A “cenote” is a huge pit created by limestone rock collapsing, allowing the groundwater to rise. The word comes from the Mayan “Ts’onot”, meaning an inland location with access to groundwater, and there are believed to be more than 6,000 of them in the Yucatán. The Mayans believed spirits travelled through these pools to the afterlife, and used them for all kinds of sacrifices.
Important pieces of Mexico’s pre-historic puzzle have been discovered in cenotes by scientists and divers, including the skeleton of a mastodon, the skeleton of a human dating more than 13,600 years old, sacred offerings of the Mayans, and a skull which is thought to be the earliest known human remains.
Needless to say, diving into a huge, watery hole in the ground was a little daunting – but very exciting. Once we had climbed down into the pit, I realised just how beautifully clear the water was. Because cenotes are filled with groundwater, there’s very little, if any, current to stir up the silt, meaning you can see an incredibly long way down into the pit. That is, until the abyss takes over and you realise just how deep the thing is.
The water was a fairly balmy 27 degrees Celsius, and it was truly a treat to experience the world below the waterline somewhere with such ancient ties. We quickly descended out of the reach of natural light, and I soon understood why these pools are so popular with cave divers – many run into networks of tunnels up to 146 kilometers long.
Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any dead dinosaurs or Mayan artefacts, but we had a great time getting wet and were definitely ready for some proper Yucatán turkey!
Mexic-OH! fact There are 2,400 “registered” cenotes, although scientists believe there are more than 6,000 in existence.
Mexican Fiesta with Peter Kuruvita airs Thursdays 7.30pm on SBS ONE.