The longest underwater cave in the world
At the beginning of the year, Robert Schmittner, 43, from Aschaffenburg, discovered what is probably the longest underwater cenote in the world on the Mexican peninsula of the Yucatán.
The cave diver, explorer and expedition leader spent a total of 14 years researching the underwater caves on the edge of the Mexican Caribbean coast. Schmittner actually only wanted to do a cave diving course in Mexico in 1996. A planned 6 months turned into 20 years. He quit his job as a forester and joined a team of researchers.
Near Tulum, where vacationers like to snorkel in the crystal-clear water, Schmittner went into the dark depths with his Mexican colleagues. He was sure that the Sac Aktun and Dos Ojos cenotes were connected – he was right. At just under 350 kilometers long, this cenote is the longest underwater cave in the world.
The researchers found human skulls, burned bones as well as the bones of bears, sloths and elephants. The scientists have also found Mayan vases and masks. Altars suggest that the caves may have been sites for rituals and ceremonies of the Maya.
What is a cenote and how does it come about?
The cenotes in Mexico have long fascinated cave divers. Cenotes arise when the ceilings of limestone caves collapse and open up to the outside. Some of the holes fill with rainwater while others continue down to the water table and are often connected creating a gigantic cave labyrinth. In the mysterious underwater world of the Maya are these hidden underground tunnels and caves which were often for sacrifices. Many also worshiped the cenotes as gates to the underworld Xibalba (“place of fear”).
There are several Mayan sites on the Yucatán Peninsula, such as Tulum or the ruins of Chichén Itzá, where some cenotes can also be visited. For example, our day trip to Chichén Itzá includes a refreshing dip in a local cenote.
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