You have probably encountered one of these beauties somewhere on the internet. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. They have been directing the distribution of human settlement in the Yucatan peninsula for thousands of years. As one of the only sources of water in the jungle, these natural underground rivers were considered sacred by the Mayan civilization. Cenotes in Yucatan Peninsula and nearby areas were a lot more than just pits for the Mayans. They were considered to be an entrance to the underworld, also known as “Xibalba”. The god of rain “Chaac”, one of the most influential figures in Mayan culture, was thought to wander the flooded caves. Offerings (aka human sacrifices) for Chaac would be made in cenotes to show gratefulness for the blessing that water is. Makes it all eerily exciting right!?
What to bring to a cenote?
Going to cenotes is like going on a hike, you need to bring specific items with you. The best way to start is by doing some research online or with a local about the cenote you are planning on visiting. While some cenotes are vertical, water-filled shafts, others are caves that contain pools and underwater passageways in their interior. We have got THE checklist of the basic items you’ll need if you are going on a cenote tour.
- Backpack: It should be easy to carry and it will probably get wet, keep that in mind.
- Snorkel and mask/goggles: Better if they aren’t tinted, you don’t want to miss the true colors of nature while cenote snorkeling.
- Cash: There aren’t any close ATM’s and cenotes aren’t always free. The entrance normally costs around $250 pesos.
- Water shoes: Not a must but you will get wet after all. Tenis shoes are also welcome but you might need to bring a pair of flip flops, that way you can keep them dry.
- Biodegradable sunscreen/insect repellent: Very important, you will thank us later. After all, you’ll basically be in the middle of the jungle. Please avoid using products with chemicals that may harm the environment, stick with the biodegradable options.
- Swimwear/towel: Or you’ll find yourself shivering with no one to blame but yourself.
- Change of clothing: 100% recommended, read above on shivering and now imagine it in the car on the way back.
- Reusable water bottle: You will get thirsty! And, we do not need more single-use plastic bottles floating around.
- Snacks: Bring some light snacks so you can survive this jungle adventure. Fruit is a great choice!
Cenote swimming is a must-do if you travel around the Yucatán Peninsula. Check out this list of our favorites ones. Find the one close to you and what makes each of them unique.
Cenotes in Yucatan
There are expected to be more than 6,000 cenotes in Yucatan, not all of them have been explored. Each has its own ecosystem of plants and wildlife. Some of them haven’t even seen the light of day. The water temperature in a cenote is just perfect for a refreshing swim (ok, it’s cold but you get used to it right away) or for the adventurer crowd, even a place to practice cenote diving. Check out this list of some of the best cenotes you can find in the state of Yucatan, Mexico:
Cenote Samula and Cenote X’keken
These two cenotes are the most well-known cenotes in the area of Valladolid, Yucatan. Cenote Xkeken is located in a cavern but has an opening where natural light comes in. A stone staircase will take you down into the inside of the cavern where you can swim freely. Cenote Samula is the bigger one of them both. It has a hole that lets in a shaft of light. For about a couple of hours a day, the light shines directly down into the water reflecting everything on its path, making it visually astounding for visitors.
Located around 15 minutes from Valladolid, Yucatán if you’re moving by car. Cenote Saytun is probably the most Insta-famous cenote in the world. It is an enclosed cenote but has an opening on top where sunbeams reflect into the water, making it the perfect spot for taking pictures. At noon you can witness a mayan dance ceremony performed in the inside of the cenote just where the sun rays hit. You may also rent a cabin in the middle of the jungle, and enjoy having free access to the cenote at any time.
Cenote Ik kil
This cenote is located close to Chichen Itza so it’s very popular with tour buses. Ik Kil has a 60-meter diameter and its waters a 43-meter depth. It is an amazing place for cliff diving, if you are brave enough you may take a 25-meter jump into the water. Cenote de Ik Kil is one of a kind!
Cenotes near Tulum
Tulum is well known as a trendy boho vacation spot. Basically, it’s like rustic, but make it chic. It’s also home to the largest underwater cave system in the world, running up to an impressive 347 kilometers long. The Tulum cenotes are naturally decorated, with beautiful stalactites hanging from the roofs of the underwater caves. Most of them have spots to chill, soak up some sun and relax after a cold, refreshing dip in a natural pool. These are some of the remarkable cenotes you can find in Tulum:
Gran Cenote is a place to snorkel and swim, in a natural environment; The cenote consists of a large cave and wooden platforms to walk and enjoy nature. It is surrounded by vegetation which makes the experience even more amazing.
Río Secreto is like taking a journey back in time to be the witness of something enigmatic and absolutely breathtaking. It could be easily considered one of the world wonders our planet has to offer. It’s a sensational underground river with millions of theatrical stalactites and stalagmites. Río Secreto is where evidence of the passing of time is written on the endless geological formations that decorate the scenery. Many tours are available if you are up to an adventure! This is one of the places that are guided and taken care of by biologists and nature-minded people. Taking care in every way to have sustainable resources and biodegradable disposable items.
Cenotes in Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is completely within the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. The terrain is flat and covered by a low tropical jungle. Cenotes are abundant, but here’s a carefully curated selection with the absolute best Mexican nature has to offer.
Cenote Kantun Chi
Kantun Chi is located in the heart of the Riviera Maya. Its name means “Yellow Stone Mouth”. You can enjoy swimming in its mystic waters and discover the charm and beauty of one the most fascinating Riviera Maya cenotes.
Cenote Jardin del Eden
This cenote is completely surrounded by green vegetation and local trees, making you feel as if you were in paradise, hence the name “Eden Garden”. It’s one of the most beautiful open sky cenotes, so bring that LifeProof case and take the perfect underwater pictures. P.S if you find a way to look like a beautiful mythical sea creature while wearing snorkeling gear, please tell me your secret. Also! If you are brave enough, you can jump from a 5 or a 11 meters cliffs and/or go across the cenote through a really fun zip line!
The Cenote Azul is one of the local favorites for residents of the Riviera Maya and its surrounding areas. It’s probably because it has many shallow areas, which makes you feel confident enough to swim freely throughout most of the place. If you’ve got kids with you, this is a great choice. Everyone loves it!
You can also decide to take a tour, instead of just heading to a cenote by yourself. It’s a good choice if you’re planning to go on the riskier ones, want to hear some history, and want to be amazed at everything the Mayans did down there. Plus, you can combine it with other outdoor activities as part of a package as well as jump in and float along on a guided tour in the brisk waters of a unique geological element of Mexico, the ancient Mayan Cenotes. These tours may include several cenote visits, where you can swim in and enjoy a truly unique type of snorkeling. When looking for a tour you may want to consider one of these:
A magical journey through the crystal museum that is Río Secreto. The tour includes access to the Nature Reserve, specialized guide, lockers, wetsuit, life jacket, helmet with lamp, towels, regional buffet (don’t skimp on the empanaditas with chaya and queso de bola), non-alcoholic drinks, bike ride and rappel.
Enjoy all the types of cenotes that exist through fun activities in each: assisted rappel, zip-lines, kayaking, and swimming. Experience natural environments perfectly adapted to get you in complete harmony with these enigmatic places. Also, the Xenotes tour includes transportation to four cenotes, certified guide, photographer, plus food and beverages.
You can book a well-priced adventure tour to the Cuzama cenotes that includes hotel pick-up, guide, all entrances, a visit to the town of Acanceh and even lunch! What makes this tour more interesting is the horse pulled ride that stops in each of the cenotes for you to swim, relax and enjoy nature. A one of a kind experience!
Cenotes for Scuba Diving
If you’re brave enough and have a scuba diving certification, cenote diving is a completely different scuba diving experience with overhangs, limestone caverns and light rays piercing through crystal clear waters. It’s definitely one of the most magical activities in the world, which offer certified recreational divers the opportunity to explore something truly exceptional. These are some of the cenotes where scuba diving is possible, each cenote has something unique about it and all of them are breathtaking, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Non-certified swimmers can snorkel in the open air areas as well so everyone gets to have fun!
Cenote dos ojos, Tulum
It’s incredibly clear turquoise blue waters and impressive natural elements are some of the reasons why Cenote Dos Ojos is such a famous place for cenote diving in Mexico. Dos Ojos is made up of two sinkholes and a third large main cavern linked by a long submerged corridor. With warm temperatures throughout the year it’s the perfect place for scuba divers to visit.
Cenote Chac Mol
It is a spacious cenote with a lot of unbeatable light, great for a first dive in cenotes if you’re not ready to plunge into complete darkness. The views are impressive and the sunlight entering the cavern amazes its visitors all the time. This cenote is also great for snorkelers.
Have you ever swam in a cenote?
Cenotes are connected by hundreds of miles of secret streams and waterways. These carved out huge caves and underground rivers are a gift of nature. Wherever you are, you need to get your feet wet in a cenote because besides the beach, this is something that makes the area special. As you swim around these wonders, you’ll be constantly shifting from one dimension to another. Look underwater, the world that lives under these calm, crystal clear waters is beyond belief!
Cenotes are an out of this world experience. With over 130 in Yucatan (and these are just the ones we know of!) it’s something you’ll only be able to find in this part of the world. And, you never know if you’ll run into an undiscovered one, there are many just waiting to be found deep in the lush tropical jungles. So what are you waiting for? Put on your adventure hat and take a dive in these breathtaking natural pools sheltered by the beauty of the jungle!