If you're vacationing in Cancun or other parts of Mexico along the Riviera Maya on the country's east coast, you're bound to see tours and advertisements for visiting cenotes.
Most cenote visits consist of snorkeling or swimming in a cenote.
Since cenotes are deep sinkhole caverns in the earth typically filled with teal hued water and framed by rocks and swinging vines, this will no doubt be memorable, but here's a little secret: scuba diving is the best way to see a cenote. Here’s why.
Cenote Scuba Diving Means Less Crowds
First off, it gets you away from the crowds. If you work with a local dive master, he or she may know a cenote that is more off the beaten path.
Even if there are other people swimming in the cenote when you arrive for your dive, chances are good that there won’t be any other dive groups there and you'll find seclusion in the depths of the cenote far below the splashing legs of swimmers and snorkelers.
Cenote Serenity and Sights
Down in the deep part of the cenote, you’ll discover a nearly meditative type of quiet. Away from the people on the surface, you’ll find it’s just you, your dive partners, and your systematic breathing.
Darkness descends over much of the cenote and you’ll want to bring a flashlight with you to shine on the walls of the cenote and into cracks and fractures.
While some cenotes have underwater life, many are mostly devoid of fish or other sea creatures.
What you’ll find instead are underwater stalagmites, stalactites, fossils and other rock formations plus an incredible play on light.
Cenotes are often partially covered at the top, but where the sunlight is able to break through and into the water results in long streams of shimmering light that reaches far into the depths of the clear cenote and these light beams are delightful to swim in and around.
The water will be highlighted a vibrant blue around these rays of light and the light itself will act as a delightful kaleidoscope in the water.
Some cenotes have other ethereal aspects as well. Siete Bocas Cenote, where I went scuba diving, has a marine layer located 90 feet below the surface.
If you've ever wondered what it might feel like to float on a cloud, this natural phenomenon may be your closest chance to discovering the feeling.
Favorite Cenote Scuba Diving Features
The marine layer was the highlight of my own Riviera Maya cenote dive, though I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the dive.
It was incredibly peaceful, much more so than my other ocean dives where I’m always scanning the water to look for a sea creature, not wanting to miss out on seeing a turtle, eel or rare fish.
Knowing there wasn't much of anything live to see down in the cenote meant I was more present in simply enjoying the serene, floating aspect of scuba diving and taking my time to leisurely explore the rock formations and crevices and taking in the soothing blue beauty of the water where the light hit it.
The rays of light were also a highlight of the dive and I spent quite a bit of time lazily drifting among them.
Scuba Gear and Guides
If you’re interested in doing a cenote dive, consider hiring a dive master to take you out. Even if you’re adept at scuba diving without a guide (always dive with a partner, though), a cenote is very different form an open water ocean dive.
For example, the dive master pointed out that it wasn't good to spend more than five minutes at the marine layer – not just because of the deep water, but because the chemicals that make up that layer consist of nitrogen, which isn't good to be around for too long.
The dive master also was able to guide my husband and me to the best underwater rock formations, which we might not have found otherwise since it was so dark where the light rays didn't hit, even with our flashlights.
After our dive, he told us what opening of the cenote is fun for cliff jumping so we ended our excursion with more adventure.
Your dive master can make it easy on the equipment side of things as well, by knowing where to rent reputable dive gear.
To find a dive master or a place to rent equipment for your dive, check with your hotel or resort. Chances are, they’ll know of a reputable company to recommend.
If where you’re staying isn't of help, check out the Riviera Maya section of scubadiving.com.
Getting Scuba Certified in Mexico
Want to scuba dive in a cenote, but aren't scuba certified?
You’ll be hard pressed to get a guide or equipment without your open water dive certification, but luckily there are many opportunities to get certified during your vacation in Mexico.
Most resorts have some sort of dive certification program – either onsite or through a partner – in which you can participate. There are also local dive shops in Cancun and Playa del Carmen that offer certification courses.
Keep in mind you won’t be starting out your diving career with a cenote dive. You’ll have to take a written test followed by a pool dive and then several ocean dives.
Once you’re certified, which you can usually get done in a week (just be prepared to spend a large majority of your days dedicated to that) you’ll be all set to experience the magical atmosphere of a cenote dive.