The Riviera Maya in Mexico is known for the best cenotes, cavern and cave diving in the world. An experience of a life-time that takes you through pristine, blue waters underground to admire stalagmites, stalagmites and columns and explore what the Mayan’s believed was the entrance to the underworld. Having dived all over the world I was apprehensive to say the least about the quality of diving I would get in the touristy town of Tulum and at the Tulum Cenotes, but as soon as I saw first cenote (seh-NOH-tay) all my suspicions washed away as my experienced guide Joe from MexiDivers introduced me to these wonders of the world. Diving the cenotes in Tulum is one experience you absolutely do not want to miss if you are a scuba diver, and I promise you will be addicted and begging for more. Read on to find out more about these mysterious cenotes, why Tulum Cenotes offers the best cavern diving in the world and why I trusted MexiDivers to dive the cenotes of Mexico.
Tulum’s Sacred Rivers – The World’s Best Cenote Diving
In Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes (naturally occurring sinkholes) scattered around, usually connected to a network of underground rivers – and Tulum Cenotes are all connected to three of the largest under-ground river systems, the Dos Ojos system, Sac Actun system and the Ox Bel Ha. These underground rivers are formed over eons as rainwater – which is very so slightly acidic – slowly dissolves the Yucutan’s characteristic limestone bedrock on it’s course for the ocean. So instead of atypical above-ground rivers (there are zero rivers in the Yucatan!) here you end up with huge river systems hidden within the calcareous landscape until the limestone roof of the river collapses from the weight above and a cenote allows access to this pristine, clear water…or to the Mayan underworld!
While the reasons behind the Yucutan’s unique geology and cenote formation is still debated, its is atleast partially attributed to the Chicxulub asteroid impact of 66 million years ago – which also famously ended the age of the dinosaurs!
In ancient Mayan culture, cenotes were considered the entrance to their underworld Xibalba, roughly translated as ‘place of fear’. In other mythologies the Maya rain god Chaak was thought to reside in cenotes, and even today Maya farmers in the Yucatán dry season still appeal to Chaak for rain. In the past cenotes were a place of ritual to incite rain and so, alongside dinosaur and human remains, cave divers here have discovered many ancient treasures from Maya times within the cenotes system – So keep your eye out for anything shiny! There is even evidence human sacrifices were made at cenotes, and although there is significant debate as to whether this actually occurred in pure Mayan society it is known to have occurred on a large scale at Chichen Itza’s sacred cenote thanks to a mixing of cultures over time.
Not to scare you off – but ancient Maya mythology says the road to the underworld was filled with obstacles such as a river filled with scorpions, a river filled with blood, and then a river filled with pus. A far stretch from the tranquil and beautiful Tulum Cenotes diving experience offered today (though you can go diving with crocodiles in Tulum if you really want!)
Scuba Diving In Mayan Underworld In Tulum
Tulum on Mexico’s Maya Riveria is world’s premier destination for cenote and cavern diving because of it’s close proximity to the world’s three largest underwater cave systems – The Dos Ojos system (56 km), Sac Actun system (61 km) and the Ox Bel Ha (129 km), all of which are still being explored! Although there are many, many cenotes surrounding Tulum relatively few provide all the necessary requirements for recreational cavern diving to go ahead safely. Obviously cavern diving is not like diving in the open ocean, the principles are slightly different – but if you listen and follow all instructions from a good, safe dive guide you will have nothing to worry about!
And here are some of the rules for safe cavern diving in Tulum (and around the world!):
- Always stay within the limits of natural light penetration in the cavern.
- Do not venture further than 60 meters or 200 feet from the nearest cavern opening.
- Only go with a certified dive master / cave diving expert who is familiar with the site.
- Follow all guidelines (temporary or permanent) given to you by your guide.
- One flash light per diver is a minimum.
- Have no more than 4 divers per guide.
- Do not pass a maximum depth of 21 meters.
- Always follow, but do not touch, the guide rope.
- Follow the cavern diving rule of thirds: 1 third of a tank into the cavern, 1 third of a tank out of the cavern and 1 third as a safety reserve
A cavern is defined as an area of cave with natural daylight and found at a maximum depth of 60m from the surface.
The most popular cenotes to scuba dive in near Tulum are:
Explore Land And Sea With MexiDivers Tulum
Given the recent tourist boom in previously sleepy Tulum, it’s no wonder many, many dive shops have pop’d up to cater for demand – but as every scuba diver knows, quality is king and it always pays to go with the best. This is why after extensive research I opted for a trip with MexiDivers Tulum due to their long and stellar service record, passionate staff, family run operation and location: beachside on the edge of the Tulum Hotel Zone. They are also the only dive shop in Tulum with their own boat to explore the reefs off Tulum (part of the second largest barrier reef system in the world!) is you fancy a bit of fresh and salty!
MexiDivers has a fully a equipt dive shop with new gear and well-looked after equipment that made getting in and getting decked out a breeze. Their guides were all very friendly, passionate and knowledgeable about what they were doing and Carlos, the shops owner, ensures thorough rigorous training and checks are carried out so that each and everyone of this guides are of an exceptional level. For my dives in Dos Ojos I had Joe, a guide with 17 years experience diving int the ocean and cenotes and from the moment I meet him I felt calm and confident. He clearly explained the rules and concepts to me at the dive site before hand, gave a thorough briefing and in the water was an absolute pro -knowing the best way of entry, dive position, even how to light photos (but sadly even he couldn’t save me from my GoPro’s bad lighting settings!). Bottled water was provided for after the dives, as was a high quality underwater flashlight so you do not need to worry about bringing your own. A new air-conditioned van was used to take us to the dive sights – and, unlike many other unscrupulous operators in town, all taxes, entrance fees, gear rental etc was included in the one off fixed price. It’s that easy!
Mexidivers is affiliated with PADI, SDI and TDI so you are also able to under-take your open water and advanced courses in this diving mecca – a great place to do so given the ability to undertake incredible fresh and salt water dives, and to take classes right opposite the beach with the cool breeze blowing rather than being stuck in the main town like all the other dive shops! While I did not have time on my trip to explore the Tulum Reef, I did go a bit further down the coast in Belize and the visibility and coral structures were out of this world. Truly world class diving – so if you have the time talk to Carlos about a package deal with a mix of both! If you are short on time MexiDivers also runs like a fine-tuned machine so it’s dive tours really only take half a day allowing for another activity in the morning or afternoon – perfect if you only on a brief long weekend in Tulum from the United States.