Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could gave been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:
In Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula is like a Swiss cheese, pierced with freshwater holes, called "cenotes". Sacred for the Mayans, cenotes are now bathing places ... and diving spots!
What is cenotes?
The word maya "Tzonot" or "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 peninsula of Yucatán. There 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.
When the cenotes are in the middle of the jungle, we sometimes see a strange creature out of the canopy of the trees. Long nose, clawed legs, long bushy tail. A coati. The Mexican version of the raccoon. Tourists who picnic attract them. They do not hesitate to beg a piece of sandwich, standing on the hind legs.
In the north of the Yucatan peninsula, there is a series of cenotes arranged in a ring around the crater Chicxulub. That's why we think they would have been created by the impact of a meteorite, fallen to this place there are approximately 65 million years ... It might be even the meteorite that would have provoked the extinction of dinosaurs!
I put below some diagrams found on websites, which allow to visualize the trick.
Subterranean fractures connecting Mexican cenotes form an immense network of galleries and sunken caveswhich communicate with the water table or, near the coast, with the sea. For the Mayas, these water holes were sacred places, an open mouth on the other world. Some cenotes were places of worship, offerings were made and sacrifices were made, animals and human beings.
Today, cenotes have become tourist attractions. The surroundings of the most famous are arranged to allow swimming, snorkeling, diving. The shower is obligatory before going to swim in certain cenotes, to avoid that the sunscreens and mosquito products pollute the water.
The cenotes most frequented by swimmers are outdoors, surrounded by trees, open to the outside. But one can also dabble inside cenotes squarely buried underground: one reaches these caves via a staircase that descends in spiral or steep in the rock. Downstairs, a generator provides light ... I visited several, including one to 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 ...
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 practically every summer.
I admit: I never dive in fresh water, I do not particularly fond of caves even dry and caving diving does not attract me more than that. But the spectacular underwater images made by other divers in the famous Mexican cenotes in the middle of the jungle had overwhelmed me. And you want to see that with my own eyes! So, this summer, I cracked. I went there too, to make my own pictures ...
Feel Indiana Jones under the water
Some cenotes give access, through galleries full of water, to underground rooms, whose ceiling is pierced with openings, more or less wide, outwards. When the hole is small, the rays of sun that pass through are like blue laser beams in water !
I came for these unique lighting games, particularly beautiful in the cenotes where I chose to dive: Ponderosa (Garden of Eden), Tajma Ha, Car Wash, Grand Cenote.
Difficult to explain, to share the absolute fascination that gives me this kind of places. What could be more exhilarating than photographing together water, light, mineral and vegetation, united here by a unique geological hazard!
I lived in the cenotes magical moments, new sensations. Nothing to do with diving at sea. Immerse yourself in the chasms venerated by the ancient Mayans, it's not nothing. Feeling Indiana Jones under the water, it's exhilarating. In the cenotes, I was 10 years old again!
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 separate in two. One has the impression of a line, as when one is on the surface, between air and water. Except we are immersed 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". Fortunately I had been warned of the thing before diving, because at the moment my poor brains barely understand what is happening. Especially since the phenomenon in question occurs when we are in a totally underground environment, without any external glow. Almost scary, I admit.
The skyscraper submarine panels signaling the entrance to galleries that are risky to explore were less impressed than this strange sensation of mid-air half-water, regulator in mouth, in crystal clear water. crystal…
Diving à la carte
Some practical information ... I really wanted to explore the cenotes in good conditions to make the photo. So I opted for a small structureknowing, from experience, that it would be easier to "personalize" my requests than in a big center. My choice fell sure O2 Mexico, based in Playa del CarmenI contacted before leaving. This will be the only thing planned a bit early in this trip to Mexico.
Good pick ! Great hospitality, great service. Diving à la carte and almost private: I found myself with a couple or alone with a guide. In short, the luxury according to my criteria.
My guide in the cenotes, Clément Prandi, is himself an underwater photographer (see his website Mystic Vision). He was particularly sensitive to my wishes and even paid for himself, playing the models, always going to be in the right place at the right time for my images ...
Cenote Car Wash
Clement proposed to me to visit, south of Playa del Carmen, near Tulum, this cenote apart, called Car Washbecause before, people came there to wash their cars ... Bacteria make up a sort of opaque layer on the surface.
The atmosphere is different, strange and ghostly. A spectacular place, again, for underwater photos ...
The cenote gives access to a cave and galleries, where succeed, at the entrance, large tree roots and stalactites ... Plant Cathedral and Mineral Cathedral. All in a water capped with a green ceiling, opaque, which allows only a diffuse light.
It is both beautiful and a little scary. Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee were watching over me. There is a little crocodile, a real one, who lives in this cenote. I was hoping to at least photograph his silhouette in backlight. But he was stashed somewhere in the mangrove, and did not deign to play the extras ... So Clement paid for himself and took the pose for my photos.
Finally, a word for my diving readers, who always want to know which combination to carry in their luggage ... In the cenotes, the water is "fresh" according to my criteria. About 24-25 ° C. It is cold compared to the sea, which is 28-29 ° C in July on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.
For the simple swimmers, swimmers, snorkelers, immerse themselves in the cenotes, it is very pleasant ... In particular when it reigns an overwhelming tropical sweltering outside, as it is the case in July in Mexico. We barbote the time we want to cool off, we go out when we have enough. But for the divers, it's totally different, you do not feel the temperature of the water at all in the same way.
It's something that I often have trouble telling my non-divers friends, especially Brittany (for them, water that exceeds 17 ° C is just science fiction and they find "good" from 14 ° C!).
In fact, in water, the heat exchanges are much faster than in the air (the water conducts the heat 25 times faster than the air) and we cool so very quickly. The temperature of thermal neutrality for the human body, which balances heat loss and heat production, is 24 to 26 ° C in the air, against 33 ° C in the water. To find out more, I refer you to this medical file, which explains all this very well:
My little person being more sensitive than average to these physical and physiological laws (complicated way to say that I am chilly), so I put on a hooded 5 mm shorty, over my old long jumpsuit (also 5 mm), to be able to hold one hour under water without coming out of the water. It was very good.
I therefore recommend extra protection for the most cautious, to explore the cenotes. Hard guys can try a simple 5mm without a hood. But it will be more comfortable with one more layer.
The cenotes are great. Must do if you are traveling to Mexico, whether you are a diver or not. These are spectacular, beautiful places. Accessible to all. And for saltwater divers, the experience is really different, rich in thrills. Unforgettable.
Find the other articles on this trip to Mexico by clicking on the link below ...