There are not many places on the planet as unsuitable to humans as sunken caves. Hazards lurk at every turn, but there are few thrills as powerful as exploring these remarkable underwater locales.
The vast subterranean waterways of the Riviera Maya, under the jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, are among the most testing and beautiful of all. There are three sunken cave systems, one of which, the Ox Bel Ha, is the world’s longest underwater cave, with 180km of explored passages.
“Cave diving offers the chance to enter an environment where few people have gone before and which no other type of diving can provide,” says Natalie Gibb, one of the instructors at Diablo Divers, a cave exploration school on the Riviera Maya. “It appeals to those with the hearts of explorers.” Cave divers go well beyond the reach of daylight, often many miles into a deep cave system, pushing their minds and bodies to the limit.
Those with a hunger to explore are rewarded by a new freedom to discover otherworldly surroundings. “In comparison to other diving, it feels like an entirely different sport,” says Jeremy Bruns, who took cave diving instruction from Diablo Divers. “It’s like playing field hockey for years and then putting on a pair of ice skates. It feels completely new, thrilling and exhilarating. The heightened awareness in this unfamiliar environment really makes you feel alive.”
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“This is an extreme sport, and at times divers can encounter frightening situations,” says Gibb. “There are always risks, but proper training and dive protocols mean they can be almost completely avoided.”
Advice from the inside: Mind over matter
“Cave diving is 90 per cent mental,” says instructor Natalie Gibb. “Divers who lose focus or let their emotions get the best of them can get into trouble. A good mental preparation technique is to work through pre-dive checks to calm down, review the dive plan and create confidence in your equipment. And remember that any diver can end a dive at any point, no questions asked.”
Also available for an adrenalin fix in and around Yucatan