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Mexico: Cenotes in the Yucatán – A Photo Essay

December 5, 2009

The cenote, a word that derives from the Native American term referring to sacred water sources, occurs when underground caverns through which water flows collapse, leaving a hole in the surface of the Earth.  The features are most often found in areas with limestone geological substructure.  In Mexico they were considered especially significant to the pre-Hispanic cultures, although they are also found in Florida and the Bahamas, which have similar geology, and in the USA they are famous for sinking cars, houses, streets, even whole sub-divisions.  One such feature near Gainesville, Florida, called the Devil’s Millhopper, was once subject to local superstitions, and attempts were made to fill it with concrete.  To no avail, to belabor the obvious.

Many of the cenotes in Mexico are well-known.  We were fortunate to meet a Viet Nam veteran who had lived in the Yucatán for many years and was willing to guide us to remote sites in the bush where we saw many unique versions of this natural wonder.

Probably more of these formations await discovery, both in the Yucatán and in Quntana Roo.

1) The big one at Chitzen Itza, where the Mayans threw gold, children, young women, and whatever else they considered useful as sacrificial objects

2) Lots of bats flew out of this one, after we trekked a couple hours through the bush to find the spot.

3) Occasionally, thoughtful locals made pathways to the cenotes, most of which are miles off the nearest road.  A Viet Nam vet (pictured here) who had resettled in Mexico showed us many of the more remote sites.

4) A good spot for cliff diving

5) Flora run wild

6) Murky but very swimmable

7) Deep in the jungle

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