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Cenotes—Natural Marvels of the Yucatán Peninsula

Cenotes—Natural Marvels of the Yucatán Peninsula

 Cenotes​—Natural Marvels of the Yucatán Peninsula


THE Yucatán Peninsula affords one of the most beautiful natural marvels in Mexico and the world​—the cenote. What is a cenote?

The term comes from the Maya word dz’onot, meaning “cavern with deposited water,” and it is used by geologists to designate a natural limestone well, or sinkhole. The Yucatán Peninsula is composed of porous limestone rock, perforated long ago by rainwater that filtered down to the subsoil. Later, where cavities had developed, the top portion of the limestone collapsed, leaving the water exposed in deep natural wells of green and blue, many of which are surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. In some the water is almost at ground level, while in others the water is far below ground level. Speleologists (scientists who study caves) and divers have made attempts to explore the cenotes but in many cases have not been able to get to the bottom because of their great depth.

Maya cities and ceremonial centers sprang up around these cenotes, as they were an important source of water and were considered the home of the rain god, Chac. Several such cenotes are found near the famous Chichén Itzá ruins. One is known as the Sacred Cenote, or the Cenote of Sacrifices. Here archaeologists have dredged up human skeletons (particularly of children) as well as precious objects, such as jade, gold, and copper, confirming the legend that human sacrifices and other offerings were thrown into the cenotes to invoke the rain god.

Of an intense royal blue and surrounded by dense vegetation, the Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote) near Chetumal, Quintana Roo, is one of the most visited. This sheer-walled cenote is between 700 and 1,000 feet [200-300 m] across, is estimated to be about 300 feet [90 m] deep, and connects with the many-hued Bacalar Lagoon through subterranean channels. Swimming in these pristine cenote waters is an unforgettable experience.

In addition to Mexico, similar sinkholes are found in Australia, Cuba, Turkey, and parts of Europe. But on the Yucatán Peninsula, hundreds have been discovered, while outside this region, they are a rare phenomenon. You are invited to visit a cenote to enjoy firsthand this natural marvel.

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Cenote X-Keken, Yucatán

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Crystal Cenote, Quintana Roo

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Bacalar Lagoon and Cenote Azul (below)

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© Michael Friedel-Woodfin Camp and Associates