Cenote Xcanché and the Clock Bird

This lovely cenote lies adjacent to the archeological site Ek Balam , very close to Valladolid.

It is huge and peaceful, hung with roots and creepers.

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The cenote and surrounding area are run by a Maya cooperative who have worked to protect and promote this natural wonder. There is a camping area, ecological showers, rappel into the cenote and a restaurant offering simple regional meals.

The approach to the cenote can be done on foot or by renting a bicycle and is very enjoyable in itself as you are surrounded by the dense jungle.

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At the entrance you are instructed to take a quick shower (to keep the water clear of pollution from sun cream etc) before heading down the steps to the cenote where you will find this amazing and inviting view.

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Next comes the steepest and most terrifying staircase in the world.

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But then you dive in and the water is heavenly; fresh, clear and wonderfully refreshing. I lost track of time bobbing around in the water, listening to the sounds of the jungle and the soft lap of the water. I don’t think I’d ever get board of lying back and gazing up at the sunny sky through the dramatic lens of this grand cenote and having just visited Ek  Balam I had even more in mind the mystery and sacredness that the Maya placed upon the cenotes.

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I don’t think I’ll ever find a better hobby in this life than cenote-hopping!


Whilst down in the water we kept catching sight of flashes of blue and chestnut swooping through the air and coming down to bathe – and soon we saw the ‘toh’ birds (their Mayan name) or so called ‘Clock birds’ perching all around the cenote in the branches and rocks. They are so beautiful, like Yucatan’s own version of a bird of paradise. Best of all is the local Maya legend about this bird…

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…   the toh liked to meet his fellow royal birds and spend the day telling stories and feasting on insects while other birds were working. He was such a beautiful creature and so proud of his glossy tail and plumage that it made him arrogant and overbearing. One afternoon, when black clouds were massing on the horizon heralding the approach of a storm, Oc, the king vulture summoned all the birds to a meeting and they decided to build themselves a shelter. Chujut the woodpecker, Panchel the toucan, Mox the parrot and Xtut collected timber, Baax the chachalaca and Cutz the wild turkey carried the heaviest branches and the hummingbirds collected grass, herbs and leaves for the roof. Other birds gathered fruit and seeds to tide them over the storm. Only the toh refused to help, saying that he was an aristocrat, not a worker. When the storm burst, the toh found a crack in a stone wall that he thought would be a good place to hide. He crept in and went to sleep without noticing that his elegant long tail was still out in the open.

Much later, he woke up and emerged from his shelter to sing in the sun like the other birds. He was astonished to find that all that was left of his beloved tail were two bedraggled and naked barbs with a small clump of feathers at the end. The wind and water had done their worst. Horrified, the toh realized what a fool he had been. Pride soon got the better of him and he decided to shun his former companions for fear that they would mock him. He flew off into the depths of the forest and dug a hole where he hid until this very day. He still keeps to himself; perching on branches overlooking cenotes where he swings his long tail from side to side incessantly like the pendulum on a clock.

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