One of the most unique things to do in Mexico is swimming (and at times even diving!) in cenotes. These natural sinkholes filled with freshwater are typical of the Yucatan peninsula, where you’ll have many to visit.
Some Mexico cenotes are well hidden in the jungle, and getting there can be a bit of an ordeal (but very rewarding); others are actually incredibly touristy and properly equipped for a fun day trip out of town.
But which are the best cenotes in Mexico? With so many cenotes, selecting which one you should include in your itinerary is no easy task.
I have been to Mexico a bunch of times, so I thought I’d spare you the task and have selected the best cenotes in Mexico that you should visit for swimming – divided by area.
Before we look into the most unique Mexico cenotes, however, let me tell you what exactly a cenote is and the different kinds you may experience.
What Is A Cenote?
Simply put, a cenote is a natural sinkhole filled with fresh (or sea) water. Created over thousands of years, they’re usually the result of collapsed limestone bedrock that falls in on itself, exposing underground rivers, reservoirs, and waterways.
The word cenote is actually specific to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and it comes from the Yucatec Maya language ts’onot (it refers to underground water sources). There is evidence to suggest that many cenotes were once used in rituals by the ancient Maya, with everything from pottery and human skeletons found at the bottom of cenotes.
This isn’t surprising given that these were the main water source for the Yucatan region, with ancient cities often built near cenotes. An example of this is the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza which was of particular importance for Maya rites – the belief was that cenotes were the gateways to the afterlife.
Cenotes can be surprisingly deep, too, making them popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. It’s possible to explore much longer caves and subterranean waterways using cenotes as the entrance.
What Are The Different Types Of Cenote?
Cenotes don’t just come in one variety. There are various types that depend on how they formed in the first place. Generally speaking, there are three main types.
Easily the most recognizable type. These freshwater pools are found entirely underground with no obvious opening. The ceilings are still intact and have to collapse in on themselves. They’re usually accessible through a man-made hole or a small entranceway with staircases or ladders.
These often have unbelievable stalactites and stalagmites as the roof of the cave remains. They also lack natural light sources, and they can be quite dark – more developed ones are lit with artificial lighting. As they aren’t open to warm air or sunlight, the water in cave cenotes is also notoriously cold!
This is the next stage of the development of a cenote. This is where part of the roof of a cave cenote has collapsed, creating a small opening at the top of the cavern (one particular example is Cenote Xkeken).
Due to the small or large openings in the cave roof, semi-open cenotes are often some of the most picturesque cenotes to be found as sunlight streams in through the openings while vines and other lush jungle flora tumble down into the cavern too.
These are pretty much like naturally formed open-air swimming pools. Although there’s no cave, they’re still definitely cenotes – the bedrock has merely collapsed, revealing the formerly underground waterway. They’re often quite large and resemble lakes surrounded by jungles and mangroves.
As a result of how open to elements and how shallow (comparatively) these cenotes are, they’re ideal for swimming. Not only that, but fish and other marine life live within them, more than in cave cenotes, making for a good snorkeling spot.
The Best Cenotes In Mexico
Best Cenotes near Tulum
One of the best-known Mexico cenotes, due to its proximity to the popular Caribbean destination Tulum, Gran Cenote can be found along the road to Coba. It’s a much-visited cenote and often will be one of the first that people visit on their cenote odyssey.
This semi-open cenote sounds like it’s going to be one large pool, but it’s actually a network of several pools linked up by boardwalks and a cave system. It’s a great cenote for swimming, thanks to its clear, clean water.
Plus, you’ll find some interesting marine life to see here, so don’t forget your goggles!
I recommend this full day guided tour Gran Cenote from Tulum. It also goes to Dos Ojos cenote.
Cenote Dos Ojos
This semi-open cenote – translating to “two eyes” in English – is named for two almost perfectly circular, eye-like pools that are joined by a 400-meter-long passageway.
Located just half an hour away from Tulum, Cenote Dos Ojos is another very popular cenote in the area and one of the best cenotes in Mexico and is easily accessed by colectivo from the city.
Intriguingly, this cenote is actually part of the longest underwater cave systems in the world. Visitors particularly enjoy snorkeling and exploring the underwater world in the cave. With crystal-clear water, it’s easy to get a glimpse of the beautiful submerged rock formations.
For a tour of Tulum ruins and Dos Ojos cenote, click here.
For a guided 2-tank dive at Dos Ojos (for certified divers), click here.
I also recommend this full day guided tour of Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote from Tulum.
Cenote Calavera is one of the best cenotes in Mexico thanks to its gorgeous setting and the range of activities. The name – Calavera, which means skull in Spanish – comes from the eye socket-like sinkholes that lead into the cenotes.
A wooden ladder will allow you to descend into the actual cenote, where you’ll find a swing and a jumping platform. For divers, there are plenty of chances to admire colorful rocks and fossils too.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter and more off the beaten track, then the open-air Cenote Carwash could be the place for you. You’ll find it situated around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Tulum on the road leading to Coba.
The facilities may not be as well developed as others, but for something untouched and pristine, this place can’t be beaten.
It’s a beautiful natural swimming spot that’s edged by trees and other subtropical plant life, and it makes for a particularly idyllic swimming spot.
Cenote Carwash is also great for snorkeling and is fairly deep – in fact, it has become a popular cave diving destination for those who are qualified and want to explore deeper.
Make sure to read my post The Best Cenotes Near Tulum.
Best Cenotes near Playa Del Carmen
Cenote Jardin del Eden
As you may be able to tell from the name, Cenote Jardin del Eden is a gorgeous place and easily one of the best Mexico cenotes. Tucked away in the jungle, this paradisiacal location consists of a large open-air glimmering emerald pool surrounded by lush greenery.
Not only popular with overseas visitors but also with locals who come to relax on their days off, this cenote has a laid-back atmosphere and never seems too crowded. It’s a perfect place to swim among the lily pads and soak up some sunshine.
Cenote Azul is very close to Cenote Jardin del Eden, so it’s very easy to fit them both into a day-long cenote extravaganza from Playa del Carmen. Cenote Azul is particularly popular.
Another open-air cenote, it’s easily one of the most beautiful cenotes in the Playa del Carmen area and definitely one of the best Cenotes in Mexico.
With rocks that helpfully act as natural steps into the crystalline waters of the cenote, it’s easy to simply slip into the pool and float around.
For a touch of adventure, there’s a small overhanging rock that creates a cave where you can snorkel and check out the underwater world. From atop this cave-like opening, people like to dive off into the cooling turquoise water.
This cenotes guided tour stops at several cenotes, including Cenote Azul.
Cenote Chaak Tun
Just 15 minutes from Playa del Carmen, Cenote Chaak Tun is the closest to the town, and therefore, it’s often busy with tours and visitors. However, it’s not just because it’s so close – it’s because this cave/semi-open cenote is particularly stunning.
Like something from another world, this cavernous setting features rock formations, stalactites, and just one single source of natural light, lancing in rays of sunshine into the gleaming blue pool.
It’s quite well developed, but you can only visit with a guide, a hard hat, and a lifejacket (all hired at the entrance). The guide will lead you through caverns and relay information about the history and formation of the cenote. This two-hour guided tour leaves every 40-45 minutes.
You may want to consider this 3-hour incredibly fun guided tour of Cenote Chaak Tun.
15 minutes drive out of Playa del Carmen, Cenote Cristalino boasts incredibly clear waters. It’s close to Cenote Azul and Cenote Jardin del Eden, so you can visit them all on the same day. This is mainly an open-air cenote, and water is shallower compared to other cenotes in the area.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Cenotes Near Playa Del Carmen.
Best Cenotes near Puerto Morelos and Ruta de los Cenotes
Cenote Siete Bocas
Cenote Siete Bocas is located just at the entrance of the Ruta de los Cenotes highway. The name translates to “Seven Mouths Cenote” in English – indeed, this Mexican cenote is named after the seven connected openings.
There are seven different points of entry; some are closed cave cenotes, and others have open areas for swimming. Most of the time, only three or four entrances are available to the public due to weather and cenote conditions.
However, the cenotes are all connected. You can swim through little tunnels to explore and discover everything hidden in this cenote. Given its variety, Cenote Siete Bocas is definitely one of the best cenotes in Mexico.
Cenote Kin Ha
Cenote Kin Ha is at the end of the Ruta de los Cenotes, past where the road splits and turns into a dirt road.
Cenote Kin Ha is known as an adventure cenote, as it has ziplining platforms, swinging ropes, jumping platforms, and so much more. But aside from all the adventure, what sets Kin Ha apart from the other cenotes, is the tranquility.
Cenote Kin Ha is a bit further away from civilization and not super easy to access. So, there are much fewer people.
Two cenotes are on the property, and other adventure activities, like ATV rentals, surround the cenote.
Cenote La Noria
Cenote La Noria is a lesser-known cenote across the way from Cenote Kin Ha. Cenote la Noria is a traditional cave cenote with two main entrances: either through a manmade platform that leads down into the cenote or by jumping from the top into the deep crystal-clear waters.
This cenote has unique rock formations, a large floating platform, and several other fun water activities. You can also rent snorkel equipment from the main office, which is strongly recommended to explore the walls and patterns in La Noria (unless you have your own).
Outside the cenote, you’ll find several benches, chairs, and a snack bar, so you can easily spend a few hours here. The experience and the surroundings make this one of the best cenotes in Mexico for sure!
This guided tour includes many activities, including a visit of Cenote La Noria.
Best Cenotes near Merida and Valladolid
Cenote Ik Kil
Cenote Ik Kil is a stunning spot and one of the most famous Mexico cenotes. It’s situated very close to Chichen Itza, making it an ideal spot to cool off after exploring the iconic ancient Maya ruins.
Translating to “The Place of the Winds” in the Mayan language, Ik Kil is actually situated on the site of a hotel which means that the facilities are very organized.
Don’t worry, though – the cenote itself remains very natural. This semi-open cenote is almost a perfect circle, and it features long vines that drape down through the hole in the cave of the roof and deep turquoise waters.
To enter, you’ll descend via an atmospheric staircase that winds around the cenote itself.
In my opinion, this cenote is one of the most beautiful in the area. It’s also well protected – you can’t touch the vines, and you have to take a shower before entering to protect the delicate ecosystem from chemicals. Life jackets are also mandatory (included in the entrance fee).
I recommend this guided tour of Cenote Ik Kil departing from Cancun that also go to Chichen Itza and Coba.
A 15-minute drive from Valladolid, Cenote Suytun has become something of a famous photo opportunity in the area. That’s because of the beautiful stone staircase that spirals down into the cenote, ending with a path that leads into the center of the pool in a circular platform. It looks like an otherworldly temple.
It’s particularly stunning when the light streaming in from the hole in the ceiling hits the platform, which happens at certain times of the day.
The water here is cooling and refreshing, and there are some pretty impressive stalactites dripping down from the cave ceiling. All in all, it’s an eerily beautiful cenote and one of the most popular cenotes in Mexico.
For a guided tour that goes, among others, also to Cenote Suytun, click here.
Located 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) north of Valladolid on the route to the ruins of Ek’ Balam, Cenote Hubiku is a huge swimming hole. This semi-open cenote features bright turquoise water lit partially by an opening in the roof where tree roots cascade down into the cave too.
This is a fun place to visit and is quite well-developed, making it good for families to have a refreshing swim. At specific times of the year, there’s even a waterfall that trickles down through the hole in the ceiling, making it even more picturesque.
Also located on the site are a Mayan village, a tequila museum, and a restaurant, so visiting this cenote means you can enjoy a full experience aside from swimming.
For tours of Hubiku Cenote, Chichen Itza, and Valladolid from Cancun, click here.
For a tour of the cenote that also goes to Ek Balam, click here.
Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Samula
Cenote Xkeken, close to the lovely Valladolid, is a cavernous, semi-open cenote with a small opening in the roof – it’s known to be one of the best cenotes in Mexico. As with other cenotes that feature this element, it allows light to stream in and illuminate the crystal-clear water in the cave.
Inside Cenote Xkeken, there’s an eerie atmosphere with otherworldly rock formations and deep blue water to swim in – you can even spot fish swimming around in here.
Also very close by is its neighbor, Cenote Samula (which also has a hole in the roof). Both of these cenotes are run by the local communities and have a selection of facilities to help your visit to run smoothly.
For a guided tour of Cenote Xkeken, click here.
Located pretty much in the heart of Valladolid, just two blocks from the Zocalo (main square), you can easily get to this cenote by bike or even simply walk there. It’s the perfect place to have a break from the classic sightseeing you may do in Valladolid.
This is a popular place to visit among locals and tourists alike. It’s a large cenote of 24.3 meters (80 feet) in diameter and a whopping 100.5 meters (330 feet) deep. This is a semi-open cenote in a gorgeous jungle setting, complete with stalactites. You’ll also find a restaurant and a terrace.
Cenote Oxman is one of Mexico’s best cenotes, yet it’s still considered a “hidden gem.” Located 20 minutes from Valladolid city center, it’s deep in the jungle at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman.
The cenote is a large, deep pit with steep walls. There’s a rope swing and several other jumping platforms. But if that isn’t your thing, you can climb down some simple steps.
The cenote is located within Hacienda Oxman, which has a restaurant, a pool, a large field for sunbathing, and several other small vendors just outside the cenote entrance.
You can even book a room at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman and get first and last access to the on-site cenote.
The 3 Cenotes de Cuzama
To me, these are easily some of the best cenotes in Mexico – and I have the fondest memory of visiting on my first trip to Mexico. When we went, we were not sure what to expect – we ended up having a blast!
The Cenotes of Cuzama are among the most fun to visit near Merida and a favorite of locals who enjoy swimming there at weekends. While they are 3 separate cenotes, you actually visit them with one ticket and on the same day, so I want to mention them all together.
What’s also peculiar about them is that in order to get to the cenotes from the parking lot, you have to jump on a small cart that is pulled by a horse along old rails – it’s quite an experience.
The cenotes – Chacsinicche, Bolonchoojol, and Ucil – are located deep in the jungle of Yucatan. The first one is easy to reach via a nice staircase; Bolonchoojol is reached by going down a wooden ladder. It’s small but incredibly beautiful. Ucil is the smallest of the three.
I recommend this guided tour of the Tres Cenotes de Cuzama that departs from Merida. It’s a full day tour that also includes lunch.
Close to the archaeological zone of Dzibilchaltun, a city to which it provides water, this cenote is an incredible place for diving expeditions. The natural pool and completely open-air cenote have been an incredible source of archeological findings – with wooden artifacts, carved bones, and pottery fragments.
How To Get To Cenotes
By rental car
One of the most straightforward ways to reach cenotes in Mexico is by renting a car. You’ll find rental services in all the towns I’ve listed above and also at Cancun Airport.
Driving to cenotes, especially the more well-trodden ones, is pretty easy, with parking usually available. And you’ll be able to access the further away cenotes, like Cenote Kin Ha, without as much of a hassle.
Self-driving also means that you’ll be able to travel at your own pace, leave when you want to, and visit more than one cenote in a day.
Colectivos run to some of the more popular cenotes, especially if they are located along a well-used route (e.g. from Tulum to Coba). These are affordable and usually quite easy to figure out and offer up a decidedly local experience adding to the sense of adventure.
One downside of colectivos is that when you’re done at the cenote, you have to wait for the colectivo to return to pick you up – this could mean wasting time.
Also, keep in mind that colectivos won’t be able to bring you everywhere. While it’s great for the cenotes just off Highway 307, you won’t be able to access the “hidden gems” via colectivo.
By guided tour
If you don’t want to drive in Mexico and you don’t want to deal with the potential hassle of grabbing a colectivo, then you can opt for a guided tour.
These will be available from all of the main towns and cities on the Yucatan Peninsula – guides, transport, and sometimes even lunch will be included in the price. There are several different tours to choose from, and in fact, some cenotes can only be visited on a tour.
Here is a selection of the best tours that go to cenotes:
For tours of Ik Kil cenote, Chicken Itza and Coba from Cancun, click here.
For tours of Saamal cenote, Chichen Itza and Valladolid from Cancun, click here.
For a tour of Tulum and Coba ruins that also goes to a cenote, click here.
For a tour of Tulum ruins and a cenote, click here.
For a full-day cenotes tour from Tulum, click here.
What To Pack For Your Cenote Visit
To make the most of your time when visiting a cenote, make sure to pack the following items:
- Swimsuit – it should go without saying, but it isn’t! I was not expecting to swim when I visited the Tres Cenotes of Cuzama, so I ended up having to jump in my shorts!
- Water shoes or sandals – they are useful to actually walk to the platform where you can jump into the water or down the ladder. Flip-flops are not ideal, to be honest.
- Quick dry towel – it packs so small that you can easily fit it in your day pack.
- Dry-bag – especially if you want to bring any valuables with you. Some cenotes will have locker facilities.
- Biodegradable sunscreen – you want something that fully respects the delicate ecosystem of cenotes.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Cenotes Near Merida
- The Best Cenotes Near Valladolid
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico
- The Best Itinerary For 3 Days In Mexico City
- The Best Mexico Itinerary
- The Best Beaches In Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Yucatan
- The Best Things To Do In Tulum
- The Best Things To Do In Valladolid
- What To Eat In Mexico