Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dune Buggies and Cenotes in the Riviera Maya

We were at Gran Bahia Principe for a 10 day trip in April. 9 days out of 10 were red flag days, meaning the currents and conditions on the ocean were too rough for snorkeling or scuba tours. Therefore any excursions we wished to go on would have be something different. I've already covered our trip to the Coba ruins, but we also went on several other excursions, including this one involving a dune buggy tour of the Dos Ojos cenote system.

To make reservations, as well as to meet the group, for this trip, go to the Scubaquatic facility at the resort, located near the Coba beach behind the watersports facility. Look for the swing chairs and Segway scooters. The cost was 130 USD for 2 people per dune buggy or 80 USD for 1 person per dune buggy.   

We were driven by van to the entrance to the Dos Ojos cenote park, located roughly across the highway from Xel Ha. We signed the necessary forms and were given dust masks. It turns out the dust masks were very, very necessary. As were safety glasses. The tour started with a visit to the Ice Age Museum, where a scientist explained the cenote system and showed us some of the more important finds from the area. 

Beautiful doors on the museum.

Reproductions of the early human skulls found in the cenotes.

A very large turtle skeleton found in the cenote. 

A woman's skeleton was found in the cenote. Exhibits explain how she was found and the information anthropologists learned from the find.

The 2 main cenote systems in this area of the Riviera Maya. Cenotes were an important source of fresh water for the Maya.

The anatomy of a cenote. At different times in history the water levels have been lower and higher.

A scientist explaining some of the finds. 

A large relative of the elephant was also found in the cenote. These must have been amazing things for those divers to find.
On our next trip to the Riviera Maya we will remember to bring donations for this museum. The scientists who study the health of the cenotes rely on tourist dollars at the museum to support their work. If you do this trip and are able to make a donation, please consider doing so. 

The Lovely Spouse did most of the driving because my glasses were insufficient for keeping out the dusk. Bear this in mind if you do the tour.  I recommend bringing wrap around safety glasses. 
Following the trip to the museum, it was time to get in the dune buggies. We started by touring around the trails along the cenote system. A small community lives around the cenotes and gave Scubaquatic permission for the tours, therefore we stuck to the permitted trails for the tour. 

The ride was bumpy. Very bumpy.  But incredibly fun. [Sorry, but my videos wouldn't load.]  This is how we traveled the distances between the cenotes.  Most of the ones we visited were to see the variety in cenotes, but we got the chance to swim in the last one on our visit. 

The first cenote on the tour was fully underground.
It was quiet and cool inside. 

Cenote structures are protected by Mexican law so we stuck to specific places to walk.

At the second cenote, our guide explained calcium deposition for the formation of the structures within the cenote. The water looks milky because of the calcium in it.
The jungle was undergoing a drought, but still held some unusual surprises, including this tree that looks like a giraffe.

The third cenote was being used for swimming by others, including a flashlight tour in the darker portions.  It was also populated by Mexican tetras that happily munched on the dead skin of the swimmers.

Stunning. The rope is for the flashlight tours. 

The last cenote on the trip was the one we got to swim in. And it was the most spectacular. And it was nice to wash off the dust from the trails.
I can't think of a lovelier swimming hole.

The Lovely Spouse took this picture. On this trip I learned that he is much better at underwater photography than I am. 
How dusty was the trip? This is what my bag, which was clean, looked like at the end of it. 
I highly recommend this excursion for the more adventurous travelers staying at Gran Bahia Principe in the Riviera Maya. The price is extremely reasonable for a half day trip. They pack in a lot of activity for this particular activity. And, what I didn't mention, is they also provided bottled water. The guides were personable and knowledgeable.  We will definitely do this again the next time we visit the Riviera Maya.   

Caveats: I do not recommend this trip for anyone who, for any reason, cannot tolerate being on an extremely bumpy ride. This is not a trip for people who get headaches easily, who have health problems, who have any sort of neck or back problems, or who need to be near restrooms at all times. It's extremely dusty, even with dust masks and safety glasses.

EDIT (06/09/2015): I found out what Nicte Ha (the name of the last cenote) means and it's a lovely story.  Here it is copied and pasted with the English translation from Wikipedia. Enjoy!

Nicte Ha (Legend)

The legend of Nicté-Ha is a narrative that explains the mythical origin of an aquatic plant floating leaves and beautiful white flowers of delicate perfume, called Nicté-Ha , flower water (Maya nikte ' , one flower, and has',  water), known in Spanish as "water sun" or nymph ( Nimphaea ampla-Salisbury ); and justifies why the birds cardinals sing every morning at the foot of lakes and cenotes where these flowers grow.

The Legend

Formerly he lived in Nan Chan Kaan, today Palenque , a prince named ChakTzitzib (Maya chak ts'its'ib , one bird cardinal). His father had decided to marry him to a princess from afar, but he was in love with the beautiful Nicté-Ha, the daughter of the keeper of the Sacred Cenote. Nobody knew that the young people loved and gathered each night in the cenote. Nicté-Ha wore his white blouse; and ChakTzitzib, his red robe. And he sang songs to his beloved.

One day the High Priest discovered them, and not wanting to be queen Nicté-Ha Nan Chan Kaan, he planned to eliminate. Prince Lullaby sensed the evil intentions of the minister and warned his master. So ChakTzitzib sent to fetch her nanny Nicte-Ha and marry in secret. But the wily priest followed the nana and murdered.

The prince, seeing that her nanny did not return, went in search of his beloved, who was waiting by the cenote. Seeing her, ChakTzitzib her into his arms. However, the evil priest lurked hidden in the darkness with his bow and shot an arrow poison to the heart of the girl, knocking her to the cenote. The body of Nicté-Ha sank quickly. The prince, unable to contain her grief, cried bitterly and begged the gods to take him with her.

Seeing her sorrow, Lord of Waters transformed Nicté-Ha on a lily pad beautiful; and the Lord of the Birds ChakTzitzib turned in a dashing red bird. Since then, at sunrise, Cardinal descends to the ponds to sing to his beloved Nicté-Ha. 


  1. Congrats on the vacations. The Riviera maya is a wonderful place to explore, there are a lot of natural and artificial spots that have become very popular. The underwater activities are also well known for their unique views.

    1. We researched a few dive operations before we left the US for our last vacation. While we would have liked to have snorkeled the reef off tulum (requiring a boat and guide) the surf conditions were too strong.

      The conditions abated for a day so we did make it to Akumal Bay for a day of snorkeling with the sea turtles and other wildlife. That's a subject for another blog post. :-)

    2. Also, thank you for reading my blog!