Have you ever thought about diving Cancun cenotes while in the Riviera Maya? The stunning Kukulkan Cenote is a 33 feet (10 meters) deep blue cavern that is part of the Chac Mool caving system in the Yucatan, Mexico. It is set in a jungle scenery with fresh and saltwater, lots of fossils, and even a few stalactites.
The main attraction though is the unbelievable beams of light piercing the water and creating somewhat of a laser show through the water. I totally enjoyed taking underwater photographs of the Kukulkan cenote. This caving system is also known as Cancun Cenotes or Cenote Riviera Maya because of its proximity to both places. All I know is that I love diving cenotes, especially Kukulkan!
✦ Cancun Cenotes: What are Cenotes?
Cenotes are basically like underground natural swimming pools. They are formed by the collapse of the limestone rock that makes up the peninsula along the Riviera Maya in Mexico. The land (limestone rock) is porous and over time they let natural river water in, as well as seawater from the ocean. When the limestone rocks give way, cenotes become an underworld of groundwater swimming holes! Most cave cenotes have fresh water from the rivers of the mountains and then saltwater that seeps in from the ocean.
✦ There Are Thousands of Cenotes in Mexico
There are literally thousands (6000) Cancun cenotes found in the Yucatan of Mexico. Even I was shocked to realize there are that many cenotes in the area. Many are more like swimming holes where families go swimming, snorkeling, and just to relax. Other caves have extensive areas for scuba diving in these underground caverns. Each one, though, is unique with different shapes, depths, and types of water in each one.
✦ How to Find a Cenote in Mexico
You can reach the Cancun cenotes on a well-worn, dirt road, that lately has become a very popular destination for first-time cave diver experience. First-time divers will have an abundance of sunlight in the cave and the passages are wide enough to get tanks through with no problem. Many Cancun diving and diving Playa shops bring divers out here all the time, so choose your dive shop carefully. They will most likely have you meet them at their shop in Cancun or you will be picked up from your hotel, depending on where you are staying.
✦ Diving in Cancun Cenotes
We met our dive guide at the Cancun Diving shop at the crack of dawn to get a good spot. Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, we arrived after about half an hour’s drive down the freeway. We then turned off on some dusty road to what looked to be some guy’s dilapidated old house. He pulled the run-down, tiny pickup truck with our gear loaded in the back into where the front yard should be and then turned off the engine.
I thought we were there to buy breakfast burritos or for him to pick up a friend, as this certainly couldn’t be the place. Off he goes without saying a word into the neglected shack with a slam of the door. We sat in silence, as we anxiously looked around when I suddenly spied a skinny chicken coming from around the corner. As it turned out, this was the entryway into the sacred lands of the cenote Mexico and our guide had gone into the entrance building to pay the fee! After all, this is Mexico, I shouldn’t be surprised. Eventually, he returned, and yells “Buena Suerte”– Wishing us to have “good luck!”
As the first arrivals at the faded old house (entrance), we had beat the other early-rising divers and were able to park the truck in the parking spot closest to the entrance of the Kukulkan Cancun Cenote. We would be the first ones to enter into the cave system down below. Shortly thereafter, other divers began to arrive.
✦ Diving the Cenote Cancun Cave Known As Kukulkan
We are geared up and I can’t for the life of me figure out where the heck the water is! It looks like we are in a jungle with lush trees and brush everywhere. “Who the heck could have found this place?” I am wondering. Loaded down with my wetsuit, tank, BC (buoyancy compressor), mask, fins, and booties, I start walking only about 10 feet from where we geared up to see a cemented staircase to the underground.
We walk down a few steps and there it is: This beautiful, crystal-clear turquoise water, which is the entryway to the Kukulkan Cenote through a beautiful pond of freshwater. We are excited to go in and scared at the same time!
Diving Cenote Kukulkan, Yucatan Mexico
Cenote Kukulkan is an underwater cavern system in the Yucatan area of Mexico, also known as Riviera Maya. Cenote Cancun’s entrance is only a couple of hundred feet away from the Cenote Chac-Mool, which is 100 meters south of Puerto Aventuras.
✦ What to Expect When Diving Cenotes in Mexico:
At approximately 10 meters (almost 33 feet), you will be entering the halocline zone, which I call the “oil and vinegar” zone. The halocline is the interface of freshwater and saltwater when these waters mix they produce zero visibility. If you shine your light at the point where the salt and fresh water meet, you can marvel at the reflections projected onto the walls of the cavern.
The light effects are amazing, as sunlight penetrates the darkness. Here, as you look towards the ceiling at the entrance, you can also see the colors of the rainbow.
✦ Cenotes Riviera Maya Diving
The underground river system is open to the ocean, while freshwater from the mainland flows out into the ocean, then saltwater from the sea also creeps inland to the cenotes. Since saltwater is denser than freshwater, you can see the layers of the water, which by the way, makes it almost impossible to see through while you are diving. Just the areas where the two intermixes are the part where you can’t see anything, you can see above the layers of water and below the layers of water, but not in that “mixed” area. (Reminds me of mixing oil and water during a science experiment).
One of the interesting properties of saltwater is how it absorbs and transmits light. Divers descending into the saltwater portion of the Cenote Cancun, you will notice that the saltwater has a sparkling blue quality. Rays of sunlight filtering down through the saltwater lose their red tones, and the surface appears a rich cobalt blue. It is very cool to observe this interesting light effect.
Science Lessons Diving Cenote Cancun
Also, a cool thing to notice while you are down there are the stalactites and stalagmites that occur in these limestone caves. The stalactite is above and hangs downward like an icicle; while the stalagmite is below and sticks up.
They grow in pairs or groups, the slightly acidic water dissolves some of the limestone carrying it downward. When the water evaporates, the limestone appears to have flowed downward. Some of the water does not evaporate until it has fallen through the air and landed on the floor while the remaining limestone builds the stalagmite.
The Yucatan Mexico peninsula is basically a giant limestone slab that was once a coral reef. For millions of years, rainwater carved the porous stone, creating these beautiful caves. This Yucatan Mexico peninsula is penetrated with miles and miles of cave systems, which is great for the Cancun diving shops, as they have plenty of places to dive!
✦ Cenote Diving: The Perfect Dive in Mexico
Cenotes usually offer the perfect dive conditions such as crystal clear water, almost current free, and the best visibility you could ever imagine. Not to mention that the water temperature is 77 °F all year long! All that sounds like a divers dream to me.
The whole thing seemed crazy to me at first, but I am always up for some adventure and now I believe it should be a “must” for every scuba diver, so put it on your bucket list! I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat! I guess we really were lucky that day!
✦ Cancun Diving Stats
Diving Cenote Cancun, Yucatan Mexico
Max Depth: 50ft / 15m
Approx Dive Time: 40 min
Observe: light, fossils, halocline
✦ Safe Cenote Diving
I personally wouldn’t go into the caverns without a guide. These local guides in Mexico know the cave system, they know where to take you and know better than to take you into dangerous territory. The caverns they don’t want you in are clearly marked as “danger” (“Peligro”) and I would recommend abiding by these rules.
Too many times, divers think they know about diving, even though they don’t cave dive that much. I think it is imperative to listen to the local cave dive masters. Sorry for the blurry photo, but I was in that “oil and water” section of water where you can’t see very well and this photo is a good example of what it looks like!
How many cenote dives have you been on? This was my first, and hopefully not my last cenote dive!
Here are a few other articles I wrote about diving: