In the past, I haven’t been fully conscious of the extent of my claustrophobia, simply because I tend to avoid extremely tight spaces as much as possible. Our cave “tour” in Laos was cut short by faulty flashlights and slippery footwear, so my caving resume is very short, to say the least. Although, I did snorkel inside a cave on my first day in Riviera Maya and for some reason, swimming inside these caves didn’t bring up any feelings of claustrophobia.
When I had the opportunity to explore Rio Secreto in Riviera Maya, I didn’t think twice and jumped at the chance to explore and swim in a breathtakingly beautiful cave. Besides, I don’t want my fears to ever hold me back from life’s greatest adventures and traveling, for me, is all about pushing myself out of my normal comfort zones.
I’m happy to say that I made it out without any serious panic attacks and would even consider doing the tour again, especially now that I have learned a few things. The experience of seeing this natural wonder with my own eyes is well worth the few moments of uncomfortable feelings. In all reality, I was in a completely safe situation the entire time. My rational mind knows this now, but getting my imagination to go along with this while hiking 90 feet below the ground was not an easy feat.
If you do ever find yourself feeling a bit squeamish about venturing into semi-cramped areas, there are a few things you can do to avoid having to miss out on a truly phenomenal experience.
Always Go with a Guide
I would never recommend a newbie caver to go into unknown underground territory without a guide who knows their way around. I hope this is just common sense, but I still feel the need to say it. For the claustrophobic types, it can be a godsend to have someone with you who knows their way around that particular cave. Our guide had been in Rio Secreto hundreds of times and has led several hundred tours, so this information was extremely helpful in calming my nerves.
Ask Questions Beforehand
I think a big part of my fear stemmed from the illusion that there was only one way in and one way out. Therefore, every step I took only intensified the feeling of being trapped. Had I known there were multiple entries and exits, I would have felt much more at ease.
Push Those Scary Thoughts Out of Your Head
Every time I thought about the fact that we were 90 feet down underground, it caused my heart to pound and breath to quicken. Our guide did mention our depth a few times, so instead of believing him, I told myself we were just a few feet below the surface (even though it wasn’t true!) and this helped me get a grip on the anxious thoughts in my head.
The brain is a powerful thing and you can make yourself believe anything if you try hard enough. In this case, lying to yourself can be a good thing!
I think the best thing I did for myself was focus on my breathing. It’s such a simple thing, but it really does work wonders. Throwing in a few simple “It’s going to be okay” mantras while breathing deeply is even better.
Once I was able to get a hold of my fear, I was able to enjoy the experience and notice all the beauty inside these deep, dark caves.
Maybe someday I’ll get over my fear of enclosed spaces and join the ranks of scuba diving cavers. For now, I’m happy with walking, swimming and snorkeling inside these natural wonders.
When you go: We stayed in a hotel in Playa Del Carmen during this visit to Riviera Maya since it is in a central location to explore the surrounding caves and cenotes. You can also choose to stay in Tulum, but keep in mind there is no electricity (or it is limited to just a few hours a day) at the hotels on the beach in Tulum, so be prepared for a unique and rustic experience.
I want to thank Rio Secreto for hosting our group and providing these amazing photos!
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