South eastern Mexico was once a giant coral reef which, during the ice ages when ocean levels were much lower, was exposed to the atmosphere and eventually became the great big limestone block known today as the Yucatan Peninsula. Over many thousands of years the slightly acidic rainfall slowly carved out tunnels and caves in this highly porous rock, resulting in the formation of massive “solutional” cave systems stretching across the entire peninsula.
Inside these caves and tunnels geological formations known as speleothems grew over time. More commonly known examples of these are stalactites (an icicle-shaped formation that hangs from the ceiling of a cave, produced by precipitation of minerals from water dripping through the cave ceiling), stalagmites (rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings) and helectites (this formation changes its axis from the vertical at one or more stages during its growth and has a curved or angular form that looks as if they were grown in zero gravity).
The region surrounding the city of Merida has many extensive cave systems that are accessible to the public when accompanied by experienced guides or operators. An excellent option for a day trip typically includes a visit to Mayan ruins, swimming in cenotes, and fairly easy (for beginners or those who have no experience at all) caving expeditions.
Here are some cave systems in the region that should not be missed:
This cave is fairly close to Merida and contains paintings attributed to the Mayan civilization from the Late Pre-Classic Era (1,000 BC to 250 AD) or even older. The name is Mayan for “Flower Stone”.
These caves, together with Loltun, are among the largest in the Yucatan Peninsula. This complex cave system has revealed a treasure trove of Pre-Hispanic materials. Archaeological excavations have unearthed bones from deer and other animals, pottery, quartzite hammerheads, arrowheads, obsidian blades, stone carvings, human burials and “haltunes” (rocks hollowed out to catch leaking water).