Mexican Cenotes: The Ideal Cave Diver’s Training Ground

by Lukas Joseph

Every day the stunning underground caverns of Mexico’s cenotes provide tourists with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to dive in water undisturbed by man. Millions flock to Mexico year-round to dive these crystal-blue pools, but they’re not the only one’s interested in what these cenotes have to offer. World-renowned cave divers frequent this area to further their training as well. What is it about Mexico’s cenotes that makes them so ideal?

What Exactly is a Cenote?

A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of earth and bedrock exposing the underground water beneath. Cenotes can be found all over the world, with the most notable specimens located in Mexico. In particular, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is known around the globe as a hotspot for cave and cavern divers. Here, the cenotes are breathtakingly beautiful, offering crystal-clear diving as well as an array of flora and fauna. In Mexico, cenotes are located all over the landmass, ranging from jungle-covered surroundings to plots of private land and all along Mexico’s coastlines.

Michal Guba getting ready to dive

Cenote Diving in Mexico

The cenotes in Mexico provide a unique experience for those looking to hone their cave diving skills. Divers from around the world make the trip to train under the unique circumstances offered in Mexico. They make the journey with a goal to learn something new and useful which can in turn be applied to the cave and cenote diving in their local area.

Every cenote has its own design and color, known as either a light or dark cenote. A light cenote, such as the El Gran, which only reaches a depth of 10 m (32.8 ft), allows a diver to enjoy their experience staying in relatively well-lit areas. It’s when you move from cavern diving to cave diving that the real training begins.

A number of cenotes have yet to be fully explored. For instance, the Sistema Sac Actun cenote is one such example. It wasn’t until last year that divers surveyed the entire system, even uncovering human remains as well as those of the long extinct mastodon. Apart from general visibility issues, there are several factors that can make exploring these caves exceedingly difficult. The length of a cave system can complicate exploration efforts, as was the case for the Sistema Sac Actun cenote (364.4 km/223.4 miles) long, including dry caves within the system). Additionally, tight spaces and sediment disturbance can create obstacles for divers.

From Mexico to the Czech Republic

Mexico’s cenotes offer an ideal training opportunity for divers looking to specialize in more advanced gear as well as learn how to better maneuver caves’ complicated diving circumstances. A prime example is that of Czech diver, Michal Guba, who traveled with his team all the way to Mexico to dive the cenotes as training for the Hranice Abyss, a famous cenote located in his home country, the Czech Republic. With a documented depth of 473 m/1,551.84 ft, the Hranice Abyss is the deepest known underwater cave in the world (believed to actually reach a final depth of over 1,200 m/3,937 ft).

The diving conditions in the Hranice Abyss are akin to those of Mexico’s cenotes. The issue of sediment disturbance is one that plagues divers, such as Michal in his efforts to survey the entirety of the Hranice Abyss. “Not unlike Mexico, sediment from the walls and ceiling of the abyss is released during dives,” says Michal. This is caused by divers’ movements as well as the release of air bubbles – excess air released from the breathing loop, suit, or buoyancy compensator or by the use of bubble-emitting scuba tanks. “These disruptions to the usually calm underwater habitat loosen the sediment, causing a radical reduction in visibility,” adds Michal. In a video from training of Michal and his team is seen a good visibility in pure waters of the cenote Chan Hol.

Correct Technical Equipment is Key for Cenote Diving

Luckily, by training in Mexico’s cenotes, one may learn the techniques needed to conquer other diving challenges encountered around the world. One large aid for divers like Michal has been the use of a Liberty sidemount rebreather, since the more complicated cenotes are crowded with tight entrances and passages. For inexperienced or untrained divers unaccustomed to such domains, Mexico’s cenotes make for a perfect training ground. The cenotes also provide an environment for divers to use and grow comfortable with a rebreather, assuming they aren’t already. Among other things, one major advantage in using a rebreather is the distinct reduction of air bubbles released, meaning improved visibility as less sediment is loosened from the cave walls.

Another important piece of equipment is the diver’s wetsuit. Typically, a 5mm suit fitted with pockets is sufficient when diving a “lighter” Mexican cenote. A diver can utilize the pocket space to hold useful items depending on the situation. Whether it’s masks, a knife, or even notes or a map of the course for the cave system, the right equipment can make all the difference. Additional equipment includes a dry suit, recommended for longer excursions, and an underwater scooter, current cave standards permitting.

World-Wide Applicability

Not only are the cenotes in Mexico sure to provide a diving experience never to be forgotten, they can also be useful to further one’s training. Their ideal conditions are perfect for instructional diving, offering underwater scenarios which are often significantly similar to those which cause problems for divers in other cenotes around the world. Hopefully, the educational experience Michal enjoyed on his trip to Mexico has given him the training needed to discover and map more of the Hranice Abyss. Who knows? Maybe venturing on a trip to Mexico with your rebreather will sharpen your diving skills and help you journey to new depths, wherever your personal cenote may be.