Located near the coast in the Riviera Maya is a site that has a trio of cenotes, Chikin Ha. Equipped with nice facilities, it is better known as a cave dive site, but it certainly is still worth a visit for snorkeling or swimming. Since I am not a diver, I will discuss this from a snorkeling vantage only.
Cenotes come in many shapes and sizes, but are classified by how far along their evolution they are. Cenote Chikin Ha has three examples that vary one from another. Cenote Taak Bil Ha is the farthest from the entrance, and is sacred to the Maya descendants who live in the area. You are allowed to visit it if respectful but are not allowed to swim there. Once a water-filled cavern, much of the ceiling has now collapsed, leaving a ring of water under the bluffs along the edges with the sunlight area in the center filled with dense plant life. This is a very common shape for what is known as a mature cenote.
Cenote X-Tabay is the cenote closest to the entrance, and is even more mature. Almost completely open to the sky, it is more of a natural swimming hole than a cave at this point. But what a swimming hole! Vegetation abounds around the water and the area has been cleaned up just enough to make it feel more like a botanical garden than a jungle. Paved sidewalks lead to steps that descend into the cool, very clear water. Slender red-orange water plants rise intermittently out of mossy-covered rocks in the sunnier areas and small mollies, guppies and catfish can be seen darting about, sometimes swimming close out of curiosity.
As a child, I used to keep an aquarium in my room. I enjoyed seeing the fish move about with the lights out in the room as I drifted off to sleep and I had a common reoccurring dream where I’d swim with those same fish in a lake. Swimming in X-Tabay was like a fulfillment of that dream for me as I swam with the same sail-fin mollies and guppies I remembered from my childhood.
The final cenote is Cenote Chikin Ha itself and I saved the best for last. The snorkeling area for this one is narrow and long, with two different entrances. Both have nice stone steps and sitting areas nearby. The snorkeling area is fairly small, but the real magic is not seen until you are underwater. At the right time of day (we were there in the morning, which was perfect), light beams pierce the water like beacons and do wondrous things with their illumination. It is fascinating to move into and out of these beams while watching them eddy against the rocks within and turn the water into a wonderful azure color. Small fish dart in and out of the light as you stare in fascination, reaching your hands out as if to grasp the light beams.
For divers, there are passages here completely submerged that are considered younger than any of those that can be visited by snorkel only.
Cenote Chikin Ha is not the best cenote in the Yucatan, but it is certainly worth the trip. Its location makes it easily accessible if you are in the Riviera Maya.
To find out how to capture a few light beams for yourself, check out the article here.
To see a gallery of pictures from our visit, click here.