It is a crime to go to Mexico as a diver and not go cenote diving. While there are stunning dive sites on the coast with amazing marine life and incredible visibility, the cenotes at the Riviera Maya are a unique experience.
What is a cenote you may ask? Cenotes are sinkholes that you can find all over Yucatan and Instagram. Some of the best cenotes near Tulum and the Yucatan peninsula are open to swimmers and snorkelers while others are only open to certified cavern and cave divers and pretty much look like a puddle on the ground.
Various cenotes dives are on offer with Blue Life and quite a few don’t require additional qualification but just an Open Water certification. The dive center has outlets in Tulum and in Playa del Carmen and offers an amazing 3-day package that covers Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and the best cenotes in Tulum and the vicinity. Great opportunity to get a taster for someone like me who is terrified of confined spaces and wasn’t sure if cenote diving was for me.
Their regular package offers cenote dives at Chikin Ha but for a small fee, you can upgrade and do your dives at the Pit and Cenote Dos Ojos. A friend who is an avid cenote diver recommended I go for the upgrade.
Diving at the Pit
We started our day with instructor Isa at the Pit, a cenote with 30m depth (here you will need an AOW), a sulfur cloud, a halocline, and lots of cool stalagmites and stalactites. Temperatures in the cenotes are a lot colder than in the ocean (we got around 25 degrees) so even I had to bundle up and wear a 5mm suit. While I hate anything more than a 3mm suit due to a lack of comfort, I did not regret bundling up. Let’s just say that 25 degrees of water temperature is a lot colder than it sounds.
Before we started our dive Isa gave us a detailed briefing on the dive site as well as safety procedures that exceeded most dive briefings you get on a regular ocean dive. We weren’t in Kansas anymore, we were moving over to the dark side.
If you are like me and slightly terrified of enclosed spaces the Pit is the perfect place to start your cenotes diving as it is completely open and you can see the sky at all times, albeit from 30m depth. Getting in is the hardest part as you will have to walk down a long set of wobbly stairs to get to the water while wearing your gear and tank. If you are having any back issues or carrying two tanks like the cave divers do you can ask them to lower your tank with a pulley system for an extra tip – well worth it if you ask me!
Once in the water and a couple of reminders to yours truly to stop complaining about the oh so cold temperatures we went down into a beautiful world of shadows.
While you need to look down to find cool stuff when diving in the ocean, cenote diving is all about looking up so you can appreciate the sky and the light above you. Also, it pays off to watch your head (or in my case my hair bun) when moving up and down because stalactites are growing everywhere and the halocline where saltwater changes to freshwater can throw off your buoyancy.
It was an underwater world utterly different from anything I had seen but I was hooked.
Cenote Dos Ojos
From the Pit, we moved on to Cenote Dos Ojos, one of the most famous cenotes for Tulum diving both for divers and snorkelers. Unlike the Pit, this cenote is also a great place for a trip for the whole family because it comes with hammocks and palm trees and plenty of swimming opportunities if you are not diving.
In Dos Ojos, you have two dives you can do as an uncertified cavern diver which lead you along a set line. One is taking you to a bat cave and one to a Barbie who is living underwater with a toy crocodile. In your dive package, you will have two tanks included but can get an extra trank for $49 to do both dives at Dos Ojos. They aren’t very deep however you are in an actual cave here which would have scared me had I known the details before.
As it was, we went in and I was just incredibly grateful for being able to dive through and not having to stumble over rocks and stalagmites with my wonky knees and ankles. It helped that we not only had torches but also got plenty of natural light through various exits that classify these paths as cavern dives. In addition, the water in this cenote is crystal clear so there is nothing murky or scary about it. In fact, the scariest thing was the various snorkelers above our heads kicking instead of swimming, the rest was underwater magic.
Back in the sun we devoured our lunch sandwiches, made friends with an iguana. I realized that while I wasn’t going to trade sharks for bats exclusively, cenotes diving was a lot more fun than expected. Maybe Tulum wasn’t only good for its tacos after all and maybe I would eventually return to move over to the dark side and do a cavern diving specialty. For the time being, I have gotten myself a new Scubapro wetsuit in 5mm and am eyeing the flight prices for next summer. Maybe it will be its dark side that will finally get me to fall in love with Mexico.
Tips for cenote diving in Mexico
- Make sure you chose a reputable company like Blue Life for your cenote dives. For all their cenote dives you are accompanied by a guide who is at least an instructor and Full Cave certified. You should also get a detailed cenote briefing before to know what to expect, how to manage your air consumption, and what to do in an emergency.
- In a cenote like Dos Ojos, you will dive in a single line as the tunnels are quite narrow and follow a set line throughout. Make sure to control your buoyancy well so you don’t kick up any silt or crash into the stalagmites/ stalactites.
- If you are prone to claustrophobia start with an open cenote like the Pit to get used to the new environment and practice diving underneath overhangs.
- Do a few night dives before to get used to diving in a dark environment. While you will have a torch it is definitely a different kind of diving. I tend to get a bit night blind when driving and noticed the same when diving, my spacial awareness changes so it is good to be aware of those changes.
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