Why do you have to be really bright to go into the dark…

Under the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico lie several widely distributed cave systems where the Mayans found drinking water and spiritual energy. But the history of the cenotes is much older and goes back to the time of the last ice age and before. I have dived several wrecks, but other than smaller caves in Malta, I had not done much cave diving. When you get right down to it, you dive Cavern as a certified normal diver, not Cave. Cave divers need a (technical) Full Cave Brevet according to TDI. However, Cavern means a lot of caves, because you dive up to 60m into the caves. Since there are often several surface possibilities per diving place, one comes with a good Guide (which knows these then also) already quite far.

Because I knew Dirk before, I had contacted him directly with my wish to go diving in Mexico Cavern. Dirk runs the www.cenote-diving.com and offers a real full service on-site in Playa del Carmen. This went for me from organizing the pickup in Cancun at the airport, booking the hotel Casa Ejido and of course the implementation of all dive trips including meals.

Casa Ejido is a very clean, neat, small hotel that comes with and without breakfast. The rooms are small apartments with a kitchen and sitting area. It is about a 20-minute walk from the Casa to the tourist mile (5th Avenue).

We always had breakfast together on the way to the dive site in a small Tacco bar along the way. And the food is awesome if you like it hearty in the morning. It’s all freshly and cleanly prepared and the juices are homemade from real fruit.

Then in the evening I often ate on the tourist mile. Playa del Carmen is extremely well-developed in terms of tourism, especially for the American market, and you can buy anything your heart desires here. But the people you meet in the countless bars are very international and of all ages. The atmosphere is great and you get to talk to lots of great people. They speak Spanish and English by hand and foot. One of the 3 languages always works. Many people talk about crime and banditos in Mexico. In Playa del Carmen I have seen nothing of it. Surely there are other parts of Mexico where this is a problem. I felt safe every minute, even walking back to my hotel at night.

Here is a quick overview of my dive sites. A more detailed description you will find below:

Day: Cenote Carwash & Grande Cenote
Day: Cenote Angelita & Cenote Calavera
Day: 2 dives Cozumel in the Caribbean Sea
Day: Cenote Le Pit & Cenote Tak-Bi-Luum
Day: Cenote Zapote (HellsBells)
Day: Cenote Dos Ojos
Day: Casa Cenote & Pet Cemetery (aka. Cenote Sac Actun)
Day: Cenote Dreamgate
Day: Cenote Donde es Tamos & Cenote Tak-Bi-Ha
Day: Cenote TajmaHa & Cenote Chak Mool
Day: Cenote Le Pit & Tak-Bi-Luum
Day: Cenote ChikenHa & Cenote Ponderosa
Day: Cenote Dreamgate

Dirk from Cenote-Diving.com knows his business and gives you a good briefing every time. Since the cenotes are all located on private property, they of course cost an entrance fee and may only be dived with the permission of the owner. And Mexico is governed by Texas gun laws. You would be allowed to defend your property with a firearm. But Dirk knows them all and therefore there are no problems.

Dived we are always so between 40 and 50 minutes. That is a lot for the region and fair because the other dive centers dive American. And the Americans always run out of air after 20 – 30 minutes. But Cenote-Diving does private guiding rather than mass handling. And therefore the quality is right.

Day 1: Pick up was at 07:30h at the hotel. The first cenote was called Carwash and was my first contact with the cave world of Yucatan. The cenote is located in the area of Tulum and the Maya are not far away. The briefing was great and Dirk knows his craft. Most of the cenotes, including this one, are on private property. At “Carwash” we simply drove up backward with the American pickup. There are sanitary facilities there, although they seem very adventurous. The entrance was over a wooden platform. The water is about 26 degrees and crystal clear. The interesting part of the cenote is usually not the immediately obvious one. From the actual lake/waterhole, you dive through hidden openings into the area of the actual caves. Still crystal clear here in the light of the diving touch lies the actual treasure of stalactites and a cave network of 180km. After 45 minutes in absolute darkness, we resurfaced. The maximum diving depth was 15m. The cenote is called Carwash because cars used to be washed there with the water.

The second dive site on this day was the Grande Cenote. This cenote belongs to the same group of caves as Carwash and also here the journey was not far. In this cenote, there is a bathing platform from which swimmers, snorkelers, and divers can reach the water. Nevertheless, we divers seem like aliens between the half-naked people. But the separation between these clothing styles then takes place in the water. Some only see a small part of the cave system and we divers disappear into the realm of darkness. Through dripstone caves, we glide silently and disciplined without touching anything along in these endless systems. The normal fin stroke is not appropriate here, because it would stir up too much sediment. After a maximum depth of 12.5 m and after 48 minutes we see again the dawn of sunlight and the kicking legs of the swimmers above us. It is already a special ballet.

Day 2: Also today’s dive trip leads us near Tulum. On the way, we enjoy the Mexican breakfast with fresh tacos and fresh juice. The first cenote Angelita was formed by a piece of debris from the meteorite that was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. The impact of the debris piece left a hole in which we dive today. Basically, this cenote is not spectacular if it were not for the fact that the debris island in the center is surrounded by a ring of fog at a depth of 25 meters. This is hydrogen sulfide in which the divers literally disappear. The cenote itself is 57m deep and under the layer in it pitch black.  But we did not go that deep. After 37 minutes and 32,6m depth, we were back on the surface.

Our second dive of this day leads us to the Cenote Calavera. The entrance is spectacular: a jump from the edge of the cenote into the 4m deeper water. If you look back after the dive, you will understand the name of the cenote: Calavera means skull. The light of the outside world shines through three holes. In the caves of the cenote, there is a special feature: a fissure layer between the colder fresh water above and the warmer salt water below. The halocline is the layer through which you dive. The otherwise clear environment becomes blurred, and when viewed at the right angle, the layer acts like a mirror or the surface of the water. Even if you feel like you’re surfacing, your regulator stays in for now. On our 48-minute journey through the caves, we dove through the halocline several times. The maximum depth was 14.8m. After returning to the entrance, the ladder was also an adventure in itself: slippery and with rungs of different heights.

Day 3: Today we go diving in the sea: Cozumel Island is 40 minutes from Playa del Carmen by ferry and Dirk takes us to the ferry in the morning. After 40 minutes arrived we walk about 150 m to the jetty, where Volker Pohl is waiting for us with an American dive boat. After the briefing on board, we assemble our equipment and enjoy the ride to the first dive site in the nature reserve of Cozumel. Dive site 1 is called Punto Palancar and is a drift dive. In the Caribbean underwater world we pass all colorful fish and a turtle in the current that takes us along. After 72 minutes and a maximum depth of 23,8 m, we were back on the surface.

After a rich meal on board and a surface break of 1,5h we started our second drift dive at a second dive site called “La Francesca”. Because of the current, we dived this one backward. In the Caribbean waters, we passed turtles, a shark, and a moray eel, along with all the other expected marine life. After 66 minutes and max. depth of 18 m we were back on the boat. The boat drove us back to the jetty, where we made our way back to the ferry.

Day 4: Today we dive a highlight: the cenote Le Pit was the film set for the cave diving drama by James Cameron “Sanctum”. Most of the underwater scenes were shot here. Why was the film crew shoot exactly here? It is absolutely mystical place. Rays of light break through the dungeon roof like laser beams and define a point of light somewhere below the 40m mark. Entry is via a wooden platform. While it’s twilight in the pit proper, it’s pitch black under the overhangs with its stalactites. Through the light beam in the pit, you always get a clue where the exit is. After 45 minutes and 40m depth, this dive was unfortunately over. Ingenious atmosphere! Quote from the movie Sanctum:

In Xanadu Kubla Khan created
A magnificent pleasure palace.
Where Alph, the holy river, flowed through,
the deep caves, infinite in size,
down to the dark ocean.

The second dive we made in the cenote “Tak-Bi-Lum”. Due to our nitrogen saturation, Dirk chose a cenote with a maximum depth of 8 meters. The entry platform is deep in a cave and the visible cenote is shallow and almost not spectacular. However, through a hidden entrance, you descend into a cave labyrinth that could not be more varied and bizarre. Deep caves, the most diverse stalactites, narrow passages, and always surprises around the next bend. One actually expects the beast from Alien in the darkness. After 51 minutes we found the exit from this bizarre world.

Day 5: Today we do only one dive. However, the Cenote Zapote, or as the divers call it “HellsBells” is already something special. This time our way led us in the direction of Cancun, where we had breakfast again Tacos. After that, we went on narrow paths through the jungle. The entrance is about 9 meters lower than the rest of the jungle. But a staircase leads down safely. After you are in the water, you can see a great picture on the surface: the circular hole has a diameter of about 3-4 m and steep walls rise up all around. The descent is fast and at about 9m the crater widens. At 35m there is a layer of sulfuric acid that clouds the water. At this depth hang thousands of bell-shaped stalactites, from a few centimeters to several meters in size. Here you dive several laps and then begin the very controlled ascent. Due to the great depth, the deco is unavoidable. By the way, everything you drop greedily lands at 51m depth. After 48 minutes and with a max. diving depth of 33,5m we were back on the surface.

Day 6: Our dive destination today is the Cenotes Dos Ojos, which means two eyes. Meant are the eyes of a skull, which the two entrances resemble. The entrances belong to a cave network with a length of about 80 km. The entrance cave is entered from the side and has a platform from which divers, snorkelers, and swimmers can slide into the water. Primarily it looks like a pool, but underwater is the entrance to the cave world. Our first dive takes us through countless stalactite caves and past a Barbie doll being eaten by a crocodile. After 54 minutes and with a maximum diving depth of 7.3 m we were back at the starting point.

After a short surface interval of 51 minutes, we started our second dive. This time through another tunnel we passed again through countless caves and surfaced briefly in a bat cave to have a look around. After that, we continued until we were back at the starting point after 48 minutes. The maximum diving depth was 9,5m.

Day 7: Driving towards Tulum, today we start our dive where the Sac Actun cave system ends in the sea: at Casa Cenote. Here the underground river flows into the sea, resulting in a great mixture of fresh and salt water. And of course, the current is not to be missed. The entrance is like a lagoon surrounded by mangroves. They form a part of the local cave roof. Among the rest are the remains of a manty (manatee). We continue against the current to the exit of the Sac Actun cave system. Here the disturbance is felt the most. With the current and without effort, we then head back towards the entrance. After 51 minutes and with a maximum dive depth of 7.6m we finished our first dive.

Our second dive site belongs to the same cave system Sac Actun: the Cenote Pet Cemetery Cenote SacActun. Already on foot, this cenote is a picturesque place. The stalactites here already hang above the water surface and small islands with holes in the cave roof create a mystical picture. The remains of the Mexican DjungleCamp are also here. One probably broke off this attempt, because otherwise the participants would have been eaten by the mosquitoes. Our dive starts at a wooden platform and leads us through countless of the most beautiful caves with ever more beautiful dripstone formations. We float through this bizarre mystical world that just won’t end. Here areas have the name HellsGate and occasionally animal bones lie in the caves. These impressions are priceless and will be long after the dive ends after 54 minutes and a maximum depth of 8 meters.

Day 8: After a hearty breakfast in a roadside taco bar (like almost every morning), our route today took us along a forest road that only high-legged off-road vehicles can navigate to Cenote Dreamgate for 2 dives. The hole in the forest, the cenote, is at least 5m below us. The entrance is on a small cone that fills the cenote almost completely. Our dive, therefore, takes us under the rim. The first dive we make upstream of the underground river of the Sac Actum cave system. We dive through countless beautiful stalactite caves until we see the light again after 50 minutes and a maximum depth of 6 m. After a break of only 30 minutes, we start downstream again at the same place. This time the underwater landscape is more like the lunar landscape and still has so many stalactite caves. Often the world is rather mystical and bizarre. It is also still quiet. In the US the caves escaping air sometimes leave the impression, here below drive a subway. After 47 minutes, this submerged tour was also finished.

Day 9: today our way leads us to the less known cenotes. Both are located in the direction of Tulum. The first cenote is “Donde es tamos” and we have it to ourselves. It is characterized by the fact that here the underground river comes to the surface with the current. We dive it both upstream and later downstream. Great caves and stalactite formations line our way through the darkness. The cenote is part of the Sac Actun system. From the downstream area, we were allowed to return against the current. After 56 minutes and with a maximum dive depth of 8m we were back.

The second cenote is called Tak Bi Ha and belongs to the Dos Ochos cave system. There is only one hole in the jungle and the entrance to the cave is difficult. However, once this is overcome, you will find an exhilarating cave world, some of which are only 30cm deep. Dos Ochos can be seen underwater. Here the cave system demands everything from the diver in terms of buoyancy. After the dive, it was difficult to return to the upper world. After 50 minutes and with a diving depth of 0.3 to 7.6 m we were back.

So that also the cultural heritage does not come too briefly, we were today after the diving still in the Maya city Coba with its pyramids. We successfully climbed the pyramid Nohoch Mul and took many pictures.

Day 10: Today’s dive offered two new cenotes. The first destination after the Tacco breakfast was the cenote TajmaHa. Ha always means water. The cenote was interestingly located and had a good infrastructure.  In addition to countless caves, which merged into each other, ancient ceramics of the Maya and fossil shells were hidden in it. We also dived several times through the halocline layer between fresh and salt water. After 50 minutes and 13m depth, we were back on the surface.

The second cenote was called Chac Mool. This dive consists of three cenotes, which are dived one after the other.  Again and again, we dove deep through the halocline to reach the new cenote from below. On our way, we meet the holy Madonna in strictly catholic Mexico. It was great caves and many photos.

Day 11: At my request, we try today again “Le Pit” and thus look once again at the former filming location of the underwater scenes of the James Cameron film “Sanctum”. Unfortunately, there was a lot going on here today, Sunday. After the descent, unfortunately, a spectacle of the repulsive kind offered itself to us. A guide from the Akumal Dive Center was not interested in the divers who confided in him. Because some took pictures and others continued diving, the group of Italians got lost several times. Not to mention the rather reckless diving (buoyancy, fin slap, etc). In the pit, it is 40+ m, in some places 3 times as deep. Parts of the group were so confused that they just joined us. That could have been their death sentence, because here also Tec-Divers go into the water to 120m. So, I can’t recommend this dive center. Otherwise, the dive was again very mystical and fascinating. Maximum dive depth was 37m and after 42 minutes we were back on top.

For our second dive, we went again to the cenote Tak Bi Luum. This time we decided to dive the cenote clockwise. Tak Bi Luum is incredibly well decorated with stalactites and stalagmites and insanely diverse. In the meantime, an additional line was stretched by Dirk and we made a detour into a cave where we could surface briefly. Afterward, we dived further, passing among other things the offering table. After 54 minutes of relaxed diving, we were back.

Day 12: After the daily approach of our breakfast taco booth, today we drive first to the cenote Chiken Ha. Already at 08:44h we dive into this cenote. It has few stalactites and stalagmites but is very interesting to try due to its rocky and then wild rock formations. So far a connection to one of the larger cave systems is not known. But maybe that will come and then about 4 km of cave system may become 300 km. In any case, the entrance is very well developed. After 56 minutes diving time and 13m maximum diving depth we were back again.

Our second dive this day was in the Cenote Ponderosa. This cenote is not only excellent for training dives of FullCaveDivern, it also offers a lot for the eye. And this does not mean the half-naked tourists swimming in another area of the cenote. Starting in the Cenote Ponderosa we first have to put a guide line to the main line. This was set low to avoid snorkelers trying to follow it. That would be her certain death. We can follow it and after a few minutes we reach Cenote Rainbow1. We continue diving through massive haloclines, the layers between warm salt water below and cold fresh water above. This way we reach Cenote Rainbow2 with its mystical play of light. We continue our round until we reach Cenote Ponderosa again after 59 minutes and with a maximum diving depth of 16 meters.

Day 13: Today is the last dive of this vacation. Therefore, after our breakfast tacos, we leave early for Cenote Dreamgate. Being the first at the cenote always pays off. But we talk about the other divers we meet later. When we get into the water at 09:06h, more vehicles with divers arrive. First, we try the Cenote Dreamgate upstream. Passing the most amazing cave formations with stalactites and stalagmites we let ourselves drift undisturbed through infinity. We don’t go particularly deep, because a maximum of 7m can only be reached here. However, it feels deeper under the tons of rock. Sometimes the caves are high and wide that you could park a truck there, sometimes it is just big enough for a diver. After 55 minutes we were back at the starting point and more divers had arrived.

The second dive in the Cenote Dreamgate we do downstream. Here the decoration is less. Today there is also no noticeable current. We dive relaxed and enjoy the silence because nobody else is diving here. At some point, we pass an emergency exit where a lonely aluminum ladder protrudes into the water and surely has its origin in a hole in the cave ceiling. At such places, one is reminded that we reach only 6 meters of diving depth, but above us is only rock and jungle. Just surfacing like in the sea is only possible in certain places. After 48 minutes of diving we came back. Just in time before the other divers went into the water.