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Explore Cenotes, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Explore Cenotes, Riviera Maya, Mexico
By Candyce H. Stapen

Mexico’s Riviera Maya is known for its hundreds of cenotes, or underground rivers. On a recent trip, my daughter and I discover three very different ways to experience these unusual places. At Xplor, a $20 million eco-adventure park that debuted in spring 2009, we raft through a winding cenote, at Rio Secreto we walk and swim and at Alux, we dine inside one.

The Riviera Maya stretches along Mexico’s Caribbean coast for 86-miles from just south of Puerto Morelos to Punta Allen. Discovering cenotes intrigue us, especially since the week of our visit the daytime temperatures always hover above 90-degrees F. At the very least, cenotes provide a nice way to cool off.

Xplor’s cenote, a guide informs us, remains a comfortable 72-degrees F. That’s more than enough reason for us to sign-up for the raft trip. What we find inside surprises us--a world of stalactites and stalagmites, gently illuminated and reflected in the blue, river water. We pass few other rafters. We paddle through the 600 yard circuit with our hands, moving slowly and simply enjoying the soothing sound of water and the cavern.

We end up wishing we had time to do another circuit, but we want to try Xplor’s other adventures. These include swimming through another cenote, gliding along zip lines and driving an amphibious vehicle along dirt paths and through tunnels. Don’t do the latter, at least not on a hot day. The sun beats down and the dust kicks up. To best enjoy Xplor, bring towels, wear hats and water shoes. There’s a surprisingly good cafeteria on site as well.

On a guided tour with Alltournative, we discover Rio Secreto. To access most centoes, you must wriggle down a rope and then jump into the often cold water, but we can walk into Rio Secreto, gradually becoming acclimated to both the dim light and the cool water. Initially, the river is just a trickle, but as we venture further, the river laps at our ankles, then our knees and then our waists.

At one point, we must swim through the cavern, squeezing under a low cave ceiling. We see hundreds of formations, some growing together as thick “draperies,” others meeting to form columns and still others taking on shapes like railings or clustering like popcorn. The cenote is an invigorating experience.

That evening, we book a dinner reservation at Alux ( pronounced “A Loosh” ). This dry cenote has been transformed into a restaurant. The chambers of the thousand year old cavern serve as various dining rooms. Candles, green and blue lights, as well as leopard blankets, tree stump stools and 60’s modern plastic chairs create a funky atmosphere. Alux, which turns into a dance club later in the evening, serves tasty Caribbean style seafood. Dining here is a good choice for cenote enthusiasts.

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