The Riviera Maya is world renowned for its spectacular white sand beaches, where you can spend weeks on end laying in the sun, margarita in one hand, trashy novel in the other. But there will be days when it rains. Or simply days when you want a break from the beach. Cenote diving or snorkeling is a perfect alternative if you're looking to do something different.
Cenotes are sinkholes that are carved out of the Riviera Maya's extensive underground river system. They line the coast from Playa del Carmen all the way to Tulum. All are filled with crystalline water and often are connected to one another by tunnels. Some are open air, but the best, at least in my opinion, are those in caves and caverns.
Cenote diving starts out like any other diving excursion: you're fitted for a BCD, you get a mask, a regulator, a tank, and a wetsuitsometimes two (the water can be pretty cold). But instead of walking onto a pier and into a boat, you climb into the back of pickup truck and drive into the jungle.
My first dive trip to a cenote was at Hidden Worlds, just north of Tulum. They drove five of us plus our guide from their parking lot to a hole in the ground ten minutes away. A slippery ladder led down to a platform where we suited up, and stepped into the cool water. Within seconds, I was floating past millennia-old stalagmites and stalactites, my underwater flashlight illuminating the contours of the rock walls and tunnels as we followed the taut string that marked the trail through the cave system. It was quiet and cold, almost otherworldly. I was hooked.
Almost every dive shop in the region offers cenote trips, or if you've got a rental car, you'll see lots of signs to cenotes as you drive along the coastal highway. Most have snorkeling rentals, while a few, like Hidden Worlds, offer full-service excursions for divers and snorkelersgear, guides, snacks, and drinks. The beach will always be the Riviera Maya's main draw, but you may findas I didthat cenotes are its most memorable.
For more inspiration about the best places to scuba dive and snorkel in the United States, the Caribbean, and Central America, visit Away.com's Scuba Diving Guide.
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