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 Gruyere cheese, pierced with fresh water holes called "cenotes". Sacred to 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). These are holes, chasms, formed by the collapse of limestone rock, 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 around the Chicxulub crater. That's why they're thought to have been 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 Yucatán cenotes were born from the impact of a meteorite. [Sources: Dailymail.co.uk / Secretebase.free.fr / Timwilko.com / Mayantreasure.net]
The Yucatán cenotes were 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 Mayans, 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, both 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 is used to begging tourists for food. This funny animal is a cousin of the raccoon. (Mexico, July 2014)

Tourists on a picnic attract 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, 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 swimmers are in the open air, surrounded by trees, open to the outside. But you can also splash around inside cenotes that are buried underground: these caves can be reached via a staircase that descends in a spiral staircase or steeply in the rock. Below, a generator provides the light... I visited several of them, including one 18 m underground!

Swim in an incredibly clear and pure water, under 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 about bathing in crystal clear water under stalactites... (Mexico, July 2014)

Diving among the Mayans

The cenotes, I dreamed 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'm not particularly fond of caves, even when they're dry, and cave diving doesn't appeal to me much. But the spectacular underwater photos taken by other divers in the famous Mexican cenotes in the middle of the jungle had captivated me. And made me want to see them with my own eyes! So, this summer, I fell for the idea. 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 further you go into Grand Cenote, the more magical the atmosphere becomes. (Mexico, July 2014)

Feel Indiana Jones under the water

Some cenotes give access, via galleries full of water, to underground rooms, whose ceilings are pierced with openings, more or less wide, towards the outside. When the hole is small, the rays of sunlight that pass through it make like blue laser beams in 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 cenote Tajma Ha. (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 these unique plays of light, particularly beautiful in the cenotes where I chose to dive: Ponderosa (Garden of Eden), Tajma Ha, Car Wash, Grand Cenote.

It's hard to explain, to share the absolute fascination of places like this. What could be more exhilarating than to photograph water, light, mineral and plant life together, brought together here by a unique geological chance! 

I lived in the cenotes magical momentsA new sensation. Nothing to do with diving in the sea. Immersing yourself in the chasms revered by the ancient Mayans is no mean feat.

Feeling like 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, which I was able to experiment in particular at Tajma Ha : where a layer of fresh water is superimposed on a layer of salt water, the water seems to split in two. It feels like a line, like when you're on the surface, between the air and the water. Except you're submerged, in a gallery full of water.

I do not have a photo that can show you that... We go down and we raise our head, we have the impression to come in and out of the water. But not at all. We are always immersed. Very disturbing, very disturbing. This is called a "halocline". Luckily I had been warned about it before diving, because at the time my poor brain could hardly understand what was going on. Especially since the phenomenon in question occurs when we are in a totally underground environment, without any external glow. Almost frightening, I admit.

The underwater skull signs signaling the entrance to galleries that it is risky to explore impressed me less than this strange sensation of half-air, half-water, regulator in the mouth, in crystal clear water...

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

Diving à la carte

Some practical info & #8230; I really wanted to explore the cenotes in good conditions for taking photos. So i opted for a small structure, knowing from experience that it would be easier to "customize" 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 on 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 go and visit this cenote apart, called Playa del Carmen, near Tulum, Car Wash, because before, people came to wash their cars there... Bacteria make up 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 the Car Wash Cenote. (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 big tree roots and stalactites follow one another at the entrance... A plant cathedral and mineral cathedral. All this in a water capped by a green, opaque ceiling, which only lets in 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, living 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 little word for my diving readers, who always want to know what suit 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.

Cenote Ponderosa (Garden of Eden). Mexico, July 2014.

For the simple swimmers, snorkelers and swimmers, immersing yourself in the cenotes is very pleasant... Especially when there is an overwhelming tropical heat outside, as is the case in July in Mexico. You can splash around as long as you want to cool off, and get out when you've had 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 cenote Tajma Ha. (Mexico, July 2014)

This is one thing I often have trouble getting across to my non-diving friends, 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 exchanges are 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 air, compared to 33°C in water.

My little person being more sensitive than average to these physical and physiological laws (a complicated way of saying I'm cold), I put on a 5mm hooded shorty, over my old long suit (also 5mm), to be able to last an hour under water without coming out completely cold. It worked 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. Must do if you are traveling to Mexico, whether you are a diver or not.

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

    You do not have an impression of "déjà-vu" after a few cenotes or on the contrary it's so different each time it does not "shock"?

    Good bubbles!

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

    1. @Brice: The diving in cenotes was a discovery for me, so I'm far from being jaded, quite the contrary ... And then, I did not only dive in cenotes, there, but also at sea, which allows to vary the pleasures. Finally, the cenotes I went to were different enough to not feel like doing the same thing.

      As I said in the article, I am not particularly attracted to the base by the underwater speleology. What I like is when there is still light to filter in the caves ... And there, I could spend hours without tiring to photograph these blue rays, these subtle games between the plant and the mineral. When we take pictures under water, this kind of place can not get tired!

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

  3. This is a really interesting report, Corinne and we feel the "magic" of places through the photos. We just want to leave right away, as usual. Thank you.

    1. @Sarah: Delighted to have managed to share some of this magic. In any case, I like the idea of being a trigger of desires to leave ... Thank you for this little word!

  4. Article super nice that transmits well the pleasure experienced in these spots apart!
    A Must Do for any diver!
    And to say that when I went there, I was not yet keen to dive and aware of these magical places!

    Again and again congratulations to Corinne.

    1. @ Faf'Aplouf: Yes, they are really diving "spots" apart. But these places are fragile too. I hope that the "fashion" of diving in the cenotes will be respectful of the environment ...

  5. 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 !!!!!)

  6. Bravo Corinne, your photos are really pretty and thank you for these not only informative but also super attractive stories, I had decided that this was my next destination, it confirms me in my choice.. 😉

    1. @Coralie: If you have the opportunity, do not limit yourself to the Riviera Maya, which is really (too) touristy. I was focused "diving" in my discovery of Mexico, but the country has much more to offer ...

  7. A big thank you Corinne for this quality report! During my trip to Mexico in 1981, I visited a few cenotes that were perceived at that time as sacred places. It was in these holes that human sacrifices were made, especially young girls offered to the Maya gods. These places made me shiver and triggered a deep respect in thinking of all those human beings who died in these basins. A bit like underwater cemeteries ... Brrr ...!

    1. @Phil: Yes, the "fashion" of swimming and diving is recent and related to the tourism development a little extreme of the region ... I read articles on the internet, talking about archaeological excavations in various cenotes, where we found, indeed , ancient bones ...

  8. Perfect visibility, play of light, and walk in the middle of the jungle. This is probably one of my best dive memories. Except for a grumpy customer who let me go, yeah ... are not there any fish? I only had smiles once back to the surface. It's really the experience not to be missed in the region!

  9. Super article! I was in Mexico for a contract in Tulum earlier in the year but I had only a short 1h to explore a mini part of the Cenotes. It was magical. Congratulations for the photos!

  10. Hello,
    I came across your site by pure chance: in fact I had just dreamed that I was on the edge of a sort of huge well in the middle of the jungle, and I remembered that I had seen it and that I even had to swim indoors several years ago, close to Tulum. I wanted to find the name that was given to these holes and I came across your site. Your photos are sublime. And you had to take so much pleasure to dive ...
    Good bubbles around the world.

  11. Hello Corinne,

    Thanks for the article! I will leave soon in Yucatan and plan to visit cenotes. I would really like to know the name of the underground cenote that you present, the one where people bathe surrounded by stalactites. I have seen so many photos of cenotes with scale that I get lost in the names.

    Thank you very much 😉

    1. @Marie: alas, I do not know anymore ... It's one of three underground cenotes very close to the Coba pyramid, not far from Valladolid. I know that one of them is called Multun-Ha (I have a picture of the panel), but the other two I do not know anymore. It must be able to be found in a tourist guide of the region. In general, they visit each other (it seems to me from memory that the ticket includes the three cenotes).

    2. Perfect thank you very much!
      It seems to me that the other 2 are Choo-Ha and Tankach-Ha, south of the path. I had noted Multun-Ha and Choo-Ha in my todo list, I'll come back and post occasionally to confirm all this 🙂

  12. Beautiful photos Corinne, what type of device do you use? (a Reflex I guess?)

    We leave a dive in Cenote this morning and I came across your blog. Do you have a cenote in particular to advise us? We were told about Angelina

    1. @Anthony: for diving, I can only advise the cenotes I'm talking about in this article (there are plenty, I do not know them all): Ponderosa (Garden of Eden), Tajma Ha, Car Wash, Grand Cenote ... I n I have not done Angelina, which is actually very famous, because of a strange and opaque "layer" that must be crossed in depth.

      Wanting light games for my photos, I asked to dive in cenotes where there are one or more openings on the outside, letting in the sun's rays. I am less interested in diving purely "caving" ...

      My camera is Canon's Eos 7D. More info here on the "Material" page:
      Happy diving!!! 🙄

  13. Hello and thank you for your blog with beautiful photos. I have the impression to follow you because we were last year diving into the cenotes (me too it is something that I highly recommend, I found it so fantastic and exceptional! was able to dive with our two teenage kids who were amazed), and this year from KL we are thinking of going to Pulau Weh. Check out in a month, long live diving!

  14. 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: as I said earlier in the article, I went through a very small francophone structure, O2 Mexico to organize "a la carte" my dives in the cenotes and Playa del Carmen. I recommend them!
      Good bubbles !!!

  15. Hello, I had the chance to visit a magnificent one, precisely with stalagtites/mites; infinite visibility, diving for almost an hour, and all this after an improbable walk in an ultra-dry vegetation zone. I strongly invite you to do it, especially since in Mexico, no need for a special diploma! Thanks for these great pictures! (PS: I too was in the Yucatan, but unfortunately I don't have with me the paper with the name of the place 🙁

  16. Hello Corinne,
    Your photos and articles are always a delight to me. But this article bluffed me! The colors are special and the sensations described to perfection! Here we are! I am not claustrophic but sincerely I am both fascinated by these dives and a little scared too. Especially since I have a reduced experience. We do not feel confined?

    1. @Anne: except the cenote Tajma Ha, where there, at times, we have some caving sensations on certain sections, I asked to visit cenotes where we always have a visual light, an exit, so the feeling of claustrophobia is limited. Question experience, it is important to know how to palmer calmly "in frog", that is to say palms at the level of the body, making leg movements on the side, not to kick the bottom, and know how to control your buoyancy. If we have these prerequisites, there are cenotes and tours adapted to all levels. Try the experience if you have the opportunity, it's really amazing dives ...

  17. Hello Corinne,

    Great pictures ! I had myself the chance to go there to dive in the cenotes twice and it's really magical each time ! 🙂 The place to be in Riviera Maya. Small preference for Chac-Mool and Angelita 😉
    Good bubbles!

  18. 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: thank you for leaving a little message to report your impressions! Glad you enjoyed the "cenotes" experience with your family. These are really extraordinary places.

  19. 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!).