A subterranean labyrinth of caves and stunning blue lakes with a mystical past: Yucatan

There are some 3000 cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, created after a meteorite hit Earth over 66 million years ago. Not only did this colossal asteroid instantly create a whole mountain range and cause wildfires, but it also caused catastrophic tsunamis, leaving behind a crater of 180 kilometres - which ultimately led to the end of dinosaur life.

The asteroid was a whopping 10-15 kilometres in diameter. Enormous. The impact altered the limestone rocks, weakening them and making them more susceptible to erosion.

Cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) are formed as naturally acidic rain filters down over thousands of years and dissolves away the (porous) limestone, creating hidden, underground, water-filled reservoirs. In the Yucatan, the caves are linked to other caves via numerous subterranean streams and rivers.

If geology is your thing (and even if it’s not), the sight of the resulting cenotes is amazing. They are not only stunning – the water is turquoise/jade green - but also very historically significant.

The word cenote comes from the Mayan word for water deposit or well and throughout the labyrinth, you may come across Mayan artefacts. Archaeologists believe that the Mayans saw these water passages as links to the underworld, as well as using them for water supplies and as a place to make sacrifices whilst communicating with their gods.

The Mayan Civilisation was very advanced for its time; like the Ancient Egyptians, they built pyramids and developed hieroglyphics. They were also accomplished mathematicians, astronomers and experts at beekeeping, from which they derived honey and wax. An indigenous people of hunter-gatherers, they arrived in the Yucatan around 2500 B.C, where they settled.

The cenotes fall into one of three categories: either they are completely open air, or they allow a ray of light in, or they lie in caves. They make up the largest submerged water system in the world and are open to swimmers, snorkelers or scuba-divers.

The cenotes are surrounded by luscious, tropical trees and the water is both rich in minerals (i.e. good for you) and very clear; in many places the water has been fully filtered by the earth, allowing swimmers to see the small fish and aquatic plants clearly. It’s an idyllic place for photography – both above the water and beneath - and the perfect combination of nature and ancient history.

Further reading:

Yucatán - HISTORY

Maya | People, Language, & Civilization | Britannica

The Dino-Killing Asteroid Impact Also Created A Stunningly Beautiful Geological Masterpiece (forbes.com)

Here’s where to see the top cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula (nationalgeographic.com)

How to Pretend You’re in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, Today - The New York Times (nytimes.com)