Where and who to dive with in Playa del Carmen (and 3)

As I was surfing the Internet, looking for information about diving in Playa del Carmen, I found new centers where to enjoy this beautiful water activity. Here are the new diving centers.

Go Cenotes (Español, English, Français and Deutsch) is a new PADI certified center that operates from Playa del Carmen. They offer diving and snorkeling in the reefs of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Tulum, as well as night immersions. The diving and snorkeling routes can be guided or not, and, the truth is that the prices seem quite affordable. They also offer good programs for certified and experienced divers. Moreover, they can record your immersions so that you take with us a beautiful memory of our stay in Playa del Carmen.

Phantom Divers offers almost the whole range of PADI courses, from beginners to advanced divers. From this center in Playa del Carmen we can dive in the pristine waters of its coasts and the reefs of Cozumel Island. Their routes to the cenotes, with all the necessary equipment and guides have quite affordable prices and also a wide range of schedules. They also offer long visits and diving of seven to ten days.

On their part, Sealife Divers, which Website the photo of the head of this post is taken from, offer several water activities in Playa del Carmen, such as: cheap diving programs if contracted for days with the possibility of choosing which days to enjoy them. The diving spots are the usual ones and they are also officially certified.

Scuba Caribe has branches in several places in the Caribbean, among which Playa del Carmen, where they offer certified courses and an interesting family program. The picture of the fish is taken from their Website. Diversity Diving, offers a wide range of prices as well as specialized and certified courses together with excursions to the most popular reefs and cenotes. All these websites we have talked about include photographs and videos, which undoubtedly, are an invitation to immerse in the reefs and cenotes of the Riviera Maya.

To close this series of articles, here are links to companies that do the same activity, but in other places. As you can see, Cozumel Island, the diving paradise in the Riviera Maya, is just opposite the coast of Playa del Carmen.

Cozumel Island: Aqua Safari, Blue Angel, Deep Exposure Dive Center, Del Mar Aquatics, Blue Bubble Divers, Sand Dollar Sports, Studio Blue Cozumel, Dive College, Deep Blue, Dive Palancar, Dive Paradise, Dive With Martin, Dressel Divers, Scuba Clun Cozumel, Scuba Du.

Puerto Aventuras: Aquanauts, Pro Dive México, Scuba Caribe.

Akumal: Akumal Dive Shop, Bahia Dive Center.

Puerto Morelos: Wet Set.

Tulum: Maya Diving.

Cancun: AquaWorld, Manta Divers, Scuba Cancun, Scuba Caribe.

Isla Mujeres: Aqua Adventures, Coral Scuba Dive Center.

Francisco Cenamor

Maya writing: a historical wonder to be discovered when visiting the Riviera Maya

The written language of the Mayans is, up till now, the only Pre-Columbian language of Mesoamerica that researchers have been able to decipher. One of the main problems this study poses is that some Spanish conquerors, mainly the members of religious orders, destroyed all the books that existed against the opinion of other Spanish people, also belonging to religious orders, who wanted to know this culture. So, the only possible way to study this language has been through the inscriptions preserved in the monuments and objects that can still be admired.

Presently there is some proof of the existence of three codices, the so-called Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex and Paris Codex, where they are kept. From these codices and the Maya writing in Latin characters, emerges the knowledge of an extremely developed culture that had books on the principal subject matters in human writings of that period: nature, science, religion and politics. A culture which is being made popular in the last years and we undoubtedly can observe in Riviera Maya.

The first inscriptions, in which we can talk about the Mayan language, date back to the third Century before our era. This writing system, with its evolutions, survived till shortly after the arrival of the Spanish. Tayasal, in present-day Guatemala, was the last redoubt of Maya writing till its collapse in 1697.

Maya writing is based on two types of glyphs (carved or painted characters), some of them representing whole words, and some representing syllables. It used 800 individual signs. At the beginning and due to the comparison with Egyptian writing, the first European explorers of the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries thought this writing to be Hieroglyphics. Later they discovered that there both writings were not related at all.

During the Classical Period of the Maya civilization (approx. 320 to 987 after our era), a moment of great importance of the Maya writing, the writing system was divided in two sub-groups: the Ch’olan, in the south of México, Guatemala, Belize and the north of Honduras; and the Yucateca, in present-day Yucatan Peninsula, where the Riviera Maya is located. In spite of being different, both branches influenced each other.

The Maya language was still used after the conquest, but adopted Latin characters. Thanks to this, we can now read abundant Maya literature, among which many books on legends, histories and Mayan traditions. Nowadays, there are six million Mayan speakers in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, although they use the Latin alphabet for writing.

One of the curiosities of history is that, the man who boasted to have destroyed all the Mayan books, or at least the majority of them, the Spanish bishop Diego de Landa was the person who gave one of the clues which helped discover its meaning. This book entitled Relación de las cosas del Yucatán (there is an edition by Dastin Publishers, 2003), included a wrong catalogue of the Mayan glyphs, which considered each glyph as representing a letter and assuming that Mayans used an alphabet. So he asked a native speaker about the Spanish equivalent for ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’… Later on, he discovered that it was a spelling book and some of the glyphs Diego de Landa pointed out were equivalents of the following syllables: ‘a’, ‘be’, ‘ce’.

By the way, I must thank the website of the Fundación para el avance de los estudios mesoamericanos (The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies) for offering those who are interested in this language, a complete and free study manual. It can be downloaded here.

Francisco Cenamor

Where and who to dive with in Playa del Carmen (2)

Although we have talked about them before but there is no harm in reminding you here of the existence of two big natural theme and archaeological parks where you can dive in the Mayans cenotes. These are the Xel-Há Water Theme Park and the Eco-Archaeological Park of Xcaret.

Altournative is one the companies based in Playa del Carmen that organizes all kinds of adventure routes; several of these routes include diving in the cenotes On their Website they claim to be a socially responsible company which respects the people and the Mayan culture and whose trips have the least impact on the environment, two things that are always good to be taken into account. The information on the site is in English only and the picture of this post is taken from the site.

The journey to the cenote and any other route is by quad, a four-wheeled motorbike. It is organized by AVT Explorer, which offers tours in the jungle in these vehicles including snorkeling in different cenotes. They also have an office in Playa del Carmen and their Website is in English.

Opposite the watchtower of Playa del Carmen are other centers like Jaime’s Marina, from which you can make routes including snorkeling: you can take your own equipment or rent one there. They are specialized in diving in the coral reefs and their Website is also in English.

If apart from visiting the cenotes, you want to do specific diving courses, one of the practical possibilities is to do it with Labna-Ha (Español, English and Deutsch). Labna-Ha in Mayan means “old house in the water”. They offer many courses and also organize routes to practise diving and snorkeling. Besides, they manage Magic Mayan World Eco-park where the cenote Caracol, one of the famous cenotes of the area, is. Since they are also very strict with the protection of the environment, the groups are very small so you have to book in advance. The second photo is taken from their Website.

Scuba Libre has been working in Playa del Carmen for ten years and has two centers. They organize diving courses certified by international institutions. They have many diving spots opposite the coasts of Playa del Carmen. They also organize snorkeling in six different cenotes not very far from Playa del Carmen and visits to several places of the western coast of Cozumel Island.

Yucatek Divers (Español, English, Français, Deutsch), are specialized in services for physically disabled people. But, of course, they also offer a lot of activities: starter courses, diving on the coasts of Playa de Carmen or in several cenotes. One of their specialties is diving with sharks on Hotbox Island, and their tours start from Playa del Carmen. Their other two specialties are snorkeling at the same places and a specific program for children. They organize guided tours around Playa del Carmen and the surrounding jungles and to several archaeological spots, and curiously, also offer Spanish courses.

And, to finish this review, here are three other centers in Playa del Carmen specialized in diving in its several specialties: Aquanauts, Dive Mike (English, Dansk) and Akumal Dive Adventures.

Francisco Cenamor

(Click here to read (in Spanish) the first part of this post and also click here to read this in English).

The Pre-classical Mayan period

We have to bear in mind several aspects when trying to discover the history of the Mayas. Here we are going to talk about the periods in which scholars have divided this History. The first one is the Pre-classical period and, although it seems that there is no agreement as for the duration of this period, it seems the common dates are between the year 1000 before our era and the year 320 of the present era. Before this period, there are also evidences of human activity, mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula, were as we know, the Riviera Maya is.

The Maya empire covered the northwest of El Salvador and Honduras, Guatemala and Belize and the present states of Mexico: Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen is located) and Chiapas.

According to recent studies, the Maya civilization originated from a migration of the inhabitants of the Pacific coast in the year 1220 before our era, who headed to the Yucatan Peninsula. They were the Olmecs, but their settlement and mixing with the inhabitants of the areas they were reaching gave rise to the people known as Protomayans or the ancestors of the Mayans. The Olmecs had a great influence on the first settlers and there was no fully autonomous and established Mayan culture at least until the first Century of our era.

During this period of the Maya History, the area that had the most influence was situated in El Petén, at the north of present-day Guatemala. There, they settled cities such as Nakbé, El Mirador, Cival and San Bartolo. It is worth mentioning that most of the original names of the Mayan cities are unknown and most are known with their present names.

The social organization of these first Mayan cities was stable and organized. Obviously, the western concept of city has nothing to do with the one of the Mayas of that period and the cities were perfectly integrated in the jungles were they were built, since the Mayas, at least during that period, professed a sacred respect to nature, on which their gods were based.

A more and more complex social and political organization started to develop in answer to the growth of the population and urbanization. A strong internal hierarchy appeared with priests and the nobles gaining more authority. This period is also known as the Agricultural Period, due to the important development of this human activity, mainly based on corn, beans, cacao and pumpkins. Other activities such as hunting, fishing or harvesting were then secondary.

As far as architecture is concerned, they started building the first temples and the origins of the future pyramids: some mounds used to bury the dead. Religion was very simple and was based on the belief in life after death and a great cult and veneration to the dead.

Little by little, at the end of this period, in the Late Pre-classical period, other important Mayan cities started to develop such as Santa Marta and Tonala in the Mexican state of Chiapas; Edzna and Xicalango in Campeche; Acanceh and Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan; El Trapiche and Casablanca in El Salvador and Kaminaljuyu in the south of Guatemala.

Francisco Cenamor

Where and who to dive with in Playa del Carmen (1)

Diving in its different forms is one of the main activities in Playa del Carmen that we have talked about during all these months that our blog has been created. So here are some reliable companies with whom you can dive in Playa del Carmen and its surroundings.

Maybe the most accessible activity to the majority of people is snorkeling (we have already talked about it), and Mayan Adventure is a specialized company, located in Playa del Carmen. They offer seven-hour diving tours in caverns and cenotes, which start from the time they pick you up at the airport in a van till they drop you back. Apart from transport, these tours include snorkeling, specialized guides, lunch. Noteworthy is the determination of this company to practise an ecotourism really respectful with the environment in which they work. They also offer another extreme tour that includes the visitor to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Their Website does not have the price list.

Hidden Worlds Cenotes Park is a park specialized in water activities related to the cenotes. It is located half an hour from Playa del Carmen and offer several types of guided visits with snorkeling and scuba diving. The Website is in English only, but they have a good photo gallery that makes you green with envy (the photo of the head of this post is taken from their Website).

There are also many companies specialized in diving activities which are certified by international diving institutions. And, although they mainly give services to expert divers, they also offer diving courses, initiation tours and snorkeling. Among these companies are Scuba Playa (Español, English, Français), which offers a wide range of places where to dive or snorkel: from the most famous and beautiful cenotes like the Gran Cenote or the one of Nohoch Nachich, to several spots of the marvelous coral barrier that runs along the coast of the Riviera Maya. The site includes some videos which are a good reference of the places where you can practise immersions.

Dressel Divers International is a company also certified by international diving organizations based in Spain and in America which has two branches in Playa del Carmen. They offer certified courses and activities for experienced divers, but they also offer tours for amateurs and novice divers as well as several snorkeling routes in open sea, reefs (in the photo) and cenotes. The company was created by one of the greatest diving experts worldwide, Javier Ibrán Pardo, a Spaniard who is the current president. Their specific diving program for children is quite interesting.

Phocea Riviera Maya (Español, English, and Français) is more than a diving center because they also help you to prepare your own routes within the Yucatan Peninsula in order to travel independently but with information. As for diving, they have a French-Mexican team, highly specialized and offer immersions for experts as well as courses for amateurs and novice divers. Their head office is located in Playa del Carmen. The most interesting specialty of this company is diving with whale sharks on Holbox Island.

This post falls too short for all the information on the many other companies devoted to diving and snorkeling in Playa del Carmen or its surroundings, so we will continue writing on this topic.

Francisco Cenamor.

Aktun Chen y Kantun-Chi, two small ecological parks to visit from Playa del Carmen and enjoy the cenotes

On the way to Tulum, some 31 miles from Playa del Carmen, is the Eco-park of Aktun Chen (English Website). It is not difficult to get there by bus, van, taxi or a rented car. We can also contract a one-day visit at the reception area of the hotel or through Lomas Travel (English Website), the tour operator.

The name means “cave with an underground river inside” in Mayan language and this is precisely the main attraction of this park, since there are three caves with cenotes inside. The park has an area of 988 acres of unexplored rainforest; visiting them is another attraction altogether.

But it is undoubtedly an ideal place where to visit the caves, since one of them, has been enhanced with indirect lighting for a better view and enjoyment of the wonders inside. The caves are millions of years old and we can watch the fanciful shapes the passing of time formed with the stalactites and stalagmites.

Besides, the park offers a program of reproduction of the local wildlife and when strolling through the jungle, you can easily watch several endangered species such as the spider monkey, the white tail deer, the collared peccary, the wild boar or the wild turkey. There is also a snake observatory where to watch more than fifteen species of the region.

It opens from Monday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm and until 7 am in June, July and August. It costs 260 pesos (aprox. 24 dolllars/16 euros), half the price for children between 3 and 10 years.

Kantun-Chi (English website) is located hardly 14 miles from Playa del Carmen on the way to Puerto Aventuras. You can get there using the usual means of transport. They open from 9 am to 5 pm, and until 6 pm in summer. They have two types of tickets: the first one which costs 23 euros for adults and 20 for children includes a diving tour in the grottos and the cenotes with all the necessary equipment and a guided visit through the jungle. The second one only includes a route through the jungle and a visit to the cenotes; it costs 14 and 7 euros.

Kantun-Chi means “yellow stone mouth” in Mayan language. There is a rich variety of the flora and fauna common to this region. Once again, you can let yourself be impressed with a walk through the jungle, but the main attractions of this park are undoubtedly the grottos and the cenotes.

The main route is through one grotto that was formed over millions of years between two of the main cenotes of the park. The boat trip in the subterranean canals brings us close to marvelous formations of stalactites and stalagmites and the wide range of colors the few sunrays that are projected on the water and the walls of the caves. In some parts you can dive and snorkel.

In order to protect the endangered species, only four of the many cenotes of the park are open to the public. And, for this reason, the use of any kind or water-based sun block or lotions is not allowed. Kantun Chi is the cenote which gives its name to the park and the first one you encounter as you begin your adventure. The next one is Sas ka leen Ha, “transparent water” and resembles a crescent moon and was probably used by the ancient Mayans for the purification of their souls. Uchil Ha, “ancient water” has the shape of a ring and is the most unusual to be found on the Yucatan Peninsula. Lastly, Zazil Ha, “clear water” is the ideal place to watch the effects of the light at noon when sunrays cross through the small holes in the roof of the cenote.

Francisco Cenamor

Isla Holbox, a very attractive but further destination from Playa del Carmen

Isla Holbox is a marvellous place to visit, although it is not very close to Playa del Carmen (a four-hour drive by highway, at least by bus). The trip will surely take less time if we go by van or rent a car.

Anyway, if we choose to go by bus, we will have to go to Cancun and, from there, at the Terminal Central (Central Terminal), take a bus of the company Mayab to Puerto Chiquila where we can take the ferry. The bus fare is 8.50 euros for the roundtrip which takes about three hours. The journey in ferry from Chiquila to Isla Holbox costs about 5 euros for the roundtrip which takes 20 minutes.

If you can afford it, the best way to go is undoubtedly, by aero taxi. According to the information on the website of Aerosaab, the company that offers this type of service, the price per person is 334 euros plus airport taxes, in a charter flight. This same company offers a day trip to Isla Holbox in light aircraft and includes lunch and several visits for 196 euros per person.

But it is worth, according to travelers’ opinions on forums, to stay there some days in order to enjoy most of its marvels. There are not many hotels there, so it is convenient to book in advance.

Isla Holbox in Mayan language means “black hole”, referring to the subterranean lagoon located south. The Mayans used this island to settle fishing camps. To know more about the history of this island here is an interesting link. As a natural heaven, it is priceless. One of the most interesting spots is Isla Pájaros, a smallish nearby island, located at 30 minutes by boat, where in a space of no more than 200 square miles, we can watch thousands of birds, some of them endangered. Of course, it is compulsory to respect the zones limited for trekking and to watch them from the observation posts provided for this.

Isla Pasión, hardly 20 minutes away, is the typical uninhabited island where all of us would like to get lost, although we meet another visitor there. It is an island where one imagines to find a pirates treasure. Talking about pirates’ refuge, you don’t want to miss the lagoon of Yalahao or Yalahau, a surprising fresh water lagoon located between the island and the continental part of Isla Holbox. Needless to say that you can contract a guided tour to visit these three places in an “all inclusive package”.

You can travel freely around Isla Holbox, the most popular vehicles being bicycles and golf carts. Don’t forget that it is only 26 miles long by 1/1/4 miles wide. The adventure travelers may find completely deserted fine white sandy beaches. Another way of visiting the island is by motorboat and, if you are lucky, you can enjoy one of the unparalleled pleasures of swimming with whale sharks.

You can reach the continental part of Isla Holbox easily by van or rented car from Cancun. There, you can also visit interesting places like the archaeological remains of El Naranjal: 50 structures in hardly 1/1/4 miles of a marvellous ecological interesting route. Some of the ruins are being restored. There are many more attractive spots in this part of the island, so here is a link to discover further.


Francisco Cenamor