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 of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, 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 Yucatán cenotes were born from 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.

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

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

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Yes finally a new article!

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

    Don't you get a feeling of "déjà-vu" after a few cenotes, or is it so different every time that it doesn't "shock" you?

    Good bubbles!

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

    1. @Brice: Cenote diving was a discovery for me, so I'm far from jaded, quite the contrary... Besides, I didn't just do cenote diving there, but also sea diving, which makes it possible to vary the pleasures. Finally, the cenotes I went to were different enough not to feel like I was doing the same thing.

      As I said in the article, I'm not particularly attracted to underwater caving. What I like is when there's still light to filter into the caves... And there, I could spend hours without tiring of photographing those blue rays, those subtle interplays between plant and mineral. When you're an underwater photographer, you can't get enough of this kind of place!

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

  3. It's a really interesting report, Corinne, and you can really feel the "magic" of the place through the photos. We just want to leave right away, as usual. Thank you, Corinne.

    1. @Sarah: I'm delighted to have been able to share some of that magic. In any case, I like the idea of being a trigger for the desire to leave... Thanks for this little note!

  4. Article super nice that transmits well the pleasure experienced in these spots apart!
    A Must Do for any diver!
    And to think that when I went there, I wasn't yet a diving enthusiast and didn't know about these magical places!

    Again and again congratulations to Corinne.

    1. @Faf'Aplouf: Yes, these are really special diving spots. But these places are fragile too. I hope that the "fashion" of cenote diving will show respect for 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, don't limit yourself to the Riviera Maya, which is really (too) touristy. I was focused on "diving" in my discovery of Mexico, but the country has much more to offer...

  7. Many thanks Corinne for this quality report! During my trip to Mexico in 1981, I visited a number of cenotes that were considered sacred places at the time. It was in these holes that human sacrifices were made, particularly of young girls offered to the Mayan gods. These places sent shivers down my spine and triggered a deep respect when I thought of all those human beings who died in these basins. A bit like underwater cemeteries... Brrr...!

    1. @Phil: Yes, the swimming and diving "craze" is recent and linked to the region's somewhat extreme tourist development... I've read articles on the internet about archaeological digs in various cenotes, where ancient bones have indeed been found...

  8. Perfect visibility, a play of light, and walking through the jungle. This is without doubt one of my best diving memories. Apart from one grumpy customer who blurted out, "Yeah... there aren't any fish, are there?", I got nothing but smiles when I got back to the surface. It's definitely an experience not to be missed in the region!

  9. Great article! I was in mexico for a contract in Tulum earlier in the year but only had a short 1h to explore a mini part of the Cenotes. It was magical. Bravo pour les photos !

  10. Hello,
    I came across your site purely by chance: in fact I'd just had a dream that I was standing on the edge of some sort of huge well in the middle of the jungle, and I remembered that I'd seen some and even swum in them several years ago, near Tulum. I wanted to find out what these holes were called and came across your site. Your photos are sublime. And you must have had so much fun diving...
    Good bubbles around the world.

  11. Hello Corinne,

    Thanks for the article! I'm off to the Yucatan soon and plan to visit some cenotes. I would love to know the name of the underground cenote you feature, the one where people bathe surrounded by stalactites. I've seen so many photos of cenotes with ladders that I get lost in the names.

    Thank you very much 😉

    1. @Marie: alas, I don't know... 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 photo of the sign), but the other two I can't remember. It's probably in a tourist guide to the region. They're usually visited together (from memory, I think the ticket included all 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 that 🙂 .

  12. Wonderful photos Corinne, what type of camera do you use? (an SLR I guess?)

    We just came back from a cenote dive this morning and I found your blog by chance. Do you have a particular cenote to recommend? We heard about Angelina

    1. @Anthony: for diving, I can only recommend the cenotes I mention in this article (there are lots, I don't know them all): Ponderosa (Garden of Eden), Tajma Ha, Car Wash, Grand Cenote... I didn't do Angelina, which is indeed very famous, because of a strange, opaque "layer" that you have to cross at depth.

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

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

  13. Hello and thank you for your blog with its magnificent photos. I feel like I'm "following" you because last year we were diving in the cenotes (me too, it's something I highly recommend, I found it so fantastic and exceptional! We were able to dive with our two teenage children, who were amazed), and this year from KL we're thinking of going to pulau Weh. Departure 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 French-speaking structure, O2 Mexico to organize "à la carte" my dives in the cenotes and in Playa del Carmen. I highly recommend them!
      Good bubbles !!!

  15. Hello, I was lucky enough 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 area of ultra-dry vegetation. I urge you to do it, especially as in Mexico you don't need a special diploma! Thanks for these superb photos! (PS: I too was in the Yucatan, but alas I don't have the paper with the name of the place with me 🙁

  16. Hello Corinne,
    Your photos and articles are always a delight to me. But this article blew me away! The colors are special and the sensations described to perfection! We're there! I'm not claustrophobic, but frankly I'm both fascinated by these dives and a little scared too. Especially as my experience is still limited. Don't we feel confined?

    1. @Anne: apart from the Tajma Ha cenote, where at times you get a bit of a caving sensation on certain sections, I had asked to visit cenotes where you always have a visual of light and an exit, so the claustrophobic feeling is limited. As far as experience is concerned, you need to be able to swim calmly "en grenouille", i.e. flippers at body level, with your legs moving to the side, so as not to hit the bottom with your flippers, and you need to know how to control your buoyancy. If you have these prerequisites, there are cenotes and tours to suit all levels. Give it a try if you get the chance - these are truly extraordinary dives...

  17. Hello Corinne,

    Superb photos! I've been lucky enough to go diving in the cenotes myself on 2 occasions and it's truly magical every 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 about your impressions! Glad you enjoyed the "cenotes" experience with your family. They are truly 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!).