Ancient, open, cavern & semi-open

Geological formations of cenotes

The soil of the Yucatán Peninsula is still very young and its erosion is constantly happening. However, the large cavities that form different types of cenotes with underground rivers and caves that run through the subsoil of the peninsula. They are quite a sight! What in ancient times was synonymous with abundance, today is of contemplation and beauty for its visitors. Whenever we come across the cenotes of the peninsula, we venerate nature, because we understand that water is the most outstanding natural resource.

couple in an open cenote

When talking about classification, religious and political elements come up in conversation. Firstly due to the depths of the cenote, related to mysticism; secondly, because nearby villages had a guaranteed water supply. However, today most studies are geological and determine what the cenote is called. Do names like open, semi-open, cavern or ancient cenote sound familiar to you? This classification is also determined by the age of the cenote, with mature or older cenotes being the most open ones.

Read: Questions you will ask yourself when visiting a cenote for the first time

Ancient cenote

Due to their age, these types of cenotes are usually open to the surface, bigger in diameter, looking like lakes with high walls in the middle of the Maya jungle. Wilderness grows not only around it, it even flourishes in the middle of the water creating small patches that you can explore while swimming. Oftentimes, these cenotes are the habitat for an extensive and diverse flora and fauna such as fish, frogs and birds, including the toh bird, considered a guide to jungle explorers. These cenotes are also the ideal playground to enjoy and have fun, such as sliding down a zip-line and doing an amazing splash-landing.

illustration types of cenotes - ancient
Get to know an ancient one, discover Iik’ cenote

Open cenote

The open cenotes provide one of the best landscapes for outdoor activities in Riviera Maya, since their abundant flora and fauna generate a unique ecosystem. Its high walls rise imposingly from the water level making the site a fascinating place for all those with a spirit of adventure. These cenotes are ideal for swimming or simply floating on your back and seeing how the open sky resembles this place hidden in the jungle.

illustration types of cenotes - open
Get to know an open one, discover K’áak’ cenote

Cavern cenote

As the name implies, these cenotes are covered underground except for a small opening in the vault ceiling and they are usually the younger ones. To reach them, it is usually necessary to go through a cave or descend through hidden paths until you reach a vault where turquoise water emanates from the bottom and a few sunrays illuminate ceiling full of stalactites. Here begins the mysticism that includes an entrance to Xibalbá. In these cenotes it is very common to see bats hanging from the rock formations as well as large roots reaching the water from the ceiling of the vault. To reach most of them it is necessary to go cave diving. However, for the less intrepid, these cenotes are ideal for rappelling or simply meditating for a moment.

Learn more about Xibalbá, read: Xibalbá, mysteries of the Maya underworld

illustration types of cenotes - cavern
Get to know a cavern one, discover Lu’um cenote

Semi-open cenote

These cenotes have the contrast of two worlds: one part is open and the other runs under a surface that sometimes creates a cavern with incredible rock formations. The bottom of the cenote also has two distinct ecosystems. On one side you can see entrances through which the water of the underground rivers emanates, while on the other side there is fertile land that was submerged when the vault of the cenote collapsed, creating fascinating gardens of underwater lilies. It’s very common to see swallows make their nests in the natural holes in the limestone, so you must be very quiet when enjoying this natural landscape. If the geography allows it, these cenotes are ideal for jumping off the natural platforms and practicing snorkeling.

illustration types of cenotes - semi-open
Get to know a semi-open one, discover Ha’ cenote

Exploring enigmatic waters

Regardless of their shape or size, cenotes are important because of the legends and history they sustain. A visit to a cenote means not only connecting with nature but obtaining respect for its cultural and symbolic meaning. For the Maya, cenotes were sacred and they often offered tributes in gratitude for the abundance of water. The cenotes are life; a life that lies in the richness of its cultural context. Respect their history and the cenote itself will restore the natural beauty, giving us the opportunity to find inside of ourselves the same magic it keeps.

If you wish to explore all of the different types of cenotes that exist in nature, we invite you to go on the Xenotes tour, the ideal expedition for the amazing experience.

What types of cenotes have you visited before?

types of cenotes in the yucatán peninsula blog