What oh what is a cenote? When investigating vacations in the Mayan Riviera everyone seems to be talking about cenotes? What are they and why does everyone keep talking about them?
First lets get the pronunciation correct. Cenote is pronounced Say-note-tay. Many times we here people calling a cenote a kan-note, so if you have said this and the person on the receiving end has looked at you blankly, it was just the pronunciation of the word.
Spanish is a phonetic language so each letter is pronounced when you sound out word. Unlike English, there are no silent letters, few hidden, complicated rules and once you understand the Spanish alphabet and the sounds that each letter and vowel makes, pronunciation is easy. Okay, digression, back to the history and formation of cenotes.
Cenotes are an intrinsic part of Tulum and life in Tulum
Millions of years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula was a coral reef, alive and well in the Mexican Caribbean Ocean. Eventually this reef became exposed to air, and the coral formations turned into limestone. Now if you have ever seen a coral reef, it is porous, has caverns, natural holes and caves, it is a holey wall, not a solid flat wall. Once exposed to the elements, the coral turns to limestone but maintains the pourous and ‘holey’ nature of a coral reef.
Fast forward a few millions years. As the coral reef is exposed, vegetation and rain water surround the rocks and caverns. The limestone acts as a filtration system for the water, the roots of trees and plants make their way through the porous rock to get to the pooling fresh water and cenotes, fresh water pools formed in the area. That was the super fast version of the formation of the cenotes. This natural phenomena is only found in the Yucatan, covering the area of Quintana Roo, Yucatan and in some parts of Campeche. No where else in the world will you find these fresh water holes, caverns and caves. And they differ immensely on land from what is found under the ground. Read on.
Above ground at a cenote
Above ground around a cenote you will find vegetation, trees, animals and birds. In many cases, you would not even know that there was water directly underneath you. A cenote is when the underground cave system is exposed to land, the naked eye and you see the fresh water. In a direct translation, a cenote is a cavern, semi-cave that has a source of light, a cave that is exposed to the land.
Below ground at a cenote
This is when you find out what all the chatting and talking is about. The beauty of a cenote is not really on land, the beauty is really when you see the cavern at water level, when you gear up with a mask and snorkel and see what exists in the water. It is a whole different world that is unlike any other place on the planet. The fresh water makes your view through your mask clear as a bell, the water magnifies the stalagmites and stalagtites (natural rock formations) making the view even more majestic than it is.
Sustainable Tourism – Take care of the cenotes when you visit
When visiting, swimming, snorkeling and diving in a cenote, remember the following when entering these delicate underwater environments.
1. Use a biodegradable sunscreen.
2. Do not touch the formations. The cenotes are like a museum so please do not touch the formations that you see.
3. Respect the surrounding vegetation and cenote animals. These diverse eco-systems depend on each other for survival. Do not feed any birds or animals that you see. If there are fresh water fish do not throw food to them.
4. Watch where you are stepping and where you are finning. Your feet or fins can do damage to the cenotes. Enter the cenote either through the provided stairs or by ending with a giant stride.
5. Use spit to clear your mask, not the commercial mask cleaners that can be purchased at water sports stores. Your spit is the best way to clean your mask and ensure that it does not fog up! Really, true, ask the pros. Their spit is what un-fogs their snorkeling or dive mask.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. Have a look at these photos of a cenote above ground and then below ground! Check out the cenote at Casa de las Olas as we are one of the few to have a cenote across the street from our beach villa in Tulum!