Suytún

Yucatán, Mexico


Suytún is located on a former horse ranch. And there are two cenotes here. one for swimming and one for viewing. The former has a stage where musicians perform concerts on special occasions.


One of the open mouths, Boca 3. You can swim to it from inside the cave, from Boca 1. Or jump in.
 

I came here with my husband in December 2017. We were lucky to get the place to ourselves. We came at about 1pm and all the tours going to or from the Chichén Itzá ruins were gone by then. It felt like a special treat for us. Inside it felt like being in a cathedral, which we had to ourselves. Another trick to get the place to yourself would be to come early in the morning.

 
My friend Michelle on the steps to Boca 1.
The steps to Boca 5.
 

This property is a few kilometres from Valladolid and on the way into the village, we spotted the ranch sign, on the opposite side of the road from the cenote. This is where the main house of the ranch still stands. The owner came out when we stopped because the ranch house was guarded by dogs, furiously barking at anybody who stops there. The ranch is owned by the Sanchez family. One can just imagine what it must have been like in the past, to live on such a working ranch.

 
The former stables are rather impressive.

The former stables are rather impressive.

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The owner’s private ranch is across the road from the cenote entrance.

The owner’s private ranch is across the road from the cenote entrance.

 

Peacocks welcomed us on the other side, when we arrived at the cenote entrance. They roam freely here. Interestingly, you will find peacocks in other cenotes; the Maya love to keep them. For the ancient Maya they represented the children that man brings to the world. By extension, peacock feathers represented for them immortality and the bird was associated with royalty. There was certainly something royal about the peacocks roaming freely around here, they seemed so strong, graceful and independent.

 
Boca 1. Photo taken from the reception display.
Boca 5, with a wooden platform at the bottom, to access the water.
The restaurant.

The restaurant.

We bought a ticket that covers the entry to both cenotes and went straight to the restaurant for lunch. It seemed closed (as all the groups had just left) but we were served a nice Yucatec lunch and the staff were very friendly.

We got the bonus of chatting about the ranch with the local waiter.

The place felt very nostalgic of the great hacienda past. I feel that haciendas in the Yucatán, whether small or large, have a romantic feel, thanks in part to the subtropical heat. Most haciendas here turned to producing sisal fibre from henequén (cactus) but this one seems to have concentrated on horses.

The restaurant.
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Around the restaurant there are former stables for horses and a training track. A pity the horses are no longer here. There are a few other reminders of the ranch past, such as a tractor just sitting around. There are also some rustic cabañas for rent at the back of the property.

 
The training track.

The training track.

Like in all cenotes, expect small fish in the water.
Boca 1 from above.
All bocas are labelled outside.
 

To get to the cave cenote, we walked along a gravel driveway lined with carefully placed white rocks. Local flowers, all shades of red and purple, adorn the area. Replicas of famous Maya friezes are also placed on this path (such as the sarcophagus lid of the Palenque king Pakal the Great). We were offered life vests (at no extra cost), as they are compulsory for swimming. They have them by the souvenir shop (which was closed during our stay). We changed in very decent changing rooms (all the facilities here are in good shape).

 
The path to the cave cenote.

The path to the cave cenote.

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The sarcophagus lid (replica) of the Palenque king Pakal the Great.

The sarcophagus lid (replica) of the Palenque king Pakal the Great.

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After about a two-minute walk we reached the entrance to the cenote, covered by a palapa. The stairway is steep and there are more steep steps inside the cavern so this place is for fit people only. It was worth the effort because we entered a cathedral full of stalactites and rock formations. A hole in the ceiling allows a beam of sunshine in, which adds to the magic.

 
A large palapa covers the entrance to the cave.

A large palapa covers the entrance to the cave.

Madam Fate.
The entrance to the cenote.

The entrance to the cenote.

The ceiling hole is covered on the ground for safety reasons.

The ceiling hole is covered on the ground for safety reasons.

 

There is a man-made central platform, which adds a stage-like effect. Apparently it was used for ceremonies and shows of music and dance by student groups from the town of Valladolid. However, during our visit the stage was submerged in the water (I am not sure if the water levels in cenotes change with time but it seems so). I sat on the 'stage' to make my own 'show'. It invites you to meditate, although I am no good at it. Suytún in Mayan means 'Stone Centre' and I don't know if it refers to the stone platform inside (maybe there was a natural one in the past and this one is a replica?). Or was there a quarry in this jungle forest in the past? The staff could not explain to us but most ranches in Yucatán were built on Maya lands, often full of stone relics and structures.

 
I felt rather small on the cave stage.

I felt rather small on the cave stage.

The auditorium.

The auditorium.

The ceiling hole makes pretty light effects on the water.

The ceiling hole makes pretty light effects on the water.

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On entry to the cenote waters, there is a shoal of catfish welcoming you. They are harmless, just walk past them. They are in all the cenotes; they swim between them. This is because many cenotes are interconnected with underground rivers. For example, near Tulum, there is a cave system known as Sac Actun, which has subterranean rivers 347km long!!!! It is the world's largest underwater cave system. Here the cavern cenote is most likely connected with the second cenote that one can view. Interestingly, their waters are very different. The cavern has turquoise water (although not very transparent, I must admit, maybe because of the number of people each day), while the open cenote has greenish transparent water, also with shoals of catfish.

 
The catfish.

The catfish.

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Perhaps it is time to explain that a cenote is a deep water-filled sinkhole in limestone that is created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. This creates a natural pool filled by rain and underground rivers. The rainwater is filtered through the ground and the water is therefore usually extremely clear, making for excellent visibility. Cenotes are prevalent in the Yucatán Peninsula, where there are over 2,000 (different sources give different numbers). They are the area's main source of water and this was also the case in ancient times. Cenotes were ritually significant to the ancient Maya because they were considered passages to the underworld.

 
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They believed that Chac, the God of Rain, dwelt in the cenote caves and placed their offerings to him. Well, this tradition continues as the Maya never gave up their own religion; they just merged their idols into the Catholic faith that was imposed on them. So it was no surprise for us to find a sculpture of Chac here, by the cave entrance, with offerings to him. It seemed to be alcohol!! I felt truly guarded by him while swimming, I must admit. It could feel a bit spooky to be by yourself in a large cave so we were glad of his company. There is no jumping or diving platform here, by the way, as the water is relatively shallow (maximum 5m in places). The water is cold, as in all the cenotes (around 25°C).

 
Statue of the god of rain. Chac, and alcohol offerings.

Statue of the god of rain. Chac, and alcohol offerings.

The access road to the cenote goes through the Maya village.
 

We loved the 'viewing' cenote as well. It had a primordial feel to it. The entry to this cenote is just behind the house where you buy the tickets, just a short walk. The staircase is deep and gloomy; you know you are going down to the 'underworld'.

When you come down, you will find yourself at the bottom of a shaft with rock formations, on a platform surrounded by tree roots, moss, ferns and a cave entrance.

 
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There is even an ancient Maya stela here. A stela is a carved or inscribed stone slab or pillar used by the ancient Maya for commemorative purposes. This one is pretty eroded, but no doubt celebrating the local king (usually his ascension to the throne).

There is also a well here. This whole place certainly felt ancient, with long trees and twisted roots. It was like stepping into a different time-zone.

 
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How to get there:

This cenote is near Valladolid, on the old 'free' road (not the new toll road). To be precise, it's 9km east of Valladolid off Hwy 180. When coming out of Valladolid, it is signposted as Cenote Maya (do not take the cuota road to Cancún). Basically, it is on the way to the village of Tikuch. The cenote is on the right-hand side, just after the Pemex petrol station.

The property has a restaurant, cabañas, a shop, a snack bar, changing rooms with toilets and two cenotes priced at 70 pesos per person. We paid $150MXN for lunch.

 
 

Mix & Match:

You can visit the cenote on your way to or from Chichén Itzá or when visiting the town of Valladolid (admittedly, Valladolid has a few other cenotes on offer).