Acanceh and the Cenotes de Santa Barbara

Stephen F. Dennstedt

If you visit Yucatan you MUST see and experience the Cenotes. Cenotes are underground streams, rivers and lakes that flow beneath the limestone capstone of Yucatan. Oftentimes the ceilings cave in creating sinkholes that let the natural sunlight in—the fresh water is clear and iridescent blue in color. Cenotes are a popular tourist attraction and you can swim in many of them.

Shawn and I booked a day tour to visit the small town of Acanceh and the Cenotes de Santa Barbara. We were picked up at our small hotel (Hotel Santa Ana) at 9:00 a.m. and then transported to Acanceh to see the small ruins there as well as the local church, parque and Mercado. You can climb the small pyramid for 20 pesos (about $1 usd) if you like.

I know I’ve mentioned this ad nauseam but it’s mighty hot this time of year in Yucatan, with a temperature heat index in the 100°F plus range most (every) day. We chose not to climb the pyramid and instead took the time to photograph a portion of the ruins, the church and the Mercado. It was a short stop, maybe twenty to thirty minutes, because most of the tour (and interest) centers around the Cenotes. Everyone likes a cool dip in the underground pools this time of year (the water temperature is typically between 75°F and 80°F).

From Acanceh it was just a short ride to Cuzama and Homun. I had visited the Cenotes in Cuzama before but never the Cenotes de Santa Barbara in Homun. Once we arrived in Santa Barbara there was a restaurant, bathrooms and changing rooms. You can reach the Cenotes three different ways (and there are three Cenotes): you can walk (not advisable, especially this time of year), you can ride a bicycle (again, too hot for me) or preferably you can hitch a ride on a horse-drawn narrow-gauge railway cart (free of charge). In my opinion the narrow-gauge cart is the ONLY way to go—just saying.

Typical Cenote (This is NOT my Photo – Internet File Photo)

Once Shawn changed into his swimming trunks we boarded our cart for the short trip out to the first Cenote (less than 10-minutes). It’s not too taxing on the horses because the trip is flat and fairly short in duration and they get plenty of rest in the shade between trips (the horses are treated well so not to worry). The first Cenote was deep underground and you had to descend a lot of stairs to reach the bottom. You’re warned to watch your head going down and back up again because of the low hanging rock, so I promptly banged my head both going down and up (it’s what old men do).

I met the most amazing woman while Shawn was swimming. She looked to be about my age (70 years old) but upon striking up a conversation with her I discovered she was 91 years old—her name was Willa White and she was travelling with her son (who works for Channel 13 in New York). She was originally from Jamaica but has lived in Brooklyn, New York for most of her life. She told me they also have underground pools like these Cenotes in Jamaica and that she used to swim in them after school let out. Willa was a delight and I loved talking with her. Frankly, she put me to shame so I should quit complaining about getting old.

Shawn spent some time in the deep Cenote swimming and taking some GoPro video and thoroughly enjoyed himself. This was an enclosed Cenote (the top had not caved in) so it was very humid—I took a few photos and then returned to the surface (once again banging my head) to cool off. So I know you’re asking yourself why I didn’t swim: first I don’t swim (at least not well), I didn’t want to leave my photo gear unattended and maybe most importantly I didn’t want to show this poor excuse of a body to anyone else (Willa and I both agreed on that). But it was fun watching Shawn have a good time.

The second Cenote was just a few yards across the railroad tracks from the first and it was an open Cenote (meaning sometime in the past millennia the limestone roof had caved in allowing natural sunlight to enter). This second Cenote was more shallow (closer to the surface) and allowed bats and swallows to enter. Both Cenotes had very small fish (minnow size) swimming around and I warned two girls from Holland to look out for poisonous snakes and crocodiles (I eventually told them I was just kidding but I’m not sure they believed me). I do mean stuff like that—again, it’s something old guys do.

When Shawn finished up in the pools we headed back (again by horse-drawn cart) to the entrance with its beckoning restaurant. We hadn’t eaten in thirty hours because we had no appetite after our over-heated day at Kaxil Kiuic so we were pretty hungry. We got back about 1:30 p.m. and lunch wasn’t going to be served until 2:30 p.m. so Shawn changed back into his clothes and we started to drink our cervezas—Dos Equis is a GREAT Mexican beer. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea but we sure got relaxed. We had a nice lunch of: Poc Chuc, black bean soup, rice, pickled onions, avocado and fresh corn tortillas. Poc Chuc is thinly sliced pork marinated in orange juice and then grilled.


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