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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

Cave Diving the Cenotes in the Underworld of Mexico

Written by Regina Busse
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When you hear Cancun or Playa del Carmen what comes to mind?  All-inclusive resorts, powder white sands, and endless amounts of tropical cocktails right?  Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula may have originally gained fame through these tourist avenues but the real beauty of the Yucatan lies below it all.  In the cenotes.


“Cenotes” (say-no-tays) are underground caverns or caves formed almost 6,500 hundred years ago. Millennium’s worth of geographical transformations created these intricate cave systems but climate change filled them in.  Now completely submerged in fresh water, scuba diving is the only way to see this lost world.


The Yucatan is colored by thousands of cenotes, but we chose to dive, “Dos Ojos”, just outside of Tulum.  Translating as, “Two Eyes”, this dive is exactly that.  Two portals into two different worlds. 


Divers UnderGround, the company we chose, specialized in cave diving and made sure to be the first company on site.  This meant an unobstructed view of the cenote's incredibly clear waters and no other divers tainting our experience.  


The first cave series, known as “Barbie Cave”, takes you around a bigger, dare I say, more “spacious” circuit while the second, “Bat Cave”, transports divers into the smaller, darker and more technical caves next door.


A large rock overhang, rich in flora and fauna, hides the cenote from above and it’s not until descending the hill behind, that her existence is revealed.  Timed perfectly, the sun had just begun its daily ascent, shining beams of light through the lofty palapa tree’s and onto the cenote waters.  Dancing over the surface, the waters glistened to life, and our crystal clear aquatic portal was opened.  


Peering over the small dock, I could see perfectly down to the bottom.  With no currents to blur vision or clouds to disturb vibrancy, underwater visibility reached new lengths!  All the little fish 10 meters below appeared just inches below the surface.  


Descending into the cool waters, my senses were in overload.  The sun that tangoed on the water above now illuminated everything below. As if thousands of Swarovski crystals had been dropped into the water, every angle of vision filled with sparkles and light.  


Excitedly looking around the large cavern I saw our entry point into the cave - A dark, eerie opening lying just 20 meters away.  From heaven to hell, here we go!


Welcomed by towers of stalactites and stalagmites, the caverns age was evident…old! Thousands of years of slow drippings created these enormous formations and the watery filling now served to preserve them.  





Swimming into the cavern mouth, we immediately switched on our flashlights and located our “life line”.  A fixed, golden line providing navigational assistance once inside the dark caverns. Our other, more qualified form of assistance, Camilo - our incredible dive instructor.


Inky blackness was no match for my powerful light.  Excitedly scanning every crack, cavern and formation, each pass of light revealed another discovery. 


Suddenly, a ray of light pierced the blackness.  Racing through the water, the beam hit the adjacent limestone wall and exploded in color.  Then another, and another, until finally the entire cavern was illuminated!


Following the light beams to their source yielded one of the most beautiful sights my eyes have ever seen.  A large, thick slice in the cavern roof afforded our first glimpse of the outside world.  The trees and leaves rising high above reflected on the waters surface and then refracted themselves below to create a rainbow of colors and dizzying images. Unobstructed by opposing outside lights, the colors came streaming through the neutral waters in all their glory.  More vibrant then anything I’ve ever seen, I floated there, mesmerized by this once in a lifetime show. 


Our next dive, proved very different then the first.  The occasional streams of light and expansive caverns of before mutated into a series of tight fits, dark corners and eerie drops.  Floating very close to one of these unknown caverns, two shiny eyes opened! “Ahhh…the creature of the deep!”  Flailing backwards, it took a moment for my eyes to focus and uncover the truth. The creepy almond eyes were nothing more then two perfectly distanced metallic fish glowing against the harsh light of my torch. Phew.


Aside from my overactive imagination, the caverns eerie persona did not impose fear, only awe.  The methodical sound of my regulator assured safety while the light pops of air bubbles hitting the rock ceiling, reminded me of our shallow depth.  


Spoiled by crystal clear visibility for most of the dive, I was surprised by a sudden drunken blurriness.  Swimming through a cloud of fuzzy water, I later asked Camilo what caused it.  Saltwater.  Denser then fresh water, the nearby seawaters found a way into the forbidden caves, creating this alien haze.


A highlight of the dive was the Bat Cave itself.  Surfacing in a small cavern, we were welcomed by the screeching’s of hundreds of bats.  Flying erratically about, the bats expressed their disdain for the unwelcomed trespassers but soon calmed so we could admire their ancient hideout.


My favorite part of the Bat Cave dive came towards the end.  Covering our lights and swimming through the final cavern in complete darkness.  The paucity of light and absence of sight provided an exhilarating ending to an unparalleled experience. 


I truly believe in order to appreciate our world, we need to experience others.  Cenote diving offers this opportunity and should not be missed when in the Yucatan.  


Gracias Camilo y Margarita of Divers Underground!



©Regina Busse



Last modified on Friday, 18 January 2013