On Mexico’s Caribbean coast, near the white sandy beaches and sweeping vistas of Cancun, lies an underground world that is just begging to be explored – cenotes. The area’s extensive fresh subterranean waterways have created a series of cenotes, or natural wells, that run deep not only throughout the city’s surroundings, but throughout history as well.
Most geologist agree that the formation of cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula began millions of years ago, when miles of coral reefs became exposed as continents shifted and sea levels dropped. Over time, the reefs dried up and massive jungles took their place, covering up a layer of limestone, that would be the basis for what would become the hidden world of underground rivers, pools and caverns. As the continents shifted and sea levels rose again, cave ceilings collapsed, leaving behind sinkholes that eventually filled with water. These natural sinkholes became known as cenotes, a Mayan word meaning “cave with water” or “sacred well”.
The Maya regarded cenotes as a source of life because they provided a reservoir of water, which was vital to human survival during the drier months of the year. They built many of their civilizations around the openings to these sacred wells and performed various ceremonies in honor of the cenotes to ensure safe passage throughout the lands. For the Maya, cenotes represented an entrance to another world where humans could communicate with their gods. It was believed that small rain gods lived in the depths of the cenotes and that in order to be protected from the harsh climate, you had to pay your respects and ask permission to enter the land which they were guarding.
The various cenotes spread around the area of Cancun offer visitors an unparalleled experience when it comes to exploring the natural surroundings of the Yucatan Peninsula. Whether jumping in for a leisurely swim, kayaking as far as the underground rivers will take you, or diving to explore the depths of the majestic waters, there is no doubt that you will have experienced something like never before. After a few brief moments of taking in the grandeur of all that surrounds you, it is not hard to figure out why the Maya cherished the cenotes as they did. The diverse landscapes, impressive scores of flora and fauna, and awe-inspiring underground networks will leave visitors with a whole new appreciation for the capacity of Mother Nature.