Scuba Diving and Photography in the Mexico Cenotes

Photo adventure through the Mexico cenotes, including the best cenotes for photography, photo tips, travel advice, natural history and more
By Brent Durand

The Mayans believed that the cenotes where entryways into a sacred underground world. The dwellings of the rain god, Chaak, cenotes openings were used in special rituals and sacrificial events that coincide with a complicated celestial calendar.

Today there are still communities practicing rain ceremonies, however many more have learned just how special the cenotes really are. Divers from all over the world descend into the cool blue waters to explore the expansive system of caverns, tunnels and secret rooms lit by stunning sun rays under the jungle canopy.

Research buzzes in the cenotes as well, with discoveries of ancient skeletons up to 13,000 years old and even the bones of a mastodon.

 

What are the Cenotes?

Cenotes, aka sinkholes, are the upper portion of an expansive network of underwater cave systems in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico that expand all the way into the mountains of Belize. And while the cenotes are not all connected, many feed into vast local cave networks.

The cenotes were formed many years ago as tectonic plates shifted, raising coral reef systems above the surface of the ocean. Over time, this coral limestone was slowly eroded by rainwater, creating the caves and chambers of the cenotes. The rise and fall of water levels helped create the magnificent stalactites and stalagmites that divers see today.

Many of the cenotes are deep enough to connect to the water table, which in turn connects to the ocean. This unique setup means that the freshwater sits on top of saltwater. The area where they meet creates a halocline, which can only be descibed as a hazy interface between the layers. Divers who are able to visit less-frequented cenotes will be able to see these layers in their natural state (before being disturbed by passing divers), where even a slight frog kick twitch will send a burst of hazy water spiraling into the layer below.

 

A diver swims through a halocline in Eden cenote. Sony a7R II with Sony 28mm + fisheye converter. ISO 6400, f/5, 1/30.

 

Sometimes the most unique cenotes are a bit off the beaten path.

 

A Typical Cenotes Trip

Playa Del Carmen is the ideal home base for visiting the cenotes, although diving can be also be done while staying in Cancun or Cozumel. There are many different operators who typically offer two dives per day with hotel/resort pickup and return, plus lunch. Our dive travel agency, Bluewater Travel, works with several excellent operators whose guides are fun, talented divers with full cave certifications. View our list of cenotes diving operators.

The most popular cenotes will generally have the best on-site facilities (bathrooms, changing rooms, tables for gear and even souvenirs), while the less popular and more advanced cenotes will feel more raw. Several cenotes, like Dos Ojos and Eden, offer snorkeling in the pools for non-divers.

One important note is that cenotes dives explore areas where an exit is always within sight, so while you are diving in an overhead environment, a full cave certification and tech-oriented gear is not necessary. Following the line and instructions of your guide remains critical to a fun dive, and the routes will occasionally feel like you're deep in a cave.

The cenotes water temperature is about 77F, so a good 3mil wetsuit is fine for most (5mil if you get cold easily). They can be dived year-round, with varying beams of light depending on time of day and season; fun times for photographers. Air temps are warm but mild in the winter months and hot with chance of mosquitos during summer months. Visibility is incredible in the cenotes.

Accommodation ranges from all-inclusive party resorts to quiet white-sand beach retreats. And with 26 different cenotes, divers can visit for an intensive dive week or just add one scuba dive day to their Riviera Maya vacation.

 


Book your Cenotes Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect cenotes dive trip, including excursions to Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and more. Visit Bluewater's Yucutan Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.


 

 

The Cenotes in Photos

These photos were shot during the Bluewater Photo small group cenotes & sailfish trip in late February. A huge thanks to our incredible guides (who have budding dive model careers ;- )) Cesar and Nico of Scuba Playa, based in Playa Del Carmen.

Gear used for these photos:  Sony a7R II, Sony 28mm lens + fisheye converter, Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes. Shot in the a7R II's APS-C / Super 35 (crop sensor) mode.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gear used for these photos:  Sony a7R IISony 28mm lens + fisheye converterSea&Sea YS-D1 strobes.

 

Got questions about the cenotes or photography in the cenotes? I'm happy to share my experiences - just email brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is managing editor of the Underwater Photography Guide, an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Interested in joining Brent on a photo workshop? Email Bluewater Travel for more info!

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