Cenotes. We’re here to talk about cenotes. I didn’t even know what a cenote was before I went to Tulum for the first time in 2019, but they’re pretty much the coolest things ever, and there’s thousands of them around the Yucutan Peninsula.
What is a cenote, you ask? A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.
Additionally, they boast some of the idyllic crystal clear water, each one unique in shape, size, and character. Every single one has it’s own flair to it, and there’s thousands to choose from! It is essential to visit at least a few during your Mexico trip, and I’m here to show you my favorites by catagory.
You could dedicate an entire week just to exploring cenotes, but more realistically, you probably only have time to visit a 2 or 3. That’s okay, this guide will help you navigate which cenotes to visit during your trip to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
How To Get To The Cenotes
As a base, I recommend you stay in either Tulum or Playa Del Carmen and visit from there. The best way to get to them is by renting a car ($10 a day or so), by taxi, or by collectivo, the communal taxis of Mexico where you simply tell the driver where you’re going and share a van at a very inexpensive rate.
Tulum or Playa Del Carmen?
Can’t decide between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen? I personally prefer Tulum for it’s bohemian vibe and booming wellness scene. Playa is the place to party, so if you’re after clubbing and party central with a not-so authentico mexican flavour, go to Playa. Tulum is the place to rejuvenate, drink green smoothies, and practice yoga. Both are good for different reasons.
Please, wear biodegradable sunscreen or none at all while going in the water! All of the hydrological systems are underground and connected, and it is important to preserve the water.
How do you know if your sunscreen is biodegradable?
- If it contains one of the following ingredients is not biodegradable: Octocrylene, Benzophenone, Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, Hexyldecanol, cetyl dimethicone, methylparaben, polyethylene, Propylparaben, Butylcarbamate.
- If it contains one of the following ingredients it is biodegradable: Titanium oxide and Zinc oxide.
Moving on, let’s get in to the good stuff. The cenotes are calling your name!
My #1 Favorite Cenote: Jardin Del Eden (Garden of Eden)
Why go: Fish pedicures, snorkeling, and jumping off a just high enough rock to give you butterflies… and snacks!
Cost: 150 pesos ($7)
This is my favorite cenote to date! It’s a crystal clear lagoon surrounded by lush rainforest and underwater caves. It’s large, and there’s a smaller pool of water in the back where the Garra rufa fish hang out. Those are the little fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet that you pay for in the fish pedicure spas. It felt a little ticklish, but I was happy to have them nibble away and do the dirty work as I waded in the crystalline water soaking up the sun.
This cenote offers snorkeling, ample swimming opportunities, and multiple rock ledges to jump off of. It’s a blast. I highly enjoyed renting a snorkel ($3 USD) and just floating belly down, observing the beautiful fish and underwater activity.
This one is a little bit off the beaten path, closer to Playa Del Carmen then Tulum. It’s not super crowded (let’s hope it stays that way!) which makes it that much more relaxing. It’s large, there’s parking for your rental car, and it’s a blast to jump off the cliffs. You could spend half a day here and not get bored.
The Most Photogenic, Instagrammable Cenote: Ik Kil
Why Go: Do it for the gram. Kidding a little bit, but it’s gorgeous and a one of a kind site. More importantly, go for the rich history. Ik Kil was considered sacred by the Mayans who used the site as a location for human sacrifice to their rain god, Chaac. Bones and pieces of jewelry were found in the deep waters of this cenote by archaeologists.
Cost: 80 pesos ($4 USD)
Go on the way to Chitchen Itza, as it’s far from Tulum and makes sense to couple it with a day trip to these jawdropping Mayan ruins. This is the cenote you’ve probably seen on instagram, and for good reason! It’s a massive sinkhole with vines draped from each side. It’s absolutely beautiful, albeit crowded.
Be brave and jump! It’s a little higher than it looks from the sidelines and definitely took some persuasion for me to take the plunge. There’s a queue to jump off the side into the water and an employee counting “1..2..3!” to keep em moving.
This cenote had the coolest freshwater of all that I visited, perhaps because it was so deep. To the bottom, it’s approximately 130 feet down. You have to be a good swimmer to swim here, there’s hardly anything to hold on to except crowds of people.
2-In-One Cenotes Close To Tulum: Cenote Cristal & Cenote Escondido
My most recent visit to Tulum included a visit to the two cenotes across the highway from one another, Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido. I’m still wearing the wristband three weeks later to commemorate what a beautiful day I had there. I know, I know, I’m sentimental guys.
These cenotes are about a 10 minute drive from the heart of Tulum, and you pay for both at the entrance of Cristal. The entrance fee is 120 pesos ($6 USD) and I highly recommend checking them both out and choosing your favorite!
Spoiler alert: they’re both lovely in their own way, however, Cristal seems to be a bit more popular. Escondido ended up being my personal favorite.
I really enjoyed my time at these Cenotes. I went with a friend I had made two years prior at a yoga retreat in Portugal who happened to be staying at the same hostel as me in Tulum (absolutely insane, right?!) and we spent the day frolicking around in the water, jumping off rocks, and swinging off the rope swing.
Cristal has the higher jump, while Escondito has the rope swing! I loved the character of Escondito and there were divers there exploring the aquatic life. Bring goggles and explore for yourself. There were some beautiful yellow fish making themselves known in the shallow end where you could just sit and dip your feet in. There’s also a picnic table if you want to pack a lunch, and bathroom facilities. These are important things to know!
They’re open from 8am – 5pm with the last ticket being sold at 4pm.
Secret Cenote Off The Beaten Path
This is a hot tip, and I can’t guarantee results. But… my partner at the time and I got a tip from a local that there was a cenote far behind a hotel off the beach road. It’s not marked on the map, but I’ll show you the location on my map so you can get an idea. It’s towards the end of the beach strip right before the Sian Ka’an reserve.
You have to walk through a little bohemian outdoor hotel and keep going straight back. There’s about 10 minutes of walking down a highly wooded pathway with a wooden plank keeping you raised off of the mud. We got asked if we were staying at the hotel, and said no, but the guy let us go back anyway. Proceed at your own risk.
Pro tip: bring bug spray, always. There are so many mosquitos in the jungle, and there’s no shortage of them here.
We arrived at a clearing to find a dock, a kayak, a surfboard, and a hammock. It was just us and this cenote until a couple came about an hour later with a drone.
To be honest, it’s nothing spectacular in comparison to some of the other ones, but the sheer privacy of the cenote made it all the more special. We took a kayak around greeting various wildlife on our adventure. Bring a corona and lime, some snacks, and eco-friendly sunscreen and you have yourself a perfect day.
Private Man-Made Cenote At Your Front Door
If you want your own private cenote inspired pool at your accommodation, consider staying at Nahouse Tulum. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to stay at there new development at the time, and it was an unforgettable experience.
We stayed in the “Cenote Lodge” which is literally steps to the cenote inspired pool. Get up, have some breakfast outside with the friendliest cat ever, and jump in the pool!
Their lodges are made of 100% eco-friendly materials and thoughtfully designed. It’s a real jungle experience, you fall asleep to the sound of treefrogs and geckos. It’s a bit off the beaten path to town but only a 10-minute drive to the heart of Tulum. I highly recommend staying at these lodges during your trip to Tulum.
Hopefully this guide helped you plan your next trip to the Riveria Maya, including some of the best cenotes to explore! There’s so many more, but this is just a few that I’ve been to and enjoyed.
Let me know in the comments what cenote was your favorite, and any other tips you may have to share!