Cave Astronaut: SCUBA Diving Dos Ojos Cenote

Cenote Dos Ojos Yucatan Mexico

Dos Ojos Cenote

Tulum, Mexico

Brilliant blue light from the cave opening slowly faded away. Switching on our dive lights we swam deep into the darkness beyond. A mysterious alien world revealed itself.

Cave diving has risks. Swimming through dark underwater passages in the earth can be claustrophobic and confusing.

With a roof of rock over your head, floating up in an emergency is not an option. You must go back out the way you came in.

In the past, this type of diving was only accessible to advanced divers with very specialized training.

But the rule was changed when the diving community made a distinction between Cave Diving & Cavern Diving.

Cenote Scuba Diving Yucatan Mexico

My Cavern Diving Gear

Difference Between Cave & Cavern Diving

To get more SCUBA divers interested in exploring caves, the sport was split into two different categories.

Cave Diving is when divers maneuver their way deep into underwater passageways with no easy access to the surface due to a ceiling of rock above their heads. There is zero natural light visible to the diver under the proper definition of cave diving. Individuals will often swim for many hundreds (even thousands) of meters from the cave opening, using multiple air tanks and a spool of penetration line to find their way back out.

Cavern Diving is similar to cave diving, the difference is that some natural light is visible to you at all times. So cavern divers don’t go as deep into the passages as cave divers do. The cave opening doesn’t need to be visible, just some sort of natural light emanating from that opening. The penetration limit for cavern diving is 200 feet (60 m) from the cave opening. Cavern divers also use a guide line to prevent getting lost, but it’s already attached to the cave floor or wall.

Both cave & cavern diving require the use of underwater flashlights, as the environment can get quite dark inside a cave. Even if you can see some daylight off in the distance behind you, it may be pitch black in the direction you’re swimming!

Cave divers require a special set of additional certifications that the average recreational diver will not spend the time or money to get.

But cavern diving with a guide is available to anyone with a basic Open Water SCUBA certification, like me!

Dos Ojos Cave Diving Yucatan Mexico

Entering the Cave (photo by Luis Leal)

What Is A Cenote?

To go diving in these caves, you first have to enter the water through a cenote. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes in the ground.

Sometimes the roof of these passageways will collapse, creating an entrance into the underground river hidden below.

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is littered with cenotes that are fed by the largest underground river systems in the world.

The source of this crystal-clear water is rainfall that filters through the earth.

These subterranean passages make up extensive underwater cave systems, like the Sac Actun system which is over 133 miles (232 km) long.

Cenotes are unique natural features to the Yucatan & Caribbean — it’s estimated that there are over 6000 of them in the area. This makes it the best place on the planet to experience cavern diving.

Matt Cave Diving Mexico

Exploring My Alien Environment (photo by FishEye)

Dos Ojos SCUBA Shop

For my very first cavern diving experience, I decided to enlist the services of Dos Ojos Dive Shop. They had a great reputation online and with other local divers.

From the town of Playa del Carmen, it’s a cheap 40 minute colectivo ride to the Dos Ojos Cenote located between Akumal & Tulum.

The area around the dive shop is actually home to many different cenotes, but the most famous is Dos Ojos, which means “two eyes” in Spanish. These caverns were featured in the IMAX film “Journey into Amazing Caves” as well as a horror movie called “The Cave“.

I met with my professional dive guide Salvador Luna at the Dos Ojos shop to get fitted for gear. We then proceeded to drive 2 kilometers to the Dos Ojos cenote itself as he shared some interesting historical facts about the area.

Cenotes were once used by the Mayans for ritual human sacrifice — they believed them to be entrances into the underworld.

The remains of ancient human skeletons are still occasionally found in these underwater caves. Some of them are over 10,000 years old!

Dos Ojos Bat Cave Mexico

The Bat Cave at Dos Ojos

Welcome To The Underworld

If you think SCUBA diving an ocean reef environment is incredible, wait until you dive through a freshwater cave! It’s equally as alien and mesmerizing.

After a pre-dive check and safety talk, we traversed two different underwater routes that day, each about 45 minutes long. The first took us down 30 feet (10m) deep, and made its way from one cenote opening to another (hence the “two eyes” in Dos Ojos).

Light from the cenote opening slowly fades away as you push forward into the veins of the earth.

Snaking our way around columns of rock, I followed Salvador with my dive light scanning the environment for strange fish, cave fossils, and other oddities.

Proper buoyancy control is very important when cavern diving in a cenote — you must maneuver through the cave formations without damaging them.

Cave Diving Dos Ojos Mexico

Deep in the Underground River (photo by FishEye)

Unique SCUBA Adventure

One interesting feature you’ll see on a cavern dive are the pools of air that collect on the cave ceiling above you. They look just like puddles of mercury!

Some crystal stalactite & stalagmite formations can be lit up like candles with your light.

Our second dive lead into The Bat Cave. This route floats through tight passageways full of cathedral like pillars of limestone. It’s almost pitch black swimming in this section, and felt like a true cave diving experience.

You then surface into a dark cavern with a small skylight over your head.

The whole chamber is absolutely filled with bats!

Scuba diving Dos Ojos Cenote was a strange (but cool) travel experience. ★

Watch Video: Dos Ojos Cenote Dive

(Click to watch Dos Ojos Cenote – Scuba Diving Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Tulum, Mexico [Map]
Company: Dos Ojos SCUBA Shop
Cost: $100 USD (2 tanks plus entrance fee)
Useful Notes: If you have your SCUBA certification, you need to try this. It’s unlike any other kind of diving. But it’s also possible to go snorkeling at the cenote if you’re not PADI certified.

READ NEXT: Exploring The Mayan Ruins Of Tulum

Have you ever heard of cenotes before?

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 5 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions

40 Comments

  1. Tobi
    April 7, 2016

    Great pictures. How did you made these clear pictures? I have always big problems to make nice pictures in the water. That’s why I never wrote about my diving.

    Reply
  2. Lisa
    January 2, 2016

    Whenever I think of Mexico this post comes to mind haha :). Was this filmed on your gopro?

    Reply
  3. Mike Dolson
    August 31, 2015

    I agree with 100% cavern diving is a must if you’re visiting the Yucatan.
    I have to say though when we hit the bat cave, There was only one or two bats on the ceiling. Perhaps time of day?

    Mike D

    Reply
  4. Amanda
    February 26, 2015

    Thank you so much for all the information! It looks so interesting and I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. Next year I’ll be in Mexico and would love to go diving in Dos Ojos. Is there any general advice you could give me please on pricing, where exactly to get certified so I can dive, etc? Your help is greatly appreciated! Cheers!

    Reply
  5. Jackie Bowers
    January 18, 2015

    Hi Matthew,
    I am Soooo excited to have found your page!! I used to just LOVE adventures also!
    Luckily, I have your videos to watch so that I’m able to enjoy the adventure vicariously through you!!
    Thank you Soooo much for making these videos!!
    Jackie

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      February 6, 2015

      Glad you’re enjoying the videos Jackie! My mission this year is to do many more of them. I’ve got tons of footage, just haven’t put it together in to anything yet.

      Reply
  6. Dan Turner
    December 14, 2014

    Great video. I was lucky enough to dive both the pit and dos ojos this year and what a great experience it was! Both sites spectacular in their own way. The pit was probably the most intimidating and exciting dive I have ever done. The half way submersion into the bat cave at dos ojos was a very special moment! Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Virgina Gonzalez
      September 27, 2015

      Yes! Fantastic Video Mathew! It is not that easy to get such good footage with all the minerals and movement in the water. Great Job! What type of camera did you use?

      Reply
  7. Matthew G. Bailey
    June 29, 2014

    I’m just writing about this now. Did this back in February and also went 38 metres into the Pit. My favourite was the Bat Cave but the Pit was intense. Something eery about being so deep and swimming through wavy sulphuric gas. Almost like a dream….

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      July 4, 2014

      Cool Matthew! Diving in cenotes is quite an unusual experience for sure. It really feels like another world.

      I’d love to dive the Pit one day.

      Reply
  8. naturally paleo
    May 27, 2014

    I don’t know how your site and youtube channel isn’t more popular man your adventures are wicked, hope to follow your footsteps soon, thanks for helping me see my future.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      July 4, 2014

      Thanks! I need to publish more videos I think. Just takes so much time. Working on it though…

      Reply
  9. Costa Rica Diver
    January 6, 2014

    Unbelievable the visibility down in the cenotes. Definitely have to make it up from Costa Rica to do that one of these fine days. Do they require you to have any advanced training or minimum number of dives for diving these areas?

    Reply
  10. Vibha at PixelVoyages
    August 26, 2013

    What an amazing adventure that was! Loved the pic by Luis Leal – makes me want to dive right in. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  11. Sam D
    May 6, 2013

    Reallly Beautiful Matt! Love your posts! They always have great stories or amazing pictures! Cave/Cavern diving would be pretty scary! You are a brave brave man!

    Reply
  12. AdventureStrong
    January 12, 2013

    As amazingly beautiful as that looks, I can’t help but be reminded of James Cameron’s film Sanctum. I’d dive it (if I was certified) but man… :)

    Reply
  13. Kenya
    September 28, 2012

    Cool video! I have to share it. Snorkeling is about as far as I’ll go also, but Dos Ojos was still a great experience. My son loved watching the divers come out of the tunnels underneath us.

    Reply
  14. Camels & Chocolate
    July 18, 2012

    As a scuba diver, this is definitely something high up on my to-do list! Love that first photo from inside the cenote with the light streaming in. So cool you got to do this!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      July 20, 2012

      One of my favorite adventures in Mexico for sure. A whole different world under there.

      Reply
  15. Matthew Karsten
    July 8, 2012

    I wish I could claim ownership of that one Lawrence, but it was taken by Luis Leal, owner of the Dos Ojos dive shop.

    He’s a great underwater photographer!

    Reply
  16. Lawrence Michaels
    July 8, 2012

    Wow, that third photo is amazing.

    Reply
  17. Linda
    June 26, 2012

    Loved this post. I’d give my right arm to do this! I used to dive, but haven’t done any for years now. It got to be so expensive. Thanks for the vicarious adventure though!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 26, 2012

      Anytime Linda. Diving can be expensive sometimes, but not too bad in Mexico. Only $10 to rent gear with these guys!

      A cenote dive is a bit more expensive than an ocean dive, but you’re paying for quite a different (and challenging) experience.

      Reply
  18. JH
    June 13, 2012

    Hey Matthew –
    Great video. You mention that you shot it with an S95 in an underwater housing. Did you use any external lights with it?

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 13, 2012

      Not for the video. Just used our hand-held dive lights.
      The photo of me underwater was shot with a Canon G11 in an underwater housing, with a special waterproof external flash.

      Reply
  19. Traveling Ted
    June 11, 2012

    Although I can see the appeal of this adventure, this is one I think I would skip. Snorkeling is about my limit for underwater adventure; however, I enjoyed the post, pictures, and video.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 11, 2012

      Glad you enjoyed it Ted. I like to consider myself pretty adventurous, but I have to admit this activity had me a bit nervous. Although after a few minutes, I couldn’t get enough of it. :)

      Reply
  20. Julie
    June 8, 2012

    Talk about a buoyancy test! What did you think of the rental gear? I just finished my open water last weekend. Hoping to check out some cenotes next summer but I’ve heard horror stories about renting gear.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 8, 2012

      The rental gear from Dos Ojos Dive Shop worked great. No complaints. :D

      Reply
  21. TammyOnTheMove
    June 8, 2012

    You are very brave. Although it looks absolutely spectacular I don’t know if I could brave a cave or cavern dive. I’d probably get a panic attack – I nearly got a heart attack snorkeling in the Galapagos when I thought a shark was diving underneath me. Turned out it was a sea lion. :-)

    Reply
  22. Ayngelina
    June 6, 2012

    I just got my open water certification in La Paz and I’m so excited to start using it when I travel. I may have to head back East to check out the cenotes.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 6, 2012

      You totally should! There aren’t many places in the world to do this, so it’s definitely worth the trip. :D

      Reply
  23. Philip
    June 4, 2012

    Very cool Matt. Watching this in Ubud, Bali and getting psyched to hit the reefs in the Gillies in a couple days. Great video. Did you shot that with your GoPro? Cheers!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 5, 2012

      I shot the diving portion with my Canon S95 & an underwater housing that Canon makes for it. The GoPro doesn’t do well in low light like this, plus it’s actually blurry underwater without a special flat-lens attachment.

      Reply
  24. Natasha von Geldern
    June 4, 2012

    Absolutely spectacular, the colour of the water and the rock formations, what an adventure!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 5, 2012

      Weightlessly floating around those stalactites & stalagmites was interesting. You have to pay attention to both what is below you, as well as above. I actually hit the cave ceiling at one point because I wasn’t paying attention. It’s like a maze.

      Reply
  25. Ava Apollo
    June 4, 2012

    I’ve heard about the Cenotes and have wanted to dive them for years! The way the light shines through is just beautiful. I don’t think it would freak me out as I did the blue hole and was cool with that. Cost is about what I expected.

    Reply
  26. John
    June 4, 2012

    Wow this looks absolutely spectacular…one of the cooler things I’ve seen in recent memory. I would love to try something like this – it’s good to know you don’t need to have that advanced certification anymore. That certainly makes it much more accessible to folks like me!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      June 4, 2012

      Yup, I was psyched I didn’t need any extra classes to do this. Super cool experience, made me want to go even deeper in the caves! :)

      Reply

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