Yucatán Cenote

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Embraced by darkness, a ray of natural light encouraged me to jump into a pool of fresh 80-degree water. The wonderment of the millions of years of historical underground waters connecting the Yucatán anxiously and excitedly called to dig deeper into the Mayan underworld or Xibalba. The texture, make-up, and beauty of each cenote are what drives YucatanCenote.com owners, Chris and Ruth to adventure and tell the stories of the Yucatán cenotes.

Crazy about cenotes, Chris and Ruth shared their passion and vision on a full day adventure around a small area of the cenote ring. Feeling extremely lucky to share in the magic of their discoveries, we followed the path of the yellow butterflies to a 40-foot ladder leading us into the darkness of Cenote Campepen. This cenote suggested that whole life can come from darkness. The butterflies seemed to remind of the never-ending cycle of life. With masks and snorkels, we all jumped into the still water to explore the solar lit underground. At one point we asked the local villagers of Chinkill to turn off the lights so that we could feel the energy and darkness inside the shell of the cavern. The adventure of the first cenote stimulated deeper excitement for what was to come.

Photo: courtesy of Mandy Allfrey.

Hidden in the jungle, the path to a secret cenote is marked by a stone carved with the outline of two white doves.  As the van stopped, our cenote guide and shaman, Russell, prepared the entrance for a shamanic prayer ceremony to cleanse each person who would enter. The mysterious call of a conch shell, dusting of flowers, tapping of rosemary, along with fire and smoke, prepared the way to enter. With flashlights, we followed a step system built through deep-rooted trees to an underground island. Surrounded by water in the pitch black, the flashlights spotlighted images of bats hanging from the stalactites. The darkness held a special rush of energy in the air, such as that of rebirth, of letting go of what was no longer needed. The fallen pieces of stalactites and rise of stalagmites told a story and came together to have formed what appeared to be a shrine or altar used by ancient Mayans.


Cave, open, underground, surface and cavern cenotes scratch the surface of what has been discovered in the Yucatán. Continuing our journey, we stopped to snap a photo of a 16th-century church in Telchaquilo built from stones of the Mayapan pyramids. The van followed the cenote care-taker to a true sapphire of the jungle. The mesmerizing blue water beneath the earth begged for a 30-foot leap of faith. The speed of the jump and force felt at impact, left me feeling good fortune was on my side! Those less adventurous (or wiser) entered by way of stairs! With room to swim, dive, and ponder from the natural cave inside, Nah-Yah took us from cenote timid to cenote drunk.

Ruth and Chris have charted over 300 cenotes and visited 101, and I now understand the soul connection to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula that they passionately express. Their first cenote dive was in November 2012, during an all-inclusive vacation to the Mayan Riviera. One cenote dive led them to re-evaluate life, dreams, and happiness. A strong connection pulled them to the caverns and waters under the Yucatán, and less than a year ago, YucatanCenotes.com sprouted to life, to explore the cenotes, as well as the “off the beaten path” ruins of the Yucatán.

The adventure led me to believe it was more than the discovery and exploration of the cenotes that excited Chris and Ruth. It was also the connection. The connection between life and people. We visited caretakers home for lunch and tasted one of the best meals I have eaten in the Yucatán, consisting of a tamale like dish “the arm of the queen”, ribs, salsa, and homemade tortillas. It was here the cenote tour came full circle for me. With three language barriers (Mayan, Spanish, and English), we were all able to connect over a meal. I won’t forget the simplicity of how the villagers lived, and I will never forget watching them send food and goodies home with our tour guides. The village left me with a gift.  No words were spoken, yet so many things were said. The glances, the smiles, the gestures, all understood. The happiness of those living here was abundant, leaving the thought in mind of what is the key ingredient to happiness, to living? I think Chris and Ruth may have figured it out.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Allfrey.

The experiences of the day were filled with natural ambiance, leaving us each with a treasured moment or memory.  Cenotes represent a philosophy of life. Darkness, an echo of the past. Light, a whisper of the future. Air, a breath of the present. Water, a touch of pure life. There is one thing for certain, I will be back to discover more cenotes with Chris, Ruth, and Russell. This time I hope they have their fireman’s rope ladder to go deeper.


Article originally appeared in the Yucatán Times

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