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Riviera Maya’s Natural Wonders
Always a favorite honeymoon destination, Mexico’s Riviera Maya offers many natural wonders which are a “must-see” while you’re there.
Cenotes – No trip to the Riviera Maya would be complete without visiting the phenomena known as cenotes, derived from the Spanish corruption of the Maya “D’zonot,” meaning “abyss,” because they were believed to be the gateways to the Underworld. These freshwater pools spring from underground rivers and are surrounded by exuberant jungle vegetation. While most are hidden deep in the jungle or in caves, some nearer to the coast connect to the sea and are filled with briny water.
Connecting to submerged limestone caves they were formed by the last Ice Age when fluctuations in sea level exposed more land. This, combined with thousands of years of rainfall on soft limestone close to the surface causing their roofs to collapse created these cenotes, referred to today simply as sinkholes. Cenotes and underground rivers flowing to the sea can be found throughout the area. Considered sacred sites (whose water has healing powers) by the Maya, they have become a major tourist attraction since the mid 1980s when professional divers began to explore the “natural wells” of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is estimated that more than 200 miles of underwater passages have been uncovered, leading to hundreds of cenotes and a complex link of cave systems. Cenote diving is dangerous and should only be done as a member of a tour led by a local dive master.
Aktun Chen – Located between Akumal and Xel-Há, Akun Chen (“cave with a cenote” in Maya) encompasses an ecological reserve with a small regional zoo, serpentarium and guided hikes through a five million year old subterranean cave with stalagmite and stalactite formations being the main attractions. Soft lighting reveals mysterious cenotes, mythical home to spirits - according to Maya belief - and unusual calcium carbonate formations reflected in the gentle green jungle light.
CrocoCún – Thick jungle grounds, spacious enclosures and a vast variety of crocodiles lure visitors to this interesting crocodile farm. You’ll find Moreletti crocodiles, spider monkeys, white-tailed deer and coatimundi in this unusual tourist site. Restaurant and gift shops are on the premises.
Sian Ka’An Biosphere Reserve – The ecological sanctuary known as “where the sky is born,” or “gift from heaven,” in Maya, was established in 1986 by presidential decree and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The reserve encompasses most of the ecosystems existing in the Yucatan Peninsula. In addition to 103 species of mammals and 345 species of birds, it houses 23 archaeological sites and is accessible through five entrances: Pulticub, Santa Teresa, Chumpon, Chunyaxché and Chac Mool. The non-profit organization, Amigos de Sian Ka’an (Friends of Sian Ka’an) offers tours to the public and promotes the sale of handicrafts produced by reserve inhabitants.
Content copyright © 2015 by Michelle da Silva Richmond. All rights reserved.
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