The geography of the Yucatan peninsula is like that of a massive island, completely flat on the surface, with no hills or mountains. But if you look a little further, you will find that things are inverted here, and height gives way to depth, as openings in the ground give way to the world that lies beneath.
Cenotes are natural sinkholes which open up on the surface and lead to the subterranean world of the Yucatan’s underground river system. Inside is a massive, connected series of caves that go deep into the earth, possibly the largest of its kind on the planet.
This connects with the underground river system that flows beneath the Yucatan. Rainwater enters and becomes part of the flow which empties out to sea, with its distinct turquoise color.
The ancient Maya regarded cenotes in spiritual and religious terms. For them, it was the gateway to Xibalba, the Maya underworld, the place where there gods resided. It was they who commanded that the Maya deliver offerings of food, gold, and human sacrifice.
There is something about these caves that strongly affects those who enter. According to Otto von Bertrab, it will likely have a transformative effect on your life. Von Bertrab is the General Director at Rio Secreto, located 4 km south of Playa del Carmen. As a guest speaker at the conference on Sustainable Development in Playa del Carmen recently, he told a room full of visiting students what he views as the power of being inside a cenote. He noted the universally positive effects it has had on visitors, regardless of where they come from.
Humankind has been visiting these cenotes for quite some time. Even to this day, a visitor to a cenote may come across the skeletal remains of a prehispanic human who is not of Maya or Olmec origin, but from an earlier age. Humans have been in and out of these subterranean places for thousands of years, leaving a trace of themselves behind. The opportunity to visit one is like a trip back in time. For those raised in urban environments, a visit will likely leave its mark, as the other worldliness of the environment transcends all culture and ethnic backgrounds to work its magic on those who venture inside.