"Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it."
I came across this line while reading What I was Doing While You Were Breeding by the hilarious comedy writer, Kristin Newman. While I related to her prioritizing adventure over the traditional life path – marriage, house, babies – this phrase really resonated with me, articulating what I have long felt to be my personal travel mantra. What is the thing that I can only do/eat/see here and now in this moment? Carpe that diem!
When I travel, I take what I want much more boldly and decisively, maybe because life flies by at a more rapid clip and my time in any given place is so limited. Maybe I'm just more aware of life’s brevity so I'll shed my inhibitions and ride a camel or get a mud massage in a volcano because why the hell not?
While there are a plethora of ways you can spend your time in Mexico like frolicking on gorgeous beaches or eating yourself into a food coma in glamorous Tulum, THE THING to do in the Yucatan Peninsula is to explore at least one of the thousands of majestic cenotes.
What are Cenotes?
At the risk of diminishing the mystique surrounding the magical, underground turquoise pools, cenotes (pronounced say-no-tay) are natural swimming holes that are the result of porous limestone bedrock collapsing to reveal pristine waters beneath. Having been slowly filtered through the earth, the water found in cenotes is so clear and pure that you can spot little silver fish among the mineral-rich algae growing beneath the surface.
Translating to ‘sacred well,’ cenotes were not only revered by Mayans because they were a reliable water source during droughts but they were also believed to be portals to communicate with the gods. Considered spiritual grounds, they were also sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.
Where can you find cenotes?
They can be found all over the world from the Devil’s Bath in Canada to Ewens Pond in Australia, but they are often associated with the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico as there are over 6,000 different cenotes to be found there alone. The most popular cenotes are open-air pools but there are also a great number to found in caves where the water is not exposed to the surface at all.
Which are the most popular in Mexico?
Dos Ojos Cenote is not only the largest but a mere 15-min drive from Tulum. It’s complex, cave system is split in to two sections: one with clear clear waters, perfect for snorkelling, and one that is dark and ideal for divers.
You can also visit Gran Cenote from Tulum that has a jungle of palm trees in centre as well as a platform for sunbathing.
Another favourite is Cenote Azul near Playa del Carmen, crystalline, open waters studded with giant chunks of limestone and surrounded by dense greenery. For three cenotes for the price of one, visit Eden and Cristalino on the same trip to Azul.
The most recognizable cenote is probably the one I visited on my trip to Tulum.
From Tulum town, my Asian Twin and I hired a local collectivo for the day to take us on a tour of the pastel-toned town of Valladolid, the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, and the highlight of the trip – Ik Kil Cenote.
From the ground level was a gaping circular hole, the edges laden with foliage and tangled vines that hung all the way down to the glassy pool below.
We carefully descended into the damp limestone caves, moss and leafy plants creeping along the rough walls, and immediately dove into the cenote. The water was crisp and refreshing, jolting me awake from the heat stupor that had overcome me since arriving in the Mexico. Floating on my back, I felt rain droplets that was filtering through the pockets of earth in the walls fall on my cheeks. Little fish swam around my legs as I gazed up at the open maw at the top of the cave where sunshine came streaming through.
Despite the raucous antics of neon orange lifejacket bedecked German tourists leaping off of the raised, man-made platform, Ik Kil Cenote had a weighty, awe-inspiring atmosphere appropriate for an ancient Mayan site. Even though it’s a popular spot to visit in the Yucatan, it still felt hidden and magical like Fern Gully, deeply ensconced in a jungle where fairies flit about freely and have rock parties with visiting humans that they shrank. That can happen, right? Well, the magic of this cenote is that it made me feel like it could.
- To preserve the cenotes, it's essential that you sitch your regular sunscreen for a biodegradable one.