Yes, these are the photos that you have marveled at in National Geographic come to life. Best is that they live up to all expectations of wonder and amazement. You CAN really see hundreds of feet through water clear as glass.!
Cenotes dot the entire Yucatan and each one is unique in its own way. Just 17 Kilometers North of Tulum, Mexico, in Quintana Roo, is the cenote Dos Ojos. This water cave system is one of the top 10 longest in the world with 28 known Cenote entrances and the deepest known cave in the region with a depth of 118 meters (396 feet)! The Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) refers to the 2 main pools that reach the surface near each other.
Cenotes are caves that are formed as the limestone base of the Yucatan peninsula desolves, leaving behind only pure clear waters. Revered by the Mayans, they were viewed as gateways to the afterlife as well as all important sources of freshwater. Upon early exploration many treasures (and skeletons) were discovered in their depths pronouncing their use in the fabled Mayan sacrificial rights.
At a constant 77º (24-25ºc) they are comfortable either in trunks or with a shortie wet-suit provided with a tour. One can either snorkal or scuba dive (with open-water certificate), and both are magical. The tour costs about $40 and includes a cabaña to change and lock-up your personals, wet suit & flashlight. The guide, who like pretty much everyone we encountered was not pushy or overbearing, takes you on a relaxed 1.5 hr swim through the two main Ojos.
After a slightly elongated trip, we rented a Smart Cabriolet (TINY!) and made a sun drenched bee-line to Playa del Carmen and the Hotel Viceroy to check out its design and have a quick lunch. After so many months of eating in Bogota with its fear based cuisine, what a complete joy to arrive in Mexico, where the chefs are not afraid of flavor!!
The Viceroy hotel is quite fab, nestled within a lush garden and paths describing circuitous routes between palms and flowers. As we navigated our way, guided by the lovely Fernando, to the beach-front dining area, we saw a mid-size iguana and a basilisk (water-walking lizard) – though only very very briefly before it flicked out of existence! Each room is a private cabaña with a garden whirlpool, luxurious bed, and a quite ample bathroom, including both an indoor and outdoor showers. The design is clean and poignant without being overbearing. It allowed for a relaxing atmosphere; you are the star of the show, not the hotel. The spa is extremely organic and well appointed, complete with energy capturing spiral ha-mam and a brazier of copal, a highly fragrant per-coloumbian incense used by the Mayas. The patio restaurant used for breakfast and lunch, is about twenty meters off the sea. This was the perfect introduction to the fabled Mayan Riviera as we gazed into the blue blue waters and at the attractive clientele.
We started our first meal with two Michelada’s. A Mexican favorite of beer poured with a house mix that always includes lemon juice and a salted rim. Every bar-tender also makes their own special blend, with many being sort of a beer bloody-mary. At the Viceroy, it was a mix of Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Tabasco and a local condiment called Magi (though I’m still not exactly sure what Magi is!). The Michelada is the perfect drink for hot weather, cool and refreshing; comforting and exotic! Our rapidly condensing chilled mugs were accompanied by an order of Guacamole & lightly fried Totopos (Chips). The guac had a bit of the soft white fresh cheese and the strong herb epazote. It was mashed to a perfect consistently; creamy while maintaining some chunkiness and body. Top place at the table was given to the picante: a beautiful roasted green tomatillo salsa that put the perfect tart-pepper touch onto the tongue.
We were then presented with 3 absolutely perfect fire-grilled fish tacos. The fish, common to the Caribbean, was Robalo (Sea Bass) and felt very, very fresh. Combined with mango, shallot and cabbage , while being served with habanero aioli, the tacos proved perfect vessels for the other salsas. Now, along with the fired tomatillo, we had a smooth non-spicy tomato based salsa along with another based on a chili called Xcatic.
Next came a true first in life: Molcajete, a volcanic mortar that had been baked in the fiery wood burning oven in which is a stew is served. We ordered the vegetarian version of this classic meat dish, and the translation was flawless, substituting a creamy, white panela cheese for the beef. The cheese was baked along with red, yellow & green bell peppers, cambray onion (that was first roasted over an open flame), tomatoes, carrot, zucchini, eggplant and once again the hearty nopal cactus. All of this was roasted in a tomato Gaujillo chili base that just made the flavors explode.