In this month’s feature blog we are going to look at one of the most amazing natural features of the Yucatan: cenotes. These amazing natural sinkholes are in great abundance all across the peninsula, opening up a vast subterranean world below. Gate48 is located near many great cenotes which are only a short drive away, and after you finish reading this article you will have a better understanding of why these are truly one of the world’s most amazing natural phenomena.
WHAT ARE THEY?
Cenotes are formed when limestone bedrock begins to give way and form holes, revealing the space where fresh water which has filtered through and collected below. This is the extensive underground river system that flows underneath. In fact it is a series of caves, all connecting to one another through various openings that go deep into the earth. It is quite possibly the largest of its kind in existence on planet Earth.
Rainwater falls upon the land and enters directly through the openings or through the porous nature of the land. Once inside it then becomes part of the flow of water running through which will eventually empty itself out into sea. This is why the waters of the coast have that distinct turquoise color that everyone finds so beautiful. This water is clear and pure, full of vitamins and minerals thanks to the algae that inhabit the space. As such it is great for human skin, offering protection and nourishment.
The meaning of the word cenote is ‘sacred well’, owing to the fact that the Mayan held them in great reverence. Cenotes were their main source of water when the land got dry. But they also had a very strong spiritual and religious connection for another reason: they Maya viewed them as the doorways into Xibalba, the underworld.
Villages were established around these wells to allow them easy access for enter the portals where they could speak with their gods. It was they who commanded that the Maya deliver them offerings of food, gold, and human sacrifice. Throughout the years many of these have been found by divers exploring inside. When you go inside of one you will understand why the Maya felt this way. The inside of one, with its cavernous walls and shafts of light pouring in, resemble a vast cathedral and fills one with awe.
EFFECTS ON VISITORS
Entering one of these caves is likely to have a powerful effect on you, transforming the way you view the Riviera Maya and even life in general. This is where the real power of the cenote resides, producing universally positive effects on visitors who descend into its depths. This is regardless of where they come from or what class or social status you may have on the surface. For those raised in urban environments, a visit will likely leave its mark, as the other worldliness of the environment transcends all culture and ethnic backgrounds to work its magic on those who venture inside. This is perhaps the best reason to visit one.
HISTORY OF HUMAN PASSAGE
Cenotes also reveal to us the history of the first prehispanic humans who inhabited this area. This is long before the Maya or the Olmec arrived, dating back to a much earlier age. Humans have been in and out of these subterranean places for thousands of years, leaving a trace of themselves behind. Going inside of a cenote is like taking a trip back in time.
WHAT NOT TO DO INSIDE A CENOTE
There are very specific rules governing what you cannot do inside of a cenote. Because of the threat of contamination sunscreen is not allowed, as it will contaminate the purity of the water. You must also be careful not to touch anything while you are inside. Despite the seemingly robust nature of the stalagmites and stalagtites they are actually quite fragile, and can easily be broken off or damaged when handled by human hands.
In a previous blog we looked at the cenote Rio Secreto, which is a 30 minutes drive from Gate48, just outside of Playa del Carmen. This is just one of many that you can explore, but one that we recommended visiting first. In future blogs we will make recommendations for other cenotes in the Riviera Maya that are worth visiting, so please stay tuned and subscribe to this blog in order to receive notifications when they appear on Gate48.
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