There are all kinds of adventure parks, guided jungle tours and excursions up and down the Riviera Maya coast that we are dying to try out. So when our friend Liz invited us to join a group celebrating her birthday at the nature reserve Rio Secreto (Secret River) we jumped at the chance. The seven of us crammed into our car and we were off. And I do mean crammed.

Liz and Vanessa
This is how we roll in Mexico. Liz and Vanessa felt “like kids” again riding in the back.

Rio Secreto is a system of underground caves located deep in the jungle with an underground river winding throughout. As the story goes, the land is owned by a Mayan man who about six years ago was out chasing an iguana for dinner and came across the entrance to the cave system. At first he used the cave for personal use, he built several Mayan altars that are used for religious purposes. Eventually he let archaeologists and spelunkers in to explore and eventually open up to the public. Pottery and other artifacts were found that indicate the caves were previously used by the ancient Mayans. To date about 12 kilometers of cave system has been mapped out but only a very minimal section is open to the public.

Our guide told us the park has become a protected nature reserve. They are working to get the government to declare some kind of additional protected status. I don’t know what exactly that status is, but I know that they would be able to then have government funding to continue to preserve and protect the area.

It is truly mind-boggling to me that this place sat for thousands of years between human interactions. While it’s inevitable there will be some disturbance because people are now walking and swimming through parts of the cave, Rio Secreto has gone to great pains to limit that impact. We had to shower to remove any toxins like lotions, hair gets, etc. from our bodies before entering the cave and the small groups are led by a tour guide who repeats over and over (and over) again to not touch anything.

So after driving about 6 kilometers deep into the jungle we showered off, wetsuited up and got ready to head into the caves. Prior to entering we stopped for a blessing from a Mayan elder.

Before entering we participated in a Mayan ceremony asking the gods permission to enter the underground river and to keep us safe.
The Mayan ceremony is held to ask the gods permission to enter the underground river and to ask them to keep us safe.

After the ceremony we were allowed to enter. We descended a steep set of stairs and left any hint of daylight far behind. Part of the time is spent walking.

Jason and Deidre Heading Into Rio Secreto
Don’t we look prepared? Looks can be deceiving.

And part of the time is spent swimming through the water. The water stays at a pretty constant temperature of 18º C to 19º C, or 64º F to 66º F.

Swimming through the caves of Rio Secreto
Oh so cold.
Rio Secreto
Wow. Just wow. Right?
Deidre and Jason at Rio Secreto
We’re like the Mayan version of Lewis and Clark.
Vanessa and Liz in Rio Secreto
Vanessa and Liz were ready to be called into action to fight off….I guess any spiders we might come across.
The only lights in the cave were from our headlamps and the flashlight of our guide.
The only lights in the cave were from our headlamps and the flashlight of our guide. At one point we turned off every single light and sat in the dark for a couple minutes in complete silence. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face.

After a couple hours underground we reemerged and were given a shot of a mystical Mayan liquor and a fabulous feast.

Lunch after Rio Secreto
Lunch was soup, salad, fruit, tamales, tacos and…mashed potatoes? I have no idea why, but you better believe we ate them up.

It’s not cheap to go to some of the places like Rio Secreto, but this day, this adventure, this experience is why we moved and is what we live for down here. We learned a lot while having a blast. We’ve already told Liz she’s going to have some work trying to top this for her birthday next year.

So what do you think? Would you be up for some spelunking or is a bit to claustrophobic for you?