The Yucatan Peninsula – The Land Of Underground Rivers and Lakes

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1Very few lakes or rivers can be seen in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayan civilization, which thrived in the region during the Pre-Colombian Era, can attest to that. There are however many which flow underground. The entire area is covered with cenotes which derives from the Mayan word dzonot which means “abyss”.

These sinkholes (cenotes) have formed as a result of soft, porous limestone erosion which cover the entire peninsula. For the Mayas, they were seen as life wells and as gates to the afterlife, but for geologists and speleologists, they represent a maze of tunnels, galleries, rivers and underground lakes.

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There are over 3000 such cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula and less than half of them have been explored thus far. Among those open to the public, we can count Cenote Zaci with its turquoise waters and its eyeless black fish, and Cenote Ik Kil, which is almost perfectly round with a luxuriant vegetation and many waterfalls.

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There are four main types of cenotes: underground, partially underground, open wells and ponds / lakes. Dzibilchaltun is one such pond, shallow at one end and 43 meters deep at the other. There is also a large system of caves in the area.

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The biggest such system however is the Loltun, whose name comes from the words Lol which mean “flower” and Tun (stone). These caves are found in the Puuc region, some 100 kilometers away from Merida. The artifacts found here suggest that people have been living here for the past 7000 years. Inside, the amazing looking stalactites can also act as musical instruments, since they make a profound sound if they’re touched, similar to a bell.

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Some 200 meters away from the Balankanche Cave entrance there’s the Balam Throne, which is believed to have served a ceremonial purpose for the Mayan people. in the vicinity there’s a 6 meter tall stalagmite which looks very similar to the Mayan sacred tree ceiba. The cave is situated some 6 kilometers away from Chichen Itza, a vast city complex built by the ancient Maya.

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