Myths, legends, and truths about Mayan cenotes
Wonders of nature
Magic places to get lost: cenotes
If you’ve ever wondered how it would be to visit the Yucatan Peninsula and the Riviera Maya, if you are a nature lover and flora and fauna enthusiast, you’ve probably heard about some mystic places called cenotes.
But, do you know how they were born? or, do you know how many types of cenotes are there? Either way, I think you should keep reading this entry because I’m afraid to tell you…there is a lot of amazing stuff going on down there!
One of the first thoughts that usually come to mind when visiting one of the thousands of cenotes around the Yucatan Peninsula is, how were these natural wonders originated?
The most accurate theory about the formation of cenotes is truly fascinating. Most parts of the solid ground of Yucatan were underwater thousands of years ago. A lot of living organisms coexisted in these grounds, among coral reefs, plants, and calcium carbonate rich sea life. All these elements created large amounts of limestone that after millions of years gave the white tone to the ground.
One of the characteristics of the limestone is its porosity: thousands of years of rain, underground river flows and others weather factors have dissolved minerals, creating holes and caves with sweet water. Since the limestone rocks were formed by fossilized remains of marine animals, we can find seashells fossils all over the walls and stones.
When standing at the edge of a cenote, we may think its some kind of lake or inlet but, in fact, the waters within have more similar behaviour to rivers. Why? although it doesn’t seem like it, cenotes are connected by underground tunnels making the water move in a continuous flow, which is very important for keeping animals and plants alive in this aquatic world below our feet.
There are three different types of cenotes: open, Part-Open and underground. They classify according to the age: open cenotes are the oldest while the underground ones are younger because they still have a dome to cover them from the surface. So, with the thousand of years passing plus the limestone erosion these natural formations evolve changing their aspect.
For the Maya civilization cenotes were very important but, do you know how they really used them? First of all, they were the water supply source, they were also used as a sacred place and a sacrifice center: Mayans use to throw jewels, pots, clothes, and sculptures. In fact, scientists have found many human skeletons. It is believed that human sacrifices were made in order to be thankful with the gods for the rain or to ask for it. Legend says these cenotes were called the sacred cenotes and today we have the chance to visit them.
Also and curiously, each cenote had a specific use, so, the ones used for rituals and ceremonies weren’t used as water supply and vice versa.
Knowing all these you must admit your desire to visit a cenote and explore its history and caves has increased. If you don’t know where to start, you can read: 5 cenotes to visit in Yucatan.