Close your eyes. You hear nothing but silence and the faint sound of trickling water in the background. Imagine you are 80 feet below ground with your eyes open in the pitch black. You are one with Mother Earth. You are somewhere along an 800 meter stretch of a 14 kilometer underground river that originates in the interior of the peninsula and empties into the sea. The lights come back on. Look up and see thousands of jagged-edged stalactites pointing towards your head like the tips of poison Mayan arrows. It looks like you are either on another planet or on the set of a blockbuster Hollywood movie. This is Rio Secreto.
Good friends of ours, Jim and Janet, won free passes to Rio Secreto while Jim was volunteering at Mayakoba. We have been talking about us all going for months, but could never seem to coordinate our schedules. Then unfortunately due to medical problems Jim and Janet could no longer use the tickets and gifted them to us. Not wanting the passes to go to waste since they expire this winter, we arranged a trip this past Friday.
We really did not know much about Rio Secreto other than it was another cave/underground adventure, and that the likes of Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel and other famous figures had visited the eco-park. Despite our lack of familiarity we were game for another wild experience.
Our day began like any other Friday in recent memory: we packed the car with friends, drove to the park and proceeded over extremely bumpy roads several miles into the jungle to the entrance to the cave. At the park we were provided with complimentary wetsuits, life jackets, water shoes and helmets with lights. Then we walked a few hundred feet back into the jungle to what looked like any other cave we've seen on the peninsula.
We were soon surprised at how different Rio Secreto is from other caves we've been in. Rio Secreto is like stalactites on steroids. I have never seen so many in one place. Then the cave is completely dark - there is no artificial lighting, other than the light on your head, and no other groups - just you, your guide, and your group of up to 10 or so people, wandering through an underground river 80 feet below the ground. The path was quite treatcherous: up and down, in and out of water sometimes above your head, crouching down to fit below low underpasses. Luckily the terrain was not slippery. It is certainly not for the faint of heart or for anyone with health problems. This is most definitely for those with an adventurous spirit.
At one point we entered a cavern that was filled with giant coral formations which were so large, I felt like a spec drifting among a reef in the sea. This was all ocean at some point millions of years ago. We trekked along this river for approximately 1.5 hours, exploring just a minute part of this gigantic subterranean aquatic highway. I can say we have never experienced such an amazing cave system so far in our time in Playa del Carmen.
What's striking is that Rio Secreto was discovered only 4 years ago when this 80 year old man saw water vapor rising from the ground. He began to dig, discovered the river, and then mapped the 1st kilometer himself, before opening the river to the public 2 short years ago. To preserve the system they have 3 tours which cover different routes along the river, and alternate them over time, shutting one off and opening others to prevent wear. Lack of lighting helps prevent the growth of algae and maintain the authentic underground experience. By arranging small tours at 9am and 1pm, they stagger the river's visitors aiding in making you feel like you and your group are alone in the river, rather than running into other people multiple times.
We highly recommend Rio Secreto to all our Playa del Carmen rental guests. At present we are going to rank it among the top 3 greatest activities we've experienced in Playa and the surrounding region. At only $59 USD per person or $250 pesos for locals with valid proof of residence, it's a real deal. You should call the park ahead of time and make a reservation.