PADI Staff Dive the Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula

By T. Cummins

Some 40 million years ago the Yucatan Peninsula was a coral reef. The extensive cave system there was formed when the sea level changed up and down repeatedly during the respective ice ages. At low water levels the caves developed impressive stalactites and stalagmites which are admired by visiting divers to this day. The Cenotes linking the underwater cave system were formed when areas of the cave ceiling thinned and collapsed, as is the same case with the many sinkholes found in South Australia’s Mount Gambier, the Nullarbor of Central Australia and other similar places across the globe. The Mayans called them – Dzonot, “sacred well”, or in Spanish; Cenote). The cave systems that these Cenotes give access to are amongst the most extensive and impressive on the planet and are still the only real source of fresh water in the local Yucatan jungle.

Michel Vazquez briefs the team before a penetration dive

The caverns and caves are very attractive to divers because the water is crystal clear, in most cases are relatively shallow and warm, so it is no wonder that in August 2012, PADI executives Terry Cummins (PADI International VP and Director of Market Development for PADI’s Technical Diving Division), Claudio Brandileone and Fernando Martins (both PADI Regional Managers for Latin America), took an opportunity whilst in the area on business to explore a just a few of the Cenotes of the Riviera Maya region of the Yucatan.

Fernando Martins on twin sidemounts

The PADI team, all fully certified cave divers, was guided by local cave diving instructor; Nils van der Haar and cave guide; Michel Vazquez of PADI 5 Star Gold Palm Resort; Dive Aventuras. PADI Cavern Diver, Cathie Cummins, also assisted the team in respect to preparation for cave penetrations dives, post dive logistics, surface photography and participated in several cavern dives.

During a week of exciting cave diving, the team explored parts of Nohoch Nah Chich (which has 67 kilometers of known passages and is one of the world’s largest known underwater caves). The team also explored parts of El Eden, Gran Cenote and Tajma Ha. With literally thousands, upon thousands, of meters of permanent lines in just these 4 systems the team found little time on this adventure to explore the hundreds of other Cenotes in the Yucatan.

Michel Vazquez and Terry Cummins after a long dive.

Dives included gas configurations using both standard twins and twin sidemounts. In some cases, divers utilized enriched air (Nitrox) as several of the dives involved 100 plus minute run times. Dives often required several jumps to be conducted to respective permanent lines within the cave systems. So the diver’s penetration arrows and cookies got a real work out.

On several of the dives haloclines were uncounted adding to the mystifying nature of penetrating into the caves of the Yucatan. On many of the dives the team also found numerous fossil remains from the coral reef epoch, including the remains of many different gastropods (shell fish). In some cases, a number of different fish species followed the diver’s lights well into the caves. Commonly present, even well back in the caves, were freshwater shrimp which the team collected sample specimens at times for a local university research project on this unique species.

Claudio Brandileone lows kit to Fernando Martins

Adding to the mystery of these cave dives is the Mayan belief that these Dzonots are the entrance to the mythical and spiritual underworld. Visiting the Yucatan congers up deep and inner most thoughts of a by-gone era, full of history, mystery and adventure. Several members of PADI’s international staff and their families have been cave diving enthusiasts for many years and will continue to visit the Yucatan and other great cave diving locations around the world. We will keep you posted.

Thank you to all the team at Dive Aventuras ( for a great time.

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