Crocodiles, Cenotes, and Chinchorro with Ken and Kimber Kiefer

Story and Photos by Ken Kiefer (@ken_kiefer_underwater)

Earlier this month, Kimber and I went on a journey that encompassed a nice variety of what the Yucatan Peninsula offers in the way of stunning visuals for divers, freedivers, and snorkelers.  We put our Ikelite housings and strobes through a bit of a torture test along the way!

We saw some some epic things ranging from the crystal blue waters of the jungle cenotes to a giant school of tarpon and were able to swim and model with crocodiles.

Crocodiles Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

None of this would have been possible without the knowledge and scheduling skills of Yucatan Dive Trek (@yucatandivetrek).  They have lived and dived throughout the area for years, and have the ability to arrange turnkey packages to everything from snorkeling with whale sharks to full blown cave technical certification. 

Getting Ready to Go

Starting our journey, I was able to completely assemble both of our Ikelite rigs prior to travel. My system consists of a Canon EOS 5DS R and Canon 8-15mm Fisheye lens with the DL Compact 8" Dome Port. Kimber’s is similar, shooting the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens.   I can’t emphasize how amazing the luxury of flying with my rig assembled has been.  Being able to basically go straight from the plane to the dive boat is wonderful! (Read more about that here...)

Cenotes Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

Jewels of the Jungle

Due to some pretty hardcore rain and wind, we decided to try out some cavern diving in the cenotes for the first couple of days. Cenotes are amazing to see and beautifully clear.  Hundreds of these jewels exist throughout the area, and new ones are discovered regularly. 

Personally, cavern diving is as far back as I like to go, but some of the hardcore divers with Yucatan Dive Trek thrive in finding new passageways and helping to show people rarely visited areas.  

Cenotes Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

I used a pair of DS 161s both to light up the dark passages in video mode, and to light my subjects as strobes.

The next item on our checklist involved a little modeling at the entrances to a few cenotes, once the sun peeked out.  Kimber (@kimberkiefer) and our friend Melodie Trevino (@watermelodie) heated up the cool clear waters with their bright outfits and lovely features.

Cenotes Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

Here, I decided to swap out my DL Compact 8" Dome Port with the larger DL 8" Dome Port so that I could try out a few over-under split shots. 

Cenotes Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

Close Encounters

After 3 days in the cool waters of the cenotes, it was time to heat things up and head further south.  Xcalak is the home base of XTC Dive Center (@xtcdivecenterxcalak).  XTC is a partner of Yucatan Dive Trek and the only place that I currently know of where people are able to snorkel with wild American Crocodiles.  They take great pride in being both extremely knowledgeable about the crocodiles, and supremely skilled at managing the interactions in the safest manner for both humans and the crocodiles.

Crocodiles Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

With precise placement of  photographer, model and all safety personnel, we were able to fulfill Kimber’s dream of doing a little fashion modeling near these wild predators.  I continued to utilize the larger dome for split shot opportunities.

Crocodiles Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

While we were staying at the remote atoll of Chinchorro Banks, we dove pristine reefs each morning both to take in the incredible plush reefs and also to spear invasive lionfish as bait to keep the crocodiles close.  The lionfish have the spines removed and are tied to fishing string with no hooks.

Crocodiles Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

Shiny Surprise

Unfortunately, our time at Chinchorro with the beautiful reefs and amazing crocodiles came to a close and we returned to Xcalak for some more reef diving and something that I have not seen anywhere else that I’ve been underwater… hundreds of tarpon all gathered in one spot!!  The dive site known as La Poza is one of the most stunning displays that I’ve been witness to.  When the ocean is choppy or rough, hundreds of tarpon gather in a cut in the reef and it’s easier to just show pictures than  try to tax my vocabulary in order to describe what it’s like.

Tarpon Underwater Ken Kiefer

It's an absolute must see!

During this entire trip,  I subjected my Ikelite gear to bangs and bumps from boats, jungle trees and rocks, and maybe a few crocodile love bites, and as always, the Ikelite quality shines. 

Crocodiles Underwater Photo by Ken Kiefer

 

Additional Reading

Freediving with Orcas in Norway

How to Photograph Superheroes Underwater by Ken Kiefer

Senior Spring Break by Ken Kiefer

 

Visit and Dive

 

Yucatan Dive Trek

XTC Dive Center