Xpu-Ha and the Cenotes

Xpu-Ha

We are conveniently located in Xpu Ha. Xpu Ha (pronounced as “ sh’pu ha) is derived from the Maya, it means ‘The river of two waters going out to the sea’. It is just south of Playa del Carmen in the municipality of Solidaridad in the state of Quintana Roo. More specific between Puerto Aventuras and Akumal.

Xpu Ha is a beautiful place right in the heart of cave country. Here you will find not only many cenotes, but also beaches, ancient ruins and abundance of flora and fauna. It’s a great getaway from the cities and gateway to see the blue underworld. Within radius of 5 miles you can already count over 10 cenotes, forming the perfect base for snorkeling and diving.

Cenotes

Let’s travel back in time to get some background of what you’re about to explore. When you visit the Yucatan peninsula you immediately notice how flat is it, there are no mountains or hills to be seen. The soil consists out of limestone and becomes soluble when it rains. The Maya use to call this ground “saskab” or white floor. Underneath that white soil lies the Riviera Maya, an extended network of underground rivers stretching throughout the entire peninsula.

During the last Ice Age, approximately 22.000 years ago, was its peak in glacier activities. In these glacial periods the sea level changed many times exposing the coral reef out of the ocean. Once exposed to the atmosphere the slightly acid rain dissolved the limestone forming an extensive cave network.

At that time the cenotes were still dry, because the sea level was more than 100 meters lower than it is today. For thousands of years sea-levels kept progressively rising, flooding the caves. The part of the coral reef that is above the sea-level today is currently known as the Yucatan peninsula.

More than 4000 years ago, the Maya already found out that the Yucatan peninsula didn’t have any great lakes or surface rivers as a source of water. But the Maya found another source. They discovered that some of the ceilings of the flooded caves were collapsed providing access to freshwater. They called them cenotes or sacred wells and the network of these flooded caves became the Riviera Maya. Cenotes were used for drinking water, sacred rituals, farming and even living inside.

While the Maya first discovered these cenotes, the majority is still unexplored. It is estimated that there are over 40.000 cenotes. With thousands of kilometers already mapped, we are every day learning more about the underwater realm that lies underneath us. These cenotes allow us to travel back through time to experience the Maya legacy by ourselves.

Cenote Eden

Eden also known as Ponderosa was once a sacred place to the Maya. This is where Maya made offerings to their gods. The cenote has a beautiful overhang and platform surrounded by tropical trees. The perfect place to cool down for snorkeling.

Divers will enter cenote Eden swimming through a hallway, experiencing the salt and freshwater forming a strong halocline. As you’re approach cenote Coral in the distance you will see the light breaking and big mangrove roots on the background. If you take a closer look you will even see the Maya remains and a large amount of marine life around you.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Xpu Ha

Average depth: 12 meters

Maximum depth: 14 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen sulphide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver

First cenote dive: Yes

Cenote Taj Mahal

Tajma Ha was inspired by the captivating beauty of the Indian Taj Mahal. Tajma Ha is the subterranean Maya version of this natural world wonder and is named by a local cave diver mixing the words “Ha” which means “water” with the original Indian name. This cenote connects multiple cenotes that you can admire.

There is no better place to see an amazing light show as in this particular cenote. From the entrance you venture to 3 different cenotes, for which you will be changing depth constantly. But the reward when you come to the Point of Lights room is huge! Like a laser show breaking though, a must see. Cenote Sugar bowl reminds you of the dome in India, where you can surface to see the sacred birds Motmot, seek their retreat.

In cenote Esmeralda you will see the collapse of the ceiling creating a picturesque window. During the dive you can expect to experience the halocline, many decorations and if you inspect your surroundings more closely even some fossils. It offers snorkeling at the cavern entrance.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Xpu Ha

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 8 meters

Maximum depth: 16 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen sulphide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver (with good buoyancy)

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy - Medium, access from the highway with dirt road, parking and setup benches available

Cenote Chikin Ha

 Chikin Ha is the name for Western Water, it got its name from the direction of the waterflow. Chikin Ha is characterized by its large half-moon shape, with a massive overhang ceiling. The cenote is connected to many others. During the dive you will descent along the mainline, through the dense halocline passage (from fresh to salt water) diving into Rainbow cenote.

There you will be amazed by its massive boulders and deep tree roots reaching out below the surface level. If you look below to the outside you will see many speleothem decorations. For snorkeling it’s great, to combine the multiple entrances to cenotes. The park has many facilities to get comfortable and make it a wonderful daytrip.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Between Xpu Ha and Puerto Aventuras

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 9 meters

Maximum depth: 15 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver (with good buoyancy)

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy - Medium, access from the highway with dirt road, parking and setup benches, intermediate walk (with stairs) to reach the cenote.

Cenote Chac Mol

The Great Jaguar in Maya, has beautiful curtains of laser lights, with plenty access to the open water. Making a very comfortable dive to start your cenote adventures. There are two entrances that both will lead to an enormous decorated dome and is usually full of catfish and cave worms.

When you dive to the cenote Little brother you will see what looks like a mirror in the water, a dense halocline when the different layers of water come together. On your way you will see the tree roots reaching deep through the ground floor.

For snorkeling can be done in from both cenote entrances, although in the summer on the surface can look less appealing due to algae bloom. Looks can be deceiving, because as soon as you dip through the surface area it becomes crystal clear.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Puerto Aventuras

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 8 meters

Maximum depth: 15 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy, access from the highway with dirt road, parking and setup benches, intermediate walk (with stairs) to reach the cenote.

Casa Cenote

Located near the sea surrounded by many mangroves Casa Cenote offers an exotic scenery with emerald green crystal waters. Formerly known as Manatee cenote or in Maya cenote Tankah, however the manatees nowadays have moved to Si’an Kaan Natural Reserve as more divers discovered the beauty of the cenote.

Very different from the other cenotes due to a shallow halocline, wide open spaces filled with more diversity of aquatic life than any others. Due to the higher salinity you can expect to see Tarpons, Crabs, Moray Eels and maybe even a small harmless crocodile. This cenote even connects and forms a part of the largest underwater cave system in the world currently recorded.

With many overhangs, swimthroughs and cracks of limestone, diving underneath the jungle and right in the mangroves is an amazing mix of natural elements from ocean diving with cenote diving.  The cenote offers great options to do different routes for beginning scuba divers, snorkelers and dynamic freedivers.

Activity: Snorkeling, Dynamic Freediving and Scuba Diving

Location: Between Xpu Ha and Puerto Aventuras

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 5 meters

Maximum depth: 10 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No Diver level: Open Water Diver

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy access from the highway with dirt road, parking. Although there are no benches to setup, the walk is really short and easy entrance into the water.

Cenote Dreamgate

Known by documentaries like Planet Earth. This mystical place is well hidden in the jungle. Surrounded by tropical pristine forest and covered with tree roots like a weeping willow dangling in the water in the water. The cenote truly earns its name as you find our as soon as you’re submerged.

Almost like a theme park, unreal to see the nature at its best. Left, right, up and down, wherever you look, you will see the magical decoration and silhouettes of soda straws, stalagmites and stalactites. Don’t forget to glance back as you’re going in to see the stunning light effects up close.

The dive itself is quite shallow, but excellent skills are an absolute must due to the fragile formations, darkness and silt. There are two dives you can do at Dreamgate, one line leads upstream and the other downstream. Both dives are different in total length, formations and even an airdome that you can visit. Both guaranteed spectacular experiences!

Activity: Scuba Diving

Location: San Pablo, Tulum

Bathroom: No

Average depth: 4 meters

Maximum depth: 8 meters

Halocline: No

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No

Diver level: Advanced open Water Diver (with excellent buoyancy)

First cenote dive: No

Logistics: Difficult, access from the highway with dirt road, intermediate walk with steep stairs and rope to lower down the equipment to reach the cenote platform.

Cenote Dos Ojos

Dos Ojos means in Spanish two eyes. Two sinkholes, each around 70 meters diameter, are standing out in the jungle looking into the underwater dimension. This part of the jungle has a lot of wildlife, like exotic birds, squirrels, foxes, iguanas, bats, snakes and on a rare occasion even a jaguar.

This is maybe the most popular cenote and part of the world’s biggest cave system (Sac Actun) filled with crystal turquoise mineral rich water. The entrances are full of catfish and small shrimps. There are two different dives. The Barbie line is usually great to start with, as this is more open leading to the second (or west) eye of the cenote with plenty of daylight and large columns. Through the ‘Time tunnel’ on your way back, you will see on the cave side some beautiful speleothem and if you look closely even some fossils.

The Bat Cave line gives you a taste of cave diving as it is a bit darker and not as wide as the Barbie line. This dives leads around an air pocket where many bats seek their retreat among the stalactites, there is a small chimney in the ceiling which the bats use to go out hunting. Along the line there are more detailed decorations and flowstones. Besides the fantastic dives that you can do, the snorkeling is amazing as well.

Dos Ojos can make a great day for family fun, also in big groups when not everyone wants to dive. With shallow and deep ends the park offers a lot of activities to enjoy your visit.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Between Tulum and Akumal

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 5 meters

Maximum depth:: 9 meters

Halocline: No

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver (with good buoyancy)

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy, access directly from the highway parking and setup benches, paved stairs and platform to reach cenote.

Cenote Calavera

Calavera thanks the scary name to its shape. Because when you’re floating in the water and are looking up you will see three holes. These holes resemble the shape of a Skull (or Calavera). Therefore, also known as The Temple of Doom. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, just a literal hole of 10 meters diameter with a ladder.

As soon as you reached the water about 3 meters lower, the dome opens up. Many black and blind catfish gather at the entrance. As you descent the beams of light are forming branches of a big tree standing on the breakdown in the center of the cenote. You will pass through the multilayered Xel Ha (Maya for Halocline) and will feel the difference as you move from the cooler fresh into the warm salt water.

One you reach the saltwater you will notice the walls are lighter illuminating the green glow of the natural debris in the middle of the cenote. From here you will spiral along the walls to admire the visual effects and formations from different angles. You can snorkel in these secluded Maya waters, relax on the shelves of the walls and for those brave enough jump in from above.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Tulum (road to Koba)

Bathroom: No

Average depth: 11 meters

Maximum depth: 16 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Medium, access from the Tulum-Koba road, from the parking there is a bit rough dirt trail you follow until the end, that leads to the cenote.

Cenote Carwash

Carwash is a classic sinkhole and remains a very popular cave! Because the cenote is so close to the road, the taxi drivers used to wash their car here and therefore is now known as Carwash or in Mayan Actun Ha (Cave Water).

Filled with lots of flora and fauna considering it’s a cenote dive, even at the bottom you will notice the many tree trunks, covered with a smooth carpet of vibrant algae. Typically, beautiful algae bloom during the summer at the first meters after the descent clears up with endless visibility. Looking carefully in the open water you will see a variety of wildlife, among which turtles, mollies, catfish and maybe even a small crocodile. From here on the tour will take you to the spring or upstream. As you venture through the curtain of trees, underneath the huge overhang where you can see small ancient pottery remains of the Maya.

Diving further into the cave you will see the stunning rock formations covered by organic decoration. During the summer months you can even expect a cloud layer and reflecting green algae once your glancing back to the surface. This is popular for snorkeling and swimming as there is a lot to see from the surface with a jumping platforms and ropes to keep entertained.

Activity: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Location: Tulum (road to Koba)

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 12 meters

Maximum depth: 16 meters

Halocline: No

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: Summer light effect

Diver level: Open Water Diver

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy, access from the Tulum-Koba road, the parking is located immediately at the cenote and there are setup benches available.

Gran Cenote

Gran cenote, known for its big open entrance to the largest cave system is a beautiful sinkhole in crescent moon shape, covering both spring (upstream) and siphon (downstream). There are many facilities available on the spot, and makes a great day for snorkeling, dynamic freediving and scuba diving.

Going down the stairs you will comfortably end up in the sandy bottom, but before you descent take a look around if you can spot some turtles and bats underneath the cavern entrance.

Following this natural arch you will see it’s transforming to get a good taste of what lies hidden in the largest cave system, stunning white columns with gigantic stalactites and stalagmites and if you have an eye for details you will take a trip back into time with some fossils that are still out there.

During the dive there is much light and room to maneuver, so great to start your adventures.

Activity: Snorkeling, Dynamic Freediving and Scuba Diving

Location: Tulum (road to Koba)

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 5 meters

Maximum depth: 11 meters

Halocline: No

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: No

Diver level: Open Water Diver

First cenote dive: Yes

Logistics: Easy, access from the highway with immediate big parking space, setup benches available at the cenote, solid stairs to enter and exit.

Cenote Angelita

Although a bit off a detour, it is worth the extra mile.  For those who want to go a bit deeper and experience something totally different from the other cenotes, Angelita is probably your best pick. This picturesque cenote is a perfect round, deep hole leading to the Mayan Underworld until almost 60 meters deep.

This is an experience you don’t want to miss! As you descent to half of the cenote’s depth you will experience the closest thing there is to flying through the clouds. You will glide above (and through) a dense hydrogen sulfide layer, formed by oxidation process of organic compounds. While poisonous above the surface, underwater this is no issue and a lot of fun! Beneath the cloud it becomes very dark and feels like a true cave, as the cloud absorbs the light completely.

In the center of the cenote emerging out the mystical cloud trees are emerging on top of the cone of breakdown. This debris mount was accumulated when the ceiling of the cave collapsed to provide access the cenote. On you ascend you will spiral up to enjoy the amazing views of the lights reflecting, and perhaps see some of the bird bones during a swimthrough. So be sure to hold your regulator because the views are awe-inspiring!

Besides the mesmerizing charm for scuba, it is also excellent to do constant and variable weight freediving, to experience the different angles as a natural part of the cenote!

Activity: Freediving and Scuba Diving

Location: Between Xpu Ha and Puerto Aventuras

Bathroom: Yes

Average depth: 20+ meters

Maximum depth: 40 meters

Halocline: Yes

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: Yes

Diver level: Advanced open Water Diver (with good buoyancy and comfort)

First cenote dive: No

Logistics: Medium, access from the highway with short dirt road, parking and setup benches, intermediate walk to reach the cenote.

Cenote Pit

Probably one of the most remote cenotes in the Riviera Maya for cavern diving. El Pit is kept pristine because it is so well hidden, deep in the jungle! It’s an understatement to say that the effort will be well worth it.

Although more challenging this memorable dive with extremely large pillars are stretching out all the way from the surface deep into the blue. The descent is done in the crystal-clear blue water, following the cylindrical light column until you’ll reach the cloud of hydrogen sulfide, around 29 meters depth. Take a moment to enjoy the magic as the cloud is illuminated, along with the geological formations on the background.

As you will pass through the gas cloud you will experience the light beams breaking apart into different directions and is very impressive, since there is still enough ambient light penetrating through the cloud.

Spiraling your way up you can see the two entry galleries connecting the cenote to Dos Ojos. As you look upon the ceiling there are large stalactites, anthropological remains and you can feel the intense sunshine. On your safety stop you have a beautiful helicopter view to glance back before going back to reality.

Activity: Freediving and Scuba Diving

Location: Between Xpu Ha and Puerto Aventuras

Bathroom: No

Average depth: 20+ meters

Maximum depth: 40 meters

Halocline: No

Hydrogen Sulfide layer: Yes

Diver level: Advanced Open Water Diver (with excellent buoyancy)

First cenote dive: No

Logistics: Medium - Difficult, access from the highway with long dirt road, parking available but no setup benches, intermediate walk (with stairs or high jump) to reach the cenote.

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