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Cenotes—cavern diving. Safe for AOW diver?

Discussion in 'Mexico' started by Catito, May 3, 2021.

  1. boulderjohn

    boulderjohn Technical Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Boulder, CO
    Mexican cavern dives are extremely popular. I did them as a relatively new diver more than 20 years ago, and I had a very good time. If you have a good, safe tour guide, you can have an excellent experience that will tell you whether you are a candidate for future cave diving or not. (Excited? You are a candidate. Didn't like it? You aren't.) Thousands of recreational divers do these dives each year, and incidents are very rare.

    But they happen.

    In every case I know of (and I know of several), the dive guide inexplicably took the divers out of the cavern zone and into the cave. Every single case. I don't know of a single cavern diving incident that happened on a dive that stayed in the cavern zone.

    I have dived the cavern zones on my way into the caves of both Tajmaha and Ponderosa. With a proper guide, both are very safe dives. I suggest you make sure you are diving with a well established operation. They are likely to follow the rules (and there are sules) for safe cavern diving.
    Catito, Searcaigh and jonhall like this.
  2. pauldw

    pauldw Solo Diver

    My Dos Ojos DM said that someone died in there once from banging his head into the rock ceiling. Seems possible, but an aberration.
  3. Lorenzoid

    Lorenzoid ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: Atlanta, USA
    @Catito , I imagine you read the sticky just above your post in this forum: A word to the wise on cenote diving

    CenoteXperience is a popular outfit that many on SB have apparently done cenote dives with, though I have no personal experience with them.

    I did some cenote dives when I had about 50 dives under my belt, and this was way back in 2004, so I'm sure things have changed for the better, but my guide did not adhere to those guidelines mentioned in the sticky, as I only later learned when I joined SB. The next time I did some cenote dives, maybe 10 years later, my guide could hardly have been more safety-conscious.
    Esprise Me likes this.
  4. rick00001967

    rick00001967 Tech Instructor

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: canada
    fyi....Taj is very dark in some places. if you have any reservations about being in low viz conditions in an overhead environment you might want to reconsider that one. if i remember right it also has a dip thru the halocline when you enter the cavern. this can be a concern for some people.

    dos ojos is a great spot for a first time. i like it there. easy slow dive. lots of light.

    haven't been to ponderosa in many years so i cannot comment.

    you do not need to be aow certified to dive the cenotes. it is mexico. they will take just about anybody. haha but it certainly does not hurt.

    i understand what it is like having some issues with close spaces myself. i force myself to go each time we are in the area. just make sure you are aware of what your triggers. let your guise know ahead of time if you are nervous about the dive. the worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself.

    they are a lot of fun imho. ENJOY !!
    Catito likes this.
  5. Catito

    Catito Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Palm Beach County, Fl
    Thank you. What dive operation did you use? If you have a moment, telll me what you thought of tajmaha and Eden, specifically.

  6. diver42

    diver42 DIR Practitioner

    I know you asked for non-cave divers, but as a cave diver, I took my wife on her first cavern dives (just before the pandemic), about ten dives after her certification. We hired a cave instructor who I’ve been cave diving with several times before to be the guide. So my wife was always between the guide and me.

    Although she dives single tank, she had the advantage of only ever diving a backplate and wing, long hose, etc., from day 1. The only added equipment was a canister light.

    This was all key to her comfort: familiar equipment, trusted guide/buddies, prior dives the days before.

    Comfort is the key to good cavern/cave dives.

    Also, ours were technically “cavern” dives because we were always within the daylight zone. And we were in caves without almost any silt. But caverns are caves, and we did some longish dives. Keep in mind that the difference between a cavern and a cave is heavy cloud cover, or a quick storm, or anything that affects available daylight. So pick your guides carefully.
  7. Diverlady13

    Diverlady13 Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
    We used Blue Experience in Akumal. We wanted a smaller dive operation which is how we chose to use this shop. The owner, Eduardo, bought the shop a year or so ago. I cannot say enough good things about Eduardo and the shop. Unfortunately, Eduardo had covid earlier this year, so he was unable to dive while we were there. Normally we would have been diving with Eduardo, but he set us up with a cave guide named Chino who was really terrific. We also did a couple of ocean dives with Eduardo's staff guide, Ana, who was a sweetheart. We had such a positive experience in February with Blue Experience that we're going back in June to dive with them again.

    Eden Cenote was beautiful. There weren't a bunch of breakthroughs, but once you get from the entrance to the far end there is a large opening. The light streaming down is breathtaking. We ended up going a little ways past that opening, but still on the line and within the light. Past that opening there is a deeper area of salt water, so for that dive we all added a bit of extra weight.

    Tajma Ha we swam from the entrance through to another entrance where we popped up and floated and chatted for a moment. Really beautiful as well. I don't recall openings in between those 2 points - or at least not large ones - but I've had 24 dives since then so I could be misremembering that detail.

    My husband wanted to chime in with his thoughts on claustrophobia in this situation. All of the cenotes we did were really quite spacious. Other than swimming through a couple of crevices at entry points (still well large enough for easy entry), the rooms where we actually swam inside the cenotes were large. My husband is not a fan of tight spaces - had to be sedated to do an MRI - but was perfectly fine and really enjoyed the cenote dives. That said, he is not up for the type of cave or cavern diving where he'd have to squeeze through tight spaces.

    Also, I'll add that I only had 28 dives before we dove those cenotes. My buoyancy was ok, but I sure wish it had been better. I did kick up a bit of silt here and there. I would have enjoyed those dives even more if I hadn't been paying so much attention to my buoyancy...if that makes sense. I'm now at 56 dives and have better weighting and my buoyancy is substantially improved. I'm looking forward to doing the cenotes again next month with better diving techniques.
  8. Manatee Diver

    Manatee Diver Stop throwing lettuce at me! ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: None - Not Certified
    Location: Tampa Bay, FL
    I should mention you will never be squeezing into a tight space on a cavern dive. In order for it to be a cavern dive the space must be big enough for two divers to get through comfortably. The entrance to Tajma Ha is vertically barely big enough for two divers to swim on top of each other and very very wide. The rest is fairly wide open. The cavern route basically keeps you within 100 feet of the entrance or Sugarbowl.

    Ponderosa is very wide open, you could drive a truck through the passages.

    I have the raw video of my Tajma Ha train wreck from three years ago. I was using a China POS GoPro light, so the video quality is pretty poor. Now I use better lights.

    I went back last year and did a cave dive a Tajma Ha exactly two years later. And we did the full cavern tour minus Sugerbowl as our entry and exit to the cave.
    Merrydoc likes this.
  9. Jayfarmlaw

    Jayfarmlaw Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Tuttle, Ok
    I'm curious how you have already selected Tajmaha and Ponderosa.

    I'm not familiar with those, but may have dove them with Cenote Xperience. Martin has taken me on all my cenote dives and every single one was amazing in its own way. Every cenote has had something that just left me amazed Formations, pillars, light coming through the opening (one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen), air pockets, bats, hydrogen sulfide (?? I think) fog, wide open caverns, tight spaces, pillars that illuminate like a lamp when you put your light on the back side, and lots of other thing I'm just too lazy to mention.

    Generally, your first dive will be in a cenote with minimal overhead, such as The Pit. This gives your DM the opportunity to evaluate your buoyancy skills as well as your air consumption. From that point he will recommend where the second dive will be. (or third)

    The cenotes change depending on time of year, time of day, rain fall, diver traffic, and probably 100 other factors I don't know about. I may have 20 or so cenotes under my belt and i don't think I have repeated any.

    The DM will select the cenote with the best dive conditions suitable for your skills. My advice would be trust them. If there is something specific you want to see, let them know. Descending through the fog was amazing, but the conditions might not be suitable for that day. Martin chose Chocmuul (I think) so he could show me the way the light comes through the opening at that time of day and time of year. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

    As far as claustrophobia...let your guide know in advance and they will take that into consideration in the selection of the dive. There are some cenotes with tight spaces and some overhead, so they wont take you to those as long as you are upfront about your fear. Some cenotes are harder to get to requiring stairs that would make a US OSHA inspector have a stroke. Some have a rope to lower your gear, some have a local that will lower your gear for a few bucks. There is the perfect cenote for your first dives so you just have to let them know.

    Martin has never let me down and I learn as much just diving with him as I have in any class. He is probably the best diver I have ever dove with.

    It's cold if you have been reef diving in 80 degree water for the last several days, so if you chill easily, a hood and extra neoprene is a good idea. My Deep Six 3mil and a semi dry hood is fine for 2 dives, but a little cold for 3.

    You're gonna have a great time and willl come away a better diver for it!!

    Safe travels,
  10. halocline

    halocline Solo Diver

    I am now a cave diver who does 95% of my diving in Mexico, but I did a couple of guided cenote dives long before I ever even considered cave training. As far as their safety goes, the only 'objective' answer to that is the fact that many, many OW divers do them on a daily basis, have for decades, and very few of them died as a result. So they are relatively 'safe' as long as you are with a qualified guide and follow his/her instructions.

    "Feeling safe" and "piece of cake" are of course subjective and I realize you're trying to get a sense of what others have felt. My guess is that (just a guess) most OW divers who try them feel reasonably safe and comfortable, but many don't choose to repeat the experience. I have never seen anyone freak out in a cavern tour, but I'm sure it's happened. As a self described 'medium' claustrophobic, I wonder if you'll like them. Maybe you'll find out that you're not as claustrophobic as you think.

    I know you specified AOW divers, (and I do have that card too!) but I believe that open water certification level is a very poor indicator of how someone will do in an overhead dive. The one person that I've talked to that had a very bad, near panic experience in a cavern was a PADI instructor with years of teaching and ocean diving.

    Tajma Ha is a beautiful cavern tour, I suspect you will really enjoy it. These dives are not 'difficult' in the sense that they are shallow, no current or flow, and the water is very clear. But........the stakes are high if you start making mistakes. You can't just surface if your mask fills up or you get a bad cramp or start to feel uncomfortable. Depending on the agency OW divers are limited to recreational depths, loosely defined as 130 ft from the surface. As such, cavern tours are not supposed to take divers anywhere further from an exit than 130 linear feet. I think that limit is certainly pushed hard if not broken, but again I don't have any hard evidence of that. I've never measured. But I have done the cavern line in Taj dozens of times because it leads to an excellent cave line that I like. It 'seems' to me that the far point in that line is more than 130 feet from an exit. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
    Esprise Me and boulderjohn like this.

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