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


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:

  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

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.

The cenote Valladolid, adjacent to a bar-restaurant, in the middle of the city. Mexico, July 2014.
The cenote Valladolid, adjacent to a bar-resto, is in the city. Mexico, July 2014.

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.

The beast reminded me Indonesian couscous... But let's go back to the cenotes.

A unique geological phenomenon

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.

The cenotes of Yucatán would be 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 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.

To find out more → Wikipedia on the cenotes

Bathing places

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.

Cenote Ponderosa or Jardín del Edén. Mexico, July 2014.

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 ...

Cenote underground. 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 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 ...

Grand Cenote. Mexico, July 2014.

Grand Cenote. Mexico, July 2014.

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!

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)

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.

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

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 ...

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

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.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Carwash. Mexico, July 2014.

Water temperature

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.

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

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

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:

Any body immersed in cold water ...

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.

In conclusion

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.

Grand Cenote. Mexico, July 2014.

Cenote Tajma Ha. 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.


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

  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

  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. 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.

  3. 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 ...

  4. 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 !!!!!)

  5. Congratulations Corinne, your photos are really pretty and thank you for these stories not only informative but also super attractive, I decided it was my next destination, it comforts 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 ...

  6. 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 ...

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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 so 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 road. I noted Multun-Ha and Choo-Ha in my todo list, I will return to post occasionally to confirm all that. 🙂

  11. 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:
      Good dives !!! 🙄

  12. 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!

  13. 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 !!!

  14. Hello, I had the chance to visit a beautiful, precisely with stalagtites / mites; visibility to infinity, diving almost an hour, and all that after an improbable walk in an area of ultra-dry vegetation. I urge you to do so, especially in Mexico, no need for a special diploma! Thank you for these beautiful photos! (PS: I too was in the Yucatan, but alas I do not have with me the paper with the name of the place 🙁

  15. 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 ...

  16. Hello Corinne,

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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!).

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