively becomes darker as you navigate away from the open water entrance, and we were given little waterproof flashlights.

Since we weren’t scuba diving, we had to go single file while submerged through the narrow openings between stalactites and stalagmites. Our snorkels were the only things poking out as we moved through the system since there was only around 5 or 6 inches of air between the roof of the cave and the water surface.

"Cenote Dos Ojos - photo by Henry Watkins" by Jahmarcos
“Cenote Dos Ojos – photo by Henry Watkins” by Jahmarcos via Flickr

We also swam into their “Bat Cave” (which connected the two cenote entrances) which included a rather high ceiling inhabited by colonies of little bats.

“Tulum Dos Ojos P1000295” by Tore via Flickr

Emily nearly had a panic attack because of the claustrophobic feeling of not being able to lift your head out of the water. We had no other option than to keep swimming in the dark. Afterwards, we were glad we did it but it was definitely one of the most eerie underwater experiences we’ve had.

Here’s a video showing what the scuba divers experienced:


Cenote number two was rather off the map. With the help of locals to track down the hard-to-find town of Chocholá, we discovered it was an underground cave cenote called San Ignacio.


As you descend, the humidity is very intense at first, but forgotten as soon as you get in the cool, filtered rainwater. The cenote is completely enclosed in an other-worldly cave.




The last cenote we visited was arguably my favorite. Cenote Ik Kil was a welcome detour after a hot afternoon spent exploring Chichen Itza.

Just like Chichen Itza, be warned that it is a popular tourist destination with visitors from Cancún and other places. We got to Ik Kil at about noon and were able to beat the majority of the crowds. By the time we were done with the cenote, the entire place was crawling with tourists. So definitely keep this in mind when you plan your trip here.

The roots we were warned not to touch draped beautifully around the extremely deep cenote (around 50 m/160 feet).



descending down the stairs carved out of the cave


We floated on our backs, drowned out the noise by putting our ears under water to watch the sunlight streaming through the opening. It was so peaceful marveling at the mysticism behind these natural wonders.



Taking into account the number of cenotes around the Peninsula and how they differ, you should take advantage and visit as many as possible (we had a time constraint). However these three are definitely some of the top contenders.

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