Underwater Secrets of the Ancient Maya

Ancient Maya believed that the rain god Chaak resided in caves and natural wells called cenotes. Maya farmers today in Mexico’s parched Yucatán still appeal to Chaak for the gift of rain, Meanwhile cenotes are giving archaeologists new insights into the sacred landscapes of the ancestral Maya.

In ancient times, the natural well, or cenote, acted as a sacred sundial and timekeeper for the ancient Maya on the two days of the year, May 23 and July 19, when the sun reaches its zenith. At that moment it is vertically overhead, and no shadow is cast. The fact that the cenote is directly northwest of the main staircase of El Castillo, the famous central pyramid of Chichén Itzá, is not coincidental. The ancient Maya came here during times of drought to deliver offerings and to give thanks for a plentiful harvest. The Maya people have a strong relation to their gods, their sacred city and their extraordinarily accurate calendar.

Cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. The term derives from a word used by the low-land Yucatec Maya, “Ts'onot” to refer to any location with accessible groundwater. There are an estimated 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water filtering slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter. The groundwater flow rate within a cenote may be very slow. In many cases, cenotes are areas where sections of cave roof have collapsed revealing an underlying cave system, and the water flow rates may be much faster: up to 6 miles (10 km) per day. Cenotes around the world attract cave divers who have documented extensive flooded cave systems through them, some of which have been explored for lengths of 62 miles (100 km) or more.

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 Angelita Cenote, Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, that forms after a collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. This process veils clear water with a shadow of mud and leaves, leaving visibility extremely low. Once teams descend to the bottom however, the initial ominous layer trickles into a glowing cloud of hydrogen sulphide that displays an eerie, yet alluring landscape.photography by Klaus Thymann


Deep in the Mexican jungle, lies an underwater cave called the Angelita Cenote. The pool is 200 feet deep and even contains a separate river that runs along the bottom on the underwater cave. This is due to the different levels of salinity in the water, causing denser water to sink to the bottom.