Quintana Roo, Mexico
Open cenotes are a welcome respite from Yucatán's relentless heat. Do combine it with cenote Escondido just across the road.
In fact, the two cenotes have the same entrance and ticket booth. Once you buy a ticket, it allows you entry to both cenotes. The cost is 120 pesos per person (price in 2018) and there are various discounts available for the locals and children. Of the two cenotes, Cenote Cristal is probably the more popular.
The cenote pool is a short walk along a jungle path from the ticket office. Amidst the lush vegetation you will find rustic bathrooms and a changing room. There are wooden picnic tables and benches around the pool and one tall jumping platform for those who like a bit of adrenaline. The cenote is about 40m wide and 15m deep.
There are three accesses to the pool. I used the east side entry, with wooden steps and platform, used by a few for sunbathing. The water is blue, clear and transparent, as the name implies. Crystal clear. There are ropes to hold onto, and people even sit on them, just relaxing in the waters. You can see down to the bottom without a mask but people seem to love snorkelling here because that way they can see all the small tropical colourful fish living on the plants at the bottom, as well as freshwater turtles.
The flowing green grasses on the bottom reflect the sunlight with a natural and seemingly magical iridescence. The waters are part of an extensive system of underground rivers. The current flows for miles under the untouched jungle and continues on to the Caribbean Sea. While snorkelling, you can see the underwater cave from which the current flows on the north side. The cave is called Naharon and the cenote is sometimes called by the locals Naharon as a result. The cave is mainly freshwater, with the halocline at 18 meters (where fresh and seawater meet). You can dive in the cave only if you are a certified diver. The map below shows the complex system of tunnels.
It was believed to belong to Sistema Naranjal, and then they discovered that it is actually part of the Ox Bel Ha system, the world’s largest underwater cave. Local legend says that people threw their gold into this cenote to avoid its capture by invading forces during the Caste War (1848 – 1902).
I came here with my Chilean friend Ximena in July 2018. There were about 20 people visiting so it felt great not to have crowds. During our picnic I spotted a golden oriole in the tree above but did not manage to get a photo. We were not lucky enough to spot a toucan. Iguanas are also present, as in so many other cenotes and ruins in Yucatán. Try to spot a coati, an animal not unlike a racoon, with a long fluffy tail and strong nails for climbing the jungle trees.
The cenote is surrounded by tropical plants. I was pleased to spot a copal tree (I love its Maya name pom), dogwood trees, palms, Elephant Ear Tree and even the flame tree, Royal Poinciana. We spent a couple of hours here, just relaxing, and then headed to the cenote Escondido on the other side of the road. It is about a 500m walk (in our case drive) from highway 307 and is a slightly different experience.
How to get there:
The cenote is about 10 minutes by taxi, heading south of Tulum on highway 307. There is ample car parking and places to lock up bikes. It is possible to bike here or you can take a colectivo bus from Tulum, heading towards Muyil.
Mix & Match:
You can visit here after Tulum ruins. Or just have a ‘cenote’ day and combine with cenote Escondido, just across the road.