16 March 2015
We have a leisurely breakfast and are ready to go by 9.00am. Ernesto has another tour but his colleague Alberto is our guide and driver today for a cave snorkelling trip. First stop is to by drinks and ice for the cooler (apparently you can’t buy beer before 9.00am). Then we head to Cenote Sac Actun (the White Cave). This is in the same cave system as the more well known Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) but it has only been open a few years and is much less crowded. The two caves are part of the same cave system – now in total 319km, the longest in Mexico and the second longest underwater cave system in the world.
We aren’t sure what to expect but are told not to wear sunscreen or insect repellent (to preserve the water quality in the caves). We are given life jackets and snorkel gear and head off down a white sandy path (with orchids dripping from the trees around) and then down a ladder. The cenote (sink hole) is open in the middle with an ‘island’ – all around there is water under the overhanging edges and with stalactites hanging down. We kit up and jump into the crystal clear water and snorkel around to the ‘pet cemetery’ where there are bones of monkeys and other small mammals.
Then we follow Alberto along the edge and then under some stalactites. There is only a small gap between these and the water and we are told to mind our heads. Below us we can see stalagmites coming up through the clear water – cleverly illuminated by spotlights in some areas and natural light in others. We swim through a low cave and then it opens out into a magnificent cavern full of formations above and below. It is difficult to know whether to swim with your head up or down. We swim through this magnificent system for almost an hour and are then given then option of getting out and walking back or completing a loop within the cave (no doubt for any of us!) Then Alberto tells us we can go through another 200m of cave but that it could be quite dark – but it led through to some more spectacular caves. This is without doubt the best caving experience I have had – Nature at its most incredible! Photos on inside of caves courtesy of Jane.
Back to the van and a stop to pick up lunch before heading to another cenote right near the beach on the Riviera Maya. Xcacel Beach is covered with deep white powder sand and is a reserve for nesting sea turtles, but we are outside the nesting period. We walk along a path that heads into the jungle (with clearings for hammocks and picnics) and then arrive at another cenote – this time just a swimming hole that is extremely popular with the locals, particularly on a holiday such as today. Our time there is limited and there are others queuing to get in. As it is near the beach, the water is slightly salty.
Most of us are still suffering from sunburn from our snorkelling on Caye Caulker so we turn down the opportunity to swim at or sit on the beach. Instead we eat our lunch under shady trees, enjoy a beer and then drive the remaining 30 minutes or so to Playa del Carmen.
Our hotel Casa Tucan is a delightfully quirky place with shady trees and palms growing right through the middle in some cases. There are lots of lovely balconies and shady seating areas. We have a couple of hours to relax, shower and sort ourselves out before our final orientation walk and night together. It is very sad to be at the beginning of the end.
Playa del Carmen has a much nicer feel than Cancun (at least the bits we saw). We are only a couple of streets away from the beach and the main shopping/restaurant street – which is pedestrian only. Although it is obviously very touristy (especially the prices) it is quite tastefully done and there is a main plaza where everything is happening. Because it is a local holiday, the beach is full of families just doing there thing and games of volleyball are happening. We sit and have a drink with Hugo at a bar right on the beach watching the world go by. It is very pleasant but we certainly pay for the privilege: USD20 for 2 beers and a lemonade!
We stroll along the beach and some more of the pedestrian mall stopping occasionally to look at an art or jewellery shop. At 7.00 we meet at Fusion Café and have a table right on the beach – sitting on low seats in the sand. There is a band playing too – Western cover songs. The food is delicious – I have a last shrimp fajita and of course a margarita or 2. It is our last meal together, although the four who went to Chichen Itza didn’t get back until very late so missed it. There are farewell speeches and tip giving to Hugo. The more party-inclined head to a bar afterwards but we head home to pack our things and get a good night’s sleep.
For this and other similar trips see:
Peregrine Adventures Travel Destinations (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures Deals for South & Central America (for 18 to 30s)
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