Sinkhole in Paradise
A Sinkhole in Paradise
Sac Actun Cenote - Tulum, Mexico
I didn’t quite realize how many cenotes there were until we made the drive down to Tulum. I noticed a sign for one, then another, then a dozen more. Turns out there’s literally hundreds (mostly privately owned) and many more that are undiscovered.
It then became a question of WHICH cenote to visit. I wanted an intimate experience in nature without being surrounded by tons of other people. Most of the easily accessible ones are overcrowded with tourists. We got a tip from a local about one off the beaten path that still offered a guided tour: Sac Actun!
Sac = white
actum = cave
BUT WAIT - WHAT THE HELL IS A CENOTE?
Besides seeing pics of them online, I wasn’t quite sure what the hell they were either.
Simply put, they are sinkholes. The ground caves in and reveals the groundwater below. This makes them different than the ocean because it’s fresh, drinkable water! Inside the caves were hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites, rocks formations that grow on the ground and ceilings. In some places they hang so low that you have to swim under them. The mineral content of the water is quite high so you wouldn't want to rely on it as your main water source - we were told many of the locals suffer from kidney stones as a result. I’m usually deficient in trace minerals so I wasn’t too paranoid about ingesting some ;)
Our guide told us Mayan legend thought asteroid impacts were responsible for creating the underwater cave systems and then they filled with water. Regardless of how they were formed though, they’re absolutely majestic, especially to find something like that smack dab in the middle of the jungle. Mayans considered them sacred spaces and a connection to the underworld. They were also able to sustain life around them thanks to the fresh water! I was told the Mayans would seek out birds that made their nests inside the cenotes caves because they knew the birds would lead them to water.
Sac Actun is considered both a partially open and a closed cenote, because although some of the limestone has collapsed away, most of the water is still concealed by a cave system. The underwater cave system is prime for diving; our guide pointed out the black diving line to us and explained that it goes three hundred feet down, but no one has explored further. They have found mammoth fossils and Mayan graveyards beneath the surface, who knows else is waiting to be discovered.
What I’d Do Differently
Ear Plugs - not something I ever think about when swimming, but I ended up getting water trapped behind my ear drum and couldn’t hear out of my right ear for weeks. It was a scary experience losing some of my hearing in a foreign country, where the language barrier made it difficult to get medical treatment & I had to wait until I was back in the states to find out my ear just needed time to dry out.
Wet Suit - I recommend opting for the wet suit rental because the water is CHILLING. There’s no sun down there so you won’t be able to warm up; the initial swimming to stay warm worked for a the first twenty minutes but you really just float through and I was quite frigid by the end.
Waterproof Camera - I didn’t have one for this trip and I’m super bummed because I missed some amazing shots of the stalagmites growing up through the water.