I’m from a family of storytellers. Funny storytellers. I’m a storyteller, too, but not a very funny one. Or so they tell me. Years ago, my sons shared a technique to rescue my stories from a boring finish. At the end of a boring story, they told me to say, “…and then I found 20 bucks.” It’s been useful at times.
While we were at the Latitude 20 Restaurant enjoying the results of our Mexican cooking class, we asked the women sitting with us about the cenotes in the area. A cenote (say-NO-tay) is a sinkhole created when porous limestone collapses into the underground water beneath it. Cenotes were sacred to the indigenous Mayan people who regarded them as the entrance to the underworld. They were also the only source of fresh drinking water. There are over 7000 of these sinkholes on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and we definitely wanted to see some.
We got a helpful tip from one woman who told us a number of cenotes have been developed into Disney type tourist attractions and we first needed to decide what kind of experience we were after. The adventure parks or private tours in the area cost $100-$150 per person depending on the package which may include a guide, transportation, equipment, and lunch.
After studying the list of nearby cenotes and their amenities, we chose one that allowed snorkeling and provided minimal facilities including restrooms and a restaurant but not the crowded, popular adventure park atmosphere. Rather than hire a guide, we opted to do it ourselves at a total cost of less than $25 each. Our first stop was the dive shop to rent our snorkel equipment. We rented the snorkel tube, mask, fins, and life vest for the day for $10. Gail also rented a shorty wetsuit for another $10 as the water in the cenotes comes from underground and can be chilly.
Talking to the staff at the dive shop, we learned that Dos Ojos, the cenote we planned to visit, was closed that day, Saturday, for a Mayan religious observance. He suggested another cenote, Chikin Ha. So, Chikin Ha it was. On the highway outside Puerto Aventuras we hopped on the local bus, called a colectiva, to ride the couple of miles to the entrance at Chikin Ha. The cost was 25 pesos or about $2.
When we got off the bus there was a sign, a ticket booth, and a guy selling tickets. He collected our fee which was about $10 and directed us to walk 15 minutes down the dirt road where he said they would collect our tickets and direct us to the cenotes. We walked, and walked, and walked, toting our equipment and finally arrived more than a half an hour later. If I hadn’t seen signs along the way, I may have questioned whether we’d find anything back there.
When we finally arrived, we were somewhat surprised to be almost the only ones there. The ticket taker seemed listless and disinterested and really preferred to talk on her cell phone rather than give us directions. I admit I thought maybe we’d made a bad pick. The restrooms were fine, however, so we used them and we were ready to explore the three cenotes in this park.
As we walked the path to the first cenote, we encountered this fellow with a Harris hawk. I have no idea why he and the hawk were there.
Cenotes range from entirely open, like a lake, to entirely enclosed within a cave and many variations in between. The first at Chikin Ha was open. The water was so clear that the limestone rock and fish beneath the surface were easily visible.
We decided not to snorkel in this cenote and moved on to the second. The second cenote was in a cave and we struck up a conversation with the young couple we encountered swimming in it. Hannah and David were from Australia traveling around Mexico and heading next to Cuba. They had been to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, and disliked it as too touristy but they loved the ruins at Tulum because it was the opposite. They had talked to someone familiar with many of the cenotes in the area, and picked Chikin Ha based on the recommendation that it was exceedingly beautiful and not so touristy. I felt reassured that maybe this was a good pick, after all!
The line that you see in the photo above was very useful for guiding us across the cenote allowing us to keep our masks in the water to see beneath us.
Swimming and snorkeling wasn’t allowed in the third cenote due to its fragile ecosystem. It was probably the most beautiful of the three and we could fully appreciate it without getting in the water. The turquoise color is so amazing and really more impressive than I could capture in photos. There were also many stalactites and stalagmites in this cenote.
We observed a candle ceremony at the back of the cave of the third cenote. We assumed this was a Mayan religious ceremony of some sort.
When I was about to enter the water of the second cenote, I went to remove my Fitbit (an activity monitor) from my wrist and discovered it was gone. I howled to Jim, “Oh no, I lost my Fitbit!” Hannah asked, “What color is it?” I responded, “Orange” and she said, “We found it on the road on our way in!” So, while I didn’t find 20 bucks on this adventure, something even better happened.
Based on events of January, 2015