The word cenote isn’t necessarily part of everyone’s vocabulary. However, if you happen to visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula you will no doubt come across this term. It refers to a natural sinkhole or pit, usually formed when the limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing the crystal clear groundwater underneath. The result is like an underground cave with a sunroof, usually with a limpid pool, grotto like foliage and some cool rock formations to dazzle you. These chambers are spectacular to explore either on a scuba dive or fairytale swim. They take on a mystical level when you hear that the ancient Mayans considered them portals to the underworld, or a place to communicate with gods. There are over 7000 cenotes in this region, which is ripe with underground rivers and subterranean pools. If you’re heading to Chichén Itzá or exploring any of the archaeological sites or towns of the Yucatan, be sure to arrange a refreshing stop at a nearby cenote. In the meantime, check out this quick video and be amazed at these natural wonders.
Learn more about the sacred cenotes of Mexico’s Yucatan
- There are no rivers running above ground in the Yucatan. All water sources flow beneath the surface in a wide network of underground rivers and lakes.
- The porous limestone of the region is ideal for forming caverns, caves and chambers where water can collect.
- Stalactites and stalagmites often decorate the walls around the cenotes, giving them a magical quality.
- These scenic cenotes feature prominantly in the cultural legends of the Mayans. They thought they were windows to the afterlife, and many ceremonial rituals were performed around cenotes. Even today, many people still consider them to be sacred spots inhabited by gods.
- These fresh water pools were often the main source of water for the Maya.
- The word cenote comes from the “dzonot”, the Mayan word for pit or hole-in-the-ground.
- Some cenotes contain just a few inches of water, while others are hundreds of feet deep. Some of these fresh natural pools are linked to stunning subterranean lakes.
- There are three cenote types in the Yucatan: open, that look like sunken ponds or springs; semi–open, that are in part covered by a dome shaped limestone formation; and underground, mostly hidden deep in a cavern and only visible through a crack in the limestone.
- Some of the best cenotes in the Yucatan include X’kekén, Chaak Tun, Samula, Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote.
Have you had a chance to visit a cenote?
Tell us all about it in the comments below.