Swimming To a New Appreciation of Mexico

Río Secreto Mexico cave cenote swimmers approach (photo courtesy Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen)

My fellow underground cenote swimmers approach (photo courtesy Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico)

It was dark and quiet.

Inky, your-rods-and-cones-can’t-help-you-here dark, with only the sound of our breathing and a teensy watery swish as someone moved her foot a centimeter.

Our Río Secreto guide Paulo had turned off the lights (after checking to see if anyone thought they might freak out) so that we could see what total darkness and silence is like. I’ll say this….it draws you inside your own head and makes your senses vibrate with awareness.

Río Secreto Mexico cave cenote right before they turned out lights (photo courtesy Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen)

Río Secreto Mexico cave cenote right before they turned out lights (photo courtesy Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen)

We were seated in a small circle, waist-deep in beautiful, cool, clear water, experiencing a Mexico that is far removed from beachside tequila drinks, sombrero-wearing tourists at the airport, drug-related crime problems, or a million other stereotypes that people have about this country.

As we explored this extraordinary underground cenote nature preserve near Playa del Carmen on the Yucatán Peninsula, I paused several times to ask myself why I haven’t spent more time in Mexico.

Exploring an underground river system and cenote in Mexico (photo courtesy Río Secreto)

The author exploring an underground river system and nature preserve in Mexico (photo courtesy Río Secreto)

I live just north of it and there are direct flights from where I live in central Texas. Our Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel has been living in Guanajuato and loving it for the past few years. I’m always complaining that my passport needs more of a workout….blah, blah, blah with the excuses….

The fact is, perhaps because it’s so handy and doesn’t seem terribly exotic compared to jetting off to Europe or Asia, I simply forget it’s there, just like I tended to overlook Canada until I spent time in Toronto and Edmonton, and explored what you can do in Jasper, Alberta when you don’t ski.

I also forget how many things there are to see and do in Mexico, and how different the various regions and cultures are from one another. I’m more of an urbanite who prefers to wander the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City rather than go on eco-tours, so I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed donning a short wetsuit, lighted helmet, and aqua shoes to explore a watery underground complex in the Quintana Roo province.

Our hosts offered a “dry land” tour of the cave complex, but I’ve already been through a cave tour and underground concert in Longhorn Cavern near my home, so I opted to get a little wet, and it was well worth it. Paulo the guide told us that he’d ditched a banking job to become a full-time ecotourism guide, and like any good teacher, he made us all feel that we were on the best field trip EVER.

Gorgeous underground scenery in the Río Secreto nature preserve of underground rivers (photo courtesy Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen)

The “money shot” – gorgeous underground scenery in the Río Secreto nature preserve of underground rivers (photo courtesy Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen)

If adventure and relaxation are on your agenda for your next trip, cenotes are a unique excursion experience. These subterranean caves all over the Yucatan Peninsula offer an experience like no other. Carve time out of your next trip to Mexico to experience the beauty of these natural, hidden wonders.

Mexico, you deserve a lot more of my attention.

Tours of the Rio Secreto cenotes start at US$79 (less for children 4 – 11) and run about 3 1/2 hours. As speakers for the TBEX travel blogging conference hosted in nearby Cancun, we were guests of the local tourism department and Río Secreto, so we did not pay, but I think the price is more than reasonable for such an exceptional experience.

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