I only did one dive in Mexico – my budget was really tight and most of what I had available for diving while backpacking through Central America was earmarked for finishing my Advanced Open Water when we reached Utila in Honduras – but it was a good one. I made sure the one dive I did was the unique and spectacular experience of cavern diving in the cenotes of Yucatan.
The cenotes are sinkholes giving access to underwater cave systems lying just below the surface, and diving in them is a whole new experience. It’s freshwater, so the visibility is epic – you can see however far the cave layout gives you a line of sight, or however far your torch beam reaches when there’s no natural light.
You swim through a series of narrow tunnels connecting larger caverns, some of which have natural light coming down through the sinkholes above. As you go through the tunnels and the dark caves, you’re relying on electric light – it’s really quite breathtaking when you then turn a corner and there in front of you is a cavern full of rock formations lit in a glorious blue from the sunlight shining down through the hole above. Due to the freshwater you see it all absolutely crystal clear, and it really does almost seem that you’re flying through air rather than swimming through water.
Cavern diving’s definitely not for the claustrophobic – due to the narrow passages you swim through you have to go in single file, while swimming with a frog’s leg motion to avoid kicking up clouds of silt from the floor into the face of the person behind you. You also spend much of the dive with a roof overhead, making emergency ascents impossible; the dive masters who guide you know the cave systems like the backs of their hands though, and assure that they know the fastest route out from any given point. They also know the locations of air pockets in the roof which they can take you up to if anyone has a problem, and they take you up to one just to check it out; it’s pretty surreal popping your head up into air, just below the rock ceiling, taking your regulators out, and having a quick chat! There’s also a bizarre visual effect when you’re submerged and looking up at the air pockets and bubbles against the ceiling, the smaller trapped bubbles reminiscent of the liquid metal effects in Terminator 2, and the larger air pockets looking like some sort of teleportation portal or rift in reality. It’s hard to describe, but your eyes don’t really know what they’re trying process, or something like that.
It occurs while you’re down there that you’re completely reliant on your dive master’s knowledge of the system; were they to get into some sort of trouble, lose consciousness or whatever, you’d all be completely fucked. You’d almost certainly perish, so again – this isn’t a dive for the claustrophobic!
Plenty of people have died down there, but usually because they were exploring and went too far or got lost; skull & crossbones signs mark the point you can’t go past on a guided cavern dive.
In terms of fish life, there isn’t much to see other than small numbers of cave shrimp and some tiny blind fish (they live in the dark, feeding off bat droppings from the sinkholes), and of course there’s no coral; but the amazing spectacle of the sun-dappled caverns, and the unique experience of swimming through those tunnels in the dark, makes this one of the most memorable dives you’ll ever do.
Have you been cenote diving? How was it? Leave a comment below!
We dived at Dos Ojos Cenote, located between Tulum & Playa del Carmen (the two towns are just an hour apart and it can easily be visited from either); Tulum’s the closest place to stay and is a great spot, also being home to a stunning beach and an ancient Mayan site.
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