Swimming in Cenotes: Cristalino and Azul

After several luxurious days of lying on the beach and generally lazing about, I knew it was time for me to get out and do something to write home about.  Visiting the cenotes in the area was already on my list before I arrived.  Cenotes are caverns filled with fresh water pools, created when the roof of the caverns collapses in, creating little swimming pits in the jungle, some more enclosed than others.  Sometimes these pools were the only fresh source of drinking water and were regarded as religious sites by the Mayans.  There are several in the Riviera Maya, and three in particular that are close to Playa del Carmen.  After some advice from my roommates and a little online digging, I made a plan to go to Cenote Cristalino, which is located between Playa and Tulum (Tulum is 45 minutes south).  To get there I took a colectivo, a small van which transports people locally in the area.  They are cheap, run constantly, and drop you anywhere along the road.  I went into town and got in line for the colectivo going to Tulum.  You tell the man at the front of the line where you are going, and he yells out your destination to the driver.  The vans fit about 15 people when well packed.  We took off down the highway.  About 20 minutes into the drive I was let off by a large sign for the cenote.  I went in and paid the $150 pesos entrance fee and descended into the jungle.

I descended into what felt like a gorgeous secret.  Suddenly everything felt quieter, calmer, the air was moving slower.  The cenote was mostly open, with a few small enclosed areas.  There were a few tourists and locals hanging quietly in and around the water.  

I sat on the side and dipped in my toes.  This cenote is particularly known for having the kind of fish that swarm around and gently nibble at your feet, a “fish pedicure.”  People in the towns pay $100 USD to have this done.  At first it felt strange but eventually I got used to it and it became relaxing.

I then jumped into the water, it was cold but not too cold. One of the staff offered me a pair of goggles for free.  I swam around wildly with them, taking in the underwater world.  I cannot fully explain in words what I saw, I can only say it is worth a visit to see for yourself what is down there.

After my swim and a quick sun bathe, I decided to go to the Cenote Azul, which I knew to be close by.  It was barely down the road from Cristalino.  I paid $80 pesos and went in.  This cenote was much larger and packed full of people.  It was like the coolest natural swim park you could have dreamt up.  People were swimming over rocks, bathing in the sun, playing with the children, and jumping from the diving rock above it all.

After several swims around the pools the crowds became overwhelming so I packed up my things.  Unfortunately the third cenote nearby, Jardin de Eden, was closed.  I ran across the highway and flagged down a colectivo on its way to Playa and jumped in. 
I would recommend visiting these magical caves not on a Saturday like myself, to try and dodge the crowds.  The serenity is magic.  


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