Casa Cenote - Unfortunately, Many Changes Since the Hurricanes of 2005
Dec 6, 2004 (Updated Oct 19, 2006)
Review by Javelina
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Easy to find, cheap
Cons:Crowded, busy, manatees would probably be quite a rarity
The Bottom Line: Casa Cenote can be a nice side-trip, but has become much more crowded since 2004.
On our honeymoon in November 2004 to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, we decided to rent a car and do some exploring on our own. We had gone on several large tours and full day trips, and wanted to see if we could find some small places to explore sort of off the beaten path, and one of these turned out to be Manatee Cenote. We returned to the Yucatan in the summer of 2006, and actually revisited the same cenote.
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One of the neat thing about the Yucatan are cenotes. If you are not familiar with term, they are pronounced, "say-note-tays". These are water-filled sinkholes, and look much like a mangrove. They came into existence when parts of the extensive cave systems throughout the Yucatan caved in. The water is fresh and generally has quite a bit of visibility in terms of depth.
We found out about Manatee Cenote on our first trip from some other tourists we met. They were also trying to hit some of the less-touristy destinations, and recommended Manatee Cenote.
Heading south, the turn is marked clearly on Highway 307. Before the hurricanes, I believe the sign said Tankah Tres, and now in 2006, it just had a sign for Blue Sky Hotel when coming from the South/Tulum. (We actually stayed at the Blue Sky Hotel in the summer of 2006). The road leading to Tanka Tres is a dirt road that sort of comes to and end, where you make a left-hand turn. There are lots of potholes, but even our rented Chevy Monza (think small Dodge Neon) was able to make it without any broken axels!
Tankah Tres is a small town, wedged between Tulum and Akumal. There are some of beach houses and places to stay along the road, on the ocean side, but in general it isnt very built up. Manatee Cenote is not far from the exit (within a minutes drive), and it is pretty much the only thing on your left hand side. There is a parking lot on your right hand side, right across the street, for Casa Cenote Hotel.
In 2004, I remember arriving and there was almost no one around. You could barely see the water from the road because there were dense mangroves around it. In 2006, post-hurricanes, we were absolutely shocked when we arrived. There was absolutely no vegetation between the road and the cenote. We were told that the mangrove trees had fallen in, taking much of the banks of the cenote in with it. The trees were later pulled out of the water, revealing a now sandy bottom (blown in from the hurricane), compared to the dark, algae-covered bottom from my first dip in the cenote. A fence had been constructed along the road (since it is essentially crumbling on the side where the water is), and the cenote was swarming with people.
When we went in 2004, the cenote was free. No one was there (only one other couple). This time, there were people asking for admission fees, and people all around the edges of the cenote getting ready to go in. Even just standing on the road looking at the cenote (the cenote was actually pretty quiet that early), two guys came up to us telling us we had to pay to get in. This was around 8am, when we were just taking a walk! I dont know who has the authority to charge to swim in the cenote, and I really didnt have much desire to go back in since there were so many changes.
Back in 2004, there were few spots you could actually enter the water. I remember being a bit nervous about it, because the water was dark from the shadows of the trees and you couldnt see the bottom. You pretty much had to sit on the edge and jump in the water. This time around, there were plenty of exposed platforms that make it easy to get into the cenote. And because of the sandy bottom, it is especially easy to see right down to the bottom of the cenote. However, this time, even despite those changes, the cenote just wasnt appealing, so we decided to skip it.
As youll read in my 2004 experience below, it was so nice and quiet, we could hear birds in the mangroves around us as we were swimming. I would highly doubt it would be the case now. I also would doubt that manatees are apt to be found in the cenote, at least not any more. Since we stayed next door to Casa Cenote (in 2006), we saw how busy the cenote was all day long. I cannot imagine that shy manatees would ever visit the cenote if they could help it.
I was so disappointed and disheartened to see how the cenote had changed. It used to be such a quiet place, and now it was absolutely swarming with tourists. There were all kinds of dive operations doing practice dives in the cenote, screaming kids, and just tons of people.
Here was my experience from swimming in the cenote in 2004:
I wore my snorkel mask and fins, as well as lots of sunscreen. We also brought disposable underwater cameras and some food for the fish.
I defined cenote earlier, and this particular Casa Cenote used to be a cave system, which collapsed. The light-color floor of the cenote used to be the ceiling of the cave. This is a sort of unique cenote in that it is supposedly part of the largest cave system in the world, as it connects to over 86 miles of cave systems.
We swam in the Casa Cenote for over an hour. The water is cool - colder than snorkeling off the beach, but I enjoyed it, and I'm a baby about cold water! And this is certainly not a cenote that you need a wetsuit for, like some others in the region.
There are portions that are deeper than others, and sections where the cenote narrows. It was plenty of room to swim through even at the narrowest points. I was able to carefully navigate through the narrow areas without touching the roots of the trees that were down in the water.
As for marine life, we saw plenty of fish. There were lots of fish where we entered that looked like your typical guppy. We also saw larger fish scattered throughout the cenote, and some crabs. There were also some interesting birds perched in the trees, and towards the end of the cenote, there were some birds screeching at us.
The water had bits of algae on the surface that have detached from the bottom of the cenote, which I often saw rising to the surface. It wasn't particularly gross, it just resembled a loose clod of dirt. While swimming, I just sort of put my hands in front of me so that I wouldn't get any chunks on my head, although the pieces are so spongy and light that it did not bother me. I think this had to do with the time of year (November).
As I mentioned earlier, the water is very clear, and from outside of the cenote you can see the bottom. There was great visibility, and even our underwater camera got some good shots. I would probably recommend going at noon time only because we went later in the day, and as the sun was getting lower, the visibility was low where there were shadows over the water.
Lastly, my "pros" from 2004: Quiet, not commercialized, peaceful, see water exit from the beach, easy to find, FREE".
Casa Cenote Hotel/Restaurant
Casa Cenote is a good place to stop to eat if you are in the area. We remembered the Sunday BBQ from 2004, so we returned on a Sunday. Much like the cenote, the Casa was much busier, and also more expensive! However, the food was good and I was happy to have a vegetarian quesadilla, and to eat our food looking out over the water.
There is a beach in front of Casa Cenote. The water is shallow, crystal clear, and very inviting. However, it is also very unique. The cave system makes its way through the limestone out to the ocean, and just a few feet from shore, you can see large holes where the water from the cenote exits. You can see dark areas where the water is coming up, and the larger hole, about 100 feet offshore, has a flow of over 440,000 gallons per minute! Even from shore, you can see the water churning up.
The water is very shallow. When I went swimming there in late 2004, I basically had to get into a push-up position to start swimming. We did not swim very far, for a few reasons. We took a look around the cenote exit hole, which was interesting. There are tons of fish gathered in that area, but the downside is that the mixing of fresh and salt water makes it difficult to see. The water is cloudy from the mixing of the salt and fresh water.
There is definitely turbulence in the water, between the cenotes and the incoming waves. My husband swam out a little further than me and told me I wouldn't like it since there is a lot of current. We did not snorkel for a long time, but I enjoyed the experience of swimming around the cenote exit and seeing a different beach/reef.
I guess cave divers go into the cenote and swim out through the ocean, which sounds wild! Although we of course did not see manatees, they do supposedly visit the cenote through the cave system. The workers at the hotel have a manatee logo on their shirts, so this cenote definitely has a name and reputation of having manatees in it.
We stayed next door at the Blue Sky Hotel, and I would recommend swimming out to the reef if you can. Even without the mixing of the water, the sand near the shore is mixed into the water, so it takes some patience to get out to where it is deep enough to swim (at which point it is clear anyway). I believe you can walk anywhere along the beach, and swimming out to the buoy is an amazing experience. There is so much marine life around the reef, and I was very impressed.
In late 2004, I was really impressed when we visited Manatee Cenote. It was off the beaten path, not a tourist trap, not crowded, and of course it was free. However, when we returned in the summer of 2006, I was a bit disheartened by how touristy it had become. I had distinctly remembered having the cenote to ourselves, but this time around, it was a zoo.
If you are in the area and happen to pass by Manatee Cenote, it would be a nice stop just for a quick swim in the cenote. I wouldnt say it is worth going out of your way for, and you may want to try to go early in the morning, before the tourists and dive operators start showing up. Despite the crowds, it is still a small cenote and probably not as commercialized as the larger operations. The prices of food have gone up at Casa Cenote, but the food is convenient and good, and it is nice to eat your meal while looking out over the beach.
I have tons of photos from my our travels through Mexico (including the reviews listed below). E-mail me if you are interested in seeing my photos, at EpinionsJavelina@hotmail.com (please put "Mexico" in your subject line).
Casa Cenote Hotel: http://www.casacenote.com
Blue Sky Hotel (next door): http://www.blueskyhotel.com
My other Yucatan, Mexico reviews:
Coba (Mayan Ruins)
Uxmal (Mayan Ruins)
Dzibilchaltun (Mayan ruins)
Tulum (Mayan ruins)
Chichen-Itza (Mayan ruins)
Cenote Zaci, Valladolid
Hotel Meson del Marques, Valladolid (www.mesondelmarques.com)
Izamal, the Yellow City
Gran Melia Royal, Cancun
Holiday Inn Merida
Mayan Beach Garden, Costa Maya
Blue Sky Hotel, Tankah Tres Bay
Aventura Spa Palace
Playa del Carmen
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