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The thesaurus has 33 more words that I could fill in here but I would rather fill the space with photos.

Cenotes are probably our favorite thing to explore right now -that is when we get tired of finding new secret beaches and watching the dolphins and snorkeling the reefs.

What is a cenote?  (pronounced SAY-NO-TAY)

A cenote is a deep natural pit or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.  Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water infiltrating slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter.  There are hundreds -no, thousands- of these sinkholes here in the Yucatan.  Most of the peninsula is made up of a massive plain of porous limestone.  The rivers that run through these underground passages provide the drinking water.

A copy of a painting showing the Maya people in a cenote

Much of our travels through Mexico have been over and around mountain roads.  When you get to the Yucatan, everything is flat.  There are not even any hills.  That’s one of the things that encouraged the Maya to build pyramids in their cities–the tops of them towered high above anything nearby.  Also, we notice there are not any major rivers -well, there are but you cannot see them because they are underground.

The Maya called them dzonot. The Spanish transliterated that as cenote. And of the estimated 3,000 or so cenotes on the Yucatán Peninsula, only about half have been documented.

We have been visiting different ones.  Sometimes they look like a small pond.  Sometimes they are a cave.  Since they are formed naturally, each one is unique.  Our goal is to see how many we can get to and rate them on a scale of 1 through 3.

  • #1 we saw it and checked it off the list
  • #2 was interesting enough to go back to
  • #3 we will DEFINITELY be back and want to bring our guests because they will think it’s so cool
  • And then there is the one we visited on our way home from Merida.


We were looking for a couple other ones we heard about and ended up in the parking lot of the Cenote Ik’kil near Chichen Itza ruins.  We paid 70 pesos each -which is less than $6 US.

There were several buses in the lot.

Here’s the thing about visiting places that the tourists go to on bus tours.  At times you are flooded with people.  If you are patient and wait 15 minutes, they all finish taking their pictures and have to jump back in the bus to head to the next spot.  We kind of have the hang of the pattern of this and we enjoy the in-between times when we have the whole place to ourselves.

That happened here.  At first there were about a hundred people down below.  Then they all left and we had the entire cenote to ourselves for nearly an hour.  Sweet!

Looking up from inside the cenote, it is 85 feet to the top of the opening.  It is 200 feet across.  The depth of the water is 150 feet.

150 feet people!

We keep Ginger Kitty in a life jacket in cenotes, by the way.

I get a little intimidated jumping in something so deep but the kiddos go right in.  Austin and India even jump off the platforms that are set up for diving.

Please know that there is no way photos can capture the beauty of this place.  You have to be there to hear the running water and smell the freshness of it and watch the light dance on the foliage and feel the power of being surrounded by the tall walls and seemingly bottomless pool.


Ready for a swim


How high are the walls down to the water? 85 feet!


Ready for adventure


Beginning the decent


Another family adventure


This is them at the bottom


Can you see them down there?


At noon the sun is directly above and just fills the cavern with light


Brave chicas


The boys are standing on the bottom of the ladder. This cenote is 150 feet deep!


It’s intimidating to know how far away the bottom is


“I really want to, but…” (no worries, I did jump in)


We ALWAYS keep a life jacket on Ginger Kitty in cenotes


I’m all out of words to describe this


Happy kiddos


Notice how tiny the people are compared to the mossy rocks


India says this is her favorite so far


Austin dove right off the platform in the back


Getting ready for another jump


Even our timid little India took the plunge


These 2 swim like fish


Who lives better than this?


Discussing what to eat for lunch


Ginger Kitty and David


David & Kelley


“Hey, my shadow looks like a fancy dress”




As we drove to Valladolid we came to cenotes SAMULA and X’KEKEN.  They share the same parking lot and entrance.

It used to be that you could find these places and go for free but now the local people have built nice stairways and bathroom facilities so there is a charge.  Still, I think it’s usually a pretty good deal.  And you are still in the jungle -just closer to a real toilet.  😉

Both of these cenotes are cavern pools.

Samula has a tree above with roots stretching all the way down into the middle of the ceiling -where there is just a small opening of less than 5 feet that lets in light.  At first you think you are looking at just an old tree growing next to an ordinary little hole, right?  Look at the picture closely and you will see a red dot.  Then in the next picture, you will see that dot is a person swimming way deep down in the hole.

We started with just one cute little Mayan girl asking if we wanted to buy her embroidered handkerchief and the minute I gave her my attention a bunch more appeared out of nowhere.  They all were selling the same thing.  Cute, but I had no pesos on me.


IMG_8358_600w IMG_8357_600w




Thank you very much to David and Kelley for traveling with us.  They have lived here in Playa for many years and know lots of things about lots of things.  They were great tour guides.  Let’s do it again, you guys.  🙂



{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Mikee March 2, 2013, 8:18 am

    I wanna go back!

  • Lori Borys March 2, 2013, 11:59 am

    I had no idea they had ones that you could go swimming in.

  • Laurel March 2, 2013, 12:35 pm

    Put this on our “to do” list

  • ginny brown March 4, 2013, 8:13 am

    I loved the stairs that were carved right out of the rock. and at first i thought those vines hanging down into the cave were a waterfall. You guys have so many beautiful places to swim down there.

  • Sue Ann March 4, 2013, 12:42 pm

    Super Cool!

  • Laura M. March 5, 2013, 9:46 pm

    Renzo and I got to visit our first cenote ever last week! Loving reading through your blog and showing my Kitty YOUR Kitty!

  • Adrian & Angie S. April 7, 2013, 1:47 pm

    Hi guys, love the blog!!
    We went to this same Cenote 12 years ago on our honeymoon. At that time we didn’t know what a cenote was so we didn’t bring our swimming suits.

  • Kellabong November 4, 2013, 3:12 pm

    I love your blog Camille! And your photos are stunning! My favorite is seeing your cuties having so much fun!

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