Cenote Diving Photos

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Cenote Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal Cenote Photo
Cenote Diving Photos In this photo, a diver begins a dive in the open water of Cenote Taj Mahal. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Diving Mexico's Flooded Caverns

As an avid cave diver and cenote cavern diving guide, I was delighted when shown these spectacular photos of cavern diving by Daniel Gut, of danielgut.com. Cenotes are sinkholes that open into the extensive subterranean cave system of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Divers can dive these flooded caves with the proper certification, or go cavern diving under the supervision of a qualified guide. Many divers wonder what can be seen underground in a water filled cavern. These photos illustrate the unique beauty of the Mexican cenotes.

See additional cenote diving photos taken at a cenote called "The Pit".

Skip to the next photo gallery: Night Diving Photos.

A bumpy road through the overgrown Yucatan jungle dead ends at cenote Taj Mahal. Near the road, the atmosphere is hot and humid, but as a diver descends the limestone steps to the shaded cenote entrance, the temperature drops. Cenote entrances offer immediate relief from the sweltering heat, and imbue divers with a feeling of tranquility and awe. Dropping from the foliage-jammed, buzzing jungle into the cool water, as clear as glass, leaves little doubt in a diver's mind as to why the ancients considered cenotes sacred. The glistening entrance pools of the cenotes are just the beginning of what divers have alternately described as a thrilling, meditative, or almost religious experience.

Read an about.com reader's review of the Taj Mahal cavern dive.

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Cenote Carwash

Cenote Carwash Photos
Cenote Diving Photos Divers swim over twisted branches shown in this photo as they enter the cavern of Cenote Carwash. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

The name “Carwash” does not lead to expectations of great beauty, but the entrance to Cenote Carwash is striking. While locals have used the fresh water of this cenote to clean their vehicles in the past, Cenote Carwash is now used exclusively for diving.

In the summer, Cenote Carwash is home to an interesting phenomenon. Microscopic algae grow near the surface of the water, giving the water an almost opaque green color. Divers brave enough to descend through this algal cloud will find the water clears almost immediately, leaving them hovering in an unexpected environment. The olive surface churns and wafts like angry thunderheads about to burst. In the filtered light, pinkish orange water lilies reach towards the cenote surface; they are so reflective that they almost appear to be sculpted from metal.

Swimming into the cavern's mouth, divers pass over twisted fragments of fallen wood. Rinsed by the gentle flow of water in Cenote Carwash, the once rough edges have become smooth as if polished by a careful artist.

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Cenote Little Brother

Little Brother Cenote Photo
Cenote Diving Photos A diver hovers against the blue light of Cenote Little Brother in this photo. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Every cenote has a different personality, and Cenote Little Brother seems secretive. Most cavern divers touring Cenote Chac Mool begin the dive at Cenote Little Brother and traverse to the larger Cenote Chac Mool.

The white limestone walls of Cenote Little Brother are relatively bare of formations, but far from boring. The glistening rock naturally draws a diver's eye outwards to the ethereal blue glow of the open water. The light quality changes with the time of day and the season, and observant cenote divers will notice that the color, position, and direction of light from a cavern's entrance changes from the beginning to the end of a dive.

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Cenote Corral

Cenote Corral Photos
Cenote Diving Photos In this photo, green light filters down through the jungle into Cenote Corral, creating a shimmering curtain on light. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Submerged in a shaded, quiet cavern, cenote divers can easily forget that they are deep in the Maya jungle. Divers are reminded of their location when they pass by cenotes that open to the trees and sky, such as Cenote Corral.

The sun pours in through Cenote Corral, creating a curtain of shimmering light that extends into the cavern. As divers swim through the light beams, they can look up through the cenote to see not only leaves and branches, but the roots of trees dipping down into the fresh water to drink. The experience is a bit like sitting under the dining room table as a child - seeing a familiar environment from an unusual perspective makes it new and interesting. On a cenote dive, divers see the jungle from the bottom up.

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Grand Cenote

Grand Cenote Photos
Cenote Diving Photos The formations in this photo of Grand Cenote have been likened to melted candle wax. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Grand Cenote is part of a cave system named Sac Aktun, which means “white cave” in the Maya language. The purer limestone is, the whiter it appears, and the limestone walls and formations in Grand Cenote are very pure.

Divers touring the cavern of Grand Cenote have compared the formations to ornate frosting on a wedding cake and to melted candle wax. The cavern dive in Grande Cenote stays close to the open water, and the combination of proximity to the light and snowy white rock makes Grand Cenote one of the brightest, and most approachable dives for new cavern divers. Veteran cavern divers will also be delighted with Grand Cenote. Swimming through the intricate dripstone formations, which range from thick columns to delicate stalactites, is like swimming under the branches and around the tree trunks of limestone forest.

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Cenote Kukulkan

kukulkan cenote photos
Cenote Diving Photos This photo illustrates the bluish quality of salt water found in cenotes such as Cenote Kukulkan. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

While cenotes are famous as fantastic freshwater dives, divers do occasionally encounter salt water on cavern dives. The underground river system in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is open to the ocean, so while freshwater from the mainland flows out the the ocean, saltwater from the sea also creeps inland to the cenotes. Saltwater is denser than freshwater, and layers below the freshwater in cenotes such as Cenote Kukulkan.

One of the interesting properties of saltwater is how it absorbs and transmits light. Divers descending into the saltwater portion of Cenote Kukulkan will notice that the saltwater has a sparkling blue quality. Rays of sunlight filtering down through the saltwater lose their red tones, and the surface appears a rich cobalt blue. Even divers' underwater flashlights are effected by the properties of saltwater, and the dive lights beams also have a blue quality. Divers on a cavern dive in Cenote Kukulkan dip in and out of the saltwater as they swim, and have plenty of time to observe this interesting light effect.

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The Halocline

halocline photos
Cenote Diving Photos This photo is not out of focus! Divers swimming through the halocline mix fresh and salt water, which creates a blurry visual effect. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

As explained in the description of Cenote Kukulkan, cenote divers sometimes encounter a layer of saltwater that rests below the freshwater. Because they have different densities, the freshwater and saltwater layers stratify, much like olive oil and vinegar. The boundary between the freshwater and saltwater is called the halocline. “Halo” refers to salinity and “cline” signifies a gradient. The halocline leads to some interesting visual effects.

This photo of the halocline is in focus. Even though it appears blurry, it accurately represents what a diver swimming through a halocline might see. When salt and fresh water are disturbed by a diver's movements, they mix and create a blurry visual effect, analogous to the way that olive oil and vinegar look blurry when stirred together. Divers have compared the experience of swimming through a halocline to losing a contact, being very drunk, or swimming through Vaseline. Some divers enjoy the visual effects of the halocline, and some do not. Thankfully, a diver has only to ascend or descend out of the level of the interface to find perfect visibility once again.

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Cenote Angelita

Canote Angelita Photos.
Cenote Diving Photos This photo shows divers hovering above the hydrogen sulfide cloud in Cenote Angelita. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Divers visiting Cenote Angelita will be surprised when what appears to be the cenote bottom wisps and blurs about their fins as they approach. This false floor is a layer of hydrogen sulfide, which floats in Cenote Angelita about 80 feet below the surface. The hydrogen sulfide is harmless to divers, but does have a distinct rotting-egg smell that divers can detect even underwater. The opaque hydrogen sulfide cloud blocks the sunlight, leaving the water under the cloud completely dark. Divers at Cenote Angelita can play with the cloud, submerging their lower bodies for a cut-off effect, or swirling tendrils of fog around their fingers to make currents and eddies which shift and twist in a mesmerizing way. Angelita is one of the few cenotes, besides the Pit, where recreational open water divers can encounter a hydrogen sulfide cloud.

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Cenote Dos Ojos

Dos Ojos Cenote Photos.
Cenote Diving Photos Stalactites jut from the ceiling like frozen lightening bolts in this photo of Cenote Dos Ojos. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

At Cenote Dos Ojos (“two eyes” in Spanish), cavern divers swim between two large cenotes, know as the “East Eye” and the “West Eye”. The cavern dives at Cenote Dos Ojos are packed with cave formations, such as stalactites which hang like frozen lightening bolts above the divers heads. Entire walls are covered with formations known as draperies – stone waterfalls that have ceased to flow thousands of years ago. So dense are the formations at Cenote Dos Ojos, that a diver can not help but imagine how the cave must have been as it was forming, with water dripping and formations growing in all directions. A dive in Cenote Dos Ojos provokes thoughts of the great force, energy and time required to create such a magnificent place.

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Cenote Esmerelda

Cenote Esmerelda Photos
Cenote Diving Photos In this photo, light rays illuminate the cavern around Cenote Esmerelda. Divers swimming past Cenote Esmerelda can see the thickness of the stone ceiling through the opening. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Divers pass by Cenote Esmerelda half way through the cavern dive at Cenote Taj Mahal. This little cenote bursts with jungle-green light that filters through the trees around the cenote. While the light effects are beautiful, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Cenote Esmerelda is that the opening falls at just the correct angle for divers to see the thickness of the limestone ceiling above their heads. One glance up through the deep hole immediately conjures thoughts of the massive weight and quantity of the rock supported by the water. While this is generally not a good thing to contemplate while cavern diving, it is hard to be nervous in such a magnificent and surreal environment.

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Jagged Formations

Jagged Cavern Formations
Cenote Diving Photos This photo illustrates angular cenote cavern formations that appear almost like modern art. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Stalactites and stalagmites are not the only interesting cave formations divers see on cenote dives. Cavern divers may encounter formations resembling three-dimensional puzzle pieces littering the floor of many caverns, or angular, jagged pieces of limestone like the one in the photo above. Some of these formations result from the slow dissolution of the limestone cavern walls by the cenote water, while other formations are fallen pieces of the cavern ceiling, worn smooth the the slow flow of water. Divers who look carefully at the formation in the photo above notice layers in the stone dating back to the formation of the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Cenote Chac Mool

Chac Mool Cenote Photos
Cenote Diving Photos The diver in this photo hovers next to the top of a fallen piece of ancient ceiling in Chac Mool Cenote. Daniel Gut, danielgut.com

Looming over the cavern in Cenote Chac Mool, a huge, collapsed piece of the ancient ceiling sits upright as if it were carefully placed in position. At first, it appears to be part of the cavern wall. When divers look up, however, they will notice jagged edges where the fallen portion of stone broke off from the ceiling many years ago. Divers touring the cavern of Cenote Chac Mool swim up along this formation, rising bit by bit until the broken edge becomes visible.

See additional cenote diving photos from a cenote called "The Pit"

Next Photo Gallery: Night Diving Photos