Searching for sinkholes in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula
There are plenty of reasons to take a trip to Mexico (margaritas and guac-laden tacos are certainly among them) – but for us, it’s doing like the Mayans did: searching for the sinkholes that dot the jungle of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
Sinkholes – otherwise known as cenotes – are limestone bedrocks brimming with history. Mayans relied on them as freshwater sources for decades, and as a result, cenotes became rooted in religion. They were believed to be sacred, connected to the underworld and the afterlife. Locals performed rituals and ceremonies around them, willing rain and good crops (yes, the Mayans were manifesting before it became popular).
Searching for sinkholes isn’t too hard, as there are around 6,000 cenotes along the Yucatán Peninsula, inter-connected by an underground river system. Some are open air – meaning the limestone surface has collapsed inward – and others are cave-like, with most or all of their roof still intact. The results verge on transcendent – cenotes seem to bridge the gap between the overwater and underwater world, doing so in the most ethereal of manners.
OUR THREE MUST-SEES…
Where you’re based may determine the cenotes you explore (although we’d always recommend renting a car – a cenote road trip is one-of-a-kind).
That said, here are our three favourites along the peninsula…
Tulum: Casa cenote
Casa cenote (also known as cenote manatí, thanks to the population of manatees that used to reside in the calm waters) is an easy 15-minute drive from Tulum. This is an open-air river-like cenote framed by mangrove fields, which creates a complex but beautiful ecosystem of vines, rocky overhangs and mangrove tunnels below the surface. Its proximity to the coast, and the fact that it connects the Sistema Sac Aktun cave system with the ocean, mean that it’s a mixing pot for warm, salty sea water and cool, clear fresh water. The resulting marine life is diverse: schools of mollies and guppies flitter among the fronds and barracuda and snapper swim peacefully in the shadows. There’s even a friendly Morelet’s crocodile named ‘Panchito’ who makes appearances now and then. He seems perfectly docile (this particular species feed on fish, birds and lizards), but we still wouldn’t suggest getting within flipper distance.
Those undertaking a PADI course in Tulum often learn the basics here (Ko’ox diving are brilliant), and experienced divers love the ethereal aesthetic of the cave, especially when the light hits just right.
Valladolid: Suytun cenote
This cavernous cenote is less about swimming, more about seeing. Its cream-coloured walls contrast with the deep azure water, creating an effect that verges on spiritual, especially when the light hits the walkway in the middle of the cave. This is a good choice for those not wanting to get in the water – the cave itself is mystical and mesmerising enough, with its towering stalactites and natural skylight. It does get busy, so we’d recommend visiting as soon as it opens (9am) or just before it closes (4.30pm). Keep in mind that Valladolid is an hour ahead of Tulum – something we’ll never quite get used to when driving between the two.
Don’t miss a trip to Elela in Valladolid, a 15-minute drive from the cenote and the best vegan tacos you’ll find in the area.
Bacalar: Cenote Azul
Just minutes from the seemingly luminous waters of Bacalar’s seven-coloured lagoon is Cenote Azul. This open cenote is, at face value, a huge dark blue lake. It’s so big that there’s a cord running the length of it, to give overly ambitious swimmers a helping hand back to their towels. There are plenty of curious fish near the surface, but this cenote is incredibly deep: 90 metres, to be precise. You can swim and snorkel here, but the benefit of this vast cenote is its space for paddle boarding and kayaking in the calm waters. There’s decking around the cenote and a restaurant, so you can easily spend an afternoon here following a morning out on the lagoon.