Cenotes are often defined as sinkholes that expose ground water underneath. While there are many kinds of cenotes, Ik Kil fits this definition better than any other. When we walked up to Cenote Ik Kil, we were greeted with a 200 foot wide plant-lined hole that drops precipitantly in a nearly cylindrical shape to the water 85 feet below. Water-seeking roots from the stubborn plants lining the edge stretch down toward the water seeking nourishment and not letting the distance impede them.  The visual effect is a verdant waterfall that augments the tiny dripping of water about the edge where plant, moss and fern have footholds on sunny side of the limestone walls.

Access to the water is via well built circular steps carved in the rock that occasionally give a window into the cenote. We stopped at these scenic windows lined with landscaping and look over the cenote and those enjoying the natural swimming hole below us. Upon reaching the nadir, we found the temperature has cooled considerably from the heat above and it feels like the oasis that it is. Dozens of fellow tourists line the jetty and some dozen more are floating about in the water.

Having a depth of 130 feet, Ik Kil has been used for cliff diving at various times, including the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Off to the right is a small set of stairs that lead to a higher platform about 15 feet above the water where a few daring souls leap occasionally into the waiting water below. Less brave individuals leap in from lower spots or off the stairs themselves.

Ik Kil is sacred to the Maya and used for both relaxation and ritual services. Climbing into the water, I could easily imagine how valuable this was to them. The water is cool and instantly refreshing (ok – it was a bit on the cold side). Catching our breath as we get over the initial shock, we dog paddle away from the edge. Wearing our snorkeling vests to relax in the water, we move leisurely across the cenote while taking in the view. The cenote looks huge from here – the walls tower up above us, seeming all the higher with only our heads poking out of the water. We can just make out the heads of those above looking down on us. Mostly, we see the vegetation.

We complete a lazy clockwise circle about the cenote, studying the vegetation clinging to the walls and crannies of the cenote. The roots drop into the water from plants 85 feet above. We avoid touching them, knowing that these lifelines to the water is critical to the plants far above. It is a mystery how they can seek out the water far below and know it is worth growing so long of a root to reach it. My imagination fires up and I can see in my mind’s eye these roots reaching out and grasping us from out of the water, waving us about in the air in anger that we have ventured into their sacred waters.

There is a splash behind us as another tourist takes a leap from the highest platform. We turn about and watch the next few jumpers. Occasional laughter rolls out, but it sounds muffled and is not unwelcome. Despite several dozen folks in the cenote, they are part of the experience for us as we all enjoy this most ancient of swimming holes together. It would have been eerie and a bit disconcerting to be in this place by ourselves.

I imagine the ancient mayans hundreds of years ago venturing down here and what a reverent experience it must have been for them. It isn’t hard to understand their beliefs that the cenotes were gateways to the land of the dead. But now, it is very much the land of the living, and to swim in its waters made us feel very much alive.

A description of the logistics of seeing Ik Kil for yourself is located here

A gallery of pictures from our trip is located here.

To read about seeing nearby Chichen-Itza, go here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.


IT pro by day, avid traveler and photographer by night.

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