Cenote Ik Kil:
Although we were a bit bummed that the visit to Ik Kil had to be pushed back due to the “5,000 school kids at Chichen Itza (read my post on Chichen Itza for background story),” plunging into a cool natural water formation was a welcoming and refreshing idea, as we were feeling grimy and sweaty after getting beaten up by the sun and humidity at Chichen Itza. This was one of the activities I was really looking forward to, as all the pictures I saw online and in ads and brochures boasted of a surreal experience of peacefully swimming in a natural sinkhole formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing underground waters. There are thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, which were very important to the ancient Mayans. The Mayans believed that a rain god resided in these cenotes and gave sacrificial offerings in them. Cenotes were also a source of water in dry times and ancient Mayans settled near these sinkholes.
The real experience at Ik Kil (just a five minute drive from Chichen Itza), however, was nothing like what the pictures and articles online promised. Instead of serene nature and turquoise waters, we were met by a huge crowd in a water park and black waters (most likely due to it being later in the day and the sun had already moved over the hole). Our experience actually has a tragic ending and I would like to take a moment to introduce a public service announcement: unless you are an expert swimmer, PLEASE RENT A LIFE JACKET/VEST!!! It is still unbelievable, but one of the tourists drowned and died while we were there (December 9, 2016).
After changing and showering outdoors in cold water (everyone is required to shower prior to going into the water, however, no one was actively enforcing this), we walked down many slippery steps to the crowded cenote, which the sign read as being 50 meters (~164 feet) deep. There is no gradual descend into the water like a swimming pool or the beach, but the entire hole is 50 meters deep. There was only one way to get in and out of the water, which was through some make shift wooden ladder. This area was very crowded, as everyone decided to hang around here, instead of actually getting in or out. There were about three lifeguards at the cenote, but two were busy trying to direct traffic at the ladders (I say “trying,” because these tourists were not cooperating at all) and one was manning the high platform where people were jumping into the water. My husband and I decided not to rent the life jackets, as we are experienced swimmers and did not think we would need them. We soon found out that we were wrong, and regretted not renting them. Perhaps it was due to the frigid water being very pure and rich in minerals (and lack of salt?), but it was extremely difficult to stay afloat. The 15 minutes of being in that water felt like a 60-minute cardio workout that concentrated on our core. The people who did not rent life jackets, including us, held onto a rope on the side of the cenote for dear life. The process of getting out of the water was also grueling, as people who were on the ladder were dilly dallying and neither going up nor down the ladder. Afraid for my life, I had to resort to forcibly telling them to get out of my way, and hurriedly climbed out of the cenote.
Since we were only given about 45 minutes at the cenote, my husband and I rushed to rinse off at the shower and change into clean, dry clothes, and had enough time to buy fruit popsicles on our way back to the bus. While waiting for everyone to board the bus, our tour guide who was visibly upset, climbed on to tell everyone the shocking news: one of the tourists on another bus, who did not rent a life jacket, drowned and sank into the cenote about 20-30 minutes ago. After calculating, we realized that he must have been in the water at the same time as when we were in it. Leaving the shocked tourists on the bus, our tour guide did not return for another 20 minutes. When he returned, he confirmed that the tourist was indeed dead. To our dismay, no authorities or emergency personnel were seen until about an hour after the incident occurred, and we saw just one police officer show up. To further our consternation, the cenote remained open, allowing more tourists to go swimming in the same water where a guy had just drowned and had yet to be taken out. As our bus pulled out of the parking lot, we saw the family of the deceased huddled together in disbelief, making phone calls. This was one of the saddest moments I have experienced and witnessed on vacation.
When we returned to our resort, and during the remainder of our trip, we tried searching the news in English and in Spanish, however, we found no media coverage on this whatsoever. We suspect that the absence of media coverage may be deliberate as to prevent deterring tourists from going to Ik Kil, but the public should know about incidences like this so that we can be educated and take precaution. So please, rent a life jacket and be careful while swimming in the cenotes.