Description by Outdoor Swimming Society on behalf of Outdoor Swimming Society
The limestone bedrock is so porous in the Yucatan area of Mexico that rivers are swallowed whole. In places the rock above collapses, exposing underground pools or cenotes (’sacred wells) where it is possible to swim. The water is filtered by the earth, rendered transparent and pure. They are startling to find: above ground there is jungle scrub, dirt and dust.. beneath: a bright blue subterranean world, with tree roots acting as rope swings and ladders.
Floating on your back looking back up at the sky, the aperture framed by hanging vines and giant tropical trees, is likely to be an un-tequila related highpoint of any trip to the Yucatan.
Description by Kate Rew who added this swim
I swam in these in Mexico one Christmas 20 years ago high on days spent drinking tequila and nights sleeping in hammocks, so readily admit to having no exact recollection of where they are.
However - I was with a friend who had been living in Merida since university, and heard about swimming holes in his pigeon Spanish from a guy in the carwash.
We walked to a border of high bush marked the edge of Tulum* town, and we picked our way past the exhaust, dried pee and dust that had blown against the scrub. Out the other side in the bush we weaved along an unknown path amidst lower prickles, follow my leader one after the other, improbably looking for a hole in the ground.
‘Jump!’ said Beau, as we arrived. I stripped off to my bikini and leapt after him into my first cenote: a world I had not previously known even existed.
Just below the dry earth and windblown detritus was a perfect clean freshwater underworld, a clear azure universe of stalactites and freshwater caves. We swam freely in the areas lit by sunshine, and nervously under the stalactites.
I can't remember exactly how we got out... perhaps something to check before getting in?
I am sure there must be heaps of more organised ways to do it by now...
Update: Many cenotes are now frequented, signposted, with walkways and within eco-parks, but their essential nature remains unchanged and I long to go back to make a map. On my list to visit (early in the morning before the crowds arrive): Cenote Azu, Cenote Dzitnup, Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Sacactun and Cenote Yokdzonot. Go clean and freshly washed - deodorant and sunscreen hurts the biota.
This is a crowd-sourced map. Abilities vary, and conditions change. Always assess risks for yourself before getting in.
Getting lost in the underground caves? Jumping in - and being unable to get back out?