Río Secreto

A Journey into the Bowels of the Earth

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Kristel Arce Suñer

Kristel Arce Suñer


IESDE School of Management

IESDE School of Management


George Dionne

George Dionne

Global Goals

3. Good Health and Well-Being 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 10. Reduced Inequalities 13. Climate Action 14. Life Below Water

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Río Secreto is a tourist experience in the state of Quintana Roo, México, which allows you to travel a semi-flooded cave and at the same time meet the formation of stalagmites and stalactites through thousands of years.

Environmental care is inevitable once people know the land formation background.

It is a business model that provides economic benefits through environmental conservation and culture.


"Innovation of Río Secreto was doing nothing" “Rio Secreto innovates by remaining the same” when the place was discovered, we tried to keep it untouched and just enjoy it.

Watching your step and touch is imperative when you enter the cave otherwise you may damage the area.

This is why Rio Secreto should not be considered simply as a touristic potential, where staircases and rails could be built to facilitate the visit; doing this would only destroy years of geological history.

When you enter the cave you need to understand how it was formed, realize that the earth is alive and feel the magic from within. This leads you to experience respect for the place and the entire ecosystem. "The experience of Río Secreto is designed to leave no trace" "When it was discovered we adapted to it."

"Innovation refers to the proper operation and maintenance of the Natural Reserve,” which is a large underground river running through a cave system located 5 km south of Playa del Carmen and is the longest semi-flooded cave of Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Before starting the Rio Secreto tour, all the rules are mentioned and when you get to the place you can only wear a bathing suit. “They take away your vices from your daily life” then you are invited to take a shower in an open-air shower in order to remove impurities or chemicals that could damage the environment "Water purifies the soul and prepares you for the experience."

Then you get a special neoprene suit (people believe that the reason for the suit is the cold water, but it is used to prevent people from taking rocks or other vestiges with them). You are also provided with special water shoes, which enable you to step properly and avoid accidents. There is only a narrow path to go through and the idea is to leave the place untouched and avoid destroying parts of the cave.

Once you are ready, you are taken to an area where a brief Mayan ceremony copal is celebrated. This is a way of creating a mystical ambiance, because as the Mayan people believe "you must ask the gods for their permission to enter to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld". As you begin to descend, before entering to the cave, the guide provides some scientific information about the geological background of the cave "To allow you to travel in geological time". Then you enter the cave and begin to appreciate every detail that has taken thousands or millions years to form "As you go deeper into the cave, it seems to get more beautiful, not because it is, but because you are awakening your interior spirit and you are connecting with the magic of the cave".

Suddenly you arrive to an area where you are requested to be quiet, this is the climax of the tour "the cave is alive and there is a higher spirit" you can appreciate the darkness without fear and enjoy the silence; It leads you to quickly internalize your spirit and begin to feel every part of your body, it is a unique feeling. Continuing with the tour "the cave is more beautiful, tastes and smells are more intense, it is a sign that you have awakened". Finally you come up to the surface and you find food and drinks from the region and begin to enjoy after living this magical experience.

The Rio Secreto innovation as a business model: "To think of service as a similar experience to the Rio Secreto ritual" "If we could see daily work as a ritual, we could create magic" The innovation of a successful business model was as follows: Integrate the owner of the ejido (the ejido is a land distribution and possession system institutionalized after the Mexican Revolution, that provides land to a group of people for exploitation), to become part of the project to ensure the preservation of the land and strengthen rural society (Mayan Communities).

Having met the Mayan people who today live in communities in some parts of Mexico and Central America, has allowed Otto to understand, appreciate and enjoy their culture even more closely, the human quality of the Mayan people is exceptional and not found in elsewhere in the world. To appreciate the culture up close, He has realized that they have a problem with the modern world; their culture is not chained to material goods, therefore, does not fit into society and have been marginalized. When you have the opportunity to appreciate this culture it is impossible not to try to preserve their customs and knowledge. "In Río secreto all we win" "The economic benefit to the company by the visits of tourists is the mechanism for sharing the wealth of nature".

The innovation of Rio Secreto emerged when it was discovered. Nature built this sanctuary for over millions of years and in 2006 a ejidatario by chance discovered the cave. Later he called Otto Von Bertrab, an old friend. The ejidatario Don Cleofás Pool knew Otto’s interest in underground rivers and decided to contact him to show what he had found. From that moment Otto, with the help of other experts in the field, started expeditions to explore the underground river. It was not until April 4, 2008 when Rio Secreto opens its doors to show everyone that made scans and formed routes to admire the sanctuary without impacting or destroy the ecosystem.

Initially Otto trained guides, now they have much more knowledge. “The passion they feel for their work should be embedded in every element of the organization". Each guide enters the cave at least twice a day, for this reason each of them knows and admires closely every detail of the cave. "In Rio Secreto each person is touched and changed"; not only visitors are transformed, also coworkers.

The name of speleologists who explored the interior of the cave for the first time are: Tania Ramírez, Don Cleofás Pool, Efrén Ulloa, Jerónimo Morales, Alfredo Leal, Gustavo Vela, Héctor Cahun, Giovanni Bunomini, Otto von Bertrab and Sam Meacham, Dominique Rissollo, and the Association of Boy Scouts of Northern Quintana Roo, who provided valuable comments to understand the system.

They discovered the underground river and further because all are expert explorers who were commissioned to explore the river for ten months to do a mapping of the site and to plot routes so that everyone could admire this natural beauty.

In addition they not only explored this sanctuary, but devised a concept that preserves and allows each visitor to learn from the history of our planet over millions of years and experience a personal reflection, deepening our meaning in life and our place on the planet.

A Journey into the Bowels of the Earth


The original idea arises from the desire to show the world how the power of nature cautiously creates wonders over time. Such beauty should not be appreciated only by a privileged few. The motivation to undertake this project was to try to link people to create value and break away some social vices.

The aesthetic beauty of this natural wonder has inspired all participants in this project to make a commitment to spread the spirit of respect and passion that inspired Río Secreto, a process of environmental awareness, emphasizing the importance of fresh water for human subsistence and the vital need to protect the associated ecosystems.

The purpose is to bring the action, the three qualities of Otto and the project which prints its essence which are:

  1. Happiness “You have to impregnate joy in every aspect of your life, and, being like a magnet, attracting good vibes and people, but also repelling all negativeness."
  2. Commitment: “Discipline is essential to be committed when you commit to a cause, you must get to the end, you also need to follow a methodology for success.”
  3. Passion "Discipline goes hand in hand with passion"

Overall impact

The impact is felt each of the 80,000 visitors who come to Rio Secreto each year. In addition 110 families depend on Río Secreto along the 7 years since its opening to the public. Rio Secreto has an association called Centinelas del Agua AC. They care for clean, inviting society to care for different bodies of water within the region. It also seeks to address the issue of waste management, "Those who knows how to manage their waste, know how to manage wealth."

In December 2010 Rio Secreto area was decreed in the category of Urban Nature Reserve, defined as a hydrogeological Nature Reserve passage. It has the backing of the National Institute of Ecology and supported by information from scientific studies and mapping of Scientific Research Center of Yucatán.

Business benefit

When we appreciate the daily work as a rite, then the action value of each person within the organization, every part is important. “I can be the boss, but the gardener knows his job better and brings its expertise to Rio Secreto.”

When I say "In Rio Secreto win-win" it is because every person involved in the project has a benefit, everyone is happy with the project, people who started working from the beginning are still with us and will continue to outperform. An example is a girl which started cleaning and now, she is a photographer, which has allowed her to develop in other areas.

Social and environmental benefit

The main benefit that Rio Secreto contributes to society is environmental awareness, as mentioned above. Only knowing and living close to nature, remembering that it is alive and that we must respect and care for it.

Río Secreto also protects the area and teaches us how to take care of bodies of water and finally shows that the Mayan culture is not dead, there are currently Mayan communities with valuable knowledge. Promoting awareness and strengthening this culture is essential to society.


Otto Von Bertrab, Chief Executive

Photo of interviewee

Business information

Río Secreto

Río Secreto

Playa del Carmen, MX
Year Founded: 2008
Number of Employees: 51 to 200
Rio Secreto is a tourist experience that provides the opportunity to travel a semi flooded cave and at the same time meet the formation of stalagmites and stalactites through thousands of years.