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EXPLORE HIDDEN CENOTES WHILE TREKKING THROUGH THE MAYAN JUNGLE

I would never classify myself as a ‘roughing it’ travel kind of girl. Camping in a tent (or an RV) has never been on my top ten list. Who am I kidding? It has never been on my top 100 list! Roughing it to me means staying at a 3 star hotel with no room service or hair dryer. I prefer 5 star hotels, turndown service with mints on my pillow and luxurious Jacuzzi tubs.

Of course, I will engage in natural activities such as snorkeling or visiting ruins because one is breathtaking and the other is historical. Due to these predilections, I have never gone camping or fishing. I have gone hiking once because it involved a seven course breakfast afterwards at the amazingly scrumptious Salish Lodge and Spa at Snoqualmie Falls. Mmmm…delicious. But I digress

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise and delight when I moved to Mexico and became more of a nature girl. I enjoyed just relaxing at the beach with my friends drinking beers and eating tacos or tortas. I realized I had just as much fun doing that as sitting at the beach club drinking margaritas and ceviche. I ascended (and descended) the pyramids at Cobá and Palenque. I scrambled up and over the rocks along Agua Azul Waterfalls! Little by little, I became more adventurous. Until eventually, I found myself on the jungle tour!!

I have to admit, I have always secretly wanted to be Indiana Jones. And minus the evildoers in the film, a jungle tour allows you to live out your inner adventurer! There are several ATV jungle tours in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. My favorite, however, is ATV Explorer Jungle Tour. They are located right next door to Playa del Carmen and Playacar which is an hour south of Cancun. The excursion lasts two hours and when it does end, you will want to sign up again right there on the spot!

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The tour was one of the most exhilarating adventures I have had up till now. On my first outing, I went with my roommate and two of her friends who were visiting Playa del Carmen. We took a bus to the ATV Explorer Jungle Tour from Playa. After a short walk from Highway 307, we found ourselves inside the tropical jungle. At the registration desk, we met with our guide, Diego. He walked us through the general guidelines and expectations of the tour. Afterwards, he handed out goggles and helmets and then we got to pick out our own ATVs!!

I highly recommend bringing a bandanna or scarf to cover your nose and mouth. You will be blasted by sand, dirt and possibly insects in your face. Also, wear a bathing suit underneath your outfit because temperatures are usually above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you reach the cenote, you will want to take a plunge into the cool waters. Also, do not forget to bring water. The tour does provide soda and water, but I am a firm believer in always having an extra bottle of water to deter dehydration. You are near the equator and it deserves respect! Ditto on the sun tan lotion.

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Once we had all of our gear in place, we set out on our four-wheel ATVs into the Mayan jungle. The guide is always first and everyone quickly falls into line. In most parts of the jungle, the path is only wide enough for single file. As long as you can see the person in front of you, no one will get lost. I was usually last in line during our sojourn and a few times I fell behind because I decided to slow down. However, at every fork in the road, the guide stopped if he did not see everyone. Once he saw me, off we went again.

The ATV ride was thrilling! Being in the jungle is a truly magical experience because of all the natural vegetation and exotic creatures that inhabit its mystical interior. We saw lizards, birds, insects and even a Coati which is also called a Brazilian aardvark. I did not get a chance to see any monkeys on the tour, but I know other visitors have seen them. Our maneuvers through the jungle stopped after about thirty minutes and we hiked a short distance to the cenote.

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Cenotes are amazing underground rivers considered sacred by the Mayan people because they contained their only source of fresh water. Since the Yucatan peninsula rests on a bed of limestone; rainfall, over the centuries, created subterranean caverns underneath this limestone. In some places, the ‘roof’ on these caverns collapsed and created fresh water pools in the jungle. Some cenotes are enclosed; while, some are open. Other cenotes are fairly shallow; while, some are so deep you need scuba gear!

The cenote we stopped at was partially enclosed. There was a smaller shallow part and a much deeper enclosed part. We were given snorkeling equipment and allowed to enjoy the beautiful cool clear waters of the pool. Breathtaking does not do the cenote justice! Even without scuba gear, we were able to go pretty deep and peak into the enclosed part of the cenote. The stalagmites were especially stunning sixty feet below the surface, but appearing close enough to touch in the clear water. I completely understood why the Mayans considered cenotes sacred entrances to the spirit world!

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After the refreshing dip into the cenote, we trekked back to our ATVs and wound our way to another cenote. This underground cavern, unlike the one we had just visited, was completely enclosed and resembled more of a bat cave. In fact, along with the stalactites and stalagmites, there were bats too!! Once I got over my surprise about the bats, our guide brought our attention to the sacrificial altar, Mayan statue and other relics in the cave. Outside the cave, there is also a burial site of an ancient Mayan priest!

Our guide also educated us about the water and jungle conservation taking place in the Yucatan and within their eco-tours. And then, once again, we were on our ATVs headed back to the entrance. What an incredible journey! Spending the morning enjoying the staggering beauty of the jungle and exploring the unique splendor of the cenotes is truly a must do when you are visiting the Riviera Maya! Jungles are no longer just for swashbucklers, glamour girls like them too!

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