Diving Zacil Ha through the Room of Tears is one of the finest cave dives I’ve ever done. To get there take 109 out of Tulum toward the Coba ruins. You will pass signs for Gran Cenote and Vaca Ha on the right. After about 7-8 km watch for the sign to Car Wash on the left. Just past Car Wash, slow down: The sign and the driveway for Zacil Ha is just a bit further on the left. Drive down the road to a little turn-around where you will find the mini-resort. There is a hut on the left where you buy your ticket: 150 pesos.
The attendant may direct you to drive through a small gate and park behind the hut for easier access to the water. Or not…
On my map, and when you observe the cenote, you will see that the best entry are the stairs on the far side of the water because there is a rope at the bottom of the stairs to tie off your tanks. The cave is found under the far wall–the wall with the statue that is down and left. Enter the cave here. The cave line is perhaps 15 feet down the slope and easy to find.
Follow the line to the left not more than one minute before coming to the unmarked jump. In fact, be vigilant because you can easily swim right by this jump–there is no arrow marking this intersection. The rabbit hole is down and left and is round with white edges from tanks bumping the entrance.
Spool out forty to fifty feet of line through smallish twists and turns to the new line. The Room of Tears is obvious when you enter it: it is very beautiful. As you can see on my map I turned left at the first intersection and then turned right at the second intersection and came to my thirds at a third intersection.
The dive is like a combination of Xulo and Caterpillar combined with white walls and stunning formations punctuated by occasional restrictions. The passages also move up and down–70 foot max, 46 foot average depth. Like always, mark your intersections well. I passed one jump that potentially could be misread coming the other direction meaning that you could make a blind jump and not realize it so stay on your business.
Watch for more info on this dive because I’ll be taking a stage along next time and exploring much more of Zacil Ha.
June 29, 2016 Dos Pisos: A long traverse done as a circuit.
Perhaps the best long dive that Zsolt and I have done on this trip was a circuit at Dos Pisos from the south entrance to the north entrance. We did the dive using a single stage.
Drive south of Tulum on 307. Watch for the mile markers on the left side of the road (yes this is awkward since they face away from you). After you pass mile marker 220 slow down and begin watching on the right for a sign that reads: Dos Pisos. There are two signs. The one by the road is worn and hard to read. Another sign, closer to the tree-bush line, is clearly written. Turn right here.
Proceed into Rancho Campensino following the road to the right past houses and buildings. We paid 200 pesos per person at the houses–a guy was there that came out to the car.
Continue on road that trends left past black, rubber water pools and past several intersections. Watch for the signs (signs at every intersection) but I think we always turned left. Eventually you will come to the end of the road. On the left there is junk: mattresses, pole structures, kitchen stuff, etc.
On the right are tables for dive gear. Park here. The trail starts between the tables and goes about 200 feet down to the cenote. The water is clear and the entry is easy. The cave line starts left of center, and back, in sort of an alcove and is above the water line.
The passage starts in a tube-like structure that extends maybe 100-200 feet with a flat bottom passable by back mount or sidemount-stage and then opens into large, diverse passages–this is a great stage dive.
The main line has many jumps and a few T intersections so bring a lot of cookies. We surfaced in clear water on in the north cenote under broken boulders and could see the jungle beyond the rocks. The traverse is upstream and there is a flow that reminds me of the north Florida cave, Peacock.
The passages have white formations and walls in contrast to a brown bottom and constantly change from one section to the next. In the shallow parts, there were massive root sections dropping from the ceiling.
The dive was over two hours and one of the best dives we’ve had in the Yucatan.
After weeks of humping tanks in and out of holes, enduring bug ridden walks, this cenote offered fairly plush access to the water.
Travel north on 307 watching for the sign (right side of fourlane) for Labnaha Expeditions-Caracol, etc. Move to the left lane in anticipation of the “retorno” for the U-turn. On the left side of the highway you will see the sign for Caracol. Make the U-turn and then turn right down the dirt track marked by the Caracol sign. You will eventually come to a right hand turn marked by a sign that reads: Rancho Felipe (Nohoch Nah Chich). Follow the driveway to a compound with buildings and covered parking. You will see a table on the left for dive gear. The stairs to the water are on the right. Pay the attendant 200 pesos per diver.
There are lots of tourists here. They have a zip line and snorkeling so you will be sharing the nice wooden deck at the base of the stairs with the throngs–this is not an issue. The wooden deck is large and the owners have dedicated the closest set of stairs into the water for the divers.
Gear up and swim along the platform keeping the deck on your right to its end. Continue with a left-wise direction for about 75 feet. Move on a diagonal left again to the main line. Finding the line was tricky, but the depths are shallow, and we didn’t use much gas. We did use a reel and put in a primary line.
The main line takes you through massive rooms and chambers with formations that are magnitudes bigger than any cave we’ve been in. The cave is shallow so the dives are long. Our dive was a 100 minutes. Pay attention because you will pass through ‘Heavens Gate’–see photos by #MauroBordignon on facebook.
We had a great dive here and it was refreshing to have such an easy entry to the water. The rooms and formations were magnificent, the spaces vast. Sometimes it felt like we had no lights, because there was just water and a thin, white line before reaching another set of structures.
I open the door to our house and step into the bright sun under a sky full of white clouds rimmed in grey. It rained last night and the air is heavy with the afterthought of the storms; a scrim of moisture beads on my neck and behind my ears and puddles are in the streets. I advance to the car and pop the trunk so I can store my undergarments, dive computer, and water bottles. Behind me I can hear Zsolt locking the door to the house.
I slide into the drivers seat, start the car, blast the air conditioner. Zsolt joins me and we motor onto the main road and head for #ProTecTulum, to collect the rest of our gear and the tanks.
#ProTecTulum is quiet and we move in a well rehearsed rhythm testing gasses and confirming tank pressures, packing dry suits, and testing the cave lights. Zsolt and I are dripping sweat as we load the tanks into the trunk of our mid-size rental car. We use another fifteen minutes to load the rest of the essentials for the day: Fins, helmets, regulators, reels, etc., into the car.
A few minutes later we’re navigating the streets of #Tulum to 307. Bicycles and scooters, pedestrians and dump trucks, taxis and shuttle buses–#Tulum is bustling on this Monday morning. Heading north on 307 we watch for the sign to #Labnaha-Cenote Caracol and spot it 9 km from the city. Then, the sign for #Caracol appears on the left-hand side of the highway and we throw a U-turn at the next “retorno” in order to back track to the turn-off for the cenote.
Unlike many of the dirt roads that we have traveled on, this one is maintained to some extent and we can actually drive at a reasonable speed winding around numerous potholes. After fifteen or twenty minutes we arrive at a ninety degree turn to the left and a white, limestone wall with an open gateway and find another sign to #Caracol.
As we drive into the cenote and park we can see the attendant standing near a short stairway leading into a large palapa. We shake hands and pay 200 pesos per diver and sign into the log book. The attendant is friendly and gives us a tour of the grounds.
The trail to the opening of the Cenote is perhaps 50 yards, and as we walk, I think about the amount of work that it will take to transport our tanks to the opening of the cenote. But just as we come to the hole I am thunderstruck by the sight of it.
The opening is shaped like a funnel. The top might have diameter that is twenty feet but the structure crimps down into an opening that might be five feet at the bottom of the funnel. And shooting through the middle of the opening, and I mean literally straight down the middle of a the hole, is a narrow staircase–each step might be three feet in width. I would call it a spiral staircase except for the fact that it only makes three-quarters of a turn to the wooden platform at the bottom.
As I ponder manhandling two sets of tanks along the trail and up and down the stairs the attendant mentions that they have a wheelbarrow for us to use to transport the tanks as far as the stairwell–good news because my shoulders are already aching.
But then I think about the cave divers that I know who are active explorers of this region and I remind myself that we got it easy. At least we don’t have to carry our tanks two miles through the jungle using a machete to cut the trail. And they would most likely rappel into the cenote and use a rope to lower and raise the tanks, and jug up the rappel line after the dive was complete. Just getting the gear to the water is epic for them, let alone the exploration beyond the light zone.
We grabbed the wheelbarrow and humped loads to the stairs and then down to the cenote. We are soaked with sweat inside our dry suits as we enter the cool water and finished racking our tanks onto our harnesses. We drop to twenty feet and swim together to find the mainline at the edge of the cavern zone.
Zsolt leads and I follow him up the line for 45 minutes until I’ve reached one-third of my gas supply and then we turn the dive. My gas consumption is always worse than Zsolt’s which makes our calculations easy. Basically, we always turn on my pressure.
The cave is smallish with occasional restrictions and there are twists and turns-it’s hard work to manage trim. Near the end of the dive I am fighting to keep the arch in my back. Every time I look away from the line at a formation or signal Zsolt at a cookie my body starts to slump and I reprimand myself. “Extend you arms, arch your back, c’mon man!“ This is our third day, of two dives a day, and my bodies feeling it. The ironic thing is that we are just finishing dive number one and still have our second dive to go.
I lead the second dive to a jump which is eight minutes up the main line where we make a right-hand turn. The cave immediately compresses down into another order of smallness. Here trim is paramount. Adding to the challenge there are numerous intersections and other lines some of which come very close and parallel the line we’re on. It would be very easy to make a blind jump onto another line and not realize it. I mark and confirm every tie-off, every junction, and every T.
After about twenty-minutes on the line we come to a restriction where the line makes a ninety degree turn across an opening that is barely the width of the diver. However, the line is tied off on both sides of the hole so sideways motion is limited and in essence, the line has been made part of the restriction. There is no way to pass through the hole and avoid the line.
I ease my body forward slowly penetrating the space above the line and between the stalactites. I am sandwiched between limestone and line. Carefully, I use my left hand to guide the line along my torso. The key is to drift through at a snails pace–there is no rush in a situation like this one. After clearing the line from my harness buckle I am through to the next tunnel.
More ninety degree turns through narrow passages appear one after another and then we come to a descending worm hole encased in clay. This type of passage is hard because as you descend your buoyancy changes (you become heavy) and you can end up shooting down the passage like a torpedo wrecking the visibility and crashing into the floor of the cave on the other side of the restriction.
I turn sideways and twist into the hole and move down a few feet and then add some gas to my wing and then slide forward again. I extended my legs and hold my fins still. Each time the passage opens up enough for me to reach my inflator I punch in some gas until I am gently squirted into the next passage. Moving forward, away from the exit, I turn so I can watch Zsolt emerge from the tube. A second later he squeezes in next to me. I was pleased to see very little silt behind us.
We pushed on for another twenty minutes before turning the dive. After we surfaced back at the cenote we spent another hour hauling tanks to the car and packing the gear. Another day was done.
All-in-all we’d spent three hours underwater which is a lot for us but not so much for other divers that we know. We have mutual friends that have completed multi-stage dives that require over ten hours in the water at one time. Maybe bigger dives are in our future?
No doubt we’ll be back to Caracol though for more of its amazing passages.
Calavera is perhaps the easiest of the cenotes near Tulum to find. Drive west of Tulum on 109. Calavera is the first right hand turn after the police check point which is perhaps one-half mile from the intersection of 307 and 109. There is an obvious white gate with an arch where you pay 200 pesos per person. Turn your car around and back into a spot as directed by the attendant.
Take the trail that starts on the right side of the building you are parked near. The Cenote is about 50-70 yards back along the track you will find to the right. Watch your step leading to a large hole in the limestone because there are tank traps along the way that could swallow your foot or even your entire body.
There is a rickety ladder and ropes that you can use to deliver your tanks to the water. Be careful since you can get hurt here if you are careless. After racking up its easiest to jump into the water from the top of the hole to don the tanks.
From the ladder, and over our right shoulders, we found a line that led down to a cavern line and the “stop” sign. There is a large hallway in front of you. To find the main cave line descend into hallway and look up, and left. The gold line is there with a red arrow. We used a primary reel to connect the cavern line to the main line.
We did two dives in a remarkably beautiful cave system. Large rooms, amazing formations, halocline, thermocline–you got it all here. However, for us this was a check-off dive meaning that we’ve done it, and probably won’t return.
Here’s why: The approach is tedious. Humping tanks and managing the the rickety ladder were not fun. The bugs did make us feel lighter though, since they threatened to carry us away.
The route had many junctions. This coupled with the halocline made visualizing the T’s a challenge. Some of the T’s literally sit at the interface of the fresh water and salt water so to confirm your markings (cookie) you had to drop underneath the interface and gently pull the line down to be sure about the direction of movement. I can see how poorly trained divers die in these caves because if your navigations skills are less than up to par you could get lost and swim in circles until your gas is gone and you drown.
On our second dive we came to the end of the line that was near the cavern zone. Here we found that someone, perhaps several someone’s, had written in the cave floor leaving initials and other drawings. Perhaps a cavern guide is bringing his clients to this point or open water divers are doing this on their own. In any case, it was a bummer to see this.