After the small wonders of Mayapán we headed to the Santa Bárbara Cenotes – a place I’d read about and had been recommended. Now I have to say I reckon we were spoilt rotten on our last trip to Mérida, discovering the wonderful Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyche – especially visiting so early in the morning, which meant we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Mucuyche is incredible, with the cavernous Azul Maya and Carlota cenotes taking our breath away.
The Santa Bárbara Cenotes are a somewhat different proposition, one that’s totally geared up for tourism, which wasn’t quite what we were hoping for. There’s a substantial modern entry complex complete with changing rooms, gift shop and restaurant with a busy car park, so that was a clue as to what would follow. It costs $250 pesos each (pretty steep) for three cenotes, which are accessible either by bike or a small wagon drawn along a narrow-gauge railway by a weary sad mule that was clearly suffering in the midday heat (as were we) along a kilometre or so round-trip through dusty scrub. The ‘wagons’ are small and rickety and precariously cling to their thin rails whilst the mule gallops ahead with the ‘driver’ casually holding loose ropes. It’s a ball-shattering ride.
Before entering the cenotes, you’re required to wear a bulky life vest and shower to remove sunscreen and insect sprays, then an ungainly walk in the hot sun towards the cenote entrance past small stands selling cold drinks and snacks.
The recently discovered Cenote Cascabel is an entirely underground cenote accessed through a dark narrow rock overhang, down a precarious, increasingly wet wooden staircase to a crowded landing platform. You launch yourself off steps into the artificially lit waters and bob away, trying your best not to collide with other eager swimmers. Up next was Cenote Chacsikín, a semi-covered cenote with bright sunlight beaming into the 16m depths – this cenote has a wonderful cavernous ceiling filled with speleothems such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns and stone curtains but was also fairly busy with day-tripping Mexican families. There’s even a life-guard on duty complete with piercing whistle to call out any offending kids attempting to bomb the water.
A thick rope extends from the wooden platform disappearing into the cave. I was briefly holding on to the rope whilst looking down into the crystal-clear deep water, floating as if in mid-air. I’m guessing the rope is used for experienced divers to explore the underwater cave system beyond.
Finally, and perhaps the best, is Cenote Xooch’, an open-to-the-sky cenote with an impressive circular rim, with large trees and overhanging tree roots with birds and butterflies swooping in the still hot air. The water is clear and turquoise, teeming with small fish, deep at over 40 metres and thankfully here, less busy, allowing some quiet contemplation and a breathtaking view up and out to the sky. We had to conclude this cenote for one was worth coming to – I just wish we’d had it all to ourselves.
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Damn those tourists not leaving the place to persons of quality 😤 the photos of that poor mule make me feel for it. Those photos sans the feel of tourist overload make it look marvellous.
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