About Cenotes, the Jungle and the land!

Cenote Zazil Ha , TulumTulum sits amidst a very unique landscape.  Many people come just to relax on the crystalline white powder sand beaches and enjoy the Caribbeans turquoise blue waters.  Understandably so, but that often makes it way too easy to miss the beautiful cenotes, lagoons and jungle that compliment this coastal area.

Cenotes are one of the rare treasures in the Rivera Maya and the entire peninsula region.  They are created by waterways passing within the lands limestone shelf base that sits beneath the lush Yucatan jungle.Tulum jungle plants

In Tulum there are no above ground lakes, ponds or rivers.  All of the water is under ground.  Imagine a huge piece of Swiss cheese mostly submerged in water.  These various holes and openings create cenotes and underground rivers.  There are over 4,000  known cenotes in the Yucatan area, some say as many as 8,000!  All of these cenotes are interconnected via underground waterways.

In some cases the inlets can be very small, maybe just a crack, but others have openings anCenote, Tulumd passages wide enough for divers to explore, and are easily accessible for snorkelers and swimmers to have a peak into the underwater world.  Tulum has the longest mapped subterranean  river system in the world, stretching more the 250 km.  So far, seven of the worlds ten longest explored underground rivers exist in beneath the Yucatan peninsula.

There are four types of cenotes. There is the lake like or pond cenote.  These are land level and look much like lakes found in other parts of the world.

Then there is the sink hole cenote.  This is where the water level is lower then the land level.  Their depths can range from just a few meters to 30 or 40 meters below.

Then there is the semi open or cave cenote.  This is where you enter underground by swimming or simply walking in.  These are truly amazing to see and offer a rare view of the world under the jungle.Cenote, Tulum

The last type of cenote is the underground river. These are the waterways that connect each of the cenotes. These are reserved for the professional and experienced cave divers that come from all over the world for these most secretive and spectacular caves systems a diver could dream of exploring.

One amazing thing about the cenotes is how clean and clear the water is.  Almost all cenotes are fresh water.  There are some that are called brackish, a mixture of salt and fresh water.   These are usually right on the coast line and are brackish because they have a two way feed from the sea to the cenote.  Often times this mixture can create an effect referred to as halocline. This is when the salt and fresh water commingle and create an oily effect in the water.  This is a clear sign that there is a feed to the nearby Caribbean Sea.

Gran Cenote, TulumWhen it rains, the water is filtered through the limestone shelf and gathers many nutrients and minerals before dispensing into the cenotes underground.  In many cases this process creates spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. These are deposits that are formed from the slow drip of the mineral rich waters from above.  The stalactites grow very very gradually, only 1 cm ever 100 years. (wow, that’s slow)

That said…the oils from human hands and certain elements in lotions and repellents can severely damage this natural growth process – the fishes and other natural life too!  This is why we are all huge proponents for applying only all natural, biodegradable and or organic products before entering these pristine waters.  Many of the local shops, hotels and even some cenotes have these products available for purchase.  For this reason many cenotes have showers and require you to rinse off in before admittance.

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