Photograph by Christian Vizl, Tandem
Read Caption

A swimmer floats through sun-streaked water in one of the Yucatán Peninsula's many limestone sinkholes.

Photograph by Christian Vizl, Tandem

Plunge Into Mexico's Flooded Caves

Explore the dazzling water-filled sinkholes of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Beneath lush greenery, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is like Swiss cheese. The bedrock is pocked with thousands of sinkholes, formed when limestone collapses and cool groundwater seeps in.

In centuries past, the Maya relied on cenotes for freshwater and believed they were portals to the gods. Now divers explore the depths, but you don’t need special certifications to enjoy the pools at the surface.

Down a dirt road fringed by jungle, Dos Ojos Cenote was almost ready to close by the time we got there. Divers in wet suits and kids in swimsuits trundled out into the parking lot, but—happily—the clerk let us in. Down the creaky wooden steps that led into the pool, we discovered we were completely alone.

We sank into the 76°F water, illuminated in gem-tone shades of blue and green by the late afternoon light. Our hushed voices echoed against the cave ceiling, which swept over our heads like a grand opera house.

Below, rock formations sank away into a 30-foot-deep pool, while passages led much deeper. We floated and breast stroked until our fingers were wrinkly, taking in the delicate stillness of this singular window into the Earth.

A couple of days later, we visited Gran Cenote and found a very different experience: a lively party. Families and couples picnicked on a small lawn as we descended stairs to the sunlit pool, teeming with snorkelers. Through our masks, we watched fish and turtles circle stalactites and stalagmites. About 30 feet below, divers’ headlamps lit the craggy depths.

We finned back and forth then warmed up aboveground with others who had come to delight in the luminous pleasures and wild wonders of this stone-rimmed pool in the jungle.

Cave Diver vs. Tricky Maya Elves Underwater archaeologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Guillermo de Anda shares his encounter with the mythical aluxes. He investigates remote caves and cenotes in search of ancient structures, temples, and remnants of ancient Maya culture.