Without a doubt, no one can visit Yucatán and leave without having been to a cenote: unique, sacred, enigmatic places with crystal-clear waters. Cenotes can be open, closed, shallow, deep, calm, with gentle currents, sometimes extreme, and the list of possibilities goes on. If you’re traveling with children, it’s important to consider these factors to anticipate certain situations, to ensure your safety and theirs, and above all, to make this experience a great adventure.
Access to cenotes
Before visiting a cenote, make sure to gather information about its current conditions. The first thing you should find out is if it is easily accessible and if it has stairs with handrails. Nonetheless, always walk ahead of the kids when going down the stairs; should they slip or trip, it will be easier to prevent a serious fall.
Make sure they have appropriate footwear
The best way to protect your little ones’ feet when visiting a cenote is by having them wear special water shoes. These will help them walk without fear of being hurt by small stones or being scared by algae in the water, and they will provide a better grip when going down the stairs. Moreover, you won’t have to worry about taking off and putting on their shoes every time they want to enter the water. Avoid “flip-flops” or sandals with slippery soles at all costs, as they can easily lead to slipping incidents that may cause a great scare, at best.
Consider the depth of the cenote and let them gain confidence
This point is vital: under no circumstances should you risk allowing your children in the water if they can’t swim and without any protection. As my grandmother always said, accidents happen in seconds, so consider whether the cenote you’re planning to visit has enough properly sized life jackets for children and/or trained personnel to assist you in case of an emergency. Now, even if your kids already know how to swim, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on them and stay close in case they need your help. Never force them to go in the water if they don’t want to, and certainly never push or throw them in. Doing so can create a very negative experience. Don’t ruin their vacation or yours; instead, help them build self-confidence, and emphasize that the most important thing is for them to enjoy themselves.
Cenote diving and water temperature
If your children enjoy diving, they can do so as long as the cenote allows it or has the appropriate conditions. Cenotes often have concrete or wooden platforms at different heights, depending on the water’s depth. Make sure your children have the ability to dive and resurface safely. Never throw or force them to dive; a bad fall can be fatal. Also, make sure you are in the water and close to where they will resurface to assist them if needed. If the Red Bull cliff diving team does it, why wouldn’t you?
Another thing to consider is the water temperature, which typically ranges between 75 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. It may seem cool in the climate of the Peninsula, but if the children are dry and overheated, the sudden change in temperature can cause their lungs to involuntarily take in air, making them feel like they can’t breathe, and frightening them. For their comfort and safety, it’s always better for them to enter the water gradually instead of taking a sudden plunge.
Discovering new worlds inside the cenote
If your children can swim, enhance their experience with a snorkel mask and an underwater flashlight. Just as there is a world above the water’s surface, there is a whole new world beneath it! They will be able to appreciate the many species of fish that inhabit the cenotes, the rock formations, caves, and tunnels that may exist. You can also encourage them to look up and observe the different vaults filled with stalactites (if the cenote has them). There are countless shapes and colors to discover that will surely light up their imagination.
Hydration and energy
Hydration is also important. Just because we’re surrounded by water and refreshing ourselves in it, doesn’t mean we don’t need to drink it. The physical exertion and dehydration that come with visiting a cenote are almost inevitable. Make sure to keep your little ones hydrated with water, provide them with a small snack (such as fruits, sandwiches, or peanuts), or how about treating them to a popsicle? The vendors selling these fresh fruit delights (pineapple, coconut, peanut, —my personal favorite—mango, or whichever other is in season) are usually present near the cenote.
Respect, safety, and cenote conservation
Even though going to a cenote may seem like an adventure without limits for children, it’s important to set boundaries. Make sure to let them know the importance of respecting and conserving these places, which means not destroying, touching, hanging from roots or stalactites, throwing objects or rocks, and certainly not littering the cenotes. Remember that these activities serve as a foundation for their future actions, whether they continue these habits or not.
Obey (and make sure your kids do as well) the signs and instructions given by lifeguards or cenote guardians. Do not allow children to climb or hold onto rocks, as they may slip, damage them, encounter animals, or worse, come into contact with bat guano or other pests.
Always rinse off before entering the water. Gently scrub your arms, legs, face, and armpits to remove creams, sunscreen, deodorant, etc. If you are visiting an open cenote, forget about using sunscreen, and instead invest in a UV-protective shirt. This will keep you and your children safer for longer periods, and if they need to wear a life jacket, goodbye chafing! Additionally, you will contribute more effectively to the conservation of the cenotes.
Perhaps you’d like to start with a cenote that has facilities such as changing rooms, a restaurant, and small shops. If so, consider options like Santa Bárbara, Hacienda Mucuyché, Tsukán, Cenote Pueblo Fantasma, Sac Aua, Palomitas, Agua Dulce, Kikil, or Hacienda Kampepén. If your children are more adventurous, Suhem, Noh Mozon, and San Ignacio are also good choices. You can also refer to our cenote guide for more options in different categories.
Now, are you ready? Well, dive in with both feet! Marvel at, and enjoy what each cenote has to offer, whether it’s big, small, rustic, or touristy.
By Magali Ramirez D.
Graphic Communicator. Food lover. Inveterate adventurer. Athlete by conviction and extreme out of restlessness. I discover, I get surprised and I learn through the life stories that we all have to tell.
Photography by Cassie Pearse, and Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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