Destination Tulum – Scuba Diving the Cenotes
Little did I know that the extinction of the dinosaurs and some of the most extreme diving in the World were so closely connected. This was one of the many fascinating things we learned about the cenotes of the Yucatan peninsula. According to geologists, the meteor impact that caused the greatest mass extinction in history, fractured the limestone earth throughout the region. It was through these fractures that ground and salt water flowed for millions of years eventually causing sinkholes across the peninsula. These sinkholes, known as cenotes, were commonly used by the Mayans for fresh water, human sacrifice, and even thought of as the entrance to the Underworld. If that doesn’t sound like an amazing dive site, I don’t know what does. Easily accessible through Cancun, Tulum is the gateway to some of the greatest cenote diving in the world. Just outside of the main town, the accommodations along the strip of beach are world renowned for their relaxed atmosphere and five-star restaurants. It is combination of high quality living and world class diving that is hard to find in such close proximity. Our trip started out with the requisite visit to the dive shop the day before we were scheduled to dive. I always like to go say hi and get a feel for what we will be doing the following day. We chose to dive with Koox Diving and it was well worth the visit. There are so many available cenotes, and we were able to see pictures and dive profiles for each site. We chose to do four over two days with the difficulty and danger increasing with each one. With our dive sites all settled it was time to head back to the beach for a few cold beers and a good night’s sleep. Our first dive was in Casa Cenote. This is an extremely mellow dive. Our depth never exceeded 30 feet and the longest we were in an overhead environment was less than one hundred and fifty feet. Just to clarify, overhead environment means that there is rock above your head. If you need to go up you need to get out. Remember, this is cavern diving. But like I said, this site was very mellow. The dive was so relaxing, I almost forgot about the eight-foot crocodile that was enjoying the cenote with us! From Casa Cenote we hopped back in our guide’s truck and drove to Dos Ojos Cenote. Now this was an entirely different experience. The dive site is actually two cenotes connected through an underground cavern that passes through a bat cave. The dive site map has the two cenotes as two eyes of a skull. Hence the name Dos Ojos. Nearly the entire dive is in an overhead environment and it is definitely not for the faint of heart. Let’s review, the dive site is a skull, there is a bat cave, and there is rock over your head for the majority of the dive. It is terrifying in the best possible way. The following day we went to what turned out to be one of my favorite dives of all time. Angelita Cenote is often referred to as spooky, eerie, and even haunted. The Mayans considered this the actual gateway to the Underworld and when you descend into this cenote you quickly understand why. The cenote is not large and there is no overhead, but it has vertical walls that plunge straight down to around one hundred and forty feet deep. The beauty of the site though is the small island of trees that have fallen into the sinkhole and the sulfur cloud that hovers around them. Around ninety feet deep there is a halocline, a place where the fresh water rests on top of the salt water that enters the cenote from the underground caves. Because of the makeup of the soil in the cenote walls, sulfur has seeped into the water and due to its buoyancy difference from the fresh and salt water, it hovers like a cloud right on the halocline. Descending down to the cloud, and eventually through the cloud, with zero visibility, at depth is intimidating to say the least. Add to that the chance of getting hung up on the trees and we have one of the most thrilling dive experiences I have ever had. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to drop into a cloud and hope you pop out on the other side. Once you do, the water is crystal clear again and the descent seems like no big deal at all. This is a dive that cannot be missed if you are in the area. Our fourth and final dive was in Calavera Cenote. Another beautiful dive site with a halocline minus the sulfur cloud. This cenote is famous for the extent to which it’s cave network has been mapped. It isn’t rare to see divers descending into the caves with four to six tanks side mounted or in tow. These dives will last four to six hours as they continue to find areas never visited by humans. For those looking for an adventure, and not fish, cenote diving is an absolute blast. Scuba diving is an otherworldly experience. Combined with the darkness of caverns, bat caves, and sulfur clouds, it has taken on a whole new level of excitement for me. I cannot wait to go back next year and I hope you are able to give it a shot one day as well.