5 August, 2019

Cocktails and a five-star picnic await at one of Mexico’s more undiscovered cenotes

Cenotes, we can probably all agree, are one of life’s finer delights.

These underground reservoirs – formed when the rim of a limestone cavern falls away to reveal a natural pool of groundwater within – are dotted across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Some, like Ik Kil Cenote near Chichén Itzá (below), are shrouded in a picturesque mass of hanging vines. Others, like Black Cenote on Laguna Bacalar, feature rope swings for you to catapult your way into the cave, Tarzan-style.

At Sac Actun, the world’s largest underwater cave system, you can hop between a series of secluded grottoes; a wonderland of strange rock formations and tucked-away pools.

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For those who hanker for adventure, cenotes are a passport to joy. You can spend hours marvelling at stalactites, finding hidden nooks or  wallowing in cool, emerald waters as the sunlight splices through the cave’s roof above you.

Now one hotel is taking the experience a step further by offering an underground cenote banquet. At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, a luxury hotel about an hour from Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, guests are able to dine out in style at the gem that is Chukum-Ha.

An undiscovered playground, Chukum-Ha only opened to the public earlier this year following an extensive project to secure the highly vaulted cenote, and make it suitable for visitors.

The 130-foot cave was once used as a well by local Mayan communities, but it’s now been made over with zip lines, diving platforms and a rope swing, in a transformation led by Aventuras Mayas project director Ricardo Díaz.

“Chukum-Ha is one of the biggest [cenotes] in the area, and its high ceiling and vertical perimeter are highly decorated with astonishing rock formations,” Díaz tells Forbes. “Additionally, the cenote has a constant flow of water, making its waters crystal clear with a beautiful turquoise color.”

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Guests can even rappel their way down from the cenote’s opening to the water below, where you can admire sunlight stream through three natural openings in the cave ceiling.

As Lonely Planet reports, this experience then turns up a notch with Grand Velas’ gourmet dining experience. Visitors get a private tour of the cave first, before gathering for a subterranean feast of artisan cheeses, charcuterie, handmade truffles and more.

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This is accompanied by a introduction to ancestral drinks such as sotol – the grittier cousin of mezcal or tequila – with a snapshot of their history and modern-day cocktail equivalents.

“The experience is unique because our guests have the ability to have a gourmet meal and ancestral drink tasting in one of the destination’s relatively undiscovered cenotes,” a hotel rep tells the publication.

Of course, you can take some time to dive, zipline and rappel through the cave, too; as well as stretching out in the cool, sun-flecked waters. It’s a tough life…

Remember, you can visit a full fleet of beautiful cenotes – and hop between emerald lagoons – on Flash Pack’s wild swimming adventure in the Yucatán Peninsula. The gourmet dining experience at Chukum-Ha isn’t included but you could always loop in a visit before or after, should you wish.

Images: Luz Mendoza on Unsplash and Instagram

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