Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Beautiful play of light aquatic, between the plant and the mineral. (Mexico, July 2014)
Corinne Bourbeillon / Little Bubbles Elsewhere

Scuba Diving into The Mysterious Mayan Cenotes


  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

In Mexico, the Yucatán peninsula is like a Swiss cheese, pierced by fresh water holes, called "cenotes". Sacred for the Mayas, the cenotes are today bathing places... and diving spots!

What are the cenotes?

The word maya "tzonot" or "d'zonot" gave "cenote" in Spanish (pronounce ce-no-te). They are holes, chasms, formed by the collapse of the limestone, filled with fresh water.

The largest concentration of cenotes is found in Mexico, in the Yucatán peninsula. They are everywhere, of all sizes, scattered in the jungle, but also in the heart of towns and villages, which have developed around these natural wells.

Above : the superb Ponderosa cenote, also called Garden of Eden, and the Valladolid cenote, adjacent to a bar-resto in the heart of the city. Signs warn of the danger for the unwary who would like to dive. (Mexico, July 2014)

A unique geological phenomenon

In the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, there is a series of cenotes that are arranged in a ring, all around the Chicxulub crater. That is why it is thought that they were created by the impact of a meteoriteIt could even be the meteorite that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs!

Below are some diagrams found on websites, which allow you to visualise the trick.

The cenotes of Yucatán would be born of the impact of a meteorite. [Sources: Dailymail.co.uk / Secretebase.free.fr / Timwilko.com / Mayantreasure.net]
The cenotes of Yucatán would be born from the impact of a meteorite. [Sources: Dailymail.co.uk / Secretebase.free.fr / Timwilko.com / Mayantreasure.net]

Subterranean fractures connecting Mexican cenotes form a huge network of galleries and sunken cavesThe water table can be connected to the water table or, near the coast, to the sea.

For the Maya, these water holes were sacred placesa mouth open to the other world. Some cenotes were places of worship, where offerings were thrown and sacrifices were made, of animals and human beings.

Find out more → Wikipedia on the cenotes

A strange animal, the coati

When the cenotes are in the middle of the jungle, you can sometimes see a strange creature emerging from the cover of the trees. Long nose, clawed legs, long bushy tail.

A coati. The Mexican version of the raccoon. 

Standing on its hind legs, this coati has taken the habit of begging for food from tourists. This funny animal is a cousin of the raccoon. (Mexico, July 2014)

The tourists who picnic attract the coatis. They do not hesitate to beg for a piece of sandwich, standing on their hind legs. The animal reminded me Indonesian cuscus

But let's get back to the cenotes.

Bathing places

Today, the cenotes have become tourist attractions. The surroundings of the most famous ones are equipped to allow swimming, snorkeling (fins-mask-tuba), scuba diving.

Showering is mandatory before swimming in some cenotes, to avoid that sun creams and anti-mosquito products pollute the water.

Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Mexico, July 2014.
Divers and bathers immerse together at the Ponderosa Cenote or Jardín del Edén. (Mexico, July 2014)

The cenotes most frequented by bathers are in the open air, surrounded by trees, open to the outside. But you can also splash around inside cenotes that are completely buried under the ground: you reach these caves via a staircase that goes down in a spiral or steeply in the rock. At the bottom, a generator provides the light... I visited several of them, one of them at 18 m under ground!

Swim in an incredibly clear and pure waterunder a ceiling of stalactites, along which sometimes hang tree roots, is an extraordinary experience. But to feel the magic of the place, it is better to avoid groups, always noisy ...

Above, an underground cenote. (Mexico, July 2014)

Cenote underground. Mexico, July 2014.
In the underground cenotes, there is something unreal, to bathe thus in a crystal water under stalactites... (Mexico, July 2014)

Diving among the Mayans

The cenotes, I've been dreaming about it for a long time. It was my main motivation as a diver-photographer (with whale sharks) to fly to Mexico, instead of going to Asia as I do almost every summer.

I confess: I never dive in fresh water, I am not particularly fond of caves, even when dry, and cave diving does not attract me more than that. But the spectacular underwater pictures, made by other divers in the famous Mexican cenotes in the middle of the jungle had captivated me. And I wanted to see it with my own eyes! So, this summer, I fell in love. I went there in my turn, to make my own pictures...

Grand Cenote. Mexico, July 2014.
Swimmers and divers discover Grand Cenote from the same ladders. (Mexico, July 2014)
Grand Cenote. Mexico, July 2014.
The more you go into Grand Cenote, the more magical the atmosphere becomes (Mexico, July 2014).

Feel like Indiana Jones underwater

Some cenotes give access, via galleries full of water, to underground rooms, whose ceiling is pierced by openings, more or less wide, to the outside. When the hole is small, the sun rays that pass through make like blue laser beams in the water!

Above, images from the Tajma Ha cenote. (Mexico, July 2014)

In the "laser room" of the Tajma Ha cenote. Mexico, July 2014.
In the "laser room" of the Tajma Ha cenote (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Tajma Ha. Mexico, July 2014.
Cenote Tajma Ha. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Tajma Ha. Mexico, July 2014.
Cenote Tajma Ha. (Mexico, July 2014)

I came for the unique light effects, particularly beautiful in the cenotes where I chose to dive: Ponderosa (Garden of Eden), Tajma Ha, Car Wash, Grand Cenote.

It is difficult to explain, to share the absolute fascination that this kind of place gives me. What could be more exhilarating than to photograph together water, light, mineral and vegetal, united here by a unique geological chance! 

I lived in the cenotes magical momentsThe experience is unique and unprecedented. Nothing to do with diving in the sea. To immerse oneself in the chasms venerated by the ancient Mayans, it is not nothing.

Feeling Indiana Jones underwater is exhilarating. In the cenotes, I was 10 years old again!

Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Beautiful play of light aquatic, between the plant and the mineral. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Beautiful play of light aquatic, between the plant and the mineral. (Mexico, July 2014)
Extraordinary atmosphere at Cenote Ponderosa, also called Jardín del Edén. (Mexico, July 2014)
Extraordinary atmosphere at Cenote Ponderosa, also called Jardín del Edén. (Mexico, July 2014)


Another strange phenomenon in the cenotes, that I could experiment in particular in Tajma Ha Where a layer of fresh water is superimposed on a layer of salt water, the water seems to separate in two. We have the impression of a line, as when we are on the surface, between the air and the water. Except that we are immersed, in a gallery full of water.

I don't have a picture that can show you that... You look down and up, you feel like you are going in and out of the water. But not at all. We are always immersed. Very disturbing, very disturbing. This is called a "halocline". Fortunately I had been warned about it before diving, because at the time my poor brain could hardly understand what was happening. Especially since the phenomenon in question occurs when we are in a totally underground environment, without any external light. Almost frightening, I admit.

The underwater signs with skulls indicating the entrance of galleries that are risky to explore impressed me less than this strange sensation of half air half water, regulator in mouth, in a crystal clear water...

Above, the underwater panels at Grand Cenote and Taj Maha. (Mexico, July 2014)

Diving à la carte

Some practical information... I really wanted to explore the cenotes in good conditions to take pictures. So I decided to a small structureI know from experience that it would be easier to "personalize" my requests than in a large center. 

My choice was O2 Mexicobased in Playa del Carmen, which I contacted before leaving. This will be the only thing planned a little in advance in this trip to Mexico.

Good luck! Great reception, great service. With customised and almost private diving: I ended up just with a buddy or alone with a guide. In short, luxury according to my criteria.

My guide in the cenotes, Clément Prandi, is himself an underwater photographer (see his site Facebook Mystic Vision). He was therefore particularly sensitive to my wishes and even paid with his person, regularly playing the models, always going to the right place at the right time for my images...

Cenote Ponderosa (Garden of Eden). Mexico, July 2014.
My girlfriend at the Ponderosa cenote. It's just the two of us, on this day, with our guide. (Mexico, July 2014)

Cenote Car Wash

Clement suggested that I visit, south of Playa del Carmen, near Tulum, this special cenote, called Car WashBacteria form a kind of opaque layer on the surface.

The atmosphere is different, strange and ghostly. A spectacular place, again, for underwater photos ...

The welcoming committee is in place at the Car Wash Cenote. (Mexico, July 2014)
The welcoming committee is in place at Cenote Car Wash (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Car Wash cenote on the surface. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Car Wash Cenote below the surface. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
A mysterious, ghostly atmosphere. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Strange "flowers" grow on the leaf strewn background. (Mexico, July 2014)

The Car Wash cenote gives access to a cave and galleries, where, at the entrance, big tree roots and stalactites follow one another... Plant cathedral and mineral cathedral. The whole in a water capped by a green ceiling, opaque, which lets pass only a diffuse light.

It's both beautiful and a little scary. But Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee were watching over me.

There is a small crocodile, a real one, that lives in this cenote. I was hoping to at least photograph its silhouette against the light. But he was hidden somewhere, in the mangrove, and did not deign to play the extras... So Clément paid of his person and took the pose for my photos.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Clement plays model over sunken trees with his lamp. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Sunken trunks and roots make for a spectacular backdrop. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Huge stalactites follow the trees (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.
Clement continues to act as a model. (Mexico, July 2014)

Water temperature

Finally, a word to my diving readers, who always want to know which wetsuit to take in their luggage... In the cenotes, the water is "fresh" according to my criteria. About 24-25 ° C.


Yes, it is cold compared to the sea, which is 28-29°C in July on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

For the simple bathers, swimmers, snorkelers, to immerse in the cenotes, it is very pleasant... In particular when it reigns a crushing tropical heat outside, as it is the case in July in Mexico. We paddle the time we want to refresh ourselves, we go out when we have enough.

But for divers, it's totally different, you don't feel the water temperature at all in the same way.

In the "laser room" of the Tajma Ha cenote. Mexico, July 2014.
In the "laser room" of the Tajma Ha cenote (Mexico, July 2014)

This is one thing that I often have trouble making my non-diving friends understand, especially those from Brittany... For them, water that exceeds 17°C is just science fiction and they find it "good" as soon as 14°C!


In fact, in water, heat exchange is much faster than in air (water conducts heat 25 times faster than air) and we cool so very quickly.

The temperature of thermal neutrality for the human body, i.e. at which heat loss and production are balanced, is 24 to 26°C in the air, against 33°C in water.

My little person being more sensitive than average to these physical and physiological laws (a complicated way to say I'm cold), I put on a 5 mm hooded shorty, over my old long suit (also 5 mm), to be able to last an hour underwater without coming out completely cold. It went very well, the double layer was effective.

I therefore recommend extra protection for the most chilly, to explore the cenotes. The hardcore can try a simple 5 mm wet suit without any hoody. But it will be more comfortable with an extra layer.

In conclusion

The cenotes are great. A must do if you are traveling in Mexico, whether you are a diver or not.

These are spectacular, magnificent places. Accessible to all. And for the saltwater divers, the experience is really different, rich in strong sensations. Unforgettable.

Grand Cenote. (Mexico, July 2014)
Grand Cenote. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Tajma Ha. Mexico, July 2014.
Cenote Tajma Ha. (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Ponderosa (Garden of Eden). Mexico, July 2014.
Cenote Ponderosa (Garden of Eden). (Mexico, July 2014)
Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Beautiful play of light aquatic, between the plant and the mineral. Mexico, July 2014.
Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Beautiful play of light aquatic, between the plant and the mineral. (Mexico, July 2014)


Find the other articles on this trip to Mexico by clicking on the link below ...

  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

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  1. Yes finally a new article!

    The photos are really beautiful, the cover at the top is just wow!

    T’as pas une impression de “déjà-vu” après quelques cénotes ou au contraire c’est tellement différent à chaque fois que ça ne “choque pas” ?

    Good bubbles!

    ps: dedé waiting with the panel car wash is really above!

    1. @Brice: La plongée en cénotes était une découverte pour moi, aussi je suis loin d’être blasée, bien au contraire… Et puis, je n’ai pas fait que de la plongée en cénotes, là-bas, mais aussi en mer, ce qui permet de varier les plaisirs. Enfin, les cénotes où je suis allée étaient suffisamment différents pour ne pas avoir l’impression de faire la même chose.

      Comme je disais dans l’article, je ne suis pas spécialement attirée à la base par la spéléo sous-marine. Ce qui me plaît, c’est quand il y a encore de la lumière à filtrer dans les grottes… Et là, je pourrais passer des heures sans me lasser à photographier ces rayons bleus, ces jeux subtils entre le végétal et le minéral. Quand on fait de la photo sous l’eau, ce genre d’endroit ne peut pas lasser !

  2. Thank you Corinne, your blog is wonderful, photos and writings, and so well organized and more. Thanks thanks!

  3. C’est un reportage vraiment intéressant, Corinne et on ressent bien la “magie” des lieux à travers les photos. On a juste envie de partir tout de suite, comme d’habitude. Merci.

    1. @Sarah: Ravie d’avoir réussi à partager un peu de cette magie. En tout cas, j’aime bien l’idée d’être une déclencheuse d’envies de partir… Merci de ce petit mot !

  4. Que de bons souvenirs ces cénotes. On a pu faire que celui du gran cenote et Dzitnup mais on passe un super moment (les moustiques aussi d’ailleurs :p )

  5. Article super nice that transmits well the pleasure experienced in these spots apart!
    A Must Do for any diver!
    Et dire que quand je suis passé par là-bas, je n’étais pas encore féru de plongé et au courant de ces lieux magiques !

    Again and again congratulations to Corinne.

    1. @Faf’Aplouf: Oui, ce sont vraiment des “spots” de plongée à part. Mais ces endroits sont fragiles aussi. J’espère que la “mode” de la plongée dans les cénotes saura se montrer respectueuse de l’environnement…

  6. What a nice feather very well documented Corinne, and say that I experienced the cenotes before you ... but your photos leave me speechless with your super model who played well in the game!
    You know that tonight I have an emotional thought for you, I cross my palms so that tomorrow the mola-mola is shown in my eyes amazed ....
    Biz while waiting to read new tasty articles to read, even when we already know.

    1. @Lisemet: Very happy to surprise you while you already know the place ... Yes, the cenotes are really magical to photograph the play of light. (And I cross my fingers for mola-molas !!!!!)

  7. Bravo Corinne, tes photos sont vraiment jolies et merci pour ces récits non seulement informatifs mais aussi super attractifs, j’avais décidé que c’était ma prochaine destination, ça me conforte dans mon choix.. 😉

    1. @Coralie: Si tu en as la possibilité, ne te limite pas à la Riviera Maya, qui est vraiment très (trop) touristique. J’étais axée “plongée” dans ma découverte du Mexique, mais le pays a bien plus à offrir…

  8. Un grand merci Corinne pour ce reportage de qualité ! Lors de mon voyage au Mexique en 1981, j’avais visité quelques cenotes qui étaient perçus à cette époque comme des lieux sacrés. C’est dans ces trous que l’on faisait des sacrifices humains et particulièrement des jeunes filles offertes aux dieux mayas. Ces lieux m’ont fait frissonner et m’ont déclenché un profond respect en pensant à tous ces êtres humains morts dans ces bassins. Un peu comme des cimetières sous-marins… Brrr…!

    1. @Phil: Oui, la “mode” des baignades et de la plongée est récente et liée au développement touristique un peu extrême de la région… J’ai lu des articles sur internet, parlant des fouilles archéologiques dans divers cénotes, où on a retrouvé, en effet, des ossements anciens…

  9. Visibilité parfaite, jeux de lumière, et marche au milieu de la jungle. C’est sans doute l’un de mes meilleurs souvenirs de plongée. À part un client grincheux qui m’a lâché “mouais… y a pas de poissons en fait ?” je n’ai eu que des sourires une fois de retour à la surface. C’est vraiment l’expérience à ne pas rater dans la région !

  10. Super article ! J’étais au mexique pour un contrat à Tulum plus tôt dans l’année mais je n’ai eu qu’un court 1h pour explorer une mini partie des Cenotes. C’était magique. Bravo pour les photos !

  11. Hello,
    je suis tombé sur votre site par pur hasard : en fait je venais de rêver que j’étais au bord d’une sorte de puits immense au milieu de la jungle, et je me suis souvenu que j’en avais vus et que j’avais même nager à l’intérieur il y a plusieurs années, proche de Tulum. J’ai voulu retrouver le nom qu’on donnait à ces trous et je suis tombé sur votre site. Vos photos sont sublimes. Et vous avez dû prendre tellement de plaisir à plonger…
    Good bubbles around the world.

  12. Superbes photos, surtout celles des puits de lumière ! Je ne savais pas qu’on pouvait s’aventurer en bouteille dans les cenotes… Mon voyage au Mexique approche et je compte bien en visiter plusieurs 🙂

  13. Hello Corinne,

    Merci pour l’article! Je pars prochainement dans le Yucatan et prévois de visiter des cénotes. J’aimerais beaucoup savoir le nom de la cénote souterraine que vous présentez, celle où les gens se baignent entourés de stalactites. J’ai vu tellement de photos de cénotes avec échelle que je me perds dans les noms.

    Thank you very much 😉

    1. @Marie: hélas, je ne sais plus… C’est l’un des trois cénotes souterrains tout proches de la pyramide de Coba, pas très loin de Valladolid. Je sais que l’un d’eux s’appelle Multun-Ha (j’ai une photo du panneau), mais les deux autres je ne sais plus. Ça doit pouvoir se retrouver dans un guide touristique de la région. En général, ils se visitent ensemble (il me semble, de mémoire, que le ticket incluait les trois cénotes).

    2. Perfect thank you very much!
      Il me semble que les 2 autres sont Choo-Ha et Tankach-Ha, au Sud du chemin. J’avais noté Multun-Ha et Choo-Ha dans ma todo list, je reviendrai poster à l’occasion pour confirmer tout ça. 🙂

  14. Magnifiques photos Corinne, quelle type d’appareil utilises tu ? (un Reflex j’imagine ?)

    On sort d’une plongée en Cénote ce matin même et j’ai trouvé par hasard ton blog. As tu une cénote en particulier à nous conseiller ? On nous a parlé d’Angelina

    1. @Anthony: pour la plongée, je ne peux que conseiller les cenotes dont je parle dans cet article (il y en a plein, je ne les connais pas tous) : Ponderosa (Garden of Eden), Tajma Ha, Car Wash, Grand Cenote… Je n’ai pas fait Angelina, qui est effectivement très réputé, en raison d’une “couche” étrange et opaque que l’on doit traverser en profondeur.

      Voulant des jeux de lumière pour mes photos, j’ai demandé à plonger dans des cenotes où il y a une ou plusieurs ouvertures sur l’extérieur, laissant entrer les rayons du soleil. Je suis moins intéressée par la plongée purement “spéléo”…

      Mon appareil photo est l’Eos 7D de Canon. Plus d’infos ici, sur la page “Matériel” :
      Happy diving!!! 🙄

  15. Bonjour et merci pour votre blog aux magnifiques photos. J’ai l’impression de vous “suivre” car nous étions l’année dernière en train de plonger dans les cénotes (moi aussi c’est quelque chose que je recommande vivement, j’ai trouvé ça tellement fantastique et exceptionnel ! Nous avons pu plonger avec nos deux enfants ados qui ont été émerveillés), et cette année de KL nous pensons aller à pulau Weh. Départ dans un mois, vive la plongée !

  16. Hello and congratulations your photos are superb, we go to Mexico in February 2017, myself confirmed diver I look in vain diving clubs to be able to dive in these fabulous cenotes, the side of valadoid, chichen itza, merida, uxmal, chicanna , bacalar! in fact avoid big factories. thanks a lot for your help. good bubbles to you.

    1. @Ducrot: comme je le dis plus haut dans l’article, je suis passée par une toute petite structure francophone, O2 Mexico pour organiser “à la carte” mes plongées dans les cénotes et à Playa del Carmen. Je vous les recommande !
      Good bubbles !!!

  17. Bonjour, j’ai eu la chance d’en visiter une magnifique, justement avec des stalagtites/mites; visibilité à l’infini, plongée de presque une heure, et tout ça après une marche improbable dans une zone de végétation ultra-sèche. Je vous invite vivement à le faire, d’autant plus qu’au Mexique, pas besoin de diplôme spécial! Merci pour ces photos superbes! (PS: moi aussi c’était dans le Yucatan, mais hélàs je n’ai pas avec moi le papier avec le nom de l’endroit 🙁

  18. Hello Corinne,
    Vos photos et vos articles sont toujours pour moi un enchantement. Mais cet article m’a bluffée! Les couleurs sont spéciales et les sensations décrites à la perfection! On y est! Je ne suis pas claustro mais sincèrement je suis à la fois fascinée par ces plongées et un peu effrayées aussi. D’autant que j’ai une expérience encore réduite. On a pas la sensation d’être confinés?

    1. @Anne: hormis le cenote Tajma Ha, où là, par moment, on a un peu des sensations de spéléo sur certaines sections, j’avais demandé à visiter des cénotes où on a toujours en visuel de la lumière, une sortie, donc la sensation de claustrophobie est limitée. Question expérience, il faut surtout savoir palmer calmement “en grenouille”, c’est-à-dire palmes au niveau du corps, en faisant des mouvements de jambes sur le côté, pour ne pas donner de coups de palmes sur le fond, et savoir bien maîtriser sa flottabilité. Si on a ces prérequis, il y a des cénotes et des visites adaptées à tous les niveaux. Tentez l’expérience si vous en avez l’occasion, ce sont vraiment des plongées extraordinaires…

  19. Hello Corinne,

    Superbes photos ! j’ai eu moi même la chance d’y aller pour plonger dans les cénotes à 2 reprises et c’est vraiment magique à chaque fois ! 🙂 The place to be en Riviera Maya. Petite préférence pour Chac-Mool et Angelita 😉
    Good bubbles!

  20. We have just returned from Mexico: actually the Cenotes is an amazing experience, accessible to all, our kids loved it!
    No Cenote is like another: Gran Cenote, Car wash, Ik Kil (more frequented and arranged but impressive) Cristallino, Azul, Jardin del Eden, different in size, the depth of "cliff" if there is, shape , transparency, sand or rock, caves or not, diffuse light or rays, blue or green waters, fish or turtles, in short a new treat to each Cenote !!!!
    The less known are the most fun

    1. @Sophie: merci d’avoir laissé un petit message pour rendre compte de tes impressions ! Contente que vous ayez apprécié l’expérience “cenotes” en famille. Ce sont des lieux vraiment extraordinaires.

  21. Thank you thank you for this nice little report and for the photos very very nice, ... uh ... yes it's scary sometimes ... but it is especially envy ... well I liked your stories so much experience that I contacted o2 mexico and hop I am leaving next month. Cenotes, bulldogs, wrecks rays eagles and can be fish sailboats ... yes yes I take my camera. (Well I have not wet my fins for 2 years!).