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Dzitnup Cenotes X’Keken and Samula – Swim Underground

Dzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, MexicoDzitnup Cenotes was a nice site that contains two cenotes: X’Keken and Samula. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a typical open-air market where vendors were selling shirts and other touristy souvenirs. We bypassed them and followed the signs to X’Keken. As we approached the entrance, we found a stone with the words ‘Entrada Del Cenote X-Keken’ and another more friendly to English speakers, “Entrance to the Cave”. From this moment, we left behind the typical tourist experience and descended into another world.Dzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, MexicoThe tunnel featured rough steps and the walls were carved even rougher. The feeling that we were venturing someplace forbidden came upon us, and our pulse quickened a bit as we bent over to fit into the cave and stepped through to where we could see ahead. The steps descended down toward glistening water far below. Holding onto the rope railing, we carefully emerged into this wonderland a step at a time.

Cenote X’Keken has a single large room, a cavernous opening that was an excellent natural dome complete with a single natural skylight above. I was reminded of the Pantheon in Rome with its oculus. The hole provided most of the illumination in the place and was devoid of mood-reducing artificial fixtures. The light shot into the room and penetrated the crystal clear water below, brightening it into a handsome aqua color. It was so intense that it looked fake, but the effect was simply caused by the optics and the purity of the freshwater. The water seemed to glow.

Dzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, MexicoSwimming about in the water were a half-dozen people, and a half-dozen more sat about the platform that hugs the side of the cavern where we descended. Finding a spot to sit, we put on our snorkel vests and swim shoes and pushed off into the water.

It is cool, but refreshing and we quickly grew used to it. A few small fish dart about in the water where we could easily see to the bottom even in the dim light. The water was too deep to touch bottom in most of the cavern.

The walls had a few stalactites and there were dozens of roots descending from the roof into the water. The plants above have grown these long tendrils down to the life-giving water and we were careful not to disturb them. We spoke in hushed tones as the room had good acoustics.

After an indeterminate amount of time, we exited the cenote and gathered our gear together. We had to pass back through the market to get to the second cenote.Dzitnup Cenotes, Samula Valladolid, Mexico

Cenote Samula was a little easier to enter with a nice nice stairway with several viewing spots, but the scene we were greeted by was very similar to cenote X’Keken. There was a single large room mostly filled with water and a single skylight in the ceiling. Here, a bit of debris directly under the skylight made a small island and the water was shallow enough to stand.

As before, there was only about a dozen enjoying the cenote. We slid into the water, easier this time as we were still wet from the last dip. We paddled out to the deeper area and floated about, the water bathtub clean and a beautiful azure color from the light plunging down from above. It was a very pleasant place to be, and we chatted in light conversation.

Dzitnup Cenotes, Samula, Valladolid, MexicoThis was to be the last cenote we visited on this trip. We had been in about a dozen at nine different sites and each had been a great memory. I immediately began considering when our next trip to the Yucatan would be. I hoped not too long.

To read about the logistics of seeing the Dzitnup Cenote yourself, go here.

A gallery of pictures from our trip to X’Keken and Samula cenotes is here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

Dzitnup Cenotes X’Keken and Samula – Tips on How to Visit for Yourself

Dzitnup Cenotes, Samula Valladolid, MexicoAbout 15 minutes southwest by car from the center of the colonial town of Valladolid is a nice pair of cenotes on the same property. Often named for the town they are next to, the Dzitnup Cenotes, they each have their own name as well: X’Keken and Samula. One entrance fee of 59 pesos per person provides access to both. There is an open air market selling touristy items and snacks. The two cenotes are a few hundred yards apart – follow the signs to each. The order you visit each doesn’t matter much.Dzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, Mexico

On the day we visited, it was early and there were only a dozen or so folks in each cenote, so it didn’t feel crowded. It can be busier at other times, especially if a tour bus or two arrives. The two cenotes are near mirror images of each other. With each, there is a steep set of stairs leading into the underground cavern where a super clear body of water awaits you. Stairs lead into the water and will need a little navigation if you have mobility issues. There is a nice platform with a few places to sit along the water of each.

These fairly shallow cenotes are more about swimming than snorkeling or diving. The water’s depth still requires treading water in most places, although it is shallow enough in spots to stand on the bottom. Bring a vest or flotation device for relaxed swimming. The lighting is dim in each cavern being lit by a single natural skylight. Each feels a lot like a cavernous dome with a well-place hole in the ceiling.

Dzitnup Cenotes, Samula, Valladolid, MexicoTo see Dzitnup, there are some tours offered from Cancun or Playa del Carmen that combine the stop with Chichen Itza. Driving yourself is a nice option. It is about 2 hours from Cancun and should be combined with stops at ruins Chichen Itza or Ek Balam or with cenotes Ik Kil or the other ones in the area (Zaci, Palomitas, Agua Dulce or the one at Ek Balam). Stay in Valladolid, Peste or one of the resorts near Chichen Itza to make it a multi-day. There is plenty to see to the west by Merida as well.

Dzitnup Cenote detail map, Valladolid, Mexico
Google Maps 2017

to reach Dzitnup cenote from Cancun, take highway 180d. This limited access road is basically like an American interstate and makes the trip go quickly. There is a pretty expensive toll of about 300 pesos along the route each way. You can also drive via lesser roads that run parallel to 180d, including 180, but it will take a good bit longer as you won’t be driving as fast and you’ll  have to deal with the topes (rough speed bumps) going through each town. Besides this, these roads are in pretty good shape.

Dzitnup Cenote detail map, Valladolid, Mexico
google maps 2017

You can find Dzitnup cenotes in Google Maps. Search for “Dzitnup Cenotes” or if that doesn’t work, try “Cenotes X’quequén y Samula”. There was pretty good signage for the last turn off of 180.

I write here about our experience at Dzitnup cenote.

A gallery of pictures from our trip is located here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

 

Dzitnup Cenotes Gallery – Pictures from Our Trip. Advice on Seeing it Yourself.

Dzitnup Cenotes is a nice pair of cenotes (X’Keken and Samula) on one site that is located inland in the Mexican Yucatan near the colonial town of Valladolid. Swimming or maybe a bit of snorkeling is the main attraction as these natural swimming holes are completely underground lit only by a single natural skylight. Here are a few pictures from our visit and more information including tips on how to see it yourself is at the bottom.

Dzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, MexicoDzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, MexicoDzitnup Cenotes, X'Keken Valladolid, MexicoDzitnup Cenotes, Samula Valladolid, MexicoDzitnup Cenotes, Samula, Valladolid, Mexico Dzitnup Cenotes, Samula Valladolid, Mexico

A detailed description of our visit is located here.

To read about the logistics of seeing the Dzitnup Cenote yourself, go here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

Cenote Ik Kil, Mexico’s Most Visited is Well Worth Your Time

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.

Cenote Ik Kil – How to Visit it for Yourself

Cenote Ik Kil is likely the most visited of all cenotes due to a combination of its location (a couple of miles from Chichen-Itza) and its size. Its dimensions are impressive: 200 feet in diameter, 85 feet to the water and an additional 130 feet deep.

The vast majority of people who visit Ik Kil do so via tour bus. Every day, thousands of tourists ride from nearby Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Merida to see Chichen-Itza. Many of these also feature a stop at Ik Kil to see the cenote and have a buffet lunch.

It is easy to drive yourself, although it takes a couple of hours from Cancun. Highway 180D runs between Cancun and Merida passing just north of Chichen-Itza and Ik Kil. It is a limited access road that is built like a US interstate, but there is a fairly expensive toll that requires cash so bring some along. It was something like 300 pesos when we drove it (each way). You can avoid the toll if you use other roads, but it will take much longer. Most Mexican roads are full of topes (big speed bumps!) that really slow the trip.

google maps 2017

We drove ourselves, and stayed in Piste at Hotel Chichen-Itza the night before. This allowed us to get to Chichen-Itza when it opened for some valuable time before the masses arrived. There are other hotels in the immediate area for all price ranges, including the resort located right at cenote Ik Kil. For us, Hotel Chichen Itza was a great value for a fine motel.

Another reason to make the trip yourself is the abundance of other things to see nearby and on the way from Cancun or Merida. Just east of Ik Kil is the pleasant colonial town of Valladolid, which has its own cenote (Zaci) and two more in nearby Dzitnup (X’Keken and Samula). The underrated Mayan site of Ek Balam is a bit north of Valladolid and there are three cenotes up that way – Agua Dulce, Palomitas and one at Ek Balam itself. Tours are available from Cancun and Playa del Carmen that go to Ek Balam and its cenote if desired.

It cost 70 pesos each to enter cenote Ik Kil. The area is a resort, and it is setup to handle much larger crowds than was there when we visited. A large changing area with available lockers is next door and, as with all cenotes, guests are required to shower before entering. You should avoid lotions and perfumes on the day of your visit.

You have to descend 85 feet on a wide, winding staircase. The stairs can be wet, so watch your step. Once you reach the bottom, there is a ladder of sorts that leads into the water that might be treacherous if you have mobility issues. The water is 130 feet deep throughout, so if you get in the water, you have to tread water the whole time or bring a vest or float along. I didn’t see much reason to bring snorkel gear. There is no place to safely store things down here, although there is an area where folks spread out their belongings. On the day we visited, everyone was polite about the placement of things and thievery is likely rare, but take care of your valuables.   

There is a restaurant on site, but as we drove up we couldn’t find a meal that suited us. It appeared to just be a buffet that was included in most tour group’s experience, but they wanted a price that was beyond what we were willing to pay. We snacked on cheese crackers we brought along instead. A few shops are here if you have a wish to browse. They took $US or pesos, but the pesos were a better deal.

 

To read about how to experience Ik Kil Cenote for yourself, click here.

A gallery of pictures from our trip is located here.

To read about my trip to nearby Chichen-Itza, go here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

Cenote Ik Kil Gallery for the Careful Traveler

Cenote Ik Kil is a dramatic cenote a couple of miles from Chichen-Itza. It is often included in tours from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Here are a few pictures from our visit there.


To read about how to experience Ik Kil Cenote for yourself, click here.

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

You can read about our trip to Chichen-Itza here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

Cenote Sac Actun; Explore Part of the World’s Longest Underground River

Cenote Sac Actun (from the Spanish and Yucatec Maya meaning “White Cave”) is an amazing underground river that is only surpassed by Rio Secreto for a river cave experience for the casual tourist. Located conveniently in Riviera Maya, it is a must see if you can do so.

Sac Actun cenote is part of the much larger Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave System) which is a mostly underwater cave system that totals 319 km (nearly 200 miles) of discovered passages, making it the second longest discovered cave system in the world (after Mammoth Cave). The water in Sac Actun, like in most cenotes, is constantly refreshed by fresh water moving from the Yucatan inland to the ocean. At Cenote Sac Actun, a couple sink holes provide convenient access for a wonderful cave tour.

We drove up to the spot located down a dirt road a few miles further inland than Cenote Dos Ojos. We found a guide waiting and arranged for the tour with him. A few other guests showed up over the next few minutes to bring our little group of about 10. One of the groups had a guide who brought them here in his car. He spoke with the guide and told him that his group only had time for one cenote, and he believed that if you can only see one, that Sac Actun was the best choice. He may be right.

I do not understand how the best cenote in the area is so little visited when others just a few miles closer to the main road are many times busier. No doubt this improves the experience for those of us who make the trip, so make sure you add yourself to the list before more learn of this amazing spot.

Sac Actun, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Pet Cemetery Cenote

Pet Cemetery

From the parking area, it is a short walk to the first cenote that provided access. Called Pet Cemetery, we were shown some prehistoric bones under water that gave the place its name. We first journey in one direction in the cave that appeared at the end of the boardwalk, wading in waist-deep water. The ground is not muddy and the walk is easy and fun, although the coolness of the water takes a bit of getting used to. The cave soon opens up into a larger room where a hole in the ceiling served as a reminder to us about the oddity of the geology of the area – throughout the Yucatan, the very ground we walked on might contain an underground limestone passage – dry, fully or partially filled with water.

The natural sky-light allows a focused bit of sunlight to penetrate the dark cavern, turning the water a light blue that reminds us of how clear this water is. A couple of small plants have managed to grow up on the little island of rocks below the light and vine tendrils reach down to tap the life-giving water along the edge of the hole.

We pose for pictures and then, doubling back, we return to Cenote Pet Cemetery and continue on in a more cave like passage on the far side. Soon, the water grows deeper and we are bobbing along like corks supported by our life jackets. Stalactites cover the walls, often dropping into the water. We move amongst them and I’m surprised how close we are allowed to get.

Into the Dark

Cenote Sac Actun’s passages are lit at intervals by basic artificial lighting as we use our arms to propel ourselves slowly along the watery passage, not wanting to miss any of it. Using the snorkel gear, we go face down when we take the notion and study the sunken stalagmites, columns and other formations below water in the dim light. After moving along in this manner for a while, we eventually came out in a larger passage complete with an opening in the high ceiling accessible by a set of installed stairs. I feared that our tour was already at an end, but we went around the stairs and deeper into the cave.

The ceiling closes down on us, and we find ourselves having to watch our way regularly to avoid bumping our heads on the stalactites growing increasingly dense. No artificial lighting exists here at all, and soon the only light we have is the single flashlight carried by our guide. When asked, he says that he has only ran out of batteries once and then chuckled privately at the memory without offering us any consolidation as to what happened or if we might not repeat that experience. I wonder for the first time why I left our own waterproof flashlights in the car.

Bobbing along, cenote Sac Actun makes a couple of turns and the ceiling gets down to the point where even in the center of the room it feels like too little space above us. We could each easily reach up and grasp the smooth stalactites above our heads, but each is well behaved knowing the damage to ancient formations such an act could cause. The guide stops in a small room that barely fits us all and lets us sit there for a minute. It appears to be the crescendo of the tour. The room is covered in stalactites in a density that belies belief. No portion of the room is devoid of them, and all are barely above our heads. The lone light creates shadows about the place and shoots long tendrils of shadow and light into the two narrow passages of water and stone that lead off to either side. We grin to one another and in hushed tones revel at the wonder of it.

Who Turned Out the Lights?

Soon, the guide decides that he must adhere to the long tradition of shutting off his single light and we are all plunged into complete darkness. If you have never been on a cave tour, you cannot know how deep this darkness is, for we never encounter complete darkness in our normal lives. Even on moonless nights, the stars and reflected sunlight from the upper atmosphere provide a modicum of light. But here, the darkness is absolute and it seems to take on a palpable form of its own. I can sense the others around me trying as I am to not drift to one side or another knowing that in the darkness are pointy rocks that now seem more like spears than welcoming natural wonders and none want to have their heads pierced by them.

The guide’s flashlight works as he switches it back on and visibility is returned to us. He now leads us back toward the last set of stairs that we saw and we climb out, our adventure in cenote Sac Actun complete.

If you’d like to learn how to bob along in Cenote Sac Actun yourself, go here.

To see a gallery of pictures from our journey, click here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

Cenote Sac Actun – How to See for Yourself

Cenote Sac Actun is a wonderful cave-like cenote that can be easily experienced – on your own or via a tour/guide. It is well worth the time and money and sits second on my list of favorite cenotes.

It is conveniently located in Riviera Maya along highway 307 just 24 km north of Tulum and 53 km south of Playa del Carmen. Watch for the road to the west just south of Parque Zel-Ha and along the same dirt road as Dos Ojos which makes for a great one-two cenote trip. There is a sign just past the stop for Dos Ojos that indicates you are heading in the right direction. It is 2 km from Dos Ojos to Sac Actun (there is a 90° turn to the left and then it is just a bit further. We easily did it in a regular compact car, but take your time. If you took a taxi to Dos Ojos, the walk is level and the road broad enough to give you a shoulder to walk on (the traffic is not that busy).

Google maps 2017

Once you arrive, there will be guides there you can hire for the trip (I don’t think going alone is allowed). The cost was about 350 pesos and I don’t think there is a break for children. It is worth the cost. Cheap snorkel gear is provided and a nice life vest, but bring your own if you have it. Flippers are not useful. The tour groups were kept small for the ones I saw.

The walk to and from the tour is on even ground and is only a few hundred yards total. There is a steep ladder that you have to descend to enter the cave at Pet Cemetery Cenote and a set of broader steps to climb out of when done. Probably only a few dozen steps in total. You will need to walk in the water (the bottom is not muddy) and swim along (in a life vest, which is required) for portions of the trip when the water gets too deep. The total distance might be one kilometer. Your arms might get a little tired of propelling yourself along, but for portions of it you can go vertical with the the snorkel and use your legs. The trip is not rushed.

Cenote Sac Actun is a natural cave experience. Very little has been done to improve it beyond the steps and rudimentary lighting, but that is a good thing. If you are afraid of water or too claustrophobic, you might not like this trip. You are never crawling or squeezing through any passages, but the ceiling does come down low a few times. Not head gear is provided so watch your head.

There are many cenotes in this area – Sac Actun and Dos Ojos are the highlights for me, but taking a day or three to see several of them would be great fun. By all means, rent a car to save some money and do it at your own pace. If you are uncomfortable with that, there are tours and guides that are happy to take you wherever you want to go.

If I could only do one cenote in the Tulum area, Sac Actun would be it. The experience is very natural and a great break from the more touristy spots that dominate Riviera Maya. Kids of all ages who are comfortable in water will have a blast.

 

To read about the experience of swimming through Sac Actun, go here.

To see a gallery of pictures from our journey, click here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.

 

Cenote Dos Ojos – The Ayes have It! See if for Yourself!

When I was a child I loved caves. I only got to tour a couple during my whole childhood, but that experience and books I read stirred my imagination. I once got my hands on an old roll of wallpaper that was about 20’ long. Unrolling it from the far end of my living room, down the hall and into the kitchen, I drew a side view of a cave all along it, complete with pits, stalactites, stalagmites and a few monsters to make it interesting. Then I journeyed into the cave in my imagination and overcame these obstacles. I have maintained my love of caves ever since.

Finding out that there were caves in the Mexican Yucatan that could be swam in and snorkeled, I knew that I had to experience these firsthand. Dos Ojos is one of these caves, known locally as cenotes. Dos Ojos is a great location for cave diving, but I am not a diver. Still, this place was a memorable experience.

As the name implies, there are two cenotes here, and we headed first for the larger one, Ojo Oeste (West Eye). Like many cenotes, the water is in a crescent shape, the center of the cave having collapsed long ago and is now dry ground. But along the crescent is crystal-clear aqua water under an overhang and passages lead back into the limestone.  Various groups of divers or snorkelers cluster about, usually led by a guide, but we are here on our own and taking the first platform we come to, we get our snorkel gear on. The water is refreshingly cool as we plunge off of the steps into the water.

Turning to the right, we slide past a stalactite that drops from the ceiling into the water and we venture into Baticueva – the Bat Cave. It is a smallish room with low ceilings, and we move slowly to avoid bumping into any of the formations or knocking our head. In places, we had to be careful to not hit the ceiling if we took our head out of the water for a look around. The darkness was not complete, but it nearly was, especially underwater, where only our waterproof flashlights pushed back against the darkness and any perceived dangers our imagination might place back there.

But the only things in the water are the swimmers and a few tiny fish – mollies, guppies and Tetra that I remembered from my childhood aquarium. We move slowly out of the Bat Cave into the larger area but still hug the wall where the formations are more interesting. Stalactites hang from the ceiling, sometimes plunging into the water. Below, stalagmites poke up from the ground below, betraying that the cave wasn’t always so inundated with water. Occasionally another pair of snorkelers ventured into our area, but we waited and they moved on, leaving us mostly alone in our private world of wonder.

To the right, a submerged passage appears leading off deeper into the cave. We stop there for a moment and watch a few divers swim languorously in the the depths. Their flashlights light their way and reflect off of the bubbles floating from their respirators. The passages are wide and deep, and for the first time I seriously reconsidered whether I should take up diving to be able to swim through those cave passages. We watch them for a few minutes, fascinated by the otherworldly experience.

We continue along and reach a narrow spot with a low roof that leads us to one final area. Here, the orientation has changed enough that the morning sun is now plunging into the water, creating hypnotic beams of light that pierce the water and make undulations of light against the walls and uneven floor. We stop in that spot and bask in the view for a time, enjoying the play of light and the myriad azure shades it creates.

We left the cenote and went to the second eye, Ojo Este (East Eye), a smaller body of water that connected via underwater tunnels back to the first. Divers moved between the two cenotes in a short distance while we had to walk a few hundred yards.

We’ll always remember the sight of the divers moving through the cave tunnels and the wonder of swimming in a cave filled with refreshingly clear water dotted with stalactites.

To see how to take a dip in Cenote Dos Ojos yourself, click here.

You can see a gallery of our own trip to Cenote Dos Ojos here.

Return to my ranked list of cenotes.