Discovering New Cenotes, Westward from Tulum

Perhaps this is your third or fourth trip to the Riviera Maya and you want to escape the turquoise waves crashing outside your hotel room and explore the hidden treasures that lie further inland. But, you’ve already visited the mesmerizing Mayan ruins of Coba, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam and their well-known neighboring cenotes. Follow me as we meander down the Coba Road and investigate a couple of new cenotes that have recently opened.

Pass up the beautiful but often crowded Grand Cenote on your right at Km 4 and continue a few more kilometers until you see a sign for Ak Tun Ha or Carwash Cenote on the left. Look for the sign next door that says Zazil Ha Cenote. Turn left and drive 200 meters up the bumpy road until you catch a glimpse of a pastel-colored chapel draped with a Mexican banner. Park your car and enter paradise!

Multi-tiered palapa-covered decks furnished with tables and chairs carved from native hardwood trees or colorful swinging hammock chairs have been built around the small blue cenote, and sandy paths beckon you to stroll further to see more of the native jungle plants and animals. Several wooden staircases descend down into the inviting water of the cenote where a floating island invites you to relax after a refreshing swim. The mouth–like opening to an underwater cave reminds you that the Mayans believed that cenotes were portals to the underworld.

The caretakers working busily on the grounds informed us that a snack bar would be providing food and beverages in the near future. But don’t linger too long at Zazil Ha Cenote, for another surprise of nature awaits you just 25 km away, about one half hour, beyond the Coba ruins. Continue driving on the Coba road through three intriguing pueblos and follow the signs at the roundabout to the Coba ruins.

Drive past the parking lot at the Coba ruins and continue on around the lagoon for a short distance. When you see the sign for “Cenote,” turn left and creep through a sleepy pueblo. Turn right at the end of the road and follow the signs to Cho Ha Cenote, about 6 km.

On the left you will discover a simple wood and palapa ticket booth with a sign that says, “Boletos Aqui.” You can buy your tickets here for our newest discovery, Multun Ha Cenote, and if you have not seen the other two cenotes on the property, buy a ticket for all three, as each has its own flavor and magic.

Proceed back onto the main road and continue 200 meters more until you see a large sign that says “Multun Ha.” Turn right and follow the dirt road until it ends (about 2 km). Present your ticket and the friendly caretaker will show you to the showers and changing rooms. Please shower to remove all creams and lotions from your skin. These chemicals can destroy this 65-million-year old treasure.

Walk down the comfortably wide and sturdy enclosed spiral staircase and enter a magical world of the Multun Ha Cenote. You are descending 18 meters (about 60 feet) into the earth. The staircase and the large deck where the 78 steps end were built by ten men from the State of Yucatan using a hardwood called zapote negro that was gathered from forests south of Tulum. Special permits were required to harvest the wood. The staircase was not built in one of the two natural openings that can be seen from below. The passageway was dug by hand and the excavated rock was used to construct the staircase walls, and the remainder was used to hold the deck posts in place. A large industrial fan continuously blows air into the cavern to stir the air, which can seem very heavy on humid, rainy days.

Local Mayans who were searching the forest floor for areas that felt cool and humid discovered the opening to the cenote a few years ago. No one knows why the water deep below the surface of the earth appears blue, but its clear freshness is attributed to the fact that it is part of the subterranean river system that flows under the Yucatan Peninsula toward the Caribbean Sea.

When you float on your back and gaze up at the natural fossilized rock formations, exposed tree roots, and stalactites hanging from the ceiling above you, it is impossible not to feel a reverence for the exquisite artistry of nature and the delight of discovering these sacred waters.

Mari Pintkowski and her husband have a boutique hotel in Macario Gomez off the Coba Road at Km 20, Las Selva Mariposa. She is also the author of the book Embarking on the Mariposa Trail, available at local book stores and Amazon

mari march 08

Hotel Akumal Caribe