Explore Riviera Maya’s Underground Rivers
By Candyce H. Stapen
The darkness is pervasive; no pinpoint shafts of light pierce the blackness 61-feet underground in the heart of Río Secreto, an underground river that runs through a cave called a cenote. Our Alltournative guide asked us to turn off the headlamps on our helmets so that we could listen undistracted.
After a minute or so to get acclimated, we hear it: the music of the cenote, the delicate, almost flute-like song the droplets of water create as they hit the cave’s pools. Sitting here, it’s easy to imagine why the ancient Maya thought these sacred bodies of water important as gateways to the underworld, a place to float toward their gods.
The Riviera Maya, which stretches along Mexico’s coast for 86-miles from just south of Puerto Morelos to Punta Allen, is known for its hundreds of cenotes. However, Río Secreto, opened to the public in April 2008, is a jewel in region’s extensive system of underground rivers.
First of all, access is easy. To enter most cenotes, visitors typically must shimmy down a rope dangling above a sinkhole and then jump into the cold water. However, we walk into Río Secreto, gradually encountering streams that we step over, walk through and then, sometimes, swim across. There’s plenty of time to become accustomed to the cool river.
Secondly, the stalactites and stalagmites grow in spectacular formations. We see tall columnar formations, wide “draperies,” clusters of “popcorn” and other shapes as we move deeper into the cavern.
In some areas azure ponds form and in other places, colorless fish swim. A few times, we must swim through chambers where the river reaches to within 16-inches of the ceiling, squeezing through narrow passageways. But that’s part of Río Secreto’s magic.
Alltournative leads only six people at a time through Río Secreto. The company specializes in offering soft adventure and cultural encounters to small groups. On other outings, glide through the treetops on a zip line and meet Maya villagers. Since each tour is limited in size, book ahead.
For Maya inspired cuisine, try Yaxche and Ajua! Maya, both located in the pedestrian only area of Playa del Carmen. Yaxche offers tables in a garden and Ajua! Maya features live music nightly and, for fun, waiters who balance drinks on their heads.
The AAA Five Diamond Fairmont Mayakoba offers over-sized rooms in a lush, tropical setting. All but nine of the 401-rooms in low-rise buildings face either the golf course or the canals that lace the property. (Nine suites are ocean front).
We looked forward to coming back in the afternoon, sitting on our balcony to watch the ducks and herons feed. Another treat: the 37,000-square foot Willow Stream Spa with its Maya inspired treatments.