Mexico has a diverse landscape, beautiful coasts, ancient ruins from the Mayan civilization, deserts and jungles, towns from the Spanish colonial era and trendy urban cities. But the thing that most caught every traveller’s fancy was the ‘Cenotes’, which are beautiful and magical at the same time. Swimming in one of the cenotes in Mexico is something that you just can’t miss during your vacation. Come let’s explore more about these cenotes and where to find them.

What are Cenotes?

Cenotes in Mexico are God’s gift to every water baby. If you want a textbook definition, they are pits formed due to the collapse of limestone bedrock. In simple words, they are the natural swimming holes or caves with fresh super clear and pure water. This exposes the water underneath forming beautiful, ready-to-dive-into pools of clear water. You can find cenotes that are a mix of open, semi-open or underground caves. However, the fun is in finding the smaller, more sheltered ones that have little or no water exposed at the surface; these are generally called cave cenotes.

Since cenotes are formed by the dissolution of rocks over time, how big or open the cenote is depends on the amount of erosion of its surrounding rocks. So you can find smaller, circular ponds, partially collapsed ones or completely open ones. Some may require some searching, crawling and stooping until you find the water. Time to make an adventure of it and try to find them all!

What Can I See At Cenotes?

The cenotes in Mexico cater to many types of fauna and flora depending on the environment that they host. You are likely to find a variety of fish in the caverns. These cenotes usually have clear, freshwater and make ideal sights for underwater exploration and scuba diving. The cave cenotes, however, are darker and more secluded. Here, you’ll find fauna that has adapted themselves to an area that has far less natural light; they mostly have feelers to search for food. You need to adapt as well if you wish to explore these. Don’t worry, you aren’t required to sprout feelers, just take a strong, waterproof torch and other necessary diving equipment.

Where Can I Find Them?

There are over 6000 different cenotes in Mexico. Over a period of time, some of the cenotes in Mexico have been turned into swimming holes and used for scuba diving centres for tourists. However, there are still many that are hidden in the remote Mexican jungle which are simply inaccessible. Most of Mexico’s cenotes can be found in various parts of the Yucatan Peninsula such as Ik Kil, Sacred Cenote, Merida etc; but you can also find some in Zacaton in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. The larger ones in Chichen Itza are popular, with open water pools. These are referred to as caverns as they allow natural light to penetrate. Read on to know more about some of the popular cenotes in Mexico.

Scuba diver exploring the underwater cenotes.
Scuba diver exploring the underwater cenotes.

Best Cenotes Near Tulum

  •         Cenote Dos Ojos – Located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, Cenote Dos Ojos is one of the most famous cenotes of Yucatan Peninsula. With its sparkling, turquoise water, this place is one of the best cenotes in Tulum. You will be welcomed by long wooden stairs that lead down to the clear water. People flock for a scuba diving experience between the “two eyes” (sinkholes) which are separated by a 400m long underwater tunnel. You can also try snorkelling through the caverns as the caves are just above the waterline.
  •         Carwash Cenote (Aktun Ha) – It’s rumoured to have been used as a carwash stop before it became a protected site, hence the name Cenote Car Wash. This place is a popular snorkel and diving spot which is 10 kilometres inland from Tulum. Once you’re down there you can see tons of fish, water lilies, iguanas, and even some turtles. The downed trees at the bottom to make for a unique underwater world to view.
  •         Gran Cenote – Just 5 kilometres along the road to Coba you can find wide, rocky overhang covers which are the entranceway into this deep cave system. The Gran Cenote is hidden away in the jungle so try to get there as early as possible. This cenote in Mexico is good for diving, snorkelling or for just swimming around and enjoying the natural beauty.

Best Cenotes Near Playa Del Carmen

  •         Cenote Azul – This is not one of the biggest cenotes in Mexico but what makes it popular is a mini limestone cliff from where you can jump. This cenote is just 20 to 25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, off the main highway that runs along the Riviera Maya coastline. As it has deep undercover water and also shallow, open-air water to explore, it’s very popular with families as well.
  •         Cenote Chaak Tun – This place is just a few kilometres out of Playa del Carmen, particularly in the heart of the Riviera Maya. The limestone ceilings here have narrow holes through which one can observe the stunning light displays as the sun shines. The two main caves are linked and once you enter this place you will be mesmerized by the enchanting underground atmosphere.
  •         Jardin del Eden – Hidden away in the jungle, this place is located 25 km south of Playa del Carmen. This is one of the best cenotes to visit from Playa Del Carmen because of its verdant scenery and blue water. The Garden of Eden is a lush paradise where you can swim and simply sit back and relax in the sun.

Best Cenotes Near Cancun

  •         Cenote Verde Lucero – Cenote Verde Lucero is just 50 minutes from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Verde Lucero is an open cenote with crystal clear waters that reaches a depth of 20 meters. The extraordinary freefall which is surrounded by tall rocks and jungle with bright green water beneath is something that one cannot miss while in Mexico.
Cenotes with beautiful turquoise water for snorkelling at Xel-Ha, Cancun
Cenotes with beautiful turquoise water for snorkelling at Xel-Ha, Cancun
  •         Cenote La Noria – Cenote La Noria is just a few kilometres away from Cenote Verde Lucero, so with one trip, you can visit both sites on the same day. Cenote La Noria has two entrances, one through the main one and the other with very narrow access. If you are not claustrophobic, you can choose the narrow one. The main access will easily take you down through a wooden staircase to the centre of the cenote. This place is ideal for swimming and diving with a depth of 18 meters and 47 meters in diameter.
  •         Casa Cenote – Casa Cenote is one of the most unique cenotes which is only a 1 hour and 15 minutes drive from Cancun. What makes it unique and a little different from other cenotes is, it is more like a river than a sinkhole. The crystal clear turquoise waters, the lush trees and a beach within a short distance make it an ideal place to visit. This underwater cave system leads directly to the ocean and one can explore it independently at their own pace. Tourists can go swimming, diving, kayaking, snorkelling or paddleboarding here.

Best Cenotes Near Chichen Itza & Valladolid

  •         Cenote Ik Kil – One of the peninsula’s best cenotes is this enormous cenote which is almost perfectly circular. The water level here is about 26 meters (85 ft) below ground level about 60 meters in diameter and about 50 meters deep. There is a carved stairway to take you down to a swimming platform. Large vines which fall from the opening all the way down to the water along with small waterfalls are simply breathtaking.
  •         Cenote Suytun – A fifteen-minute drive outside of Valladolid is worth taking for that one epic photo. Standing on a stone walkway right in the middle of a deep cave, surrounded by deep blue water makes for a truly awesome click. Come in early as generally there is a long queue at this spot.
  •         Cenote Zaci – Undoubtedly one of the best and most beautiful cenotes in Mexico is in the city of Valladolid. Cenote Zaci was a big cave that collapsed partially; letting loads of natural light come in through the open sky. The beautiful green leaves, the multiple stalactites hanging from the roof and the blue waters below make it worth the visit.

Cave Diving Vs. Cavern Diving

Jokes aside, diving here is a fun yet serious business. The ecosystem is fragile and diverse and one must take immense care not to mess with it. A survey is maintained by Mexico to list out all the water-filled caves (by length and depth) within its boundaries. Cavern diving provides natural light and care must be taken to insure that divers are able to see by natural light the entire time they are down there exploring and not wander off where the light recedes. With cave diving, however, there is no natural light and safety guidelines must be followed to exit the cave. While both cave and cavern diving require certain basic credentials and diving experience, cave diving, in particular, requires a cave diving certification.

Deep inside the jungle, these cenotes in Mexico were sacred wells for the ancient Mayans to offer human sacrifices to the water Gods. But today these natural water filters and the crystal-clear pools are hot spots for tourists, adventurers, and explorers alike. So, what are you waiting for? Go, get diving and enjoy them responsibly!

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