New Things: Swim In A Cenote

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are so mundane you’ll think “Have you been living under a rock, Von Bargen?”  You can read about past adventures here.

Growing up on a lake in Minnesota, I spent approximately *90% of my childhood in the water. I canoed out to the nearest island, took a million years of swimming lessons, spent a lot of time throwing things in the water and then retrieving them.
So when I heard about the limestone swimming holes of the Yucatan I thought
a) “Hooray! A new body of water to swim in!”
b) (“But really it’s just a swimming hole, right?”)
You guys, cenotes are The Most Magical Swimming Holes That Have Ever HappenedThey’re insanely, unnervingly clear and deep and like something out of an 80’s movie involving adventures, and teenagers, and maybe a airplane crash on an island.

Technically, a cenote is “a natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”  Realistically, they’re magic, all over the Yucatan peninsula, and cheap to visit.My friend and I showed up at Crystal Cenote outside of Tulum dorkily early and happily paid $7 to spend as much time as we wanted at two different cenotes. We padded down a short path to a swimming hole that looked like something from Goonies.

* Tall diving platform? Check.
* Rope swing? Check.
* Ropes strung across the hole so you can sit on them (or walk on them and pretend you’re a tightrope walker. You know. Hypothetically.)
* Smart little fox dog who leads you down the path and watches over you
* Water that’s so clear you’re not sure how deep it is and sort of have to give yourself a pep talk to jump in

We spent the next three hours as the only swimmers at the cenote, taking turns on the diving platform, and sitting on the ropes watching our shadows on the rocks beneath us.  Amazing. If you’re traveling through the Yucatan make sure you stop at a few!

Have you ever swum in a cenote?  And was it insanely magical?

* slight exaggeration

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  1. Kim Herrington

    I went snorkeling in a similar hole on an island in the Caribbean and it was breathtaking! But I totally freaked out climbing down a ladder 30 feet to get into the water. EEK! So worth it.

  2. Hannah

    Yes! Love them 🙂 The Yucatan cenotes are especially magical. I went to one just outside Valladolid last year that was in a huge cavern with an enormous tree growing out of a pile of rocks in the middle. Spectacular. Glad you got to experience it!

  3. Catherine

    Sounds so fun, have never tried it myself, or even heard of a cenote before, but definitely want to try it now!

  4. Abbie

    Yes! Except mine was mostly underground, so you descended a staircase into the cenote before you could swim. The staircase ended on a natural rock platform in the middle of the (quite sizable) cavern, so the water completely surrounded it, and the darker areas were lit with lanterns. It was most definitely an insanely magical experience. Thanks for the hit of nostalgia! 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It sounds like you and Hannah (two comments up) went to the same cenote! Fun!

  5. Nova

    I have in Cuba, I was TERRIFIED. The thing looked like a swimming hole like you say, but it was 70m deep and connected to the ocean at the bottom through a series of dark underwater caves. We were snorkeling and I was so scared my teeth were chattering around the snorkel. I couldn't stop imagining what was down there.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Truly, you COULD NOT PAY ME to scuba in underwater tunnels. No way, not ever. Getting trapped in an underwater chamber is probably in my top five biggest fears.

      Right next to flying fish getting caught in my hair. (Totally not kidding.)

    • Cat

      I went to something similar in the Bahamas – except they just called them blue holes. I totally freaked out imagining what type of monsters were below me. My brothers did too so I don't feel too bad about it.

  6. Anonymous

    Gorgeous! I visited a cenote somewhere near Tulum 10+ years ago and it was indeed magical (we went to one that was in a cavern). If/when I ever get back to that part of the world, I'm totally making a point of visiting multiple cenotes.

  7. Pearl - Pretty Mayhem

    This sounds like such an amazing experience! I've never swam in a cenote before but to be honest you had me at 'something from Goonies' and rope swings! Was the water warm?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It wasn't warm, pre se, but it wasn't freezing or anything. 'Refreshing' is what I'd call it 😉

  8. Amanda

    This might be a dumb question, but were there fish in it? With water that clear it would freak me out to see the fish!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! You could even see their shadows because it was so clear!

  9. The Martha Rose

    Where did you go? Where did other people go? Now I must swim in one of these insanely magical cenotes!

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