Swimming in Cenotes
For four days, my friend Michael and I make the most of our rental car as we shuttle between the past and the present around the Yucatan Peninsula, making frequent stops for cocos frios, chilled young coconuts filled with sweet water. For most of our trip, Tulum, a resort town with its own Mayan ruins and a bohemian vibe, is our base camp.
One morning, we rise early to visit the Tulum ruins in town, which feature their own public beach in full view of the archaeological zone. Another day, we make the 45-minute drive to visit the ruins at Coba at sunset, and share the massive complex with almost no one.
Every afternoon, we cool off at Caribbean beaches or at the cenotes. Thousands of years ago, the Mayans relied on cenotes for water to drink and for cleansing rituals and sacrifices. Today, many cenotes are popular tourist attractions, places where visitors can snorkel, chase catfish or SCUBA dive to explore the caves below the clear water.
All along Highway 180, we drive past countless signs beckoning travelers to dive into cenotes. Some are massive billboards; others are small slabs of faded plywood. The cenotes advertised on the latter are always the best, we were told by locals. For us, the cenotes rival the gorgeous beaches, even Playa Akumal, where Michael snorkels to snap photos of sea turtles as I lounge under a coconut tree.
The coast holds its own, to be sure, but at each cenote there’s an appealing sense of inherent reverence. Even when they’re crowded, most often whispers, rather than screams and shouts, reverberate off the cave walls. Not one cenote disappoints us.
By far, the best cenote is at Dos Ojos, which means “two eyes” in Spanish. The park features two large cenotes connected via an underwater pathway you can dive with a guide. I alternate between dipping below the water to stare as divers follow a guideline through a passageway and floating on my back to watch bats dart around the cave’s ceiling.