A Cenote is a natural sinkhole found in Yucatan, formed when the limestone ground collapses to expose the groundwater below the surface. There are over 7000 such Cenotes in the Yucatan Penninsula. For the Ancient Mayans, it was a mysterious and sacred place, associated with the underworld. Certain cenotes were even used for Human sacrifices, while most of them served as a source of freshwater for the region devoid of any major rivers or lakes!
We swam in a few simple Cenotes in Coba, after climbing the Pyramid (Read here). But many of them are openings to vast cave systems that go deep underground. Some of them have been well-explored and mapped by experienced divers, so that lesser experienced divers can visit them safely. These flooded caves and caverns present a unique environment – cave formations, crystal clear still water and sunlight effects – presents truly an out of the world experience for those who are brave enough to venture in.
Open Water vs. Cavern vs. Cave Diving
First it is important to differentiate between diving in an Open Water, Cavern and Cave.
Open Water divers always have air to surface in emergency, like in open sea. But in Cavern and Cave diving, there is an overhead, preventing the diver from ascending for air in case of emergency. However in Cavern diving, there is always a fast exit to the Open water environment and surface light is available at all points. The dive path is clearly marked with a guide line and you don’t require specialised dive equipment. This kind of dive can be attempted if you have an Open Water Certification and there is a Cave Diving instructor to guide you. When you dive Caverns, you’ll come across the entrances to caves, and must never venture there. Cave diving is the most dangerous of them all and require specialised training and equipment. Most deaths are when people don’t follow instructions (See this Video)
Diving Dos Ojos Cenote Caverns
I signed up with CenotXperience Team in Playa del Carmen for a day of Cenote diving. They picked me up from the Hotel in the morning and drove to their office in town. After finishing the formalities, we drove to the dive sites. This was the first time I was going to the dive site on land, usually it’s via boat !
The Original plan was to dive in a cenote called Chac-Mool. But when we reached there, the authorities requested submission of additional documents as Government had made rules more strict due to a recent death of diver! Not encouraging moment for first time cavern diver! So our guide took us to Dos Ojos, where all the papers where in order for him.
Dos Ojos means Two Eyes in Spanish. This is because of the shape of the Cenote. There are two eyes or caves that provide access to the system. From here, there are two established routes – Barbie Line and Bat Cave. Barbie line is named so, because at the end of the line where you turn back, there is a barbie doll figure, and Bat Cave, because there is cave full of bats en route!
We first did the Bat Cave Line, followed by Barbie Line. It was a surreal experience. Initially it started a bit scary, with no air above to surface and near dark situation! However, within a few minutes, I got used to it. All I had to do was relax and follow the dive master. Here is the video summarising my experience.
Diving in freshwater, that too underground was a entirely different experience vs diving in the sea! First thing that you realise is that your buoyancy is completely different in freshwater, requiring less weights. Then, the water is extremely clear. At Certain point you feel as if you are floating in air. The hand signals used for underwater communication do not apply here as the team is swimming in a line, in forward direction. So the signalling is done with help of your flashlight. Which is brings me to the next point – you need a light source to navigate and observe the environment. Although you can spot the surface light almost everywhere, it is not enough. The most thrilling (and scary) fact is that there is an overhead. It is like diving inside the wreck of a ship. You can’t immediately surface in case of an emergency! You always follow the Dive Master and in a preassigned order – not deviating from the line at any point of time.
What made this dive memorable was the incredible sights it offered – floating past intricate geological formations that took thousands of years to form, in crystal clear waters, with sunlight seeping through creating emerald beams of light, all with the adrenaline rush of going through a submerged maze! There was risk, but if you ask me it was well worth taking it!