There are various cave systems around the world that offer visitors the ability to view stalactites and stalagmites, but how many offer them the ability to swim among them? How many people can say they’ve actually swam in an underground river? You can do just that on the Rio Secreto Underground River Tour! Want to know what it’s like? Check out this Rio Secreto Review!
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The Tour: Rio Secreto Underground River
The tour begins at Rio Secreto itself. Depending on how you book the tour and what option you select. Since we had chosen not to rent a car while in Mexico, we booked our tour through a third party operator who also offered transportation between Rio Secreto and our hotel. If you don’t need transportation, you can just head to Rio Secreto.
Once we arrived at Rio Secreto, we had to wait a few minutes for the buses from other hotels to arrive, and then the staff of Rio Secreto divided us up based on the tour they had booked and the language they spoke. Our tour was entirely in English, unlike some of the other tours we took where the guide would sometimes speak in both Spanish and English.
We were then taken to an area where we could change and use the restroom. From there, we took quick showers to wash off sunscreen, bug spray, and any other chemicals before entering the water. After, we donned wet suits, water shoes, and hard hats, and then were off.
Before we entered the caves, one of the local Mayans preformed a sacred ritual asking the gods to grant us permission to enter the underworld. Going beneath the ground into caves and cenotes were often considered crossing the boundary into the underworld in Mayan culture. Therefore, we were enshrouded by a ritual smoke meant to offer us protection.
After the spiritual ritual, it was time to head into the caves. Unfortunately, during the time of year we went, the bugs can be a bit relentless. Since we couldn’t put on bug spray (because that would defeat the point of taking a shower), we walked at a pretty good pace through the jungle to the cave entrance in order to avoid getting bit too much. Thankfully, once we made it to the cave, we didn’t have any more issues with the bugs.
Once inside the caves, we descended down several steps, and then stepped into the water. The water is typically about 73 degrees. 73 degrees may seem warm, but it definitely feels pretty cold when you first get in, especially compared to the Mexico heat outside the cave. Thankfully, the wet suit helped keep us warm throughout our time in the cave.
The total time in the cave is about an hour and a half, and takes you through all sorts of twists and turns. You get to see breathtaking stalactite and stalagmite formations. Some are so close together, you have to really watch your head (that’s what the hard hats are for), and some sections of the cave have super high ceilings that almost remind me of vaulted ceilings in apartments. Especially in the sections of the cave that had high ceilings, there were times that there were so many stalactites that you couldn’t possibly count them all.
The tour is done entirely by the guide’s flashlights and the headlamps on the hard hats. There are no other lights in the caves. At one point, the guide actually had us turn off all the lights so that we could experience the “eternal darkness,” where there is no light for our eyes to adjust to and it’s just permanently pitch black. It’s almost like you’ve closed your eyes, because you can’t see anything. Then you remember that your eyes are open, but no matter how much you blink, you still can’t see anything. They have you be completely quite, and it has a bit of an eerie but also tranquil feeling. It’s definitely a feeling like none other.
Would I Do it Again?
Overall, I had a pretty good time on this tour. It was awesome being able to actually swim among the stalactites and stalagmites instead of just admiring them from afar. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and talked about their formation as well as some of the different minerals found it the cave.
I also really liked the fact that many of the tours took different routes, so each group got to have their own unique experience of the cave without feeling like it was crowded with tourists. Plus, it means that you can go back again and again, and have a different experience each time.
There were two minor things that I think slightly took away from the tour. The first is that I felt like I spent a significant amount of my time in the cave just watching where I was going instead of actually appreciating the beauty of the cave. In several different parts of the tour, we had to link hands to support one another in bumpy areas. There were even a few areas where we had to float on our backs for the tour guide to pull us through some of the areas that had large amounts of stalagmites we could trip over.
The second was simply that the tour didn’t seem quite as personalized as some of the other tours we had been on while in Mexico. The tour guide was nice and super knowledgeable, but he didn’t seem to make as much of an effort to get to know us and seemed more like he was just going through a same old routine.
How Can I Book this Tour?
As I mentioned above, my boyfriend and I wanted a tour option that would include round-trip transportation to Rio Secreto from our hotel. For that reason, we chose to book our tour through Viator.
We also chose the shorter of the tour options. We did quite a few other guided tours in Mexico, so we opted to only do the half-day excursion because we wanted the afternoon to be able to just relax at the hotel or on the beach. If you would like to spend more time, you can choose the Rio Secreto Plus option, which includes access to the “Dry Route” and a visit to the Salon de la Paz, a 1-hour light and sound show.
There is also a photographer that accompanies each of the tour groups. You can purchase the photos at the end of your tour. As of March 2019, it costs $25 per photo or $99 for all the photos.
Things to Know
Thankfully, since Rio Secreto is one of the more popular tourist attractions, many of the staff members are fluent in at least one other language in addition to Spanish. You likely won’t have a hard time finding somebody you can communicate with.
Also know that ALL the gear needed for the tour is provided to you. When we went, we knew that we would be provided with the wetsuit and hard hat, but somebody how ended up confused as to whether or not we were supposed to have brought our own wet shoes. My boyfriend actually even ended up buying wet shoes from the gift shop because we thought they weren’t going to be provided. In the end, it turns out they were actually provided for us.