Cenotes Archives

July 11, 2009

Day 4 - New Car, Ek Balam & Cenote Dzinup

It's Friday. I'm in Merida, at the hotel Dolores Alba, and Mika and Camila are happily swimming in the small hotel pool. Mike is upstairs, taking a nap. Camila is wearing a life jacket (the best buy ever) so I don't have to watch her that carefully. Mika has gotten pretty good at swimming, plus it's not that deep a pool. Still, they are within eyesight.

Yesterday started in Cancun with breakfast at the hotel, followed by a dip in the pool for the kids, while I packed our suitcases (it's a pain in the butt to have to pack up daily). That done we went to exchange our car at the rental agency, as our original car had a problem with the A/C - it worked well for half an hour to an hour and then it stopped. Not ideal given the heat of the Yucatan. Having to return the car was a pain, we had meant to stay that night in Valladolid rather than Cancun, but fortunately my plans for each day are pretty light, so we still managed to hit the two places I had planned - even though we didn't leave Cancun until noon or so.

The drive to the Valladolid area took probably an hour and a half or so (the half being getting out of Cancun). We took the paid road, hoping it would save time, and with NO idea of how expensive it was - about US$20 for the 150 km stretch! cuota.jpg We're definitely not making that mistake again. Still, we managed to get to Ek Balam early enough, so I can' t really complain.

Our first stop off the highway, however, was Temozon, a small village famous for its smoked meats. We got some smoked pork at one of the many roadside butcher shops (1lb for MN$50, not sure if we got taken) and, indeed, it was very good. Even though we'd had a lunch of sorts
in Cancun, both Mike and I devoured it.

After a brief, involuntary visit to Ek Balam village (we turned left on the side of the road when we were supposed to go straight), we ended up on the large but almost empty parking lot for the ruins. Ek Balam has gotten much more popular in recent years. Indeed, I hadn't been there as serious excavations/reconstructions did not start until the mid-nineties. But we were there a bit late in the day, and must have missed the tour buses.

Ek Balam is a pretty cool site. It has a large pyramid, which Mike and the kids delighted on climbing and a couple of other large structures. Some cool reliefs on the sides of the pyramid, which the kids could not care less about. By far the coolest thing the kids saw was a bunch of puppies, perhaps 8 weeks old, that were hiding in one of the rooms of the structure next to the pyramid. The kids were enchanted. They loved the puppies, they loved playing with them, holding them, petting them, you know the drill. They were by far more impressed by the puppies than by the ruins. They only left, after quite a while, to see some iguanas Mike had found on his explorations. But they wanted to go back to see the puppies, only some firmness and Camila's need for the potty helped us get them away.

Our next stop was the cenote Dzinup. I know that it's no longer called that, now that there are two cenotes in the Dzninup village that are open to the public, but that's how I knew it back then and that's what's easiest to remember now.

The cenote Dzinup is a beautiful cenote at the bottom of a cave. It's almost completely covered by limestone, with the exception of a little whole on the roof through which light filters in. I remembered the effect to be magical, the cenote having the most gorgeous deep turquoise color. I had seen it in the morning, however, and this time we were there in the late afternoon. It was also quite overcast by then. The cenote was pretty, but quite dark, and taking pictures was impossible. The kids and Mike loved it, though. The water was cool and refreshing, the cenote large enough to accommodate all the swimmers, and the setting just beautiful. Once again, I was thankful that we'd bought and brought along the life jackets, as it'd have been difficult for the kids to enjoy it so much otherwise. Indeed, the kids, who had had great reservations as to the cenotes when I was describing them to them, were instantly sold over. Today we explored Chichen Itza to Camila's chanting of "I want to go to the cenote" time after time :-)

The cenote closed at 5:30, so we headed to our hotel, the Hacienda Sanchez in Valladolid. I have to confess that I spent quite a long time researching hotels before this trip, and the research did pay off - as we've been very happy with the hotels we have been staying in. The hotel Hacienda Sanchez was no exception and I would fully recommend it to anyone making a stop in Valladolid. Indeed, we wished we had a reason to stay an extra day.

I very much doubt that Hacienda Sanchez was ever a real hacienda. Rather I suspect the hotel was built in the manner of an hacienda, with a three-story building and a number of "casitas" (or suites) facing a large, internal, manicured garden/patio. A very pleasant place all in all.

The kids, of course, zeroed in the pool and they happily swam there until the pool closed at 8. We then got dressed and went for dinner at the very empty hotel restaurant. Very empty, very good and very reasonably priced, that is. We had multiple juices/shakes, main dishes and dessert for less than US$30. And I can't tell you how beautiful the open room was, and how attentive the service. So far our best general experience in the Yucatan.

And that was it for the day.

Day 5 - Chichen Itza, Cenote Azul and Merida

Time is flying by. It's Day 7 already and I still have a couple of days to blog about. I also haven't yet posted any of the pictures - but I will do shortly. If you are following this (Kathy), you may want to look back at older entries for corresponding pictures.

Anyway, we woke up in Valladolid for our 5th day, at the Hotel Hacienda Sanchez, and had a very nice breakfast of eggs (served with black beans, of course) or pancakes, coffee, orange juice and pre-buttered French bread. Service, as the night before, was amazing.

We packed up (always a hassle for us) and headed towards our next destination: Chichen Itza. First, of course, we made a detour to buy a couple of hammocks at the state prison. In Mexico, you may remember, prisoners must feed themselves, plus they have a lot of time on their hands. So the prisoners at the prison in the Valladolid-Chichen Itza road, make some money by making hammocks. Their hammocks are double-stranded, and have the reputation of being the best in the Yucatan. We wanted to buy the largest there was, but that proved to be of monstrous proportions and price. Instead, we bought more "valued" price ones, which I think are still large enough. They are quite heavy and we paid US$40-50 for them. I can't tell, at this time, if we got a good deal. In any case, those selling it weren't willing to bargain (they said each prisoner puts a price on them, and they are not authorized to take less).


After that, it was time for Chichen Itza (MN$20 to park, MN$111 entrance, children free) which Mike explored fully. You can't climb much at Chichen Itza anymore (when I went, eighteen years ago, I actually climbed everything), so it wasn't as much fun for Mika as Ek Balam. Mike enjoyed it, visiting all the ruins, while the kids were probably more fixated on finding something to buy for the MN$10 we gave each of them. Mika was interested in the story of the human sacrifice victims thrown into the cenote, though somewhat disappointed that she couldn't see the remains.


Camila was obsessed with going swimming at a cenote, and she let us know of her wishes pretty much constantly throughout the visit. The only thing that really distracted the kids were the iguanas. They've seen lots of them by now, but they're still cool creatures.




After Chichen Itza it was time for the Cenote Azul at Ik Kil. This is a completely commercial operation, with a fully developed cenote, dressing rooms and bathrooms, life jackets and towels for rental, and tourist buses from Cancun (which visit it before or after hitting the ruins). Still, we got there right between the time that the earlier buses left and the newer buses arrived, so that we had 10 full minutes of bliss (aka "alone time") at the cenote. The cenote itself was beautiful, deep in an open cave, with roots of plants and trees hanging on top of it, and tons of little catfish swimming around (just try to grab one).



Once again, the life jackets were a great savior, as the kids delighted in both swimming around, and, later, in jumping into the cenote.



Despite my natural buoyancy, I was still a bit unnerved about swimming around in what's essentially a bottomless pit, so I mostly kept to the sides.

Once people started coming in, it became more like a glorified swimming pool than anything else, but the kids & Mike still enjoyed it. The hike up the stairs was much easier than it seemed it'd be.

After cenote azul I thought we could hit Izamal or the ruins of Acanceh, but neither Mike nor the kids seemed that excited by the prospect. Instead, we came directly to Merida (through the non-cuota highway, which proved to be quite nice).

In Merida, we are staying at the hotel Dolores Alba, which is very popular with tourists from all over. It's no wonder, it's pretty cheap (MN$540 for a double room for the four of us), it has a small but very clean pool, and gorgeous, large, tiled rooms. It was built in a more traditional-looking style than modern hotels, which makes it so much the nicer.

In the afternoon, the kids swam at the hotel while Mike slept. He wasn't feeling too well after his own encounter with Montezuma's. Of course, by the time he woke up and was ready to go, I fell asleep, and we all didn't end up going out for dinner until 9 or so. And of course, we were still somewhat confused about the layout of the city and did not take a map, so it took us a while to find a place for dinner (an expensive taco-chain near the zocalo).

We were all pretty tired by the time dinner was over, I had suggested that we take a taxi, but Mika insisted on that we do a buggy. It was MN$100! but Mike acquiesced. She, of course, was in princess-land being taken by a very cute horse-drawn carriage. We ain't doing it again, though.

July 12, 2009

Photos from X'Keken Cenote

View of the X'Keken cenote in Dzinup.

Swimming and exploring around the cenote.

One of the formations in the cenote.

Another view of the cenote.

Mika loved drinking coconut juice, which are sold at stalls for tourists.

July 22, 2009

Cenote Cristalino - Riviera Maya

Summary: The best place in the Riviera to get a pedicure.

The Cenote Cristalino is a mom-and-pop operation and one of the best secrets in the Riviera Maya. It's hard to believe that a place like this can exist amidst the jungle of cement and fake-jungle that makes up what has come to be called the "Riviera Maya" (and which was simply the "Quintana Roo coast" once upon a time). The place is quite simple, there is a cleared area by the highway where you can park your car (don't expect an actual parking lot, though), a room with a cement patio where you buy your tickets (MN$4 for adults, MN$2 for kids) from a member of the family, and a somewhat rough but mercifully short path to the cenote.

The cenote itself is a large pool with water up to the ground, there is a cave on one side, a smaller pool on the other and a 15ft tall wall on the opposite side from the entrance. Kids and would-be-kids delight in jumping in from up there. The water is definitely cool at first, though it becomes impossibly comfortable within a couple of minutes. It's crystal clear, allowing you to see several feet down. Unfortunately there is not that much to see - most of the rocks and floor are covered by soft algae. A few gorgeous blue catfish swim around, but you won't find this a rewarding snorkeling experience.

What makes the cenote cristalino so great are the thousands of other little fish that swim in the cenote waters. These long-lost cousins of the spa-popular garra rufa LOVE to eat dead skin, and chomp it off your feet, ankles, lets and even elbows if they can get to it. The results can be amazing, I could barely recognize my feet after a couple of hours at the cenote. I still need a pedicure, but now I won't be too embarrassed to go to the salon.

It's also a pretty nice sensation to experience. The fish are very gentle, so much so that you may not feel them at all on your most callused skin, and can be even ticklish. Just putting your feet in the waters and waiting for them to do their job, can be a very relaxing experience.

If you want to go, here is some advise: try to go early in the morning or later in the afternoon, and not on weekends, as it gets crowded with locals. If you do come in the less hot hours of the day, bring mosquito repellent (just don't apply it to those parts that you want nibbled). The cenote is great for a dip and some water fun as well, it can get deep, so a life vest is recommended for little children and those that aren't strong swimmers.

There are no facilities at the cenote, though you can buy snacks and drinks on site.

The cenote is located right next to the cenote El Edén and the Cenote Azul, north of Xpu-Ha. If driving south, start paying attention to the sign for the turnoff for the Kantunchi eco-park, the cenotes are almost right after it. There is no road sign per se for the cenotes.

This was probably one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip and it's highly recommended.

BTW, salons in the US have started to offer this procedure. Alas, expect to pay US$45.

Sign for Cenote Cristalino

Fish eating dry skin

About Cenotes

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Marga & Mike's Yucatan Adventure Blog in the Cenotes category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Cancun is the previous category.

Ek Balam is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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