Why Travel to Quintana Roo

The bedrock of the Yucatán peninsula is unique to the world. The layers of carbonate and soluble rock, mostly limestone, allow cenotes to form. Local to only this region of the world, cenotes are fresh water pools created by collapsed limestone around the land that was once ruled by the Mayans. The intensity of the colors in these freshwater pools are like swimming in a pool of smeared colors on a painter’s palate; turquoise blends with navy blue and forest green. Cenotes were easily my favorite new discovery while traveling through Quintana Roo, Mexico.

With only a small amount of soil on the surface to contain it, rain water filters down through the rock and, through the progression of time, forms underground rivers. As these rivers flow, they erode the soluble rocks around them and carve out tunnels and underground caverns. Eventually, without enough support beneath them, the roofs of these caverns will collapse, exposing the ground water beneath.

Cenote is the Spanish equivalent of the Mayan word “dzontot”, meaning “well.” These wells were the only source of fresh water for the Mayan people occupying the Yucatán. It is easy to see why many of their sites are built around or within close proximity of, these natural structures. There are estimated to be around 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatán, many of which still remain undiscovered.

Some cenotes appear like ponds on the surface, whilst others can look like ponds that lie tens of feet below the surface and have sheer walls: appearing much like a well. Older cenotes, may lie tens of feet below the surface and have caverns or overhangs around or above them.

Cenotes themselves can lead to vast underground caves, many have yet to be mapped. The second largest cave in the world is Sistema Sac Actun and lies in the Municipality of Tulum, inside the Riviera Maya. The two longest underwater cave systems in the world, are located in the state of Quintana Roo. Both have consistently increased in length as they have been explored.

They were the Mayan’s sole source of fresh water, but they also had religious connotations. Water from some cenotes was thought to be holy and collected by priests and used during rituals at temples. In Mayan mythology, there were three entryways into Xibalbá, the underworld, and one of these was believed to be at the bottom of cenotes.

The Maya also believed they could communicate with the Gods by offering sacrifices and gifts into cenotes, including humans. The rain god Chac was thought to live at the bottom of cenotes and this was depicted in murals and artwork. The Water Lilly Serpent has also been depicted in these artworks and it was believed that the presence of lilies in a cenote denoted that the water was pure.

Water from some cenotes was thought to be holy and collected by priests and used during rituals at temples.

In Mayan mythology, there were three entryways into Xibalbá, the underworld, and one of these was believed to be at the bottom of cenotes. The Maya also believed they could communicate with the Gods by offering sacrifices and gifts into cenotes, including humans. The rain god Chac was thought to live at the bottom of cenotes and this was depicted in murals and artwork. The Water Lilly Serpent has also been depicted in these artworks and it was believed that the presence of lilies in a cenote denoted that the water was pure.

On the grounds of Chichen Itza, there is also a sacred cenote also referred to as the Well of Sacrifice, where they would throw relinquished bodies into the waters covered with head dresses and jewelry, weighing them down and thwarting them from swimming or floating.

What To Do When Visiting Cenotes

Cenotes are the perfect location for snorkeling and scuba diving. The filtration of the water through the bedrock into these underground rivers leaves them almost entirely free of floating particles; resulting in crystal clear waters and visibility up to a spectacular 200ft (60meters). Besides awe inspiring underwater landscapes and a variety of aquatic plant life, there is also a quantity of fish that inhabit these subterranean worlds including, but not limited to: tetras, catfish, and wild mollies.

Not a fan of snorkeling or scuba diving? This certainly does not mean that you shouldn’t visit a cenote. Not only are they naturally beautiful wonders but cenotes are natures very own naturally formed swimming pools. Here, shaded by the surrounding jungle you can find spots to sunbath and then cool off inside the water, which year round stays at a blissful 24°C (75°F). You may also see some jungle wildlife swing by whilst you are relaxing here in these jungle oases.

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