Aboveground rivers do not exist on the Yucatan Peninsula. Due to the geological structure of the area, a flat limestone shelf created hundreds of thousands of years ago when a meteor struck the area near Chicxulub, all the rivers are underground. These rivers connect thousands of freshwater pools, called cenotes in Spanish.
Cenotes are the Mayas answer to swimming pools… natural pools of fresh water, usually underground. The water in cenotes stays cool and refreshing, no matter how the surrounding jungle heats up. And most cenotes are underground in caves, or under large stone overhangs, also providing shade from the sun. A visit to a cenote is something you will never forget!
As you descend stairs or a ladder, you go from the bright sunlight of the Maya jungle into the deep, dark shadow of a limestone cave. No wonder the Maya have rich myths associated with the underworld.
The Santa Barbara cenotes near Homun are an easy visit from Santa Elena. Here you can ride on a railcart pulled by a donkey to visit three different cenotes. The water is blue and crystal clear, with great visibility. If you go in the morning, you might even have the whole place to yourself! And if you stay til afternoon, there is a local restaurant where you can enjoy some freshly-made panuchos, a Yucatan specialty. There are also the Cuzama cenotes nearby, and while the two towns are vying for tourist attention, both are beautiful and provide a refreshing stop on a hot day.