Cenote Diving in Playa del Carmen
One of the principal reasons we decided to base ourselves in Playa del Carmen for a month was to take advantage of the Mayan Riviera’s excellent cavern diving opportunities. Due to the unique geology of the Yucatan Peninsula and the huge number of cenotes and cavern systems that dot the region, the stretch between Playa del Carmen and Tulum is the world’s leading cave and cavern diving destination. As one local dive instructor told us, this is pretty much the only place in the world where a cave diving instructor can build a full-time cave diving career.
What is the Difference between Cave and Cavern Diving?
You may be asking yourself what the distinction between cave and cavern diving is. Cave diving is a more technical specialty which involves particular certifications and equipment, and requires the diver to master a set of skills such as laying guide lines and navigating at an extended distance from a cave entrance. Cavern diving usually follows pre-laid lines and requires divers to stay within a certain distance of cave entrances. We’ve experimented with caverns and extended swim-throughs in other destinations such as Sipadan and Komodo, but the dives here take cavern diving to a WHOLE new level. In fact, on several occasions, we both really thought they were pushing cavern diving WAY beyond what anyone else would do in other parts of the world. Having said that, I’m glad they did because the experience here is extraordinary.
While a seven-minute video may seem long, each minute represents an hour of in-cavern dive time. The video includes footage from dives that Thomas and I did together at Dos Ojos, Kukulkan, Chak Mool, Tajma Ha and Chikin Ha. Additionally, I dove Angelita and Garden of Eden on my own without the camera while Thomas was in Germany.
Cenote diving in the Yucatan Peninsula easily ranks as one of the world’s most interesting and unique dive experiences. Even the most experienced divers will love it. I should mention that it is quite difficult to capture the experience on film due to challenging lighting conditions. Videos done without dedicated video lights (like ours) present things as brightly lit versus pitch black, but there is a sense of space and depth. Videos done with dedicated video lights tend to make things look flat and hemmed in, although the stalactites and stalagmites are much easier to see. In reality, the ambient light coming off our dive lights enables us to see more than is present in either type of video. We were usually able to see vast cavern systems full of formations with a depth and detail that is hard to capture on film. This is just one of those experiences that is really hard to reproduce.
Tips for Diving the Cenotes
Forums and blogs are full of questions about which cenote is best. (I had those questions, too.) In reality, many of the cenotes provide for exceptional dive experiences. We personally found Dos Ojos, Kukulkan, Tajma Ha, and Chikin Ha particularly beautiful, but individual experiences vary greatly depending on the time of day you dive and the weather that day (the sun makes a big difference). Angelita is a specialty cenote dive and, frankly, I would not recommend it for someone who was going to do just one or two dives.
There is also a lot of online discussion about the best dive shop along the Mayan Riviera. We discovered in our visit that many cavern dive guides work independently and often work for a number of shops. Divers from different shops are often pooled together and led by the independent guide. In other words, two divers could pay totally different prices and end up with exactly the same dive experience. Our advice is to check out a number of shops, examine their equipment, talk to the staff, and evaluate the pricing before making a decision. We did 6 dives with Playa Scuba and 2 dives with Scuba Playa, and we were satisfied with dives at both shops. Dive guides at both were great, although Scuba Playa’s in-office staff was much more professional.