After watching another beautiful sunrise at the beach outside my Coco Tulum cabana, I ate breakfast at the Playa Azul restaurant. It was delicious as usual. After that I walked back along the beach and found my tour guide, Blake, waiting to take me to the Gran Cenote.
We made our way along the Tulum Beach road past a little ‘pueblito’ of palapa shops selling t-shirts and local carvings and out through the Tulum jungle reserve in his dune buggy. After that we drove another 7 minutes north towards the Coba ruins through virgin jungle on a road which was barely a paved goat’s path a few years ago.
It’s only a little sign that warns the speeding drivers that they are about to pass one of the best cenote snorkeling spots in the Yucatan.
We entered the cenote park through a palapa-style entrance beside a sleepy guide. It was a beautiful short stroll along a pebbled garden walkway lined with local flowering shrubs. The Riviera Maya is rich with a wide variety of plants and flowers. There are an estimated 20 to 30 thousand different species of plants growing in Mexico, which is considered to be one of the most floristically diverse countries in the world.
We arrived at the top ledge looking into a breathtaking tropical sinkhole oasis. The Gran Cenote was formed over a period of thousands of years when rainwater wore away the limestone making its way back to the sea.
As we walked around the lip of the cenote I heard some scuba divers getting suited up on the island in the middle of the sinkhole, talking about exploring the tunnels snaking off from the main pool. There are hundreds of miles of divers ‘line’ in the Riviera Maya tunnels.
I have been in many cenotes before, but most were in out in the sunshine – this one was like entering the yawning mouth of a prehistoric rock creature … and right where the throat should start I took a deep breath and plunged downwards, not expecting the small cave above the water to suddenly expand into an arena the size of a small stadium, filled with stalagmites and stalactites.
The bubbles from the diving group swimming below me rose up and I watched the group enter one of the tunnels near the bottom. I have heard of divers finding completely blind fish in those tunnels that after millenniums of years in the dark have lost the ability to see.
I spent the next hour swimming around the island and I peered into more tunnel entrances with lots of colorful cenote fish swimming in and out of the rocks. All in all it was breathtaking.
On the dock after the swim, my tour guide Blake, who I now consider a good friend, told me that the Mayan name for Gran Cenote is ‘Sac Aktun’, which in english means ‘White cave’, possibly because the island was formed when the cave’s thin roof collapsed thousands of years ago letting in the sunlight.
I heard some young children snorkeling and I thought what a sacred and special place for parents to bring their children on holiday.
I closed my eyes and felt thanks that I had the opportunity to experience such wondrous beauty tucked away in the virgin jungles of Tulum.
Until next time…