cenotes cave mexico

Pitch black. Trapped. Tethered by a thread. Cave diving is a physically demanding sport with considerable risks. For this reason, people believe that cave divers have to register the cold scorch of fear every now and then in order to feel truly alive.

For most underwater explorers, however, cave diving has little to do with an adrenaline rush. There are many reasons why people would want to journey through the deepest and darkest paths of the underworld. While few animals can actually survive inside underwater caves, the ones that can tend to look more like animals plucked from the pages of science fiction novels. The caves are also otherworldly scattered with water-worn rocks that look like they’ve been placed in front of carnival mirrors.

cave diving

Underwater caves are living history – places that few get to experience. Extremely technical, requiring a level of underwater proficiency and control much greater than most other forms of diving, when you emerge from the darkness, from the unknown, you feel fulfilled and are ready to “just keep swimming”—no matter what life throws your way. There are hundreds of thousands of underwater caves in the world, and we’ve rounded up five of our favorite. Get ready to swim, scuba dive, and spelunk—if you dare.

 

Bubble Cave – Maui, Hawaii

One of the Hawaiian Islands’ most unique diving destinations, Turtle Town—a sanctuary for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, considered guardian spirits by some ancient Kanaka Maoli—is sometimes referred to as five caves, sometimes as five graves. Its Bubble Cave is located on a small, semi-protected rock cove off Makena Road. “You’ll walk by a small graveyard (with seven graves that we counted and probably more in the faint lava rock outlines),” says Andrew Doughty, the author of Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook.

Once you reach the shoreline you’ll see the entry point: two rocky fingers. Missed by most divers on their first attempt, the Bubble Cave’s opening is low and wide at a depth of about 15-20 feet right along the shoreline. An ancient lava tube, it extends 50 feet back and ends in a large cave that holds roughly five divers.  “[The Bubble Cave’s] air pocket…is sealed, and the ocean’s surge constantly changes the pressure, causing your ears to flux and cloud of pressure-induced haze to form and dissolve instantly with every surge. Real cool.” A non-technical dive—where you don’t have to worry about decompression issues or narcosis—its in relatively shallow water, less than 40 feet deep. So, you’ll be able to encounter spotted moray eels, frogfish, white tip sharks, puffers, and octopus.

 

Piccaninnie Blue Lake – Wye, Australia

Piccaninnie Blue Lake, affectionately called “Pics”, is a freshwater marvel unlike any other in Australia. Created by erosion, it’s fresh, crystal clear, and cool—almost always 58°F.  Designated as a Ramsar site on December 21, 2012, it supports a number of nationally threatened species, from the orange-bellied parrot to the Australasian bittern. Every year more than 20,000 people visit this nature reserve to snorkel at the Chasm: a 115 foot-deep walled underwater canyon that continues on into a very narrow restriction at the bottom called the ‘Cork Screw’.

Underwater explorers prefer the Cathedral, a monolithic underwater chamber with pure white, scalloped limestone walls. A mecca for divers, you can literally look 90 feet down and see the clouds in the blue sky above. Though, you’ll want to dive before monsoon season, which generally lasts from December to March, because rain causes sediment runoff that affects visibility. After a series of non-qualified diver deaths, you’ll also need a permit to book your one-hour time slot.

 

Emergence Du Ressel – Marcilhac-sur-Célé, France

One of the primer cave diving locations in the world, France has over 20,000 underwater caves. Starting in the bed of the River Céle,  the Emergence Du Ressel  (Emergence of Ressel) is its most famous cave and a reference in the world of cave diving. Nearly 500 feet in length, the cave splits into two tunnels with a cross-section that’s at least the size of a double-door garage.  The first tunnel stays shallow at 32 feet while the second tunnel drops repeatedly to a depth of around 60 feet. Roughly 1,000 feet from the entrance, the two passages rejoin—making an almost 5-mile round trip—and then impressively plummet 150 feet. While water flow decreases and visibility increases, the dive becomes increasing technical and the water hovers at only 54°F. The whole trip is a serious expedition that’s only been made by a few people. Even if you can’t complete the five to six-hour dive, on your return trip you’ll be welcomed by a beautiful green light at the cave’s entrance.

 

Cenotes Dos Ojos – Quintana Roo, Mexico

One of the most extravagant diving sites in the Yucatan peninsula, the Cenotes Dos Ojos (meaning “two eyes”) is made up of two 230-feet sinkholes connected by a 1,300-foot passageway—the world’s deepest underwater cave passage.  Discovered in 1986, the Cenotes Dos Ojos is part of the world’s largest underwater cave system and is the Riviera Maya’s most filmed and photographed cave. A cavern full of crystal clear water and glittering stalactites where the light plays hide-and-seek and the temperature is a toasty 77°F, the Cenotes Dos Ojos has achieved cult status. One of its most interesting features is its pools of air that resemble puddles of mercury. Though, it does have a dark-side: a 10,000-year-old, pitch black bat cave that was once used by Mayans for ritual human sacrifices.

 

Merritt’s Mill Pond – Marianna, Florida

Wedged between rocky slopes, beds of eelgrass, and moss-draped cypress trees, Merritt’s Mill Pond has turquoise waters, making it a waterway unlike any other in Florida. It may have produced state and world-record breaking redear sunfish, but the four-mile, man-made lake is also a cave diver’s paradise that’s popular with underwater explorers because it’s open 24/7, year round. Located just east of Marianna, it’s fed by the Jackson Blue: a limestone cave close to 5,000 feet in length that many divers consider the most beautiful cave they’ve ever seen.  Low-flow, it still pumps out roughly seven-million gallons of water per day.

Roughly 500 yards from it are the Twin Caves that have a 60-foot opening called the “Subway Tunnel.” Accessible only by boat, its first jump is claustrophobic and only recommended for divers with good buoyancy while the second can easily be silted out.

Three hundred yards from the Twin Caves is the “Hole in the Wall”.  After dropping 80 feet from a large chimney, you’ll find two caves—one upstream, one downstream. In the winter, it’s usually submerged underwater. The Hole in the Wall is also home to Georgia blind salamanders and Dougherty Plain cave crayfish. Merritt’s Mill Pond has four other caves: Shangri-la (Sidemount), Indian Wash Tub, Gator Hole, and Hidey Hole.