Underground playlands await visitors to the Yucatan

By Marhuanta Barreto, Olympus Tours (www.olympus-tours.com)

Think of hundreds of miles of streams flowing around under giant slabs of limestone bedrock. Then imagine big pieces of the limestone caving in here and there, leaving parts of the underground waterways exposed, much like wells.

No one’s ever counted them, but eastern Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula could be peppered by as many as 6,000 such wells. The ancient Mayans called them ts’ono’at – meaning “abysmal and deep” because they believed the holes were entrances to the underworld. After the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan, the holes became known as cenotes (the Spanish pronunciation of ts’ono’at).

Following is a guide to the Yucatan’s four kinds of cenotes. Many are big enough for tourists to enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling or just swimming around, sometimes underground from cenote to cenote. (Also, in some spots swimmers can get free “spa treatments” by harmless little fish nibbling at their feet.)

1. Open cenotes with vertical walls

2. Semi-open (pitcher shaped) cenotes

3. Small lake cenotes (water holes)

4. Cave cenotes with underground rivers

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