Sea Turtles, Cenotes, Yucatan, Mexico
Photographing the Sea Turtles and Cenotes in the Yucatan Pennisula of Mexico-
This December, we traveled to the small town of Puerto Morelos. Puerto Morelos is thirty minutes south of the tourist mecca of Cancun, but is worlds away in feel and pace. Puerto Morelos is a small, sleepy version of a tourist town. There are beautiful beaches, a small town center, no high rise hotel complexes aligning the beach fronts. It is easy to walk everywhere and feels very safe, even at night for four women.
As a mix of economy and convenience, we stayed in a HomeAway.com apartment, which had 2 bedrooms, living room/kitchen area, one bath and back patio area. From the center of town, we paid 2 pesos to catch a cab to the local grocery store, Super Chedraui. We planned breakfast and lunches for the apartment, with dinners out each evening. Evening meals were inexpensive and very good, with lots of local fish. A dinner for the four of us, with a shared Cerveche, beers and dinners came to $40.00 US.
I had planned to use a local dive shop for organizing our adventures, but in talking with our landlady realized that we could do all of our adventures much, much cheaper and on our own time frame. The local dive shop planned to charge us $149.00 a piece ($596.00 US total!) to go and snorkel with the Sea Turtles. Our landlady informed us that we could snorkel with the Sea Turtles for FREE and it was only thirty minutes down the highway. The same with the cenotes, though each cenote charged a varying fee. Using her information, we took a cab to Super Chedraui, and from there were able to rent a car for several days from the Getaway Car Rental for $65.00 per day. If we had rented for the week, the over all daily rate would have been cheaper.
The Sea Turtles are located off the public beach of Akumal Playa. From Puerto Morelos, it was an easy forty minute drive down the well marked and signed Highway I-307. You exit left at the “Akumal Playa” sign and pay 50 pesos to park and walk down to the public beach. From here, you can rent snorkel and gear, if you don’t have your own. You will see a swimming area confined by colored buoys and see lots of folks snorkeling out among the sea grass, where the turtles are hanging out and feeding. The turtles seem unaffected by the human presence. The water is, perhaps, only six to eight feet deep, so viewing is easy and unobstructed. It seemed too easy! Too simple!
We made sure to get there in the early morning, around 9:00 A.M., so as to be able to swim in clear water. Later in the day, after many swimmers, the water gets cloudy, though the sea turtles still remain. It was amazing to think that we would have paid nearly $600.00 to have an adventure that was, essentially, free. Also, we had the luxury of swimming with the turtles, taking a break, and, then, returning for several more swims- at our own pace!
Cenotes in the Yucatan come in many sizes and varieties. Some are accessed above ground, others by descending down into the earth. Cenotes are created when the porous limestone bedrock collapses, exposing the freshwater groundwater underneath. Most Cenotes charge an access fee, ranging from a few dollars, to forty or fifty dollars. The underground cenotes, come with guides, miners helmets and light. The more expensive ones also provide wet-suits, as the water is cooler (75 degrees) than the ocean water
On our week long trip, we visited 5 different cenotes. The most expensive was Rio Secreto, which charged us $67.00 US, versus the $79.00 their website advertises. This is a full underground experience, and they do not allow photographs. The cenote was interesting, but did not compare to the ATM, Actun Tunchil Muknal, cave in Belize. There were plenty of stalactite and stalagmites, but not the grand cathedral ceilings feeling that we experienced in Belize. We also did another cenote called “Santa Cruz”, which is interesting in that it is private and not commercialized. This cenote is located very near Akumal Playa, perhaps, only a mile the opposite side of the highway from Akumal Beach. So very easy to do the Sea Turtles and this cenote in the same day. You can photograph in “Santa Cruz”, but I would recommend going on a private tour so that the guides will cater to your needs. I went with a group, which didn’t really allow for a great photographic experience.
My favorite cenotes, I would say, were the above ground cenotes. They allowed for swimming and all seemed to provide jumping platforms or simple zip-lines to add to the adventure. The “Garden of Eden” cenote added a different twist to the experience, as we met scuba divers exiting. At the far end of the pool, there is a channel that extends 61 kilometers underground, providing a connecting link from one cenote to another.
Just outside of Puerto Morelos, heading south, is a road called the “Ruta de los Cenotes”. Along this road are numerous cenotes to choose from. We headed out to the far end and took a ride down a long, bumpy dirt road to the “Zapote” cenotes. There are three cenotes in this complex, each different. We visited two of the three. One offered a zip-line. The other offered a diving platform, that had you looking down into a 75 meter abyss, that gave my heart pause.
If heading to the Yucatan, try renting a car and avoiding the high cost of paying a tour company. During this week, we also took a trip out to the coral reef. It was fun, but paled in size, color and diversity of fish to what we saw off the reef in Belize. I found the cenotes to be a unique experience, and enjoyed the fresh water, giving us a break from the ocean salt water. I enjoyed the low-key atmosphere of Puerto Morelos, but others might prefer staying in Akumal. Staying in Akumal, definitely, would give you many oppurtunities to snorkel with the turtles. There are many cenotes located near Akumal, and Akumal is centrally located for visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Coba. Also, if you are budget conscious, but want the standard amenites, check out Homeaway.com for a more personalized accomodation.