Types of Cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula
Open, semi-open, cavern & ancient
Geological formations of cenotes
Every time I see a cenote, I imagine the ancient Maya giving an explanation of its symbolism in each of its forms. To this ancient civilization, they were associated with mysticism, a connection to the underworld. Not only were they important for their mystical connection, but also for being an important source of water, if not the most important.
What in ancient times was synonymous with wealth, today is one of contemplation and beauty to visitors. Whenever we see a cenote, we admire its natural beauty as we understand that water is the most outstanding natural resource, cenotes are the soul of the jungle.
Cenotes are classified as open, semi-open, cavern or ancient. This classification is also determined by the age of the cenote (those being mature or senior are usually more open).
Because of their age, these cenotes are usually open to the surface, bigger in diameter, looking like lakes with high walls in the middle of the Mayan jungle. Wilderness grows not only around it, it even flourishes in the middle of the water creating small patches that you can explore while swimming. Often times, these cenotes are the habitat for an extensive and diverse flora and fauna such as fish, frogs and birds, including the toh bird, guide of the jungle explorers. These cenotes are also the ideal playground to enjoy and have fun, such as sliding down a zipline and doing an amazing splash-landing.
The sun’s rays coming together with water provides the abundant wildlife of these open cenotes. The warm sunlight, the fresh water and the activities in these cenotes provide an ideal background to play and enjoy. They are characterized by its cylindrical shape, standing out for its spectacular flora that cover its high walls and rock formations. An example of this kind of cenote is the Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza. These kind of cenotes are idyllic to practice snorkeling or kayaking depending on its extension.
These cenotes have the contrast of two things: one part of it is open and another runs beneath a surface which creates half a cavern where it is common to find birds nests on the natural holes of the stone. For those adventurous souls, these landscapes are perfect for base jumping, ziplining or rappel depending on the resources.
The underground river runs below these cenotes, and if it wasn’t for the small leaks on the surface, these cenotes would have never been discovered. Closed cenotes are generally circular and enigmatic. To find them, it is usually necessary to walk through caves until you reach a vault-like cave where turquoise water springs from the bottom coloring the whole place. Here, it is common to find bats, hanging from the ceilings. In some of these cenotes the ceiling has small holes through which sun beams penetrate the cave and creating a unique spectacle of illumination.
As the name suggests, these cenotes are found underneath the ground. As the perception of light begins at the entrance, little is known about where it ends. Out of the characteristics of these cenotes grows the mysticism of the entrance to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. Often times, these cenotes require deep excavations, scuba diving expertise and intrepid explorers that travel through stretch underground rivers that suddenly open up to a majestic cavern filled with stalactites and stone columns.
Exploring the Oasis Maya
Regardless of their shape or size, cenotes are important because of the legends and history they sustain. A visit to a cenote means not only connecting with nature, but obtaining respect for its cultural and symbolic meaning. For the Maya, cenotes were sacred and they often offered tributes in gratitude for the abundance of water. The cenotes are life; life that lies in the richness of its cultural context. Respect their history and the cenote itself will restore the natural beauty, giving us the opportunity to find inside of ourselves the same magic it keeps.