Diving the cenotes should be on your list of things to do in Playa del Carmen if you’re a diver. It’s a very unique experience to see the cave formations that have been around for thousands of years and Playa del Carmen (Riviera Maya) has some of the best in the world.
What are cenotes?
Cenotes are essentially a natural pit with geological formations underwater. Imagine a cavern filled with water and you exploring all the nooks and crannies of that cavern.
I signed up for two-tank dive between Cenotes Chac Mool and Chikin Ha with Scubascool, a dive operator recommended by the hostel I was staying. My dive guide, Tony, is also the owner of the business, so you’re likely to be diving with him if you choose to have him as your operator. Both of the dives he chose are multi-level dives meaning our dive would be changing anywhere from 12 meters to 5 meters throughout the dive. You also won’t find much sea life on these dives.
I didn’t bring my GoPro on the first dive, and I recommend you do the same for two reasons:
- Buoyancy: if this is your first freshwater dive, the buoyancy is much different than in salt water. It’s actually easier to find your buoyancy, but you’re likely to swim through tight formations. It’s easy for you to become distracted about what you’re catching on camera that you lose focus on where you’re kicking, and that could be the thousand-year-old formations. It’s also dark. You don’t want to be “that diver.” Relish the moment hands-free.
- Better memories: your first experience should be enjoyed to the fullest. You’re paying a lot of money for these dives. Get a feel for the first dive, have fun trying to see through the halocline in the dark (it’s a glassy-blurry-ish beer-goggles sort of feeling), and study each of the limestone bedrocks.
Cenotes Chac Mool: On my first dive at Cenotes Chac Mool, it was a bit crowded, but that didn’t take away from the experience. It was actually sort of fun seeing a diver’s silhouette in the distance where lighting sheds through. And, when I say crowded, it doesn’t mean we were bumping into each other. We just saw there were other divers around. Fortunately, dive guides are only allowed to take a maximum of 4 guests at one time, so I like to believe this helps enhance the overall quality of the experience.
The dive itself was a multi-level dive with lots of stalactites (hanging mineral deposits). You’re also likely to find tree branches or a random tree trunk during the dive. There was one part of the dive where we were able to surface in an air dome and breathe in the cavern. Pretty cool, right?
Cenotes Chikin Ha: On my second dive, I decided I felt comfortable enough to take out my GoPro this time. Though without proper lights, it was difficult to video, and the quality didn’t come out that well.
There were far fewer people at this dive site that I was glad I paid extra to visit a different cavern. The formations were a lot different with mostly white mineral deposits. I found there to be much more halocline at this dive site than the last. At one point I was so intrigued looking around that I fell a little behind my group in the halocline. Because of the blurry visual effects, I turned my dive light off to find theirs flashing in the short distance where they were waiting for me. The end of the dive is always neat seeing the beautiful blues that come from the entrance of the dive.
There are options to go cave diving, but that requires and an additional certification. It’s a technical dive, and even as an active Divemaster, I still wasn’t able to go on this dive. But, that’s okay! I really loved seeing the cenotes as a novice cavern diver. It’s magical seeing the bright color formations in the midst of all the darkness during the dive.