Sunshine blazes through dense greenery and I wobble on one foot, trying to balance while tugging a wetsuit over my sweaty skin. The two big guys next to me also struggle, squeezing themselves into tight wetsuits and shaking sweat off their faces. It’s very strange to be putting on scuba gear in the jungle.
With much effort, we balance heavy air tanks on our shoulders and follow our guide, Carlos, like a line of alien ducklings in black neoprene. He leads us through tangled trees that shimmer in the humidity and down a set of wooden stairs. The temperature drops and a breath of cool air comes from the dark rocky pool at the bottom. We’ve arrived at the Taj Mahal cenote.
Taj Mahal Cenote
Cenotes, or fresh water sinkholes, formed centuries ago all over the Yucatan peninsula when the jungle crust collapsed into the underground river system. Now there are thousands of surface pools that lead to a vast underwater cave system and the Mayans believe they are entrances to the underworld.
We finish gearing up in the pool, Carlos makes the OK sign and jerks his thumb down. I turn on my flashlight and descend along the rough wall until the rocks open up. Angling my fins out to kick like a frog, I swim into the cave mouth.
The luminous, crystal-clear water has so little current that I feel like I’m floating through air. I swim down to touch the fallen stalagmites, scattered over the cave floor like prehistoric bones, and then drift up to inspect fossilized shells embedded in the curving surface of the rock.
I hover, watching my air bubbles collect on the ceiling. They push the water away creating a mirrored surface. Can I pass through that tiny looking glass to enter a different cave and another beyond that? I wonder.
Dropping down a few feet, I watch ocean water currents flow through layers of fresh water in a striated phenomenon called halocline. Where the fresh and salt waters swirl together, the cloudy salt water looks like smoked glass pluming into the clear windowpane of the fresh water.
Points of Light Cave
Carlos turns to us, jerks his thumb up and we surface in the Points of Light Cave. The rock dome arches twenty feet above us, sunlight lancing through tiny holes in the ceiling and dappling the pool surface like a disco ball. Hanging vines grow through the ceiling in thick bundles and we quietly remove our regulators and shine lights over bats congregated in the folds of rock.
“Can I get one of these caves for my back yard? I bet even Hefner’s grotto has nothing on this.” Dave’s remark breaks the silence and we all laugh, startling the bats who flap about in a flurry of chirps and squeaks.
After a minute or two of marveling at this submerged wonderland, we put our regulators in, breathe deeply and descend back down into the cool darkness.
Written by: Kaitlyn Barrett
Kaitlyn is a free-lance photographer, writer and podcast host who also works as a company manager for theatre productions when the pandemic isn’t raging. She currently lives in Washington state. Follow her at: