Río Secreto: Wondrous Cavern

More spiritual than commercial, this community-based ecopark teaches visitors about Maya beliefs regarding the "underworld" as they explore a 600m-long (less than a 1/2 mile) cavern hidden from view for centuries. As the story goes, a local campesino was chasing a meaty lizard into the brush and under a rock pile. The campesino followed, digging through rocks, until he heard a splash. The lizard, it seemed, had discovered a hiding place. The man found the entrance to a cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Local naturalists discovered a dazzling series of chambers with rock formations dating back 2.5 million years. The area was declared a nature reserve and opened to the public in April 2008.

Visitors must be accompanied by guides and wear short wetsuits and helmets as they walk and swim through the cavern. At times, it is so dark you feel like you're totally blind. Other times, sunshine streams through holes in the roof, illuminating the blue and pink striations caused by mineral-rich water dripping over earth-toned stone. An occasional swim through an emerald green pool adds to the fun, as does the guide's banter and knowledge. From donning your wetsuit to downing a filling lunch after the 90-minute underground tour, it will take about 3 1/2 hours. Hot showers and lockers are available. The basic tour without transportation costs $59. Call ahead for reservations. Río Secreto is located off Hwy. 307, 5 minutes south of Playa del Carmen (between Xcaret and the Calica Port). For more info, call tel. 877/357-4242 in the U.S. or 984/877-2377, or go to www.riosecretotours.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.