Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travel community! For those of you who celebrated, I hope you had a very Merry (& healthy) Christmas!
It’s turned cold here in the northeast, so of course, I’m reminiscing about my very recent time in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico. I was there earlier this month and had many memorable experiences. My favorite was the afternoon I spent at a hidden gem cenote (pronounced “seh-no-tay”) park.
Do you know what a cenote is? If not, this newsletter will give you a good understanding of this beautiful and fascinating natural phenomenon. If you’ve experienced a cenote, you’ll learn about the area I recommend that is not far from Tulum.
Read on for the cenote scoop!
A Cenote is…
A cenote, a Mayan word that means “well,” is a limestone sinkhole that is filled with fresh, clear water that comes from rain and underground rivers. The color of the water ranges from vibrant blues to emerald greens.
The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is essentially a flat piece of limestone that used to be an enormous reef millions of years ago. This landmass is dotted with caves and cenotes, and it’s estimated that there are over 7,000 cenotes in the region. The Mayan people considered cenotes to be sacred – entrances to the underworld where their gods’ spirits lived after death.
The main types of cenotes are open, semi-open, and closed, and they vary in size and shape. Open cenotes are like lakes with crystal clear, reflective water. Semi-open cenotes are partially closed with cave-like features. In a closed cenote, most or all of its roof is intact. You can swim and snorkel in cenotes and dive in the deepest ones.
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As we approached our first open cenote, it looked like a pond with multi-colored, crystal-clear water. A platform with a few stairs on each side allowed us to walk gradually into the refreshing water. Snorkel gear was provided, and a lifeguard was present. There were fish, turtles, and many aquatic plants in and around the water. Overall, the environment was serene, and the setting was very relaxing for exploration. We were the only group swimming at the time, however, on busier days they carefully manage the number of people at each cenote.
The second open cenote was larger and more like a lake. There were three zip lines running across which made for pretty aerial views of the cenote. We canoed through a small pathway that was hidden by plants. There was also a platform for jumping into the water from a height that was thrilling but not frightening.
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Part of the experience was walking along the well-maintained paths from cenote to cenote with our personal guide Freddy. The Mayan jungle is alive with interesting creatures (some very interesting lizards) and trees with varying bark types (one variety is poisonous and clearly marked).
When we arrived at the semi-closed cenote, it looked very different from the previous open sinkholes. You could clearly see the cave roof dripping with stalactites (icicle-shaped formations hanging from the ceiling formed from minerals in the dripping waters). Watching the fruit bats at the back of the cave area was a little unnerving, but they weren’t interested in humans. It was fun to walk over to the peephole where you could see people floating below.
Centoe Park Adventures
Cenote experiences range from quiet to crowded and just one cenote to theme-park-like parks. My experience was a private tour of a less-crowded, locally-authentic, multi-cenote park owned by six Mayan families. The park supports these families, and thus was a way to travel sustainably. It also offered activities for all ages – ziplining, canoeing, jumping, and snorkeling. You could do as much or as little as you like.
A highlight of the day was lunch. The food was freshly made soft tacos by family members who cooked over open grills; the offerings were delicious for carnivores or vegetarians. Dessert options included Mexican coffee and warm churros.
Our jovial guide Freddy made the afternoon full of laughs, but he was also very knowledgeable about the area and history of the Yucatan peninsula. I’m excited to recommend his company to my clients!
Inspired? If you’re thinking about a bucket list trip to Mexico now that you’ve learned about cenotes, here’s the link to schedule a chat with me www.hiddengemtravelconsulting.com/contact
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Wishing you and your family continued good health,