From Sacred to Playgrounds: Cenotes of Yucantan Near Cancun Mexico tourists find the Yucatan Peninsula and its Mysterious Cenotes. Cenotes are sinkholes that have formed in the natural limestone over millions of years of rainfall. Limestone is soft and porous so the rain waters carved out these phenomenon over millions of years. The bottoms of the caverns are lakes that grow and flow under-ground. Cenotes that eventually fill all the way up with water, collapse to become part of the Mexican Caribbean. Others drop lushly to beautiful lakes filled with fresh water, salt water, or a combination of both. Tourists know they have arrived when waterfalls can be heard. The sights are magnificent as some Cenotes have lush forest growth from top to bottom. Tourists come to swim, explore underground caves, and snorkel. The ancient Mayan’s had different uses for the caverns.
The Ancient Mayans thought the Cenotes were portals to the underworld and deemed them sacred. They cut steps into the limestone walls so they could reach the water. These stairs were slippery and dripped with the musty wet air. The waters were said to have healing properties and bathing or drinking it would cure disease. The Mayans also performed ritual sacrifice in the Cenotes. People living around Chichen Itza have found skeletons floating in wells that prove Mayans used the Cenotes as ritual sites. In modern times, the Cenotes have been used in Hollywood movies and have such amenities as restrooms, changing rooms, food services, and over-night accommodations. Modern visitors can enjoy wooden stairways that are maintained year around in the more popular Cenotes
There are more than 7000 Cenotes dotting the Yucatan Peninsula. Ik-Kil, or The Sacred Blue Cenote, is located near Cancun. There are also ancient Mayan archeological surveys near the area. This Cenote of Yucatan is 85 ft. deep, oval in shape, and crystal clear. Access is a precarious stairway tourists can hike down. The walk is well worth it once the lake is reached. The green blue water shimmers in the dim light; its depths unknown. Stalactites hang from the walls and hikers need to duck under on the way down. Divers and swimmers have to be careful not to hit their heads on them, as well. Snorkelers and swimmers out-number the divers at this Cenote. By way of luxury, shelters are rented out for over-night stays.
The Dos Ojos Cenote (two eyes) is near Ik-Kil and was the location for the IMAX film Journey to the Caves. There are two circular green blue lakes at the bottom of this Cenote which account for the cavern’s name. The stalagmites hang from the mouth of the Cenote to the lakes that rest 500 ft. below. There are also numerous other caverns running under the limestone here. Exploring this mysterious underground world has become sport for many tourists who come to dive and enjoy the retreat areas provided in the caverns. Divers and snorkelers are treated to several varieties of fish here. The adventurous can search for the famous Bat Cave. The Dos Ojos Cenote is the most popular of all the Cenotes of Yucatan. Once a year, a beam of sunlight shines into the cavern and illuminates the tip of the massive stalagmite. The ancient Mayan people were witness to this same site two thousand years ago.
The Grand Cenote is the largest Cenote and boasts turtles as one of its attractions for divers and swimmers. This Cenote is the easiest to get to and lies near the city of Tulum. Many tourists claim this as their favorite because of its grand size. The gorgeous waters are inviting and ready for deep water adventurers. Wooden walkways and piers surround the massive lake. So, the non-adventurous can take it easy and bask in the world the ancients found irresistible as well. Some go to the Cenotes for insight into the ancient world of the Mayans. Wanting a feel for the people we know so little about and their ways of life. How much different their lives must have been from ours. Imagine being the first people to look into one of these giant holes and see the wonder of a lake 500 ft. below them.
The tenaciousness of the stalagmites in their growth toward the clear water makes a statement about the perseverance of nature and the respect the ancient Mayans had for the Cenotes. They are special, mysterious. It is no wonder that the Mayan people made them areas of worship and sacrifice. There was no better place to honor their God than at His very front door.
Adam M. Kowalski