The best day in Mexico – wild expedition through Río Secreto

In my journeys I more and more often look for experiences, which I remember for long and which stir up my delight or move the deepest parts of my soul. I would rather go somewhere for a shorter period of time but make this trip packed with challenges, discoveries and sometimes also adrenaline. Travel and Keep Fit came into being for a reason ;)

I have to admit that cities and man-made products delight me less and less but nature, especially the wild one, not yet claimed by the humanity, fascinating and unpredictable attract me more.

Every new trip I plan is designed because of this, so that I would be able to learn something and arouse humility but also to make myself remember that our world is simply beautiful.

The trip to Mexico was to be such as well. When I started to write down all the places from my dreams I wanted to visit, it turned out that 90% of them is connected with nature. I laughed out loud, because it totally doesn’t fit a city born kid :)

Mexico is throbbing with incredible nature and what is even more wonderful, it is also very diverse – from mountains to lakes and ocean… it has everything a soul could crave for. This time I focused on Yucatan Peninsula. It is famous of its underground caverns you can explore in various ways but the most popular are scuba-diving and snorkeling (I will write you about the best cenota caverns, that are best to visit in Yucatan Peninsula in my opinion, in a separate post).

However I, yearning for adventures and new challenges, wanted something more than classic floating around among crowds of tourists. Before I went to Mexico I browsed through looking for something unusual and out of the ordinary. And that’s how I found Río Secreto. It was my best day in Mexico and one of the experiences you remember for years and I have to share it with all of you and pass it on!

Iguana guiding a man

 Just when I believed I had seen everything, this was when I discovered that I still didn’t know anything at all. Until that moment I had missed the supreme experience. Everything I had ever learned in my life finally made sense just by witnessing the marvelous world that lay before me…

Those are the words of one of the first discoverers of Río Secreto, who saw the underground river. The system of underground caverns, lakes and rivers was discovered once more only few years ago by local farmer, who, chasing an iguana through the rocks, chanced on an underground river of extraordinary beauty.  From that time laborious researches are taking place, thanks to which, a meter after meter, the researchers were able to reach a part of the caves. A labyrinth of underground rivers stretches between Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Playa del Carmen, on the eastern coast of Yucatan Peninsula. Most of it is fully flooded and available only for cave divers. The longest river networks are Ox Bel Ha (“Three water paths”), Sac Actun (“White cave”) and Dos Ojos (“Two eyes”). Recently a connection between the latter two has been discovered, which makes it the second longest cave in the world.

But it is only a small piece of the underground world. It is assumed that the underground system of Río Secreto caves stretches within the space of 30 km, forming endless tunnels, hollows, underwater springs and possibly a whole bunch of other forms and systems, unknown to humanity.

Therefore, it is still a virgin, inaccessible and mysterious place, which leaves many questions unanswered.  However, the modern discovery is by no means the first track of human interference. In various parts of the caves the archeologists found proofs of Mayan presence, from building remains, i.e. partition walls looking like parts of rooms, through vessels to even human remains.

There must have been a reason why the Mayans believed that these caves were the gateway to the realm of gods. Researchers ceaselessly discover lots of proofs that the Mayans celebrated ceremonies and rituals in various places of Río Secreto – an irrefutable proof that this place was sacred to them. Covering the next kilometers of rocky, dark corridors it’s hard not get the impression that this place exists somewhere at the boundaries of reality and the person next to you would disappear in the darkness like he or she never lived.

  Jumanji alive 

Nowadays there are few ways to see Río Secreto, from short trips to hour-long exploring the depths of the caves. You would probably not be surprised that when I discovered this place, I wanted to get the most of it and I chose the most active option: Río Secreto Wild Tour. It is a combination of biking through caves, few kilometers long crossing through caverns and at the end swimming and scuba-diving in an underground lake. This is the real package for active people but, in my opinion, it also creates the most interesting possibilities for exploration of Rio Secreto.

We reached Río Secreto directly from Playa del Carman, on our way to Tulum. We arrived before 8 AM, because at 8 AM sharp a trip was to begin. It turned out that our group consisted of 4 persons and a guide. All extremely athletic, what later turned out to be essential in this excursion. We left the motorcycles at a parking lot and took a jeep to go deeper into the jungle. Out first and last civilized stop was a station in a dense, tropical forest. We were served a breakfast there, the rest of the provisions was distributed between us, we were given equipment (backpacks, diving masks, rubber shoes, wetsuits, helmets, torches, so the “Survive in the cave” set) and we chose our bikes.

In order to reach the caves we had to cycle through ca. 3 kilometers of crazy and bumpy jungle road. There were some steep climbs, lots of breakneck descents among roots, so about three times I thought that I would catapult in the air from the bike but the fun was great! The level of my group was very high, read: all raced forward never looking back, so we covered this distance in about 10 minutes.

However, I did not expect that a huge part of that road would take place already inside of the caves and it was absolutely unusual, because we rode our bikes in complete darkness, with headlamps as our only source of light. Riding a bike inside caves was a priceless, invaluable experience. Like someone transferred us to Jumanji game, to which we did not fit at all. Everywhere rocks, thickly tangled roots hanging from the ceiling, sunbeams showing through here and there and peculiar voices in the background – unbelievable world. After three kilometers, when the terrain did not allow us to use the bikes anymore, we left them in the cave and continued on foot.

The underworld 

Contrary to what one might believe, underworld of caves is not a deserted place. I was so surprised and delighted by how many species live there and function despite harsh conditions. And they are doing pretty well. Covering the next kilometers of underground tunnels we constantly bumped into new discoveries.

In Río Secreto living organisms and formations of rocks – stalactites, stalagmites and helictites – coexist.

In every nook of the caves tangled mighty roots of jungle trees, growing somewhere over our heads. Following trees grow above the caves: Chaca (Bursera simaruba), Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum) and a sacred tree of the Mayans – Kapok (Ceiba pentandra). Their roots look like arms reaching down from the ceiling and digging into the ground deeper than our sight could reach.

But this is not all. You can come across invertebrates, insects, beautiful Motmot birds with turquoise feathers and even the king of this jungle – jaguar. We only seen its traces but a dozen of meters further I almost treaded on a giant tarantula, standing guard on one of the stones.

The world of the underground caves seems to be in perpetual motion, somewhere behind my back I heard a rustle, something flew above my head, I felt constantly watched but not even for a while I felt in danger.

Meditation in oblivion 

The further we went, the more damp the environment became, the air thick and sticky – so much that every one of us dreamt only to go into water of an underground lake. After few kilometers we reached another base, where in a makeshift camp we had a while to change into wetsuits, leave our backpacks and then waded step after step towards the lake. Before that I thought that I so wanted to cool down but this idea immediately vanished from my head the second I went into the water. Despite the wetsuit the water felt very, very cold. We illuminated the way only with headlights and torches and toiled forwards, sometimes waist deep, sometimes not able to reach the bottom and only floating on the surface.

I don’t have much experience when it comes to caves but this place exceeded any of the images I painted in my head. I felt like we reached some kind of a hidden booty you have to earn and fight for in a several hours long march. The underground river stretched kilometers long, meandering among calcareous formations. The water was so crystal clear that I saw the bottom, although it was few meters below. Complete silence and darkness reigned everywhere, only sometimes I could hear a splash of water, floating over the rocks.

Wetsuits protected us from the cold, torches – from getting lost but without them we would have been absolutely helpless. At one point our guide asked us to stop and turn off our torches. We were then in the middle of the underground river, 25 meters below the ground. For two minutes we sat in absolute silence and darkness. Even touching my nose with my fingers I could not see their shape. I think I have never experienced such darkness.

Being aware that I was so deep underground, in the hands of nature, was on one hand very moving but on the other hand – oddly liberating. It was a real connection with this extraordinary place, meditation in a state of oblivion, when all the senses were turned off. Absolutely remarkable feeling and it was worth to travel across the underground caves for few hours.   

Río Secreto practically

The whole trip took 8 hours of quite a high pace, so for Wild Tour you should set aside a whole day. Wild Tour is definitely the most challenging option and it requires you being in the best shape. Think about it this way – you not only have to reach the caves (and there is no option to turn back and head home in the midway) but you have to return from there as well! The guide told us that many visitors are too exhausted to ride their bikes back to the starting point and they have to send a golf cart to get them. But I would not exaggerate that you have to be a pro athlete to do it :) There are other, less exhausting options, even those you can take along with your children (you can find them HERE).

Wild Tour offers 3 price options. It depends if you reach the place by yourself or you need transport from Cancun to Rivera Maya:

Transportation not included: Adults: 119.00 USD

Round trip from Riviera Maya: Adults: 149.00 USD

Round trip from Cancún: Adults: 149.00 USD

Trips begin every day at 8 AM and the price includes: entrance to the park area, guide, private photographer who takes pictures (paid additionally) – you cannot take any cameras to the caves – bike and equipment: helmet, torch, wetsuit, life jacket and also breakfast, snack and lunch.

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