Cenote Pet Cementery

Last Updated May 31, 2024

Near the hippest beach town in the Riviera Maya, there’s a very unique cenote that hides under its waters an extraordinary story that, until very recently, was a secret hidden for thousands of years.

If you’re reading this, odds are that you’re already familiarized with cenotes, what they are and their significance for the ancient Mayans. However, let me do a quick recap for all our readers new to the amazing story of cenotes .

What Are Cenotes and What’s Their Story?

Cenotes are underground caves that contain fresh water in their interior. They’re natural sinkholes on which the ceiling of the cave has collapsed. Scientists believe that cenotes were formed as consequence of the meteorite impact that hit the Yucatan Peninsula 66 millon years ago and that ended up killing the dinosaurs.

Yes, that’s the origin of cenotes. Impressive, right?

One can easily visualize splintered parts of meteorite crashing all around the Yucatan Peninsula and opening these holes on its surface, revealing in the process the huge caves and the water system hidden underground.

Nowadays, we know that cenotes aren’t disconnected sinkholes, but an actual system of underground rivers that runs across the peninsula. This means that divers may start a diving in one cenote and come up to the surface in a different one. Expert divers have registered different underwater cave systems in the Yucatan Peninsula extending over hundreds of kilometers underground.

Cenote Pet Cementery

The Sac Actun System

The Pet Cemetery Cenote is also known as the Cenote Sac Actun in the ancient Mayan language, and it means “White Cave”. However, this cenote is just one of the 248 cenotes (at the last count) that form part of the cave complex known as the Sac Actun System.

To be clear, this means that 248 cenotes are actually interconnected underground through a system of caves with fresh running water inside them and below the surface. Quite amazing, right?

The Sac Actuyn System extends for over 259 kilometers, which makes it the second largest underwater cave system in the world (just surpassed by the Ox Bel Ha System which is also located in the Yucatan Peninsula).

When you add the dry caves that are also connected, the Sac Actun System gets to over 386 kilometers long, becoming the second longest cave in Mexico and just the third one in the whole world.

So, there you have it. We’re talking here about a pretty unique wonder of nature. However, that’s not all. This cenote has still more secrets to tell.

Sac Actun Cave Sytem

The Animal Skeletons

In 2008, a team of speleologists, who are experts in cave exploring, discovered in one of many sections of the Sac Actun System the fossilized remains of a mastodon. Ever since, archaeologists, divers, and explorers have discovered an ever growing number of fossilized bones from different animal species, many of them already extincted. Among them, was the jawbone of a tapir and several bones from a kind of giant sloth and even from an extinct prehistoric camel.

Actually, the original name of this cenote comes from the discovery of these remains of ancient animals in its waters.

These fossils have been hiding in there, underwater, for thousands of years, and scientists are just now starting to understand what is so special about this place that made so many animals come here to die. One of the hypothesis says that this cenote was used as a disposal pit, but at some point the water level rose so much that it flooded the animals, creating a kind of mass grave.

The sandy floor of the cave system only makes the whole picture more spectacular and mysterious.

However, that’s not all. I told you that this cenote was special and I wasn’t lying. There’s still one more secret below the waters of the Cenote Pet Cemetery.

The 12,000 Years Old Girl

In 2007, an expedition to the “Hoyo Negro” (Black Hole) chamber of the Sac Actun System discovered a series of animal bones scattered throughout the floor of the cave. Among them, scientists later identified the skull of a human teenage girl, who has since been named simply as “Naia”. The scientists believe that in Naia’s time, the cenote didn’t have any water and she most have fallen into the Hoyo Negro and died instantly.

However, the importance of Naia to the history of the Americas is huge. Archaeologists dated the skull of Naia to be between 12,000 and 13,000 years old, which makes it the “oldest, most complete and genetically intact human skeleton in the New World.”

Sac Actun Cave Sytem

These are big words in the archaeology world and has become a central piece in the heated debate (for archaeologists standards) about the place of origin of the first inhabitants of the Americas.

Genetic testing seemed to indicate that Naia’s skull has a genetic link with the indigenous peoples of the Americas and with a lineage also found in Central Asia. This finding would reinforce the theory that states that the first inhabitants of the Americas arrived through a land bridge that existed in what is now known as the Bering Strait. That land bridge between Siberia and Alaska must have existed between 47,000 and 14,000 years ago, which would have given Naia and her people time to expand across the continent and arrived at the Yucatan Peninsula.

A crucial point in this discussion, is that Naia’s results also discovered genetic material most commonly found in indigenous people from Argentina and Chile. This would mean a big hit to the competing theory that humans arrived to the Americas via the polynesian people of the Pacific Ocean islands. In other words, if the people of Chile and Argentina share genetic material with people from the Yucatan Peninsula and they came through the Bering Strait, then the most logical conclusion is that humans arrived to the western hemisphere through the land bridge in the North of the continent.

Sorry to disappoint you if all you wanted was some information about a nice cenote to dive in, but this is not just another cenote.

How to Get to the Cenote Pet Cemetery

If you don’t need to read anything else about the Cenote Pet Cemetery and you have already decided that you want to visit it and discover all the secrets and mysticism around this unique cenote, then it’s time to learn what’s the best way to get there.

The Cenote Pet Cemetery, also known as Sac Actun, is located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Its exact location is about 20 kilometers north of Tulum or something like 50 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen. At this location, you’ll find an entrance to both the Pet Cemetery Cenote and the Cenote Dos Ojos, go there and follow the small dirt road.

If you haven’t booked your tickets online with a local tour operator, make sure not to buy your tickets there, as it’s better to wait until you find the Cenote Pet Cemetery gate, which is about a 10-minute drive or 30-minute walk from the highway entrance. This is because you can’t visit Cenote Pet Cemetery without a certified guide, which tells you all you need to know about the importance of this cenote.

The best way to get to Cenote Pet Cemetery will always be driving a car. This gives you independence and you can manage your own schedule, and this holds true in most of the Riviera Maya’s attractions. So, if you haven’t considered renting a car in your next trip to the region, maybe it’s a good time to start thinking about it.

The second best option is to take a taxi. This way the transportation is swift, you get there as quickly as if you had rented a car and most taxis of the region have air conditioning these days. The cons of this option is that taxis can be really expensive for trips of this length and you will find it troublesome to go back, unless you agree a pick up time with your taxi driver in advance (which obviously limits your independence and affects your schedule).

The third best way to get to Cenote Pet Cemetery is to take an urban bus, known in the area as “colectivos”. These are more like big vans or small buses that travel around the whole Riviera Maya region. You can take one in any of the big cities such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum, small villages like Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras or Paamul, and at different stops along the way on the 307 highway. This is the cheapest option, but the less convenient, as many of these colectivos don’t have air conditioning, the traveling time is longer as there are continuous stops, and you need to wait on the road to catch one.

The Cenote Pet Cemetery is open all year long from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and has an entrance cost of $500 pesos or about $25 USD.

Cenote Pet Cementery Entrance

Characteristics of the Pet Cemetery Cenote

The Cenote Pet Cemetery offers a series of facilities for its visitors, including public toilets and showers, and a small nearby restaurant. Remember that the entrance is only allowed with the company of a certified guide, for that reason there are no lifeguards in the area of the cenote. That role is covered by your own guide.

The depth of the Cenote Pet Cemetery has a maximum of 6 meters and its waters are usually at a very likeable temperature of about 24-26°C or 76-78°F. Although the cenote isn’t too deep, the level required to practice scuba diving on it is quite high as the caves are super large and and very dark. In other words, you need to be an expert diver certified on cave diving in order to practice scuba diving at this cenote.

If you aren’t an expert diver, you can still enjoy the magnificence of this extraordinary cenote, as your entrance fee includes a lifejacket and snorkleing gear. So, you can still swim around and explore the interior of the first cave with your snorkel.

Finally, besides the stalactites, stalagmites, and the fossilized bones still resting on the sandy floor of the caves, you may encounter small cave-blind fish swimming around the cenote’s waters. Keep your eyes wide open as these little creatures tend to be very shy and swim away at the first sound or any other sign of movement close to them.

Swimming in Cenote Pet Cementery

Important Information to Consider When Visiting Cenote Pet Cemetery

A few recommendations before you head to the Cenote Pet Cemetery:

  • Remember to only use organic sunscreen, if at all. If you’re practicing scuba diving you’ll use a wetsuit, and if you are just swimming or snorkeling, you’ll have your lifejacket on you, so the need for sunscreen is not that great and you’ll keep the waters of the cenote clean if you abstain from using any kind of chemicals on your body.
  • Always follow your guide directions and don’t go your own way. Even if you’re an expert diver, the unique characteristics of this cenote make it very risky for a single diver to be by him- or herself.
  • Bring your own towel and water shoes.
  • Don’t forget your waterproof camera and flashlight, if you don’t have one, you can rent one on location.
  • Get there early, as the place tends to get crowded as the day progresses. If you’re there before noon, odds are that you’ll enjoy a quiet atmosphere, cleaner waters, and a clearer visibility.

Sac Actun Cave System

Are You Ready to Visit the Most Extraordinary Cenote in the Riviera Maya?

The Cenote Pet Cemetery is like no other cenote in the region. This place has everything that all other cenotes have to offer, but with the added history of its thousand-years fossils and the not less-remarkable story of Naia.

Even if there where no animal bones in there, the cave system is more than enough to impress even the most expert divers in the world. So, the only question left is: what are you waiting for?

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