Quintana Roo, Mexico
This cenote is for scuba divers, best known for cavern diving. It is located by a spot where taxi drivers washed their cabs alongside the highway from Tulum to Coba, hence its popular if unromantic name of Car Wash.
The original Mayan name of this sinkhole is Aktun Há, meaning 'water cave', and it is an open freshwater cenote, created by the natural collapse of limestone. And a bonus? Swimming with turtles! Some even claim to have spotted a crocodile when they dived.
I visited it only once, in March 2017, on a hot afternoon. At first sight, it resembled a pond. However, cenotes are like portals to a different world. From the surface, they may appear like nothing special, but look down or go further down and you will find surreal beauty. This is certainly true in Aktun Há. This is why the Maya considered them sacred and thought of them as entrances to the underworld.
It is also suitable for swimming, snorkelling and picnicking. However, given that not all cenotes are suitable for scuba diving, expect to find mainly divers here from all over the world. Diving shops in Playa del Carmen and Tulum will take divers here in their vans with their instructors.
Large stalactites can be seen with just a snorkel and mask, but cave divers get to explore the dark depths of underwater space. They go in for rock formations, fallen trees and for the underwater cave with flashlights and they often take their cave master classes here as well. Upstream and downstream dives are possible. The upstream section with its large chestnut-coloured columns is the most popular route. Tunnels of rock lead to underground and underwater rooms such as the Room of Tears and The Room of the Ancient available only to certified cave divers.
The cenote sits in rugged jungle scenery, so there are opportunities for bird-watching. A small garden has been created as a picnic area. Bring snacks and water with you as there are no proper refreshment stalls here. It could feel like a nice natural place for a picnic but I found the place a bit noisy as it is right by the highway.
A wooden path and deck line the water. The platform allows kids and adults to have fun jumping in. There are ropes in the water, which divide the cenote into different areas. One can use them to rest on.
The staff are very friendly, and they sell coconuts and a few snacks at the front.
How to get there:
The entry fee is 50 pesos (price of 2018), which is pretty cheap compared to other cenotes in the area!
The cenote is located alongside the road from Tulum to Cobá, on km 8. You will spot the sign on the left-hand side.