Quintana Roo, Mexico
This was my first cenote and here began my love for them. It is an open cenote, excellent for snorkelling and jumping off the cliff.
My son took me here back in 2014 and I visited afterwards a few times with friends. Cenote Cristalino is one of three sink-holes near Playa Del Carmen (just past Puerto Aventuras on highway 307). The other two are Azul and Jardín del Edén.
Cristalino has a “U” shape and has a half cave you can swim through. It is nice to see the contrast between the dark water and the light water. There is a cliff jump of about 4m. It is set in the rugged jungle with some basic maintenance so it feels like a natural setting.
The name Cristalino indicates that the water is very clear. The water is so transparent that the stones under the water seem near the surface and one is unable to judge the depth. In reality, the water below is 6m so it is deep enough for jumping in. It feels like an achievement to jump from that height as well and it is part of the fun of coming here. Well, I did jump and I felt pretty brave afterwards.
There is a small open cave on one side of the cenote. It is fun to snorkel in this 'tunnel', which joins the main part of the cenote. The water in open-air cenotes is always about 25°C but it is refreshing in the hot climate of Riviera Maya. The cenote's fish (sailfin mollies and catfish) may nibble at your feet here, unless you move around.
When I was here back in 2014 there was also a really secret additional cenote behind the main one. I am not sure if it is still accessible. If you walk along the path through the jungle from the back of the main cenote, you will find it after a one-minute walk. I went there with my son and we entered the pool through a small cave. It is a good spot for photography as there are a lot of fallen trees in the water, making the place looking really prehistoric. I was actually a bit scared in this place as I felt that crocodiles lived there. Here one can understand why the Mayans communicated with the gods in the cenotes.
We also spotted some cave birds here. Well, it is a semi-open cenote so they can fly in and out. It is turquoise-browed Motmot, called in Mayan Toh. I presume they scan for prey (insects, small reptiles). Males apparently have longer tails, and they use them as a sexual signal. But in the darkness of the cave we could not work out if they were male or female.
A few rules apply in the cenotes: no alcohol, and bio sunblock, so as not to spoil the clean waters.
The changing rooms and the toilets here are truly basic, despite the fact that the entry fee has recently been raised to 150 pesos (price in March 2017). In that sense, this cenote is not the best value for your money. At 100 pesos, the next door El Jardín del Edén is bigger and it has several jumping platforms and nicer picnic areas with palapa roofs (although the toilets there are also pretty basic).
How to get there:
This cenote is just about 15 minutes south of Playa on the 307 Highway. One you pass Puerto Aventuras, you will go for about 4 more minutes. You will see the Barceló Hotel entrance on your left and almost across from it will be the entrance for Cenote Cristalino. The colectivo bus (30 pesos) will stop here, just shout 'Cristalino'. To come back to Playa just cross the highway and get a returning colectivo; they come about every 8-10 minutes.
There is a car-park by the road if you are coming by car.
Mix & Match:
You can spend half a day here (well, a couple of hours is sufficient) or you can combine it with a visit to the Tulum ruins.