MexicoTravel diaries

Top cenotes in Mexico

One of the things I was looking forward to visiting the most in Mexico were the cenotes. I mean, going to the beach is great, but this is a completely different, new, incredible and highly addictive experience. In fact, I probably spent more money to enter cenotes than to buy food.

First things first: what is a cenote?

A cenote (from the Mayan word “D’zonot”) is a natural sinkhole created where a limestone surface collapses, revealing water underneath. Being the only source of water for the Mayans, cenotes were considered sacred and often used to make offers to the gods. There are 6000 cenotes all over the Yucatan peninsula, some of them are in subterranean caves with passageways and pools, whereas the open-air ones look more like small lakes.

How do cenotes work?

While there still are some free cenotes in the peninsula, all the touristy ones have an entrance fee. But don’t worry, no need to break your piggy bank, the prices range from 20 to 180 pesos (1 to 9 dollars). Your average cenote will be in a jungle-like environment, usually easily accessible from the road. Renting snorkeling gear and lockers, when available, costs extra (and it can be quite expensive), so I recommend bringing only the bare necessities and your snorkeling gear.

You will need: swimsuit (better to have it on already, as some cenotes don’t have changing rooms), towel, flip flops, money for the ticket (in cash), a snorkeling mask (fins are not really necessary and sometimes they are not even allowed), your phone inside a waterproof case if you want to take pictures. I don’t recommend bringing fancy cameras, as most of the cenotes don’t have dedicated areas for your valuables and things tend to get wet .

 

Now, let’s dive right into the top cenotes in Mexico!

 

Gran Cenote

Location: Tulum
Cost: 180 MXN
Hours: 8am-5pm
Type: half open, half cave
Good for: snorkeling, diving, chilling on the hammocks, seeing turtles and bats
Amenities: changing rooms, bathrooms, hammocks, snorkeling gear and lockers’ rental

gran cenote top cenotes in mexico tulum ikigai travel

Maybe because it’s the very first one I’ve visited, Gran Cenote was possibly my favourite. When you enter, there’s a nice quiet area with restrooms and hammocks. Then, down the stairs, there’s the actual cenote with its amazing crystal clear waters and lush ecosystem. It’s composed by two open-air sections and two caves. Standing on the main wooden platform, you’ll have a darker cave on the left, with really deep blue waters and a few bats flying around, and a better lit cave on the right that will take you to the second open-air section, where the water is shallow. Finally, there’s also a narrow restricted area reserved to some really cute tiny turtles.

Despite its name, the whole cenote is not that big. I was there for a couple of hours and swam around in circles probably a thousand times.

Downside: it gets really crowded, so I’d recommend going either early in the morning or in the afternoon a couple of hours before it closes.

How to get there:

The cenote is located 3.8 km west of Tulum towards Coba. You can either rent a bicycle in Tulum, take a taxi or walk. I walked there and it’s totally doable, even though there’s no sidewalk. It’s a main road but not huge, and the emergency lane is wide enough for you to walk quite safely. It’s a 40-min walk, a 15-min bike ride and a 5-min taxi ride.

grand cenote tulum top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Casa Cenote

Location: Tulum
Cost: 120 MXN only entrance, 400 MXN entrance with 1-hour diving tour (with guide)
Hours: ???-5pm
Type: mainly open, underwater section for diving
Good for: swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking
Amenities: snorkeling and diving gear rental

casa cenote tulum top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Casa Cenote has the greenest water I’ve ever seen. There’s no real entrance here nor much space to leave your things. This cenote follows a sort of S-shaped course: you have to swim against the current at first, but on your way back it’s like a lazy river, so you can relax.

If you decide to take the guided diving tour, you get to dive into a dark hole and see a whole section of the cenote otherwise inaccessible. If you are lucky (or unlucky, depending on the point of view), you might also meet Panchito, a small crocodile that lives on the river banks and is apparently harmless. I didn’t have the pleasure to meet him, but maybe it’s a good thing.

This cenote is mostly popular with divers, but it’s never too crowded. Because of its structure, it’s easy to find a quiet spot in the water and take in the beautiful scenery all around.

How to get there:

Casa Cenote is located 11 km north of Tulum on the highway that goes to Playa del Carmen. The easiest way to get there is to take a colectivo from either Playa or Tulum and mention that you want to get off at Casa Cenote. The colectivo will drop you off on the side of the road and from there you have to walk on a secondary road for about 1-2 km. It’s a resort area, so you’ll pass fancy little apartments and hotels. The Cenote is at the end of the road, so keep going all the way down. If the idea of walking bothers you, there will most certainly be taxis waiting at the crossroad.

I rode a bicycle there from Tulum under the 1 pm sun and I don’t recommend it! This is an actual highway and the emergency lane sometimes is almost non-existent, which makes it kind of dangerous at times. The colectivo is definitely a smarter idea.

casa cenote tulum top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote Cristal + Cenote Escondido

Location: Tulum
Cost: 80 MXN for the two
Type: open-air
Hours: 8 am – 5 pm
Good for: snorkeling, picnics, jumping in the water from a rope like Tarzan
Amenities: changing rooms, bathrooms, gear rental (at cenote Cristal)

cenote cristal top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

These two cenotes are less spectacular than the previous ones, but really peaceful and nested in beautiful nature. Cenote Cristal has an elevated wooden platform you can jump from, whereas Cenote Escondido has a rope you can use to swing and jump into the water.

They both have a few big tables that are perfect for picnics, games and more.

How to get there:

The two cenotes are 4.5 km south of Tulum on the highway towards Chetumal.

You can either take a colectivo, rent a bicycle and ride it there or walk. I walked and this one is not really dangerous. Cenote Cristal will be on the right side, whereas Escondido will be on the left side of the road. You can only buy the ticket from Cristal, so head there first. You’ll receive a paper bracelet that will grant you entrance to Escondido as well. Yes, you’ll have to cross the highway to go from one to the other, which is a pretty interesting thing to do in your swimsuit.

cenote escondido tulum top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote Zaci

Location: Valladolid
Cost: 30 MXN (multiple entries throughout the day)
Hours: 8am-5pm
Type: open-air
Good for: swimming, snorkeling
Amenities: safety jackets only

cenote zaci valladolid top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote Zaci may not have the clearest water, but from above is still very beautiful. And it’s in the city centre. No walking in jungle or along highways this time: grab your towel and get there in 5 minutes from wherever you’re staying. This cenote is mainly used by locals, so it’s very quiet at all times. The ticket is valid for the day, so you can get in and out as many times as you want on the same day. Plus, if you like jumping from cliffs, here you can actually jump from above (which is pretty high!). Just be careful because the floor tends to be slippery everywhere. Just outside, there is a traditional restaurant and a small artisan market with local souvenirs and art. No restrooms nor changing rooms are available on site and most of the floor is wet, so bring with you only the essentials.

cenote zaci valladolid top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote ecoturistico X’Canché

Location: Archaeological site of Ekbalam, 30 mins from Valladolid
Cost: 50 MXN (without bicycle taxi)
Hours: 8 am to 4 pm
Type: open-air
Good for: swimming, snorkeling, mini-ziplining
Amenities: changing rooms, restrooms, outdoor showers, hammocks, restaurant, mini-zipline, safety jackets and gear rental

cenote x'canché ekbalam valladolid top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote X’Canché is a little gem in the heart of the jungle, right beside the archaeological site of Ek Balam, about 40 km from Valladolid. It’s the perfect reward to relax after visiting the ruins (highly recommended as well). The ticket booth for the cenote is basically at the exit of the ruins, it’s impossible to miss. Since the actual entrance is about 1.5 km into the jungle, you can pay 30 pesos for a bicycle taxi to get you there, but it’s actually a really nice and peaceful walk.

The cenote is quite large and deep into the ground, with astonishing blue waters and rock walls all around. To access it you have to go down a wooden and metal staircase: wear shoes and not flip flops if you can, as the stairs can be slippery. The cenote itself is rather simple, with a platform to jump from and a cute wooden suspended bridge.

The best part is probably the absolute quiet and peace you’ll be able to experience inside. There were only 3 people when I got there and no one seems interested in jumping from the platform, so I had it all to myself. After a good swim, you can relax on the hammocks and even eat a bite of traditional Mayan cuisine at the small restaurant on the premises. Cenote X’Canché is really underrated in my opinion, so if you enjoy quiet environments, it’s the perfect spot for you.

How to get there:

From Valladolid, the only way to get to Ek Balam is by colectivo taxi. Head to Calle 44 between calles 35 and 37 and you’ll find a bunch of taxis lined up, going to different destinations. The car will wait to have 4 passengers before leaving, so remember that it won’t probably leave right away. The fare is 50 pesos per person and the ride will take approximately 30 minutes. Same thing on the way back, taxis will be waiting in the parking lot outside the site.

cenote x'canché valladolid ekbalam top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote Samula & Xkeken

Location: Valladolid
Cost: 125 for both/80 for one
Hours: 8 am to 7 pm
Type: cave
Good for: swimming, relaxing
Amenities: changing rooms, restrooms, showers, restaurant, small market, safety jacket rentals

cenote xkeken valladolid top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

If you’re fascinated by caves, you’ll love these two cenotes, located deep in the ground and very dimly lit. The stalagmite and stalactite formations are abundant and the water, despite being colder than average, is really clear and beautiful. They are both in the same complex (so no walking on the highway this time), along with a restaurant and a few stands selling artisan products, fresh fruit and beverages.

Be careful when you arrive: some friendly guys who look like legit cenote staff will approach you and offer to show you around the facility. Their service is not free, they will ask for money at the end of the little tour. Try nicely to tell them that you can find your way around by yourself and they won’t insist too much.

How to get there:

The two cenotes are 6 km west of Valladolid on the road to Chichen Itza. The best way to get there is by bicycle, but the walk is actually really nice because there’s a proper path for pedestrians. Alternatively, taxis will be more than happy to take you there from Valladolid and back.

cenote samula valladolid top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

3 cenotes in Cuzama (guided, by horse-drawn cart)

Location: Cuzama, 45 km from Merida
Cost: 400 per cart (100 per person if you share it with other 3 people)
Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (but the last ride starts at 3 pm)
Type: deep cave
Good for: swimming

I wasn’t planning on going to Cuzama but, when I saw the colectivo on the side of the road, I got curious and jumped inside. And I’m really glad I did.

The only way to visit these three underground cenotes is by horse-drawn cart along an old rail track, for an experience of about three and a half hours. If you get there by yourself, the guides will try to convince you to go on your own and pay the full 400 pesos, but if you actually wait there for a few minutes you’ll probably be able to team up with someone else and share the cart. I waited for less than 5 minutes and, next thing I know, I am on my cart with a big group of chatty and adorable Mexican families, who even shared their snacks with me along the way.

The first cenote is the widest and better lit of the three, thanks the larger hole above.

cenote cuzama merida top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

The second one is accessible only through a really steep wooden ladder and is pitch black inside… until your eyes get used to it and all the magic of this cave unfolds in front of your very eyes. Jumping off the rocks is the best way to get into the water. Don’t bring anything inside the cave unless it’s waterproof, as all the surfaces are wet and there’s not much space.

cenote cuzama top cenotes in mexico

The third cenote has a ladder similar to the second one, but here you’re supposed to follow a narrow path inside the cave, which involves swimming and a bit of climbing. The difficulty level is easy, even children can do it. A whole section of the path is accessible only with a guide and headlamps (extra fee).

The ride on the cart is bumpy but really fun. There’s only one set of tracks, which means that if another cart is coming from the opposite direction, one of the two has to get out the way. At that point, all the passengers dismount, the driver moves the cart and they patiently wait for the other group to pass.

How to get there: 

In Merida, catch a colectivo for Cuzama in front of the Noreste bus terminal on calle 67 between calle 50 and calle 52. The ride costs 27 pesos one-way and it takes 40 minutes. The driver will wait for the van to be full, so you may have to wait a few minutes, but it usually fills up pretty quickly.

Once in Cuzama, you’ll be assaulted by motor taxi drivers who’ll try to convince you that the cenotes are thousands of kilometers away and it’s absolutely impossible to walk there. They’re lying, it’s only a 2-km walk.They ask for $60 pesos one-way, but if you start walking they will easily go down to $30 and possibly less.

To go back, try to catch a colectivo before it gets dark, as it’s much harder to find one after 6.30 PM.

Cenote Tza Ujun-Kat

Location: Homun, 50 km from Merida
Cost: 25 MXN
Type: cave
Good for: swimming, snorkeling

This cenote is one of the most underrated I’ve seen, mainly because of its shabby and narrow entrance (a handwritten sign that points you towards a modest underground staircase). What awaits for you inside, however, is quite amazing: a beautiful rock platform with some green plants in the middle that receive light directly from the wide hole above, surrounded by crystal clear waters of different depths. You can swim, sit on the steps, relax and take incredible pictures. The cenote is never really crowded, so it’s the perfect spot to enjoy the silence in a stunning setting.

How to get there:

Catch a colectivo from Merida, in front of the Noreste bus terminal (calle 67 between 50 and 52). The ride costs around 30 pesos per person one-way. Once you get there, many motor taxis will try to sell you a tour of some cenotes in the area, taking you from one to the other. Considering that three of them are within a 100-meter radius, the taxi is not really necessary in my opinion, unless maybe you’re planning on seeing them all (5 or 6) and don’t have much time.

cenote homun top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

Cenote Santa Rosa

Location: Homun, 50 km from Merida
Cost: 35 MXN
Type: cave
Good for: swimming, relaxing, diving from high platforms
Amenities: changing rooms, restrooms, hammocks, a little taco restaurant

I loved this cenote for two main reasons: rainbow lights and two high platforms to jump from. With no natural light coming in, the cave is artificially lit with multicolor lights… with some music on, it would totally be the perfect location for a pool party XD

The rock formations are astonishing, the water is like a mirror and there are two 4ish-metre high platforms you can use to dive into the water. Just try to avoid jumping onto the people swimming down below.

How to get there: see Cenote Tza Ujun-Kat above. The two are less than 5 minutes away from one another.

cenote santa rosa homun merida top cenotes in mexico ikigai travel

 

Other cenotes I didn’t go to but that were recommended to me:

Dos Ojos, between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Especially good for divers.

3-cenote tour in Coba: Visit the ruins early in the morning and then book a tour (from the booths in the main parking lot) to visit the 3 cenotes in the area.

Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza.

 

Have you been to other cenotes? What was your favourite one? Share your experience in the comments! I’d love to make a list of new cenotes to visit during my next trip to Mexico 🙂 

Thank you for reading and, for more destinations, take a look here.

 

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