I am a scuba diving addict. Can’t deny it, and don’t even want to. I’ve dove some of the best reefs in the world, and loved every minute of it. But when I arrived in Mexico for some cenote diving to cross a few locations from the list, I got a whole new experience, in the fresh water caverns in the Riviera Maya.
These pools of water were once considered sacred to the Mayans who inhabited the areas around them, but they are now open to the public to experience some of the magic for themselves.These dives were completely unique to anything I’ve done, and will stick in my memories for a long time to come.
All 6 of these Cenotes I visited were within 20 minutes or less driving from Tulum or Akumal, making them easy to get to. These first three Cenote dives I did were with Xibalba Dive Center in Tulum. I had an awesome instructor who gave me a crash course in tank mixes, and I did my first nitrox dives. Here are the first three Cenote dives I did.
Angelita is one of the best for cenote diving in Mexico, and was my first. I had not seen any photos and didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve only ever dove salt water, so a minor weight adjustment on my belt was required, but not much else, besides setting the computers to the Nitrox settings. This dive was a little disorienting at the beginning. For the first time in 130 dives I even felt a tinge of fear. The reason for this is that at around 30 meters, the completely clear water has a dense cloud layer, like fog.
The water above it is so clear, that the cloud looks like a lake inside the lake. We descended through it, not able to see 4 inches ahead. I couldn’t tell if I was descending or still. It was pretty weird. But then We broke out of the cloud like skydivers into more clear water. Jutting from the bottom if what they called an island, with dead trees and vegetation. such an eery and creepy, yet awesome dive. Definitely a first. Angelita has no over head environment or cavern, so we just ascended back up, spiraling around the perimeter of the cenote.
The Car Wash
The Car Wash, also known for its Mayan name: Aktun Ha, is another sweet dive. It’s hard to compare the cenotes because they are all different. Where Angelita was only a hole and straight down and deep, Aktun Ha is shallow in depth, but one side gives way to a massive cavern, a cave system with huge stalagmites, and for tech divers, a intricate maze of tunnels that connect the whole region and even other cenotes.
It was only me and my guide, and he tied off a line at the mouth of the cavern that we would string along our route though the maze of stalagmites and formations, then eventually follow back.
Diving this cenote was just beautiful, weaving in and out of the big pillars, and imagining a time when this was just a big cave, completely empty of water and full of bats. Most of the time I needed my torch, but at certain intervals it would be a clear path to the cavern mouth, and the light would shine in as beams of light. The water was so crystal clear that there was no obstruction except darkness, so when a shaft of light came in, it was like a beam across a big expanse of nothing. So beautiful.
The Gran Cenote
Gran Cenote is probably the most famous out of the thousands in the region. One obvious reason is because of its amazing beauty, but another reason is because beauty is easily accessible to snorkelers, and you don’t have to be a certified diver. Yes, you see way more diving, but even the snorkeling here is incredible.
Gran cenote is very shallow, making it easy for divers to not need compression or long surface time. It might be shallow, but the cavern goes in pretty far, almost always with an overhead environment. We followed a line through the cave systems, again weaving our way around giant stalagmites formed long ago in a drier state. Maybe one of the best sites is being deep in the cave a while and glimpsing the light at the opening through the pillars. Such a site!
The Pit was insane. So hard to describe. My instructor asked what cenotes I had dove before that day, then he sneered and said he is going to show me the best now. He said the Pit was like Car Wash, only way better. Now I wont go on record agreeing with that, but wholly sh##, was he right about how insane the Pit is! I have never see such clear water, and the cavernous cave was the biggest I’ve ever seen. You could probably land a jet in there if there wasn’t a ceiling.
Stalagmites pointed don from the ceiling, the size of couches. The immensity of it all, combined with how clear the water was, with thin beams of light making its way into the darkness from holes in the ceiling, made for one incredible dive. What really blew my mind was that when we went to look at our entry point, the actual hole in the ground is pretty small. I thought that unless it significantly opened up under the surface or to the sides, it would be pretty boring cenote diving. Well it definitely did, blowing my mind and expectations.
Have you been diving in Bonaire? Check out this sweet video Aalia made from her recent trip!
The Pet Cemetery
Sorry Gran Cenotes, I think I found your better. If I thought Gran was amazing for diving, then I was absolutely blown away by the Pet Cemetery for it. Snorkelers can swim through underground rivers with just a foot or two of clearance overhead. The snorkeling might be amazing, but the diving is even more so.
It is necessary to have good buoyancy here, since at times it gets to a depth of one meter with a ceiling, and you have to not kick up the sand and ruin visibility.
Related article: The Least Crowded Cenotes in Mexico
What an amazing labyrinth and maze of tunnels. One minute you could be in a car size cave with an overhead, the next the cave expands and you can surface and view the half filled cavern. Such a beautiful place. On the other side of the parking lot is the tiny entrance to another cenotes.
It only has about a 5 foot entrance, with a ladder going into in and onto a platform built on the water, shown in above photo. Divers and snorkelers can either start or end their swim/dive here, and finish or end at the Pet Cemetery via an underground river for snorkelers, or any one of a maze of tunnels for divers.
I hate to say it, but I might have saved the best for last. I’m am not taking anything from the rest, they are all incredible. But I guess if I had to choose, Dos Ojos would probably be my favorite. There is so much to explore, and most of it is no good for snorkeling, so you get a huge sense of peace as you drift slowly through cavern after caver, the only sound your own bubbles. holes in the ceiling here and there drive thin shafts of light through the intense darkness, illuminating what ever it lands on. The water is so clear that even a tiny crack of light goes a long way and is beautiful.
At one point after about 30 minutes under the water, my instructor turned around and motioned me to surface. I was worried that the dive was almost over, and a little confused because normally we could see bright light at entrances and exits. But we surfaced anyways. My head broke water and into air inside a giant cave. He had just wanted to show me an underground cave that only divers could get to, and it was beautiful.
In the middle of the half flooded cave was an island of sorts, and I felt like Huckleberry Finn exploring. A bat flapped past my head and I realized that this was probably the only time a bat and scuba would coincide. On the ceiling of the cave was basket ball size hole that forced light through like a lazer beam into the water. The beauty was awesome, and we just shut off our lights and relaxed a while. Me vowing to return.