Saturday, November 10, 2012

What is a cenote?

Both novels I've written center around something called a cenote.

Of course, the first question people ask me is "How do you pronounce that word?" The next question is always, "What is it?" 

I shall explain.

The word cenote is pronounced "say-no-tay" and it comes from the Mayan word dzonot which means "sacred well." Last spring I visited several cenotes around the Yucatan. Feast your eyes:

The photo above is Cenote Zaci in Valladolid, Yucatan. Technically speaking, a cenote is a deep, naturally formed limestone sinkhole that exposes the ground water. The Yucatan Pennisula is full of them.  Cenote Zaci is one of many cenotes you can swim in if you are daring enough. The rope across the water (see the photo below) is for swimmers to hold on to if they get tired. Swimming in a cenote is refreshing and exciting. Since many cenotes connect with each other under the ground they are often explored by cave divers. 

The cenotes were a vital part of life for the ancient Mayas, since there are few rivers in the Yucatan, and in the dry season there is very little rain. Water from most cenotes is clean, clear and fresh and the ancient people relied heavily on them.

Now you are inside this old cenote (above), looking up. It used to be filled with water, but now it is the exit of the massive Loltun Cave. You enter the cave through another old cenote.  It still floods here during the rainy season, making it only possible to visit in the wintertime.
Those long rope-like things are tree roots from banyan trees. They are found in almost every cenote.

Here is probably the most famous cenote, and in my opinion the most dreary: 

It might be a little tricky to get out of this if you fell in, don't you think? This cenote is in Chichen Itza, near this magnificent and famous pyramid:

You can see the murky green water in the center. And the remains of an ancient alter. This cenote is famous not only for its location but also for its spooky reputation. Legend has it that the Mayas sacrificed people in this pool, and human bones have been discovered in the muddy bottom. Intriguing, don't you think?

Intriguing enough to write two novels on the topic . . .


  1. So beautiful and cool. We have been to Chichen Itza but we didn't venture over to the cenotes. Now I am bummed we didn't!

  2. I love it!!! No wonder you had to write two novels. How awesome that your Mexico trip sparked the creative juices.