Ridin' the Riviera . . . in Mexico

Into the Sink(hole)
By Keith Rockmael
  |  Gorp.com

It's not only the Mayan villagers who keep one eye on the ever-growing development, but also the ejidos—working people given pieces of land by the government to farm, raise livestock, and hunt.

Often, this land contains cenotes—sinkholes where the limestone topsoil falls through to expose an underground river. Since the Yucatan boasts no aboveground rivers, cenotes were essential to the ancient Mayans as the primary way to access fresh water. It's estimated that there are about 4,000 cenotes in the Yucatan (though only one-tenth of them have been located). But now, cenotes—dark, mysterious, and beautiful—are becoming tourist areas, and cave diving is becoming increasingly popular as an ecotourism activity.

It's easy to see the appeal. Around 80 miles into my journey, I stop at the Grand Cenote, which looks like a large meteor crater filled with clear water. Even though the owners benefit from tourists, they haven't exploited their watery attraction—and don't care to. "We don't want to become another Cancun," says one of the locals overseeing the cenote. For now, it's not in danger. You won't find a snack bar or neon lights. And while Cancun salespeople act like hustlers, here the locals seem content with letting me do my thing.

So, after carefully climbing down the creaky wooden platform, I jump in with snorkel gear. The crisp water cools my skin as I flip my way through the crisp, clear water. Small fish, stalactites, and stalagmites greet my eyes. The cenote extends deep into caves and underground rivers; I could spend all day exploring, but I swim to a part of the cenote that's shallow enough to stand in and rest with my toes in the thick-grain sand.

The cenotes are safe. But I had a bike waiting for me.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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