The Yucatan's Los 7 Cenotes - Serenity, Emotions & Blue Butterfly Visions.
Yucatan explorer and transformational travel guru Bel Woodhouse delights us with her amazing adventure biking through a beautiful, secluded, privately owned nature reserve and daring to fully experience the magic of four of the most exquisite cenotes at Los 7 Cenotes San Geronimo - a conservation and local eco-tourism project hidden in the countryside near Merida, Mexico.
Laying back, floating, you could feel the magic of the cenote world. It's no wonder the Maya believed gods protected these sacred places and the entry to the underworld found within them. They hold a certain magic. The magic of an intelligent ancient civilization's beliefs.
On a private reserve an hour and a half from Merida-the Yucatan Peninsula's capital- I was lucky enough to experience the magic of these seldom visited cenotes. Forget the harsh sound of hundreds of tourists, here it was quiet. Profoundly quiet. Just like in Mayan times.
This natural reserve is set up to conserve and protect these precious cenotes. My inner nature lover was thrilled by this eco-friendly sanctuary. With birdsong overhead as you cycle along from one cenote to the next, dodging lazy iguana's sunning themselves, unaware they should be scared of humans. A natural paradise, protected, conserved and sharing the wisdom and beliefs of one of the greatest ancient civilizations the world has ever known.
The first cenote took my breath away. It was love at first sight.
Huge electric blue butterfly wings appeared, shimmering in the depths as you look over the cliff-like edge of this open cenote. The deep cobalt blue perfectly capturing the sun's rays to show how this cenote got its name. Mariposa Azul, Blue Butterfly.
I have travelled around the Yucatan a lot over the last two years of being a Mexican resident. Lucky enough to experience all 4 types of cenote - open, semi-open, cavern and dry- learning about the special place they hold in Maya culture. So believe me when I say, these are exquisite.
Untouched by thousands of tourists, it's like stepping back in time to experience them as the ancient Maya themselves must-have. As if one would appear beside you to enjoy the tranquillity of sacred space while watching the blue butterfly dance in the water. No wonder they believed gods protected these places.
The next cenote Caracol, a snail in Spanish, is named for the 3-story-high spiral staircase that represents the spiral of a snails shell when seen from above. And your only way down into this semi-open cenote.
With each step down, your eyes adjust from the bright Mexican sun revealing the beauty of such a place. It tugs on your heartstrings. Stepping into another world. A subterranean realm where everyone is silent in awe.
As if in an underground library, hushed tones are the only ones you'll hear. The magic of this cavern washes over you just like the healing waters you step down into off the small wooden bridge.
Floating, looking at the ceiling layer after layer of colour emerges. Jungle green moss gives way to lighter shades, deep recesses turn out to hold various shades of dark amber hues and the almost white stalactites hanging gracefully to the water's edge reveal a myriad of creams and honey tones.
It felt safe there, wrapped in the earth mother's underground womb. No wonder the Maya made their sacrifices to such cenotes, believing them to be the entry to the underworld. Floating there I could easily see why they would believe a god or goddess would be in residence.
The almighty Chaac, the god of water, rivers, rain and natural watercourses would, of course, be there. Perhaps Ixchel, goddess of healing, water and fertility would accompany him standing proudly by his side. Soaking up the magic of this place I could see it clearly and didn't want to leave.
But the next cenote was an open cenote and said to change into a rainbow of colour after a heavy rainstorm. That's how it got its name, Cenote Arco Iris, Rainbow cenote.
Peering down, listening as the guide told me tales of visiting this cenote after a heavy rainstorm to find purplish-blue, orange and deeper crimson waters I waited to see if people jumping in would provide a colourful show. Alas, the pure jade-green waters remained unchanged. Small black catfish could be seen clearly, waiting to accompany you on your swim.
The only way in, a thrilling jump. Then openness. Lazily swimming around, the sun on your face and wide-open spaces it felt like pure blissful freedom. A completely different experience than that of being wrapped up in the safety of Caracol.
Although wonderful, I was curious about the last cenote. They had not told us anything about it. As if saving the best for last, it was spoken of with shy smiles and expectant gleams of happiness so I knew it must be something very special.
And it was.
The Virgin Cenote, so-called because it was untouched, is a real gem. A cavern cenote, this one was completely enclosed. Underground. Looking down the stone stairs as they disappeared into blackness I felt anticipation. Something in me knew this would be amazing...
Helping hands guide you down dark stairs until you are standing on a wooden deck. It's black. Like midnight on a moonless night, can't see your hand in front of your face black. There is no wind, no light, just an all-engulfing nothingness. Then someone whispers - "jump."
Launching into the abyss in a total leap of faith was exhilarating. Heart in my mouth until... splash. Cool waters enclosed over my head. As I resurfaced floodlights lit the cave. WOW.
Sapphire depths were illuminated by reflected light off the cream and honey domed cave. Breathtaking.
Looking down, the bottom was clearly visible. Each stone gleaming in the azure depths.
Kicking back to float, the delicate stalactites hanging from the high ceiling seemed to glitter. Their creamy honeyed tones beaming. I felt like I was the only person in the world. This is how great explorers like Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo must have felt discovering new worlds.
This place felt magical. Like powerful magic emanated from the cavern, radiating through you causing a tingling sensation. It is one of my greatest travel memories. Its impact so great I will remember it to my dying day.
So if you ever get to Merida, be sure to experience Los 7 Cenotes. I'm sure it will touch your heart as it has touched mine, forever and always.
Searching for other exquisite nature experiences or eco-friendly and responsible accommodations in the Yucatan? There are some of our favourites highlighted in Beyond the Mayan Riviera - 4 Beautiful Yucatan Biosphere Reserves.