Cenotes (“say-know’-tays”) are surface connections to subterranean rivers, deep natural sinkholes formed by the collapse of surface limestone, that expose ground water underneath. Cenotes may be fully collapsed creating an open water pool, or partially collapsed with some portion of a rock overhanging above the water. The typical open cenote characterized by a cylindrical shape resembles a circular pond with sheer drops at the edges. Seen from the sky, they look like turquoise eyes in the middle of the thick jungle.
In Yucatán there are between 6000-15,000 cenotes, with only 10-20% of them studied and registered. Many are believed to be interconnected by massive cave systems that eventually lead to the sea. The word xenote or cenote, comes from the Mayan “dzonot”, which means water cavern. To the Spanish ear, this word was registered as cenote. Mayans settled villages around these spiritual wells and believed that they were portals, sacred places of life and death, as both their source of water and as a gateway to the gods.
Some scientists say that cenotes are part of something even larger. Using imagery collected from NASA shuttle missions, scientists have been studying a large, multi-ringed crater centered near the town of Puerto Chicxilub on the Yucatan peninsula. It is believed that the crater was formed by a meteorite which slammed into the Earth more than 65 million years ago, and is linked to a major biological catastrophe where more than 50 percent of the Earth’s species, including the dinosaurs, became extinct. As a result, the Ring of Cenotes at Chicxilub took shape, creating the foundation for the geohydrologic features of the peninsula, including the cenotes!
Cenotes have been called the soul of the jungle. To visit a cenote today is to travel to a portal of harmony with the mystery of nature. As a blogger named Enduran (http://blog.xenotes.com/en/types-of-cenotes-in-the-yucatan-peninsula/) so poetically puts it, “Respect their history and the cenote itself will restore the natural beauty, giving us the opportunity to find inside of ourselves, the same magic it keeps.”