Nothing beats diving to truly experience the Yucatan’s cenotes, crystal clear bodies of fresh water hidden in the trees. They are the openings into the region’s network of flooded limestone caves which wind beneath the jungle.
This being our first cave diving experience, Paulo, our guide, suggested that we start with a pretty but easy dive on the first day before tackling the 100ft plus Pit dive on the following day. This turned out to be good advice.
Dos Ojos, with a maximum depth of under 30ft, has two routes marked by string, both about 40 minutes.
Paulo gives us specific instructions for diving the cenotes – follow single file; you can use or not use your flashlight. He recommends turning it off at times to adjust your eyes to the darkness. The water is as clear as advertised. This site has some good stalactites and stalagmites but Dreamgate (see below) is better.
It’s an easy slow float along a route through passageways and rooms. The water is super calm. Just coming off of drift diving in Cozumel it was a real effort to calm down and stay still. On the second dive there is a second area that opens up to the sky where the sunlight streams through the water, the prettiest part of the dive. Paulo explains that you need to be through this area by 4:40 at this time of year (December) for the sun to still be on the water.
We had a short break between dives. Paulo offers water, fruit and nuts. By the time we started the second dive at 4 there were very few people left in the park.
Getting to Dos Ojos and Other Logistics
The dive site is about a 30 minute drive outside of Tulum on Highway 307 between Tulum and Cancun. There are a number of other cenote sites off the main dirt road through the park. Guides pay a fee at the entrance. At Dos Ojos there is an exclusive parking area for divers. Conditions are basic – toilets, outdoor showers and a table to put together gear. Once you are geared up you walk a short distance to the cenote and down a steep staircase to the entrance of the “eye”. Snorkelers enter the water on one side and divers on the other.
The following morning we met Paulo at the same park at 7:30. The Pit, one of the more famous dives of the area, is further down the same dirt road as Los Ojos. We were the first divers of the morning and the gate to the parking area of the Pit was still closed. We geared up as much as possible outside the gate waiting for the guy with the key.
Once opened, there were two other guides getting ready for a large group of 14 divers, but we would be well ahead of them. Paulo explained that it is important to be first because one of the special features of this dive is the gas layer that floats in the tree branches at the bottom of the cave. Once it is disturbed by the first divers of the morning it takes a full day for the layers to reform.
The chamber is basic and deep. The first 40 feet is fresh water, then a halocline (fresh water mixed with salt water) of about 6 feet followed by sea water. All the caverns deeper than 40 feet have sea water at the bottom. The halocline is a cool layer that looks like you floating through a filmy layer blurring your vision as if you are floating in oil.
The floor of the pit slopes up towards a cavern under a rock wall. At the bottom of the open part, the deepest part, are tree branches shrouded in a white gas cloud. You reach this area on the uphill side and float very slowly through the cloud, playing with and breaking the gas layer with your hand.
We then head back towards the cavern wall and turn and stop for a minute to observe the size of the room. We do one more back and forth at a higher depth, stopping again to admire the view. The light streams into the cave but at this time of year only to a depth of about 30ft. In the summer, April to August, the light hits the cave floor. Unfortunately this is also the rainy season and you have to be lucky to dive the cave on a sunny day.
If you plan to do this dive I highly recommend avoiding large groups and going with someone that will get you out on the first dive of the morning to see the gas cloud.
The parking area has a toilet and tables for setting up gear.
Dreamgate dives are similar to those at Dos Ojos, but with more exquisite formations. The dives are no more than 30ft deep. Of the two dives offered one is supposedly nicer but much shorter, only 20 minutes, while the other is longer. Paulo suggested doing the nicer yet shorter route in both directions making a dive of about 40 minutes.
The only light is from the main entrance to the cave or torches. Some of the passage ways are narrower than at Dos Ojos but overall with good buoyancy control I felt comfortable navigating the formations without crashing into anything. The water is very still. Just slow down and enjoy the wonder of it.
The highlight of the circuit is the “black mirror” on the ceiling of one of the inner chambers. The effect comes from the tips of stalactites protruding down through the still surface of the water in the lightless chamber their images reflecting off of the bottom of the surface. It’s unlike anything we saw elsewhere.
Getting to Dreamgate and Other Logistics
The Dreamgate cenote is located down the main Cancun-Tulum Highway, 307, closer to Tulum than Dos Ojos. The entrance off the highway is unmarked. Back along a dirt road is the parking lot for the cenote with basic services, toilet and small benches for setting up gear. We followed the same procedures as the other cenotes for setting up gear and entering the cenotes. Again it’s down a steep staircase.
Pablo expects you to put together your gear and carry it to the cenote. This means carry the heavy tanks up and down steep stairs. Sometimes, such as at Dreamgate, he lowers the tanks down with a rope.
The water temperature was 77°F or 25°C. I wore a 5mm wet suite which was barely adequate for me, but I tend to run cold. The generally shorter dives prevented me from getting too chilled.
December 8-9, 2019
For links to all the posts in this series see the Yucatan Peninsula page.