I’m now convinced: A trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Cancun and the Riviera Maya are located, is not complete without a swim in a refreshing cenote.
Say what? I’m talking about cenotes (pronounced say-NOH-tay), essentially sinkholes filled with water that go deep into the ground. Most contain fresh water and were used by the Mayans as a primary water source.
Hacienda Tres Rios, which hosted me for a three-night stay, has 10 cenotes on its 326-acre property. Snorkeling, kayaking and swimming in the mangrove-shrouded pools is included in the price of the room (between $276 per person to $1,000, all-inclusive, depending on the season).
But you don’t have to stay at Tres Rios to find a cenote, as they are located all over the Yucatan Peninsula. Many are under caves, perfect for SCUBA divers and snorkelers to explore. And others are family friendly, with ropes hanging over them that children can hang on to as they swim. This article in the Playa Maya News has some good listings (prices may be outdated).
I have to admit, I was a little worried when I saw my first cenote. It looked like a ladder leading into a swamp, quite frankly, and I worried that the water would be stale and murky. It turns out that the water in cenotes is usually some of the freshest around, and delightfully cool on a hot Mexican summer day.
At Tres Rios, they offer a snorkeling adventure where you start in a cenote, then swim down one of the resort’s three rivers toward the Caribbean Sea. The water in this particular cenote is a bit more brackish than most, as it connects with the ocean. They ask you to wear a floatie for safety reasons.
(The guy checking out the water in the photo above is Craig of the blog, Stay Adventurous. True to his name, he leaped into the cenote with a huge splash).
We donned our gear and hopped in. Almost immediately, I started seeing fish on the cenote floor and others nibbling plankton near the mangrove roots. While they weren’t the brightly colored species that you’d find on a coral reef, these fish were interesting, primarily for their size – some were as long as my arm!
(I wish I had photos, but I forgot to charge my underwater camera battery, much to the dismay of my husband. As Craig said, “that’s a a rookie mistake.” Oh well. We all make them!”)
We let the current carry us downstream. Besides the large fish, we saw a massive blue crab and several schools of medium sized fish. I enjoyed floating and watching the sunbeams stream through the water. Others may get their spiritual fix through temazcales; for me, swimming peacefully down the river, the trees forming an arch above me, proved more mentally cleansing.
When we reached the end, I didn’t want to get out. I was surprised at how close we had been to the resort, as I couldn’t hear a thing while we were on the river. My husband liked the almost instant access to a beach bar.
The tidepool between the river and the Caribbean provided a perfectly protected swimming area.
Almost to a person, the bloggers on our trip ranked the cenote snorkel and river swim as one of their favorite activities. Unfortunately, the cenotes at Hacienda Tres Rios are just for guests. But if I go back to this area of Mexico in the future, I’m going to look into further cenote snorkeling opportunities around the coast. It’s one of the best ways to explore and appreciate the region’s natural attributes.
Have you been to a cenote in Mexico? Which one and how was it?