A trip to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico can and should be epitomised by two words. Not ‘chicken fajitas’ – delicious as they are, particularly at the little sea front restaurant in Chen Rio Cozumel; nor ‘Mayan Civilisation’, although it is well worth paying a visit to the coastal temple ruins in Tulum, a short ride away from Puerto Aventuras and even closer to Akumal beach where swimming with turtles is as good as guaranteed. No, while all of these attractions are worthy contenders for the Mexican bucket list, the two words that should epitomise this fantastic country are ‘Cenote Diving’ – pure and simple, nothing else even comes close. Here’s why…
Luis is a larger than life character and greets us warmly for our first day of cavern diving. Buckets of confidence and an equal measure of charm oozes from our expedition leader as he explains that our first day will be led by Memo, a friendly and – by comparison – mild mannered Mexican cave diver. Sam and I take to the road with Memo as we head to Dos Ojos, a popular Cenote 45 minutes’ drive from down town Playa Del Carmen.
The Cenotes were incredibly important to the ancient Mayan civilisations; not only as a vital source of fresh water, but also because the many sink holes of porous limestone that constitute the sacred pools were commonly used for burial rituals. I was fascinated to learn that ‘The Caveman from Dos Ojos’ is the oldest human skeleton ever discovered in the Americas and dates to around 13,400 years BC. Today we delve into the very cave system where he was found.
An eager arrival at Dos Ojos Cenote is followed promptly by a look at our entry point for the first dive. It is breath taking. I had seen plenty of pictures and some videos before now, but seeing the crystal clear fresh water for the first time before my eyes was nothing short of exhilarating – and we hadn’t even geared up! Memo completes a safety briefing and explains our route through the intriguing cavern and into the infamous ‘Bat Cave’; it is here where we will slowly rise to the surface and look above for the many bats that will be hanging and flying over our heads – this is sizing up to be a dive like no other.
The water temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius, so for most divers a 3mm wetsuit or shorty will be enough to take off the chill; Samantha dives with two wetsuits as well as a shorty on top as she feels the cold more than most. Fortunately she is a very competent diver, and with fresh water only requires 2kg of lead for a successful descent, even wrapped up in all that buoyant neoprene!
As we descend I turn around and look to the surface as the light from above breaks through the water… crystal clear is now an expression I feel justified in using without fear of exaggeration. It feels as though I could see forever, if only the twists and turns of the cave system enabled me to do so. We forsake the sunlight as we slowly fin ourselves away from our entry point and delve deeper into Dos Ojos.
Although there are other dive operations at Dos Ojos today – and due to the choppy conditions out at sea, Memo explains that it’s likely that there are more than there would be on any other given day – we rarely encounter anyone else during our time underwater. The flicker and glow of a distant torch occasionally provides a reminder that we are not alone down here, but the dive is anything but crowded. We cruise through the gin like water at a beautifully calm pace and do our best to mimic the expert precision of our dive leader’s gentle fin flicks. We are astronauts in inner space. I am hooked.
Mid-way through the dive we ascend into a cosy opening in the cavern. Daylight does not reach us here and I quickly acknowledge the peacefulness of the silence within the bat cave as I resist the urge to blurt out a crass American style whooping noise to exclaim my satisfaction of the experience so far. Instead, I join my buddy in a moment of quiet contemplation. We look to the many crevices in the cave around us as the bats huddle together. Occasionally one will flutter past us and search for a new resting place. The only noise is that of a droplet of water. We float. We breathe it all in. This is diving bliss.
If cavern diving is something that you have dismissed until now then I urge you to re-consider; this is a great introduction to an experience that can only be described as ‘other worldly’. Perhaps you’ve thought about delving into the darkness but worry about the dangers and the extra training needed; fear not because with no special certification required to dive the Cenotes and with expert local guides on hand you’ll be in very safe hands.
So what are you waiting for? The Cenotes make for a spectacular diving expedition and should appear on the bucket list of any self respecting scuba adventurer!
Mat is a travel consultant for Dive Worldwide.