A labyrinth of caves and underground rivers lies deep in the heart of the limestone landscape of the Yucatán. In ancient times, cenotes or sinkholes, which form when cave roofs weaken and subside, were the only source of fresh water for area inhabitants and settlements were located near these natural wells.
Apart from being a life-giving source of fresh water, cenotes and caves were sacred sites for the ancient Maya who believed that they were the entrances to Xibalbá, the underworld. Priests would visit them in secret to perform rites in honor of the gods.
Located six kilometers to the east of the Mayan metropolis of Chichén Itzá on Highway 180 and considered by many archaeologists to be part of the site, Balancanché or “throne of the jaguar” in Maya is one such cave. Incense burners, statues of Chaac, the Mayan rain god and his central Mexican counterpart, Tlaloc, and other offerings ¬were found at the foot of a huge stalagmite which resembles the ceiba or sacred tree of the Maya, when the caves were first explored. They were left in situ and you can see them during your visit to the caves.
You can listen to a guided tour in English, Spanish or French as you explore the caves. Be warned, the narrow path is not for the claustrophobic. There is a tiny museum and a botanical garden at the site.