Swimming in a private cenote, Akumal and Tulum

Cenote! The word conjures up all sorts of images. It is a hole in the ground, a sinkhole. It is formed by the collapsing limestone rock, exposing underground water. I must mention at this point that the ancient Mayans used it for sacrifices. Yes, sacrifices. So, you can see our trepidations on having to visit one. We imagined all sorts of scenarios that no doubt stemmed from seeing too many horror movies. But there was no turning back. We were sitting in a van with a few other brave souls going on a private tour. The cenote we wanted to visit is located in the Yucatan peninsula about a two-hour drive from Cancun. It is located deep in the jungle on a private Mayan reserve. It is only accessible via a licensed tour operator who has an agreement with the locals. So, on our recent trip to Mexico where we stayed in Playa Del Carmen, my sister and I decided to visit one. That is how we came to be in this van getting bounced around like tennis balls on a bumpy dirt road for well over half an hour.

When we finally arrived at a small village. We were treated to a traditional lunch prepared for us by the villagers. After lunch, we took a half-hour (well it felt like a half-hour) hike through the jungle, where we were the lunch, an offering to local mosquitos!

We arrived at the opening. My sister Marina and I looked at each other, jaws dropped. It was a small, tiny little opening in the ground, with sketchy stairs leading down. Gingerly we slunk slowly towards it. As we neared, we saw a  sight we will never forget; crystal-clear blue water, with pillars of stalagmites rising upwards from the floor of a cave. Our mouths opened even wider the closer we got. The cave is pitch black except for the string of lights hung by the locals that only get turned on when the group arrives.

We took turns jumping into the water. It was cold. But that didn’t stop us. The mandatory life jackets kept us warm at the core. Our fearless guide led the way through various chambers pointing at some fish life in the water, bats fluttering above us (Yes, we saw bat caves) and amazing animal-shaped stalactites that hung downwards from the ceiling like some prehistoric creatures. I would hate to think what would happen if the lights went out.

One from my bucket lists ticked off.

Opening into the cenote
Adriane getting ready for the dive.
The cave is pitch-black, only by artificial light can we proceed.
This cenote was breathtaking.
Water was cold, but crystal clear.

Akumal is a small town named after turtles that is known for. It means “Place of the Turtle” in the Mayan language. It is one of the oldest coastal resorts in the Yucatan peninsula. A small, coastal town lined with beachside shops. It has stunning coral reefs, and its rich marine life, in particular turtles. That is what we came here to see. After being equipped with life jackets, masks and snorkels we proceeded onto the beautiful white sandy beach where our guide gave us some safety tips and hand signals that proved useful when we spotted turtles to communicate to our fellow turtle spotters. Although I abandoned all hand signals in favour of screaming. Yes, I did yell at the top of my lungs “Turtle, turtle”. It was very exciting to see turtles swimming in their natural environment. The place we were was a breeding ground for turtles: large, big, fast, slow… We had a great time. Spotted some fish as well. Our guide did mention there could be sting rays, although I chose not to hear that part. It is called selective hearing. My sister did hear that and was on the lookout!  She had a bad experience with an overzealous eel in Hawaii. But that is another story, one told only after many ales have been poured.

I must say that the water was very warm, and we both loved the experience, except for the life jackets which we found cumbersome. We wished we didn’t have to wear them. There is an admission fee to the park, but our tour included that. I only regret not having enough time there.

Small quaint village of Akumal
Getting equipped with lifejackets, masks and snorkels.
Marina is all excited to see the turtles.
Ready for the turtles
Spotted one
And another

Tulum, what can I say that it hasn’t been said already. It was an ancient Mayan city that thrived between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. In its glory it served as a major port and thrived on sea trade, especially obsidian.  That got me wondering where that obsidian came from? It is usually formed by lava flow as it cools. So, I googled it and found out that Yucatan peninsula is where the 15 km asteroid hit 66 million years ago. That caused the limestone to break and form many holes. It also caused worldwide catastrophe. Some people believe that it was this event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. This Chicxulub crater is not visible today as it is mostly under water, but it is seeable in its effect on the geology of Yucatan peninsula.

Tulum ruins are a great place to visit and learn about the ancient Mayans and their way of life. But do yourself a favor and go with a guide, as you will get in-depth insight into it, not to mention the stories passed down through generations.

Locals fixing the wall, the old ways.
A prickly situation
Some buildings are extremely well preserved.
Beautiful artwork of gods adorns the buildings.
Views of the turbulent ocean below.
Marina at the viewpoint
Adriane at the viewpoint
The view was incredible.

After a long and exciting day, we were very happy and beaming with satisfaction. Looking forward to our next adventure which is already in the plans.

Polo sisters planning their next adventure.

For a more Indepth video check it out on our YouTube channel: Marco Polo Family Ties