Kim Ha cenote

Kim Ha cenote

On the road to Valladolid from Tulum, there are several well-known cenotes located available for cave diving. One of them is Kim Ha Cenote, the entrance to which is combined with the road to two more cenotes: Vaca Ha Cenote and Tortuga Cenote.

Kim Ha Cenote is located halfway down a dirt road on the way to the Tortuga Cenote. As you drive slowly through the jungle, you’ll spot a road comb where your car goes down the road. Stop your car at the drying mud puddle on the road, but make sure to park as close to the side as possible to allow space for other diving trucks that may want to go to the Tortuga Cenote that day. When you’re done with your adventure, the nearest U-turn spot is about 200 meters away at the Tortuga Cenote parking spots. To find Kim Ha Cenote, head straight to the left into the jungle for about 5 meters. You’ll approach a small puddle that’s about 2 meters in diameter – this is the entrance to the cave. There are no amenities available, so make sure to come prepared. Get dressed and dive in!

Be careful while entering as the cave line goes directly down to 20 meters deep through a narrow space full of mud, and at 7 meters deep while entering, you will bump with your mask into the beginning of another cave line that is going left. If you don’t plan to jump here, be careful and keep your line, which continues going down on the right and above.

The maximum depth of the Kim Ha cave line is 27.4 meters, the average depth of the cave line is 22.3 meters, and the length of the surveyed passages is 3322 meters. At a depth of 19 meters, there is a halocline between fresh and salt water.

There is an underwater connection from Kim Ha Cenote to Tortuga Cenote in the North.

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Tres Estrellas cenote

Cenote Tres Estrellas is a part of the cave system K’oox Baal (including Tux Kapaxa caves). The joining of the K’oox Baal and Tux Kapaxa caves created the fourth-longest underwater cave system in the world. K’oox Baal system total length of 74 km. It is the world’s biggest cave system, with its spaces mapped! The making of this connection is the symbolic high point of many years of endeavor. Explorers made hundreds of dives in the caves of this region and spent thousands of hours in the waters. They spent hundreds more hours researching and hacking ways through unknown, dangerous jungles, transporting and maintaining our equipment, driving cars, and overseeing endless repairs to them.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011, over 30 km of new space was discovered in the K’oox Baal cave system, thus extending its length to 120,541 ft (36,741 m). On December 9, 2011, the two cave systems merged and were given the name K’oox Baal. With an impressive total length of 246,522 ft (75,140 m), it now proudly stands as the fourth longest underwater cave system in the world. At the same time, it is the longest cave in the world whose entirety, including contours and fills, is mapped.

Cenote Tres Estrellas (Three Stars or Ox-ek in Maya)

The maximum depth of this cave system area is 42 ft (12.8 m).

This location got its name from three holes in the ceiling of a large dry room with a pool of water inside. Walk down the set of stairs and follow the path to the water and walk carefully into the water. The permanent guideline lies straight ahead perpendicularly.

K'ooh Baal cave system map
K’ooh Baal cave system map
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Sac Xiquin cenote

K'ooh Baal cave system map

Cenote Sac Xiquin is a part of the cave system K’oox Baal (including Tux Kapaxa caves). The joining of the K’oox Baal and Tux Kapaxa caves created the fourth-longest underwater cave system in the world. K’oox Baal system total length of 74 km. It is the world’s biggest cave system, with its spaces mapped! The making of this connection is the symbolic high point of many years of endeavor. Explorers made hundreds of dives in the caves of this region and spent thousands of hours in the waters. They spent hundreds more hours researching and hacking ways through unknown, dangerous jungles, transporting and maintaining our equipment, driving cars, and overseeing endless repairs to them.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011, over 30 km of new space was discovered in the K’oox Baal cave system, thus extending its length to 120,541 ft (36,741 m). On December 9, 2011, the two cave systems merged and were given the name K’oox Baal. With an impressive total length of 246,522 ft (75,140 m), it now proudly stands as the fourth longest underwater cave system in the world. At the same time, it is the longest cave in the world whose entirety, including contours and fills, is mapped.

Cenote Sac Xiquin (Little Tiger or Ocelot)

The maximum depth in this area is 44 ft (13.4 m).

There are two cenotes located within the area of this cenote. This cenote requires an eight-minute hike from where you park at Cenote Coop One. Follow the path behind the dugout trench of Cenote Coop one, and you will pass Cenote Quintan, a 600 ft (183 m), separate cave. Continue following the trail through a very elongated dry cenote unto a very shallow water basin at the edge of a vertical high bluff of the cenote. The permanent guideline begins on a stalactite near the surface of the water.

K'ooh Baal cave system map
K’ooh Baal cave system map
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Koi cenote

K'ooh Baal cave system map

Cenote Koi is a part of the cave system K’oox Baal (including Tux Kapaxa caves). The joining of the K’oox Baal and Tux Kapaxa caves created the fourth-longest underwater cave system in the world. K’oox Baal system total length of 74 km. It is the world’s biggest cave system, with its spaces mapped! The making of this connection is the symbolic high point of many years of endeavor. Explorers made hundreds of dives in the caves of this region and spent thousands of hours in the waters. They spent hundreds more hours researching and hacking ways through unknown, dangerous jungles, transporting and maintaining our equipment, driving cars, and overseeing endless repairs to them.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011, over 30 km of new space was discovered in the K’oox Baal cave system, thus extending its length to 120,541 ft (36,741 m). On December 9, 2011, the two cave systems merged and were given the name K’oox Baal. With an impressive total length of 246,522 ft (75,140 m), it now proudly stands as the fourth longest underwater cave system in the world. At the same time, it is the longest cave in the world whose entirety, including contours and fills, is mapped.

Cenote Koi and cenote Nai Tucha (originally Tux Kapaxa, the Playground Cave)

The maximum depth is 48 ft (14.6 m).

There are several openings to the surface, with one named Cenote Koi. The main permanent guideline begins in the open water. Follow the main line, swimming for twenty minutes. Jump to your left, follow this 150 ft/ (45.7 m) shortcut, and jump back onto a main guideline. This section of the cave system has massive passageways and is highly decorated. Turn left and swim twelve minutes to an INAH-documented bone site.

Another great dive is to stay on the main line until you reach a permanent T intersection. Turn left and swim twenty minutes to the bone site. Swim straight; eight minutes later, you will reach an air dome with two shafts to the surface. From there, continue. You can swim straight to Cenote Koi or, at the far edge of the air dome on the permanent guideline, jump to your right 45 ft (13.7 m) for the more fabulous cave.

K'ooh Baal cave system map
K’ooh Baal cave system map
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Nai Tucha cenote

Cenote Nai Tucha is a part of the cave system K’oox Baal (including Tux Kapaxa caves). The joining of the K’oox Baal and Tux Kapaxa caves created the fourth-longest underwater cave system in the world. K’oox Baal system total length of 74 km. It is the world’s biggest cave system, with its spaces mapped! The making of this connection is the symbolic high point of many years of endeavor. Explorers made hundreds of dives in the caves of this region and spent thousands of hours in the waters. They spent hundreds more hours researching and hacking ways through unknown, dangerous jungles, transporting and maintaining our equipment, driving cars, and overseeing endless repairs to them.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011, over 30 km of new space was discovered in the K’oox Baal cave system, thus extending its length to 120,541 ft (36,741 m). On December 9, 2011, the two cave systems merged and were given the name K’oox Baal. With an impressive total length of 246,522 ft (75,140 m), it now proudly stands as the fourth longest underwater cave system in the world. At the same time, it is the longest cave in the world whose entirety, including contours and fills, is mapped.

Cenote Nai Tucha (originally Tux Kapaxa, the Playground Cave) and Cenote Koi

The maximum depth is 48 ft (14.6 m).

There are several openings to the surface, with one named Cenote Koi. The main permanent guideline begins in the open water. Follow the main line, swimming for twenty minutes. Jump to your left, follow this 150 ft/ (45.7 m) shortcut, and jump back onto a main guideline. This section of the cave system has massive passageways and is highly decorated. Turn left and swim twelve minutes to an INAH-documented bone site.

Another great dive is to stay on the main line until you reach a permanent T intersection. Turn left and swim twenty minutes to the bone site. Swim straight; eight minutes later, you will reach an air dome with two shafts to the surface. From there, continue. You can swim straight to Cenote Koi or, at the far edge of the air dome on the permanent guideline, jump to your right 45 ft (13.7 m) for the more fabulous cave.

K'ooh Baal cave system map
K’ooh Baal cave system map
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Coop One cenote

K'ooh Baal cave system map

Cenote Coop One is a part of the cave system K’oox Baal (including Tux Kapaxa caves). The joining of the K’oox Baal and Tux Kapaxa caves created the fourth-longest underwater cave system in the world. K’oox Baal system total length of 74 km. It is the world’s biggest cave system, with its spaces mapped! The making of this connection is the symbolic high point of many years of endeavor. Explorers made hundreds of dives in the caves of this region and spent thousands of hours in the waters. They spent hundreds more hours researching and hacking ways through unknown, dangerous jungles, transporting and maintaining our equipment, driving cars, and overseeing endless repairs to them.

Between 2006 and the end of 2011, over 30 km of new space was discovered in the K’oox Baal cave system, thus extending its length to 120,541 ft (36,741 m). On December 9, 2011, the two cave systems merged and were given the name K’oox Baal. With an impressive total length of 246,522 ft (75,140 m), it now proudly stands as the fourth longest underwater cave system in the world. At the same time, it is the longest cave in the world whose entirety, including contours and fills, is mapped.

Cenote Coop One (Big Hole), a.k.a. Tam Hol in Maya

The cave system’s maximum depth of the Coop One section is 45 ft (13.7 m). You will find the permanent line on the far side from where you walk down a manmade ramp and past the wooden deck with a ladder leading straight up to the surface.

K'ooh Baal cave system map
K’ooh Baal cave system map
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Outland cenote

Outland cenote

Turning toward La Concha Cenote into the jungle on the 54th kilometer from Playa del Carmen of the Cancun-Tulum federal road, you will find yourself on a country road. The dusty bumpy road leads deep into the jungle. It connects the entrances to a pleiad of beautiful cenotes: Caracol, Chun Ya, Otoch Ha, Outland, La Concha, Fenomeno, etc. All these cenotes are part of a single huge underwater cave system Sac Actun – Dos Ojos – Nohoch Nah Chich.

According to the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey and the Bob Gluten website, the cave system Sac Actun – Dos Ojos – Nohoch Nah Chich is the largest underwater cave system in the world. Its explored dimensions are 376 km, and the maximum depth is 119 meters. The cave system connects at least 228 explored cenotes underwater.

By the way, the next world’s longest cave system, Ox Bel Ha, is located very close – just a few kilometers to the south. So, perhaps shortly, a place will be discovered where these two cave systems connect. The combined cave system will not only be only the largest underwater cave system in the world but the largest cave system in general, including dry caves.

Cenote dives located in this area are available to certified cave divers on their own or guided by a qualified cave instructor.

Outland cenote

Farther away in the forest, an 8km potholed dirt road leads to the Outland Cenote. The entrance is fenced and locked. Outland is a half-collapsed sinkhole with a huge Alamo tree extending its roots like the tentacles of a crawling octopus. The atmosphere of the jungle was overwhelming. Entry to the water was very shallow, over brown rocks. Outside the cave were tall leafy trees, and beautiful “motmot” birds flew by.

Sneaking through a gateway in the limestone, we immediately plummeted to a depth of 8m for the rest of the dive. Visibility is always gin-clear. At the first T-junction, a few meters from the guideline’s beginning, we can turn left and right. The right part is quite more extensive. Soon after, you meander through various chambers of the Outland Cenote with columns, stalagmites, stalactites, and helictites hanging from the roof like darts.

Outland cave diving video

Outland cenote cave diving video
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Tortuga cenote

Tortuga cenote

On the road to Valladolid from Tulum, several well-known cenotes are available for cave diving. One is the Tortuga cenote, whose entrance is combined with the road to two more cenotes: the Vaca Ha cenote and the Kim Ha cenote.

The Tortuga cenote is located at the end of the private road. Approaching the cenote, you will see a small pool with convenient steps. The pond is about 6 meters in diameter in the jungle. Near the cenote, there is a parking lot for three cars. There are no amenities. You can just get dressed and dive in.

The cenote is only available to Cave divers. Open Water divers cannot go there.

The maximum depth of the Tortuga cave line is 28 meters, the average depth of the cave line is 20 meters, and the length of the surveyed passages is 2488 meters. At a depth of 19 meters, there is a halocline between fresh and saltwater located. The Tortuga cave line is connected to the neighboring Kim Ha cenote cave line.

There is an underwater connection from Tortuga Ha Cenote to Kim Ha Cenote in the South-East.

Tortuga cenote cave diving video

Tortuga cenote cave video
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La Concha Cenote

La Concha cenote entrance photo

Turning toward La Concha Cenote into the jungle on the 54th kilometer from Playa del Carmen of the Cancun-Tulum federal road, you will find yourself on a country road. The dusty bumpy road leads deep into the jungle. It connects the entrances to a pleiad of beautiful cenotes: Caracol, Chun Ya, Otoch Ha, Outland, La Concha, Fenomeno, etc. All these cenotes are part of a single huge underwater cave system Sac Actun – Dos Ojos – Nohoch Nah Chich.

According to the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey and the Bob Gluten website, the cave system Sac Actun – Dos Ojos – Nohoch Nah Chich is the largest underwater cave system in the world. Its explored dimensions are 376 km, and the maximum depth is 119 meters. The cave system connects at least 228 explored cenotes underwater.

Sac Actun - Dos Ojos - Nohoch Nah Chich - Ox Bel Ha systems map

By the way, the next world’s longest cave system, Ox Bel Ha, is located very close – just a few kilometers to the south. So, perhaps shortly, a place will be discovered where these two cave systems connect. The combined cave system will not only be only the largest underwater cave system in the world but the largest cave system in general, including dry caves.

Cenote dives located in this area are available to certified cave divers on their own or guided by a qualified cave instructor.

La Concha cenote

Farther away in the forest, an 8km potholed dirt road leads to the La Concha Cenote. La Concha is a half-collapsed sinkhole with a huge Alamo tree extending its roots like the tentacles of a crawling octopus. The atmosphere of the jungle was overwhelming. Entry to the water was very shallow, over white sand. Outside the cave were tall leafy trees, and beautiful “motmot” birds flew by.

Sneaking through a narrow gateway in the limestone, we immediately plummet down to a depth of 10m for the rest of the dive. Visibility is always gin-clear. At the first T-junction of the guideline, we can turn both left and right. Soon after you meander through various chambers of the La Concha Cenote with columns, stalagmites, stalactites, and helictites hanging from the roof like darts.

Following the narrow jungle trail back to the car, you can be noticed with awe a tiny snake coiled neatly on top of a white rock. The cuatro narices, or ultimate pit viper (Bothrops asper), is one of the most poisonous snakes of Yucatán. Also known as fer-de-lance, it can spit venom at a distance of two meters.

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Cenote and Cave Environment

Speleothems in xulo cenote

While diving the Riviera Maya cenotes, you can witness the geological calendar. You will see spectacular formations formed during the last Ice Age and appreciate the archaeological discoveries through your mask. As visitors, cave and cavern divers learn to be safe and care to observe and preserve this unique and beautiful cave environment.

The word “cenote” is derived from a Mayan term D’zonot and represents a subterranean cave that contains permanent water. 

Types of underwater cenotes and caves

There are five categories of underwater caves:

  • Sea caves
  • Coral caves
  • Lava flow caves
  • Glacier caves
  • Solution caves

All share similarities in composition, general location, shapes, and tools of origin. Solution caves represent most of all caves found worldwide and makeup all the cenotes and underground cave systems along the eastern Yucatan Peninsula.

Limestone is a large grouping of similar minerals made up of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The shallow tropical oceans help to produce an abundance of these sediments called lime. Most of the lime derives from the calcium skeletons of marine animals and some types of algae. These sediments accumulate over geological time and form into layers. Time, pressure, and temperature actually solidify these sediments into a rock material. The compacting, cement bonding, and recrystallization of the limy sediments accomplish this metamorphosis. The dissolution is the breakdown and removal of rock formation as a result of acids facilitated by the circulation of fresh water within the pores that make up part of the rock volume.

Karstification mechanisms of cenotes

Evolution of cenotes

The tremendous presence of limestone collapses characterizes the landscape as the ideal karst terrain. A steady movement of underground water through a vast network of passage flows where it finds the least resistance. The volume of water drainage is so great that it cannot exist on the surface. The soft, porous limestone highly filters all water, causing it to flow underground.

Changes in sea level during the last 800,000 years. The present is on the right

We know the evolution of cave passageways that form or exist below the water table as the phreatic zone. The water moves through the passageways (pores) vertically and horizontally from higher pressure to lower pressure.

Diagram of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the groundwater is separated into two layers of different salinity and density forming the cenotes and caves

The vadose zone is any chamber, passage, or air space that forms above the aquifer. Many vadose passages and rooms exist in both the local cavern areas and cave systems; the Riviera Maya is a thick limestone and has a low relief and a high water table. The water table has risen and fell during the last Ice Age, causing rapid cave development and creating the best surroundings for cave diving.

Caves and sealevel

Physical features of the cenotes

Any time a cave diver plans to explore a new cenote, it is important to understand the physical features and the water flow. Cave openings provide information about the movement of water, the point of the compass, clarity, and general characteristics. By understanding these clues, the cave diver can explore the potential cave system with the best results.

Cenotes can be any shape or size. They can appear as a pond, such as the Cenote Carwash; a tiny shaft such as Cenote Mundo Escondido (Hidden World); a crack, hole, or a lagoon. Any form of collapse can represent a cenote. Cenotes can also be mostly dry with the jungle continuing to survive down inside the basin and water flowing around the edges. Good examples include the Grand Cenote, Cenote Chac Mool, and Cenote Tajma Ha. Cenotes can also be filled with water.

Water in the cenotes

Distances from the normal land surface down to the water can vary from a few feet up to thirty feet (ten meters). Consider the difference in distance at Cenote Naharon (Cristal), which drops only one foot compared to Cenote Dos Ojos which falls over twenty-five feet (7.6 meters) from the top to bottom. The surface and topography of the land and the underground water table play important roles in the cenote formation.

Water that flows into the cenote is called the spring side or upstream area. It is also known as the outlet. Water that flows from the cenote back underground is known as the siphon side or downstream area.

Hazards exist when diving downstream because of the minimal water flow. Water in the cenote basin is called the pool. The water volume and flow will vary, but because most water drainage originates from a horizontal source and not depth, the flow of water is minimal. Cenotes close to the coast, such as Cenote Manati (Casa cenote), may be affected by water flow or reverse direction due to the tides. Water levels will fluctuate by 12 in or more in the Cenote El Eden between a high and low tide. In cave passages, you can actually view saltwater moving upstream while the freshwater continues to drain downstream.

These cenotes are known as anchialine pools, a term coined by Holthuis (1973) to denote “pools with no surface connection to the sea, containing salt or brackish water, which fluctuates with the tides.” 

How Solution Cenotes and Caves Form

Several conditions are necessary to form solution caves. These items are:

  • host rock,
  • groundwater,
  • structural setting,
  • and time.

Host rock involves the limestone found in the Yucatan. Between this bond of limestone cement and these granules are spaces called porosity. Add the ability for the rock material to be able to transmit fluids and the limestone becomes permeable.

A constant flow of fresh water dissolves away the calcium carbonate. Fresh water is more acidic because it has higher levels of dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) and humic acids. Acidity allows the aggressive dissolution of calcium carbonate to break down the cement that bonds the original particles together. The naturally occurring mixture of CO2 and water creates carbonic acid (H2CO3).

Groundwater must be continually flowing with fresh, chemically unsaturated water and be able to pass through the rock pores to flush the newly dissolved cement away from the particles. Freshwater flow is an important process in the formation of solution caves.

The structural setting is an integral process in the formation of caves. Most caves form when the cave passages are immersed in the freshwater flow of the aquifer so that the calcium carbonate glue is exposed to maximum decomposition and dissolution.

Time is the overall factor in forming caves. Thousands of years’ worth of constant reactions and movement of water are necessary for cave development. This geological calendar allows the opportunity for the cave to evolve and make its shape and form the decorations and characteristics it contains.

Speleothems

Picture yourself floating through some of the most decorated caves in the world. You only need to drive 2.5 km south of Akumal to a commercial dry cave called Aktun Chen, the wood cave. This cave adventure is very popular because it will dazzle your imagination and answer the most commonly asked questions: Why cavern dive and what do you people see in caves? Aktun Chen is an archaeological gallery of cave formations produced by mineral deposits known as speleothems. The name is taken from the Greek spelling meaning “cave” and thema meaning “deposit.” Speleothems are mineral deposits that formed when the environmental conditions were just right. This occurrence in the cenotes took place during the last Ice Age.

Most speleothems are made up of crystallized calcium carbonate. The deposits can evolve into any shape or form. The most common and familiar speleothems are stalactites and stalagmites. When it rains, this groundwater seeps through the porous limestone and into the cave where the carbon dioxide can be absorbed into the cave atmosphere. This out gassing of carbon dioxide from the groundwater makes calcium carbonate and precipitates calcite.

Speleothems in xulo cenote

The first step in the formation of these beautiful cave features begins with soda straws. They are hollow, tubular stalactites of calcite, usually no bigger in diameter than the water droplet that formed it. If the water droplets are able to flow down outside the soda straw, it becomes thicker and forms a stalactite.

Various speleothems

The following descriptions explain the various names of speleothems:

  • Draperies – calcium carbonate that forms as layers or drapes from water droplets flowing down walls or from ceilings.
  • Helictites – calcium carbonate that forms twisting, irregular shaped branches or twig-like rods extruding from the walls or ceiling. The water oozes through the central core of the formation defying gravity. They can evolve into very odd designs and form in random directions.
  • Columns – form when stalactites and stalagmites join together.
  • Flowstone – a thin film of calcium carbonate from water flowing down a wall.
  • Dripstone – dripping water forming speleothems such as stalactites and stalagmites.
  • Rim stone dam – a calcium carbonate deposit which forms around a cave pool or tends to obstruct a cave stream

The appearance of underwater speleothems that form only in air is a clear indication that the underwater caves of the Riviera Maya were once dry and now are immersed by rising water levels.

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