Quintana Roo, Mexico
This cenote has a central cave with seven bocas (mouths in Spanish), which give the cenote its name. They are interconnected and serve as vents. You can swim from one mouth to the other.
We could also call them entrances to the cave. In short, you can enter boca 1 (Mouth One) by a ladder and then swim into other mouths. Only two mouths are not interconnected: 4 and 5. For those, you need to climb up the ladder and enter again down another ladder. The cenote is suitable for snorkelling and diving.
You will find this on the route called Ruta de Cenotes, which starts at Puerto Morelos. This is not like the big cenotes where busloads of people come. It's a very small operation, and you're pretty much on your own, but that makes it that much better. The staff at reception give clear instructions about entering the individual bocas and if you leave your belonging in the car, they will look after your car key. If you are a large group, you can leave your belongings in the picnic area and one of you can guard it while you are in the cave. I came here with my friend Michelle on a Sunday in April 2019 and there were about 20 cars in the car park, mostly locals. All very friendly; we exchanged some chats over our picnic tables.
The staff at reception told us that the cenote depth was 150m. I have no way to verify this. Despite that, the waters were truly turquoise, when we swam between the 'mouths'. We have both been to many cenotes in Yucatán but the colour and the serenity of the main cave took our breath away. In some places the roof is very low, so we felt as if we were swimming in a tunnel, the ceiling being just above our heads (we didn't spot any bats). There is a rope in each tunnel and across the main boca, so one can hold onto it. There are three mouths with stairs for easy access and one round mouth where one can jump into the water, more than 20 feet below. We watched the jumpers but did not dare to do so. Life jackets are available and at no extra charge (well, the entry fee is not that cheap, 400 pesos or 300 for the locals, so it is good there are no extra hidden charges).
While we did not see any diving instructors, apparently people come to dive here, as there are several underground channels that can be explored. We did see a freediver, who said he was able to see the fossils under the water: stalactites, shells and corals. If you ever needed a waterproof camera, this is the place. A gigantic hydrosulphide cloud is the reason why some people also call this cenote the ‘Milky Way’. The light comes in through some of the mouths, creating a light show that can be admired by all, not just divers, if you put your head down in the water. Mouths 6 and 7 are said to be via scuba access only. However, Mouth 6 was closed to the public during our visit.
The jungle garden is rustic, like all cenote parks. There are plenty of picnic areas, with a palapa roof (made of dried palm leaves), chairs and hammocks, and an occasional wooden tower, for a view of the jungle. You will find the typical Yucatán jungle trees here, such as sapodilla, ceiba, palms, and even some pretty tropical flowers here and there.
I particularly liked a delicate white flower with a fantastic name, Madam Fate (Hippobroma longiflora, also known as Star of Bethlehem), red flowers of an equally nice name, called Flaming Katy (kalanchoe). And then an orange flower that I have not seen in many places in Yucatán so far, with large, colourful, fleshy blossoms. The challenge arose trying to match the orange flower with my plant app called PlantSnap. It gave me a few options. Amaryllis, less represented in nature, or Hippeastrum (Knight's Star), more frequent. There are 90 species of Hippeastrum in Mexico and South America. If it is Hippeastrum, then it could be either Mexican Lily or Barbados Lily. Apparently, most Hippeastrum species are disappearing in the wild. Online sources are also conflicting. Wikipedia tells me that the common name amaryllis (Naked Lady) is used for both. And apparently bulbs sold as amaryllis and described as ready to bloom belong to the genus Hippeastrum. Uff, I will go by Naked Lady, given I found it at the waters of a cenote. I like the trio, they go well together: Flaming Katy, Naked Lady and Madam Fate. One could probably write a fairy tale about it.
Moreover, there is an area with chickens and turkeys. I enquired from Alfonso at reception, if this is in fact a jungle ranch. And indeed, Alfonso confirmed it. They grow poultry here because this is their village, their home. The Maya always referred to their land as the Land of Turkey and Deer, and turkey can be found in every village.
They also have peacocks roaming wild here. They were always considered by the ancient Maya a symbol of resurrection and immortality. In the Mayan calendar the peacock zodiac sign Cutz is for those born between 15 November and 12 December and their characteristics are those of leaders and kings (self-confident, intelligent and competitive).
Male peacocks here at the cenote village did a show for us, by spreading their plumage. Well, in reality the show was not for us, rather for their female counterparts. Peacocks fan out their feathers as part of a courtship ritual to attract a mate.
Five families live on the premises of the cenote, 20 people altogether, and a few more families outside. This is ejido land, communal land of the Maya. So while you have to access the cenote down a dirt road for about 2km (off the main road), you will see their traditional wooden houses and the way they live here in the jungle.
Quite an insight into indigenous life. It may be worth mentioning that the indigenous people in Mexico were not herded off to reservations like in the United States. During the Mexican Revolution, the government took land away from large Spanish-owned haciendas that had acquired it illegally and placed it in trust to the indigenous inhabitants who had lost it. This land is technically owned by the Mexican Government but used by local indigenous communities. They can live and farm on this land.
This village has electricity (which does not apply to all jungle villages in Yucatán). They collect rainwater, but normally the cenote itself is also their source of water (in the past it was a source of drinking water). A pure rural life… Enjoy their jungle home alongside them. You can see the water storage tanks by the changing rooms that serve the showers and it is also worth noting that their bathrooms are of better standard than most of the cenotes around. They are decorated with murals painted by the locals. One of them has an intriguing motif of ‘were-jaguars’. These go back to Olmec times when they represented supernatural deities. A shaman had to be able to transform from a man to a jaguar through ritual, demonstrating his spiritual powers. I love the fact that the cenotes and jungle villages always express their connection to the Maya ancestors. Murals like this may not mean much to the visitors but they are symbolic for the Maya.
In recent years, laws have been enacted that allow the heirs of the original families to whom the land was entrusted, to privatise and sell (a very long process; beware if you want to buy such land). This is the reason why most of the indigenous people still live in the jungle, on their communal land, and are not selling. And those who are lucky enough to have cenotes on their land are now learning how to manage them and open them to tourism. This is, of course, very positive as it creates an income for them. So watch closely when you drive down the dirt road. Wooden houses, an occasional brick house, and suddenly a goat on the road… A cenote visit is not just for swimming; it is about connecting with the real indigenous people in the jungle.
How to get there:
The cenote is on the route called Ruta de Cenotes, on the road to Leona Vicario from Puerto Morelos, at km 15.5. There is no public transport to this cenote. You can take a bus from Puerto Morelos and get off on the main road, at km 15, but then you will have to walk about 2km. You can also rent a bike in Puerto Morelos. Otherwise, rent a car.
Mix & Match:
You can combine it with a stay on the beach in Puerto Morelos.