Cenotes of Yucatán
There are literally thousands of cenotes in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, natural caves filled with fresh transparent water. But how to choose where to go?
Well, it depends what you want to experience. Is it rappelling? Or cave diving and snorkelling? Jumping from a tall tower or a cliff? Zip-lining? Slack-lining (walking on a suspended rope)? Swimming and snorkelling in the open lagoon? Or just a dip and a picnic in a tranquil jungle park? Or would you like swimming under an ancient pyramid, at a ruin site? Well. some cenotes even offer kayaking.
Here are a few clusters of cenotes in Yucatán that I personally can vouch for.
You can choose one cenote near other places that you are visiting on that day, or a whole cluster at once. This way you can try a few cenotes in one day.
You will find info on how to get there in the individual cenote posts, just click on the links to each cenote.
The first two cenotes are opposite each other, on the road from Tulum to Cobá. Car Wash (aka Aktun Há) is popular with divers as they go in for rock formations, and for the underwater cave with flashlights. Gran cenote is actually two interconnected cenotes. You can swim through a tunnel (with bats) from one pool to another. It is loved by the divers but also suitable for a family with children as it offers shallow parts like no other cenote. Cristal and Escondido just a few minutes south of Tulum are reasonably priced and you get one ticket for visiting both (suitable for swimming but also diving). Angelita has a halocline effect and is very deep so it is popular with divers, as is Doj Ojos (Two Eyes, with interconnecting tunnels). It has a restaurant situated in a large jungle park. Casa Cenote is in Tankah Bay, right on the beach, and loved by divers but you can also kayak here. Caleta Tankah is also on the beach (in Caleta Tankah) and is very small, suitable just for a dip.
All three cenotes just off the Cobá ruins are in closed caves. Here you will understand why the Maya considered them the entrance to the underworld and believed that life was born and terminated in a cenote. Choo Ha is best for snorkelling, Tamkach Ha is best for jumping and Multún Ha is best for free diving. You will have to drive to these as there is no public transport available for them. No restaurant service.
Puerto Aventuras Cluster
All three cenotes are next to each other, just past Puerto Aventuras on highway 307. You can get off the colectivo bus here. They are all open cenotes (like small lagoons) and all three have jumping platforms. You can also dive in Cristalino and Edén. Azul is the cenote most frequented by the locals. The water pools are set in a natural jungle setting; no frills, no restaurant service.
The first two cenotes are about 5km west of Valladolid centre in the village of Dzipnup and you can take a colectivo there. Samulá and X'kekén are cave cenotes with an opening in the ceiling so there is a lovely light coming through while you are swimming or snorkelling. Suytún is located on a private horse ranch east of Valladolid and it is a cave cenote with a man-made central platform, which adds a stage-like effect. Zací is an open cenote, right in the middle of the town of Valladolid. Zazil Tunich, north of Valladolid, offers a guided walk through the Maya underworld, because the stalactites and stalagmites remind us of the lords of the underworld. You will need to book beforehand, a feature not common with any other cenote. Cenote Maya Native Park is pricey but great for adrenaline seekers, with rappelling, slack-lining and zip-lining inside a large semi-open cave. There is a garden with native plants for you to check out and a restaurant.
Ek’ Balam cluster
If you like rappelling and ziplining, then you will love Xcan Ché, an open cenote in the jungle. The semi-open Hubiku near the village of Temozón is like a cathedral (there is even a cross there), with deep waters and the play of light from the ceiling hole. Great services: restaurant, hammocks, tequila tasting, Maya village… Kikil is an open cenote in the village of the same name, with a pretty jungle park and a restaurant. It is very deep but diving is not allowed as it is compulsory to wear life vests.
Chichén Itzá cluster
They are both pretty majestic. While Ik Kil cenote is right next door to Chichén Itzá (well, 3km from the gate) and is famous for its depth and cliff jumping, it is always crowded . XCajum is quieter and worth the half-hour drive north from Chichén Itzá. It is similar to Ik Kil as it is open to the sky. Each cenote has a restaurant.
Puerto Morelos cluster
There are a number of cenotes just inland from Puerto Morelos, known as Ruta de cenotes (Cenote Route) that extends about 35km. This route has a variety of cenotes: open, semi-open and underground.
I tried three cenotes on this route, which are reasonably priced. 7 Bocas is the most intriguing one as it has seven mouths (bocas) that serve as vents. You enter the first cave opening and then you swim to the other mouths. You can jump into some of them, from outside, as a few have collapsed ceilings. Verde Lucero is cute and small; it is like an open 'eye', surrounded by rocks in a cylindrical shape. And the bonus? A zipline. Las Mojarras is a large green lake, situated in an adventure park. You don't have to ride ATV cars, just get a ticket for the actual cenote where you can jump from towers, zipline or have fun on a Tyrolean traverse.
The choice here is endless, north, east and south of Mérida. I have tried only a few so far. Sambulá near the town of Motul is a cave (the access to the main cave is through a tunnel), while Dzibulchaltún is an open cenote with water lilies, inside the ruins of the same name. It is very romantic to swim at the foot of an ancient ruin. El Corchito in Progreso on the Gulf Coast is a mangrove eco-reserve and has five small cenotes for an unusual dip in the mangrove jungle. I have not posted it yet but I have been; it is a nice experiece. The same applies to Dzibilchaltún. Dzul Há, aka Gentleman's Water, is a cenote inside a henequén hacienda (Sotuta de Peón) and you will have to take the hacienda tour to get into this cenote.
I am yet to explore the entire cluster of cenotes south of Mérida. To name a few, the most popular are Cuzamá caves, a cluster of cenotes accessed via a horse-drawn wagon along an old railway line and Homún Cenotes (five of them in this village).