Business & Economy

Tourists flocking to cenotes in Mexico’s Caribbean to avoid sargassum

Cancun, Mexico, Apr 3 (EFE).- The historic levels of sargassum =- also known as gulfweed or simply seaweed – on Mexico’s Caribbean beaches during Holy Week are motivating an “unusual abundance” of tourists to flock to the inland “cenotes” (Maya water holes) seeking more pleasant vacation spots.

“There were more people here in the area, in the whole cenote park, and in all the other places. Also, the cenote system has a great number (of tourists) because the sea has that sargassum situation,” Maya priest Freddy Orlando Coto told EFE.

The shaman for the Maya purification ceremony that is held in the Dos Ojos ecotourism park, on the Riviera Maya, said that the seaweed is disturbing the beachgoing tourists so much that it is motivating them to seek new vacation and relaxation alternatives, and that has led them to travel en masse to the cenotes.

Scientists warned in February that the arrival of the seaweed, an invasive type of algae, had moved up by three months this season and the forecast is for this to be the most acute year on record for this phenomenon.

“People (tourists) didn’t feel comfortable being in that (beach) water because the sargassum is something that smells bad and people don’t like it, they don’t feel comfortable,” Coto said.

“And so, in the cenotes the water is like you saw right now. That doesn’t change, and it’s water that you want to (enjoy), it’s medicine and it’s an important element that has sustained our lives,” he added.

For Noe Rodriguez, the president of the Association of Hotels and Hostels of Valladolid, Yucatan, the cenotes are a must-see item for visitors to the Chichen Itza archaeological zone.

In recent years, she said, the number of tourists who come to get to know and swim in the cenotes has increased.

“Valladolid is a destination, (and) besides being cultural for its history and architecture it’s a destination that offers adventure with its natural beauty, which are the cenotes and the nature preserve, with Punta Laguna,” the business leader told EFE.

Before, visits to the cenotes were part of lengthy tours that were offered to tourists staying in Cancun or on the Riviera Maya, and just a few minutes were allocated on such tours so that tourists could get out of the bus and have a quick look into the deep and shadowy pools of the cenotes.

Now, however, the situation has changed and the sites are of much greater interest to thousands.

“At each of the cenotes there are different concepts, joining together services like swimming, exquisite and authentic gastronomy, the use of bicycles. In some of them you have ziplining and obviously also there’s the environment, which is the essence of the Maya community,” Noe Rodriguez said.

Coto said that the presence of more tourists who want to become familiar with the cenotes is an opportunity to tell them about the Maya culture.

“It’s a good time (to do so) because when they come here and go into a cenote it’s like going into an underworld – you feel connected to that spot, to the water, to the earth and you feel that it’s like a baptism that you give to your body and that nourishes your life,” he said.

“It’s water that purifies right into our blood. That’s why the cenotes are so sacred,” he added.

Tourists who only knew about the typical beach destinations like Cancun, Isla Mujeres, the Riviera Maya and Tulum are now discovering the cenotes.

“Sometimes they didn’t know about them at all before, and when they learn about them and enter into that holy place, for them it’s like a healing in their body because the cenotes were used (in that way) ancestrally,” he said.

Another tourist activity that’s been increasing at the cenotes is diving.

“Each day we see a huge number of people enjoying that holy water, both on the surface, up top, as well as in the subterranean rivers because there are many divers, (and) they are the ones who enjoy it even more than we do,” the religious leader said.

Although no official count has been made, tourist authorities in Quintana Roo estimate that there are more than 2,500 cenotes that have been discovered in that state as well as about 7,000 in Yucatan, but there are only a few that have tourist facilities and that are open to the public.

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