Seven kilometers (4.3 miles) southwest of Oxkutzcab, the Loltún grutas are the largest known caves in Yucatán.
This vast underground network served ancient people as a source of water and pottery clay—ceramics and carved reliefs dating from 1600 B.C. have been discovered here. It eventually developed into an important pilgrimage and ceremonial space for Mayas (caves typically represented fertility and the entrance to xibalbá, the underworld).Destination:Activities:
A route through the Loltún caverns has been wired for lights, which are turned on and off by the guide as groups move through. Loltún means Stone Flower in Maya and you’ll see many carvings of small flowers.
One of the more intriguing sights are dozens of handprints on the cavern walls, either in silhouette or negative outline, whose meaning remains a mystery. Early Mayas also placed stone cisterns (chultunes) under the dripping stalactites to catch “virgin water,” important in ceremonies honoring Chac, the rain god.Destination:Activities:
The Calcehtok Caves may be the most adventure-oriented of the grutas (caves) along the Puuc Route. Up to four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the cave can be visited, during which you squeeze through narrow gaps, teeter along slippery pathways, and crawl and clamber through muddy passageways.
Along the way are huge chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and tiny rooms where archaeologists have found human bones and other remains of pre-Hispanic Maya ceremonies. Calcehtok’s caves are definitely less commercialized than others—you don’t need any technical experience, but be prepared to get dirty.Destination:Activities:
A tour of the cenotes at Chunkanan, better known as the Cenotes de Cuzamá (US$12 per trolley, up to 4 people), is one of our favorite non-archaeological outings from Mérida.
When the henequen plantations were functioning, the harvest was stacked on small trolleys that were pulled by horses over long networks of lightweight rails. The residents of the small town of Cuzamá have put their trolleys back to use, outfitting the carts to hold four passengers and offering horse-pulled tours to three beautiful cenotes along the rail line.Destination:Activities:
One kilometer (0.6 mile) west of Cuzamá in the town of Homun, lies the Cenote Tza Ujun Kat (9 a.m.–sunset daily, US$0.30). Visited mostly by locals, it’s a large clear blue swimming hole that’s accessible by a short cement stairway.
An opening in the cavern roof allows shafts of light to beam in during the late afternoon—an inspiring view and a great photo op to boot. This is a good alternative if you want to go to a cenote but don’t have the time to take the Cenotes de Cuzamá tour.
Look for the Restaurant Bar El Familiar on the main road—the cenote is behind it.Destination:Activities:
The Tecoh caves (10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun., US$3) is something of a mixed bag: A 1.5-hour tour leads you past a dozen crystalline underground cenotes, but the walls and limestone formations are marred with the spray-painted messages of local kids and couples.
The payoff is a 50-meter (164-foot) crawl to the last and largest cenote, which has beams of sunlight entering from two holes in the roof and makes for a refreshing swim.Destination:Activities:
You can go horseback riding at Hacienda San Antonio Chalanté, about 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) south of Izamal. Well-marked dirt roads and trails lead from the hacienda to abandoned churches, caves, and cenotes, where the guide can help you clamber down for a swim in the cool clear waters. Tours are US$7.50 an hour.Destination:Activities:
This natural well is 300 meters (984 feet) north of the main structures, along the remains of a sacbé (raised stone road) constructed during the Classic period. Almost 60 meters (197 feet) in diameter and 30 meters (98.4 feet) down to the surface of the water, it was a place for sacrifices, mostly to Chac, the God of Rain, who was believed to live in its depths.
The remains of scores of victims, mostly children and young adults, were dredged from the cenote, as well as innumerable jade and stone artifacts. On the edge of the cenote is a ruined sweat bath, probably used for purification rituals before sacrificial ceremonies.Destination:Activities:
Six kilometers (3.7 miles) east of Chichén Itzá, the Grutas de Balankanche (9 a.m.–5 p.m., US$4.65, children under 13 free) are a disappointment. The 1959 excavation of the caves by the National Geographic archaeologist Dr. E. Wyllys Andrews uncovered numerous artifacts and ceremonial sites giving researchers a better understanding of ancient Maya cosmology, especially related to the notion of xibalbá (the underworld).Destination:Activities:
Three kilometers (1.9 miles) east of Chichén Itzá, the centerpiece of the Parque Ecoarqueológico Ik Kil (Carretera Mérida-Cancún Km. 122, tel. 985/858-1525, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, US$5.50 adults, US$2.75 children) is the immense, perfectly round Cenote Sagrado Azul with a partial stone roof.
Although real, the alterations to the cenote’s natural state—supported walls, a set of stairs leading you in, a waterfall—make it feel pretty artificial. While not representative of the typical cenote experience, this is a good option if you are traveling with small children and need a spot to cool off.Destination:Activities:
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