Beautiful but full of mystery and magic at the same time, the cenotes are the most beautiful jewels of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sheltered by the jungle, swimming in a cenote is an adventure you cannot miss during your vacation in Cancun, the Riviera Maya, or Tulum.
And you will ask yourself, what are cenotes, and why are they so magical and mysterious? Here we tell you.
What are cenotes?
The cenotes are deep water wells, which are fed by the filtration of rain and the currents of the rivers that are born in the heart of the earth. That is why when swimming in a cenote you feel so fresh, imagine that the average temperature of its waters is a maximum of 75°F (24°C)!
These wells owe their name to the Mayans, who baptized them with the word Dz'onot, which means 'cavern with water', and from there it derived its current name: cenotes.
Types of cenotes
The cenotes found in Cancún, Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Yucatan have different ages and are classified as:
• Cavern cenotes. The youngest and its color varies from emerald green to intense blue and can be seen through the holes in its vault.
• Semi-open Cenotes . Middle-aged, although a part is already out in the open and may be connected with others.
• Open Cenotes. The older ones where the vault collapsed and are home to many species.
• Ancient Cenotes. Similar to a lagoon and an oasis in the middle of the Mayan jungle.
Formation of the cenotes
The vast majority of the cenotes are located in the Yucatan Peninsula and have a very porous limestone soil that, when it collapses due to the rain and current of the underground rivers, gives rise to the formation of the cenotes.
In the Riviera Maya, a phenomenon occurs where the sea water enters the continental part, and when it meets the freshwater of the underground rivers, the halocline dissolves the rock more quickly, causing landslides that form large flooded chambers such as the Dos Ojos and Sac Actun cenotes.
Flora and Fauna of the cenotes
Flora and fauna of a cenote are unique. There are species of fish such as guppy and catfish, as well as some varieties of marine crustaceans. In the cave cenotes inhabit fish such as White Blind Lady or the Yucatecan Blind Eel, both endangered.
Turtles, iguanas, frogs, and butterflies live in the surroundings, as well as swallows and Toh Birds, better known as the 'bird of the cenotes'.
The flora varies according to its proximity to the coast, and it is common to see tree roots integrating into the landscape, as well as various algae and lilies.
Importance of the cenotes in Maya culture
The cenotes for the Maya culture have been a symbol of duality since they represented life and death. They were a water source for the Maya cities and represented the gateway to the world of the dead: the Xibalbá.
As the beginning of the journey, various rituals took place in cenotes. The first official record of these ceremonies is in the Popol Vuh. In addition, the Aluxes, caretakers of the jungle, and the cenotes are representative. Nowadays, offerings are dedicated to them for the care of the crops, to give clearance to build and to request permission before entering a cenote.
Cenotes in present day
The cenotes in the present day are more important than ever as silent witnesses of the past and invaluable information about the planet development, our species, and even unknown data of the Mayan culture.
They are water sources due to the absence of surface rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula. They are also magnificent sites for nature exploration and archaeological expeditions, finding remains of ancient Mayans and older settlers.
Help preserve it by rinsing off before entering one and using environmentally friendly sunscreens and repellents.