Peering into the pitch-black abyss was, in a word, unsettling. I knew that beneath the stony, circular opening was a 70-foot, sheer drop into a seemingly bottomless body of underground water. The jagged, jaw-like stalactites that plunged from the roof of the cave didn’t make it any less imposing.
Still, there I stood — with my feet precariously propped on the edge and my body strapped into a harness.
I am by no means a daredevil. Jumping off ledges and plunging into mysterious pools are not very high on my bucket list. Yet rappelling in Chukum-Ha, Mexico’s newly discovered cenote, involves a combination of all three.
Hacienda Chukum, operated by tour company Aventuras Mayas, is located just outside of Valladolid, Yucatan. The 131-acre theme park is also packed with soft adventure activities for visitors, in addition to an open-air restaurant and a gift shop. But the premier reason for visiting Hacienda Chukum is, indeed, Chukum-Ha. Three natural openings in the cenote’s ceiling flood the translucent waters with natural sunlight, spotlighting an electric turquoise color that bounces off the surrounding sheer limestone walls.
Inside the cenote is also a veritable playground for kids and adults alike, complete with ziplines; three diving platforms of different heights, ranging from 3 to 15 feet; a rope swing; and the rappelling experience that descends through the opening into a kayak waiting below.
Immediately, I refused the jumping platforms; inducing vertigo is not high on my list of fun. But at least rappelling involved a harness and put me (mostly) in control of the speed at which I could lower myself.
The first few seconds were nerve-wracking to say the least. I placed one bare foot in front of the next and inched down the stone opening until, finally, both my feet were dangling in the open, cavernous space. The brilliant sunlight eventually faded into pitch-black. It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust, but once I was below the surface of the earth, I could fully take in the majesty of the enormous cave: turquoise water twinkling below me in patches where the sunlight pierced the surface.
Once I made my way safely into the kayak below, I breathed a sigh of relief and wiped my sweaty palms, removed the harness and looked upward — reliving the quick but somehow monumental journey. With that, I plunged into the gaping pool and swam a victory lap to shore.
Hacienda Chukum is just one branch of the Aventuras Mayas family. Founded more than 15 years ago, Aventuras Mayas is built on the pillars of sustainability and little-to-no crowds. The group seeks experiences that allow travelers to feel as if they've discovered a secret world all their own.
For example, its Mayan Adventure Tour brings visitors to three unique aquatic ecosystems involving three different types of cenotes. One such stop is the Yal Ku Lagoon in Akumal, an ocean inlet that is teeming with tropical fish and vegetation. The inlet leads directly out to the Caribbean Sea, creating a brackish environment that makes for some truly unbelievable wildlife observation. Other Aventuras Mayas adventures include ziplining and extreme ATV tours.