Without question there exists a magical energy throughout the Yucatan peninsula. It’s rich cultural history, stunning beaches, culinary delights, and abundant wildlife all lend to this feeling, this vibe, this onda, as it would be described locally. Perhaps the strongest contributor to this virility is the web of the underwater caves that wind their way directly under us throughout the region, providing all resident beings with a source of freshwater and divers and snorkelers with an environment unlike any other.
The Mayan civilization, the original inhabitants of the Yucatan, as well as Belize, Guatemala and Northern Honduras, believed the cenotes to be an entrance to the underworld, called Xibalba (shee-bal-bah), which roughly translates to “place of fear,” as it was thought to be the first of nine realms through which one had to cross to reach their afterlife. For possibly this reason as well, there is thought that the cenotes were also revered as a place of rebirth, and of course sources of the most critical of all life sustaining elements: fresh water. The Mexican-Spanish word cenotes is derived from the Mayan word dznot, which translates to “well,” indicating their practical use as well as their spiritual significance. They still serve as the freshwater source for the entirety of the peninsula, which is devoid of any above-ground rivers.
I remember my first visit to a cenote; I had just arrive in Tulum and hired a push bike to pedal my way out to Grand Cenote, on the highway on the way to Coba, mask and fins packed up in my backpack. It was as soon as my eyes focused underwater and absorbed the incredible view in front of me, and with each slow fin kick it became more and more impressive. Since this first encounter I have done thousands of dives in many cenotes spread throughout the peninsula, and still find awe every time, and revel in the looks on many divers’ and snorkelers’ faces as soon as they are up on the surface from their first underwater experience in a cenote. It is this onda, this magic of the cenotes that makes this area so special, and able to be enjoyed by water-enthusiasts of absolutely any level.
A happy Blue Life diver taking it all in at Cenote El Pit
At Blue Life it goes without saying that we are wild about the caverns and caves that we are granted access to through the cenotes; they are a big reason for why many of us call Playa del Carmen home. For me, what started with a casual snorkel has now evolved into becoming a multi-stage cave diver and an endless thirst to find the next most amazing cenote I have ever seen, and I am continuously being surprised and left awestruck by their beauty and otherworldliness. The Mayans had it right, it is truly like slipping into another realm, and whatever fear is inspired is well worth the experience.
The author, Sarah Pulitzer, exiting the cavern of Cenote Dos Ojos