Quintana Roo, Mexico
An open cenote near Puerto Morelos. Good for swimming and diving but not for snorkelling as the water is stagnant.
Probably the best fun here is zip-lining and high diving. There is a wooden jumping platform on one side and a zip-line on the other, from a rock platform. The rocks create a cylinder around the cenote pool. There are a few caverns so diving is suitable, with cavern certification. The cenote has also hammocks over the water, and a few swings.
I came here in May 2019, around noon, and we were the only guests. That was on a Thursday; weekends might differ. My friends from Playa del Carmen kept me company. We decided to come for a picnic, and for a change, as at that time the beaches of Riviera Maya were full of seaweed and we wanted to find an alternative for a swim on a hot day. We just dipped in and our friend Stuart zip-lined. By the afternoon a few local families arrived and they all loved zip-lining, the swings and lying in hammocks over the water. It is compulsory to wear life jackets, which we found a bit annoying, in all honesty. Overall, however, we had a great time. Although I would not be coming back, as I prefer cenotes with absolutely transparent waters, which is not the case here.
The cenote is on the Route of the Cenotes, a road between Puerto Morelos and Leona Vicario. Popol Vuh is the last cenote on this route and it is the cheapest one (see the prices below).
It may be interesting to note that the cenote got its name from the Maya book called Popol Vuh, which means Book of the People. I asked Armando, who works at the cenote, if there was a particular reason why this cenote was named after this Maya 'bible'. I was envisaging an intricate system of underwater tunnels (where according to the Maya life ends and begins). After all, the cenotes were thought of as entrances to the underworld, called Xibalbá. However, the owner simply fancied the name, I was told. He is from Guerrero state in Mexico. He bought the Maya land with this cenote and settled to live here. By naming the cenote after the Maya creation story, he may have tried to connect it to its primordial beginning.
The cenote caves were indeed formed a long time ago from a combination of geologic phenomena such as slightly acidic water reacting with alkaline rock, and the impact of a large meteor. For millions of years, the Yucatán Peninsula was submerged beneath a prehistoric ocean made up of coral reefs. With time, this created a limestone platform, very porous, which was then penetrated by acidic rainwater, which created underground caves with waters. As the sea levels dropped, the cave ceilings collapsed. As for the meteor, it fell 65 million years ago off the village of Chicxulub on the Gulf of Mexico. The rock around the crater rim was compressed and holes were created, which were eventually filled with water to form cenotes.
As for the book Popol Vuh, it was written by the K'iche' Maya of Guatemala, in the 16th century, in an effort to record their story of creation, the creation of the world, of the first Maya gods, animals and people, including the hero twin-brothers Hunahpu (Moon God) and Xbalanké (Sun God) and the wicked lords of the Underworld.
Well, the cenote did feel to me like the Underworld. The depth on the left side of the pool (when standing on the wooden access staircase) is 14m, and on the right 26m. You will see a few cave entrances but we were advised by Armando that the tunnel connecting Popol Vuh with another cenote is closed off. This makes the water stagnant and the cenote is therefore less transparent than usual. Apparently the owner had hired professionals to clean the cenote from the bottom a month before our visit. We saw plenty of catfish and they do thrive so the water must be healthy. The fact that the water does not flow makes it unusually warm; we spent a considerable time in the water.
On the other hand, there is some dirt on the surface of the cenote; leaves from the trees, caused by the winds and such. We were also told that in the winter months the water is blue while in the summer it is green (probably coloured by the algae).
The jungle park was pleasant, with many chairs and tables for picnics, and some palapas (shelters roofed with dried palm leaves). Among the fruit trees we found papaya, banana, passion fruit, and chaya and decorative trees such as pink bougainvillea and flamboyant trees (also known as royal poinciana) with pretty orange flowers.
The services include bathrooms, showers and a restaurant. The menu offers ceviche, tacos and the dish of the day 'pescado a la talla' (Guerrero-style grilled fish; I bet it is the owner's specialty). On the site there are also a few barbecue grill sets for rental ($180 pesos, which includes one bag of charcoal and $50 pesos for any extra charcoal).
The entry fee is 100 pesos (for children 80 pesos). Locals get discounts (70 pesos). You can get a package deal, for 225 pesos for the entry ticket plus one of the main meals on the menu and an orange juice.
You can also camp here, if you want to spend a night in the jungle. I noticed that the cenote had lights around it for a night swim. The price for adults is $180 and for children $100. Camping starts at 6pm and check-out is at 1:00 pm. You will have to bring your own tent.
There is also a hotel; you can stay the night at a cabaña with a little terrace with hammocks ($1,500 pesos per night for 1 to 4 people).
How to get there:
From Playa del Carmen take the road to Cancún, take a U-turn under the bridge at Puerto Morelos main crossroads, drive about 400m and turn right onto the Route of the Cenotes. This road leads from Puerto Morelos to Leona Vicario and is properly marked. Once on this route, drive to km 32.7, where you need to turn right and continue about 1.7k on a dirt road.