One of the most incredible places in the world to connect with nature is, in my opinion, a sacred cenote in the Mexican Yucatan. A cenote is a subterranean limestone cave or sinkhole. They are naturally occurring all over the Yucatan. There are literally thousands of them, and each one is unique.
The cenotes were considered to be sacred places by the Mayan people, and some were even sites where human sacrifices occurred. Happily, the cenotes are no longer used for such purposes, but they are still considered to be very special places by the Mayan people who live in Mexico. Some of the cenotes are open for the public to visit. People come to swim in their cool, clear, silky water.
The first time I swam in a cenote was an unforgettable experience. My husband and I were visiting Celestun, a charming and funky beach town on the Gulf of Mexico. We had taken a guided tour in a small boat with a group of tourists from all over the world. It was January, so the weather was comfortable, but not hot. Toward the end of the tour, our guide took us by boat to a landing spot, where we disembarked and walked carefully along a path in a jungle-like area.
Along the path was a cenote. It was a lovely open pool surrounded by lush greenery. A ladder extended down from the wooden dock for those who were brave enough to swim. I was eager to try the cenote, even though I suspected that the water would feel cold. One young couple from Ireland had already undressed down to their swimsuits, so my husband and I decided to do the same. We didn’t want to miss out on the experience. Brrrr, that water was cold, but it felt so soft and lovely on our skin. Words really can’t describe the magical feeling of swimming in a cenote. It is calming, soothing and energizing all at the same time.
Since that January day more than 10 years ago, I have had the privilege of visiting and swimming in many more cenotes all over the Yucatan. Some are large and almost look like small lakes. Some are difficult to access and must be reached by a long ladder that goes deep into a hole in the earth. Some are quite dark, and many have a family of resident bats who fly around and entertain the tourists while they are swimming.
One of my favorite cenotes, just a few miles from the fishing village of Puerto Morelos, has a zip line. All one has to do is grab onto the wooden handle, walk down a few steps, step bravely off the bottom step and there you go flying right out over the water. Then at just the right moment, you let go and down you go into the cenote where your friends are waiting for you. Once I dared to do this, I just couldn’t get enough of it.
Many of the cenotes are filled with stalactites and stalagmites. This makes swimming in them an amazing adventure. It’s like swimming in an underwater sculpture museum. Some courageous scuba divers actually dive far into these caves and report that the beauty is incredible. I’m sure that is true, but I’m not that brave.
If I could have one wish for a very long life, it would be to live long enough to swim in every one of the glorious cenotes in the Mexican Yucatan.