Mexico › Best Yucatán Cenotes
Updated: September 25, 2020
What are Cenotes?
The Yucatán is almost entirely composed of limestone. A cenote is a sinkhole, formed when the limestone bedrock collapses exposing the groundwater underneath (most cenotes are filled with freshwater). Cool and clear, they make ideal spots for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
The ancient Maya civilization used cenotes as key sources of drinking water – they were also regarded as sacred portals to the Maya underworld.
When To Visit the Yucatán
The best weather in the Yucatán is from December to April when there is lots of sun and little rain. The driest months are February, March, and April. The wettest, hottest, and most humid months are from May to October. The biggest crowds and highest prices are found in late December, January, and February. Cenotes near Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum also tend to be busy during spring break for US students, so visit cenotes further inland for a more tranquil experience.
How to Visit the Cenotes
The best way to visit cenotes in the Yucatán is by rental car. Roads are generally good, and renting a car in any of the major resort towns – Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum – is easy and relatively cheap, with plenty of local rental companies competing with the major international outfits. Try RentalCars.com, Easy Way, or Go Cheap.
If you don’t want to drive, there are several cenotes just off the main coastal highway between Tulum and Cancun, reachable via taxi or local bus: Dos Ojos Cenote, Cenote Xunaan-Ha, and Cenote Chaak Tun among them.
Numerous outfits in Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Cancun offer cenotes tours that can take the hassle out of arranging your own transport, though you will be stuck with a group and fixed times at the swimming holes. Most tours combine the Maya ruins at Coba or Chichén Itzá with visits to cenotes – Cenote Azul Tours is a safe bet as well as this one from Mérida: Yucatán Cenotes and Villages Full-Day Tour.
Costs and Money
Most cenotes charge for entry – unless you are on a guided tour, you’ll need Mexican pesos (cash), anything from 50 to 500 pesos for the major sites. Though US dollars are accepted closer to the “Riviera Maya” resorts, the exchange rate used is always poor. The more developed sites offer lockers (from 30 pesos) and snorkeling gear rentals (an extra 80 to 100 pesos).
What to Bring
The most obvious items to bring are swimming gear and towels, but it’s also important to remember biodegradable sunscreen – regular sunscreen damages the cenotes ecosystems and is officially forbidden, though in practice this rule is rarely enforced. Snorkels and masks are usually available to rent at the larger sites, but it can be handy to have your own; most locals also bring snacks for a picnic. Serious explorers will want to bring a waterproof camera and underwater flashlight.
The 20 Best Cenotes in the Yucatán
1. Cenotes Sac Actún – 22km north from Tulum
Vast underground cenote with interlinked caves that is perhaps the most beautiful in the Yucatán – swim in cool clear waters beneath incredible stalactite formations and swooping bats. The 45-minute guided tour is the only way inside.
Location: Off Hwy-307 (Cancun–Chetumal)
Details: Open daily 9am–5pm; entry 500 pesos (includes snorkel, mask, life jacket, and mandatory tour guide)
Best for: Snorkeling and stalactites
2. Cenote Xcanche – 27 km north of Valladolid
Atmospheric site next to the Ek Balam Maya ruins, featuring roots and waterfalls running down from the cave ceiling and a wooden walkway around the side of the cenote. It’s possible to zipline and rappel/abseil into the water here or just swim in the beautiful turquoise waters (small black catfish can be spied below).
Location: Near Ek Balam (Zona Arqueológica de Ek Balam)
Details: Open daily 9am–5pm; entry 80 pesos including 1.5 km walk along trail to the cenote (170 pesos with bike rental)
Best for: Swimming, rappelling, and ziplining
3. Cenote Ik-Kil – 4km southeast from Chichén Itzá
This deep cenote (26 metres/85 ft below ground level) near Chichén Itzá is open to the sky, with its walls smothered in ferns and verdant vines and roots hanging from the rim, making for a spectacular setting; it can get very busy with swimmers as a result so aim – as always – to be there early or late to avoid the crowds.
Location: Pisté, Hwy-180
Details: Open daily 9am–5pm; entry 80 pesos
Best for: Scenic location and photos
4. Cenote X’Keken & Cenote Samula – 7km southwest from central Valladolid
These adjacent cenotes are two of the most beautiful in the Yucatán, though as a result, they tend to attract a lot of tour groups and hordes of local vendors at the entrance. Go early to avoid the crowds and note that there is no obligation to hire one of the invariably pushy “guides”. Once inside X’Keken, steps descend into a huge cavern, where a perfectly circular pool of crystal-clear water is lit by a narrow shaft of light. Giant stalactites hang from the ceiling. Samula is even more dramatic: álamo tree roots hang down towards the dimly-lit pool at the bottom of a huge cavern, though many of these have been damaged in recent years.
Location: Camino a Dzitnup
Details: Open daily 9am–6pm; entry 80 pesos (or 125 pesos for both cenotes)
Best for: Photos and stunning cave scenery
5. Los Tres Cenotes de Cuzamá – 26 km east of Mérida
These three cenotes – Ucil, Chak-Zinik-Ché (or Chacsinicche), and Bolom-Chojol – make for one of the more exciting day-trips in the Yucatán, as the drive to the remote Maya village of Chunkanán is followed by a 45-minute ride on a truk (or carrito), a shaky, horse-drawn carriage along narrow-gauge rail tracks (operated by local villagers). The three cenotes are all are incredibly pristine and rarely busy (there are no restrooms here though). Ucil is the smallest, an underground waterhole illuminated by artificial light crammed with stalactites and stalagmites; Chak-Zinik-Ché is only semi-enclosed, with natural lighting, and accessed via a 10-meter wooden ladder; Bolom-Chojol is the largest, illuminated by several openings in the ceiling and with a wooden platform offering sensational views.
Location: Chunkanán, 1.5 km south of Cuzamá
Details: Open daily 8am–4pm; entry 400 pesos per “truk” (for up to 4 passengers; the last one departs around 3.30pm)
Best for: Adventure!
6. Dos Ojos Cenote – 22km north of Tulum
This site comprises two pools (or “eyes”) connected by underwater tunnels – it’s justly popular for scuba divers. Snorkeling is also excellent, with plenty of underwater rock formations and fish to spy. The other main attraction here are the guided tours through to the bat cave – hundreds can be seen crawling along the rocky ceiling or flying around.
Location: Cenote Jaguar Rd
Details: Open daily 8am–5pm; entry 350 pesos (500–650 pesos with guided snorkeling tour into the caves)
Best for: Bats (and snorkeling and cave diving)
7. Cenote Zaci – Valladolid
Right in the heart of Valladolid, this nevertheless feels like another world. It’s a vast, open cenote, with some terrifyingly high jumping/diving platforms and never seems that crowded (go early morning or late afternoon to be sure). It’s also one of the cheapest cenotes and a refreshing place to swim (not so much for snorkeling).
Location: Calle 36 (between calles 37 and 39)
Details: Open daily 8am–5.30pm; entry 30 pesos
Best for: Cheap entry and easy access
8. Cenotes Siete Bocas – 20km west from Puerto Morelos
Seven small but deep cenotes (up to 150 meters) in one site, though two are reserved solely for scuba divers – the other five are connected by underground tunnels with limited headroom (one cenote is open to the surface but the other four are underground). The open cenote features a fun jump some 4.5 meters (15 ft) above the surface.
Location: Ruta de Los Cenotes (Carretera Puerto Morelos–Leona Vicario)
Details: Open daily 9am–4.30pm; entry 400–500 pesos (lifejacket and flashlight included)
Best for: Cliff-jumping, diving and underground tunnels
9. Zacil-Há – 9km north from Tulum
This small, beautifully landscaped and azure blue pool is perfect for families – it’s open and sunny, has lots of tables and chairs around it, and you can see the sandy bottom. Older kids will enjoy the zipline instaled here, which allows riders to fly across the pool and jump off halfway. Eat at the on-site restaurant or bring your own food (50 pesos extra charged per family). There are also two man-made swimming pools.
Details: Open daily 10am–6pm; entry 100 pesos
Best for: Families and zip-liners
10. Cenote Chaak Tun – Playa del Carmen
Underground cenotes sprinkled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites. The water is usually icy cold, so be prepared! You can swim with catfish here, but you’ll need a flashlight to see them clearly. Admission includes a 1 hour 45-minute guided tour (the last tour leaves at 3pm).
Location: Av Benito Juárez km 4.7
Details: Open daily 9am–5pm; entry 500 pesos
Best for: Underground exploration
11. Cenote Azul
Located 25km south of Playa del Carmen and right on the main highway, this is one of the easiest cenotes to reach. Being open, sunny and in sections very shallow, it’s also ideal for small kids (there are a few deeper areas to swim for adults). Lots of small fish, tropical birds, and iguanas hang out here. Tends to get very busy, but there are five smaller pools scattered along the site’s jungle trail that can offer more privacy.
Location: Carretera Tulum–Cancun Km 266
Details: Open daily 8.30am–5pm; entry 140 pesos
Best for: Easy access and families with small children
12. Gran Cenote – 4.5 km north from Tulum
This popular, crystal-clear cenote is ideal for snorkeling (and diving); spot underwater stalagmites and stalactites as well as small freshwater turtles while floating peacefully on the surface. A red line with floats leads through a low-lying cavern full of bats. Go early to avoid the crowds.
Details: Open daily 8am–5pm; entry 300 pesos
Best for: Snorkeling and turtles
13. Cobá cenotes – 6km southwest from Cobá
These three closely-situated underground cenotes are usually experienced as part of a day-trip to the spectacular Maya ruins at Cobá. The first, Choo-Ha, has clean but very cold, shallow water (fine but not ideal for swimming), though its ancient stalactites are impressive. Tankah-Ha is the most spectacular, a vast subterranean dome with two platformed diving areas. Multún-Ha is deeper (18 meters underground), with only man-made lighting and blue-green crystalline waters perfect for swimming. Go early and you will almost certainly be alone here.
Location: Carretera Chanchen I
Details: Open daily 8am–6pm; entry 100 pesos each site
Best for: Stalactites, swimming, and solitude
14. Cenote Xunaan-Ha – 22km north of Tulum
Located in the small town of Chemuyil, between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, this pristine open cenote with lots of fish is ideal for diving (there are deep caves), snorkeling, and swimming. The pool is surrounded by dense jungle (which is pretty but attracts mosquitoes) and features two diving platforms for jumping into the water.
Location: Off Av Palmas, Chemuyil
Details: Open daily 8am–5pm; entry 100 pesos
Best for: Jungle scenery, scuba diving, and swimming
15. Cenote Xlacah – Dzibilchaltún
Vast open-air pool right next to the Dzibilchaltún Maya archaeological site, with the center almost entirely smothered with water lilies. Great place to swim (it’s warm) with tiny fish and ancient ruins all around.
Location: Zona Arqueológica de Dzibilchaltún
Details: Open daily 8am–3.30pm; entry 227 pesos (included with Dzibilchaltún ruins ticket)
Best for: Maya ruins and historic ambience
16. Cenote Yaxbacaltun – 58 km southeast from Mérida
Deep but open cenote, with gorgeous crystal-clear water perfect for swimming, with a fun rope swing and a couple of jump platforms, though it’s also known for a more unusual phenomenon; a colony of swallows lives here, and timing your visit to witness them leaving in the morning and returning before sunset is highly recommended.
Location: Calle 29, Homún
Details: Open daily 9am–6pm; entry 50–80 pesos (including mandatory life jacket)
Best for: Bird-watching, rope swing, and swimming
17. Cenote Suytun – 8km east from Valladolid
The principal feature of this massive underground sinkhole – illuminated by a narrow shaft of light – is the stone platform that juts out into the center of the pool. Standing here makes for one of the most spectacular photos in Mexico – but be prepared for long waits for your turn (get here at opening time if possible). There are also some spectacular stalactites. It’s possible to swim but the water is very cold.
Location: Carretera a Ticuch Km 8
Details: Open daily 9am–5pm; entry 120 pesos
Best for: Scenic photographs
18. Cenote Carwash (Aktun-Ha) – 8 km north of Tulum
Large, open cenote with cheap entry and plenty of space to swim – freshwater turtles often turn up here. Also popular with divers – it’s much deeper than it looks, and there’s lots of fish and underwater plant life to check-out.
Details: Open daily 10am–5.30pm; entry 50 pesos (including restrooms and showers, lockers 30 pesos)
Best for: Cheap entry, snorkeling, and swimming
19. Cenote Kankirixche – 50km south from Mérida
Beautiful, underground cenote with partial opening, hardly ever busy and perfect for a refreshing swim in the bright blue waters. Run by a cooperative of locals.
Details: Open daily 8am–5pm; entry 60–80 pesos
Best for: Isolated location, swimming, and solitude
20. Cenote Jardin del Edén – 24km south from Playa del Carmen
Right on the main coastal highway, this is a huge open-air cenote for swimming, with plenty of places to jump or dive into the water. Surrounded by shady forest, it’s a lovely location, though mosquitoes can be a problem. Bring a snorkel because there are plenty of fish here also.
Details: Open daily 8am–5pm; entry 200 pesos
Best for: Easy access, snorkeling, and swimming