In Deutsch
In Deutsch
In Deutsch
In Deutsch


A cenote is a partly water-filled, wall-sided doline. It is formed by the collapse of a cave which is (today, not necessarily at the time of the collapse) filled with water.

This sort of doline is very common in Yucatan, México, where a large cave system with many entrances is filled with water. There are over 3,000 cenotes, with only 1,400 actually studied and registered. The cave system inside the Yucatan penisula was formed during the Ice Ages, when the level of the sea was 100m lower than today. The water drained to this level and the caves were slightly above sea level. When the glaciers melted and the sea level rose, the caves were filled with water. There is sweet water from the rains inside the country, but also sea water flowing in from the sea. Some cenotes contain two layers of water, the heavier sea water on the floor, the sweet water above and a visible border surface in the middle.

Cenote is hard for English speakers to pronounce, the right prnounciation is like say-NOH-tay. The term is based on the Mayan word dzonot or ts'onot (sacred well). It was adopted by the Spanish who had no word for such circular lakes, as they are not common in Spain. That is why cenote is pronounced the Spanish way. And the term cenote just means well, as the Spanish ignored the "sacred" part.

This places were very important to the ancient Mayas, as the karst plain of Yucatan is completely waterless, and those collapses were the only possibilities to reach the ground water. Some of them were sacred places and used for offerings.

The locals distinguish four types of cenotes:

  1. completely underground: more or less cave lakes inside a cave.
  2. semi-underground: at the bottom of a pit.
  3. at land level: like a normal lake, but with no surface rivers, filled by water from underground. (Dzibilchaltun)
  4. open wells: here the water runs out of the cenote, they form springs or wells (Chichen Itza)

This four types of cenotes are somewhat different from the geologic terminology. But there are also some similarities. In geologic terms, caves without a collapse in the ceiling (type 1) are normally not called dolines. The semi-underground type is a true collapse doline, also type three, the difference is only the water level. Open wells (type 4) are normally not called dolines, even if the water emerges from a collapse.

Some cenotes are accessible for swimming and cave diving. They are often developed with a trail, a staircase, railings, and a platform. Some have electric light, some cost a fee, but most of them are rather natural and freely accessible.

See also

Main Index | General Information | Karstgeology
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