15 Best Cenotes In Mexico

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 – 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.

mexico cenotes
The incredibly clear waters of a Mexican cenote

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 to 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.

best cenotes in Mexico
Diving in a cenote

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.

Cave cenotes

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 have a lack of natural light sources, and they can be quite dark – more developed ones are lit with artificial lighting. As they aren’t open to the warm air or sunlight, the water in cave cenotes is also notoriously cold!

Semi-open cenotes

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 tumbles down into the cavern too.

Open cenotes

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 jungle and mangrove.

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.

Best cenotes in Mexico
Gran Cenote, one of the best known Mexico Cenotes

The Best Cenotes In Mexico

Best Cenotes near Tulum

Gran Cenote

One of the best-known Mexico cenotes, due to its proximity with 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!

OPENING TIMES: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Mexico Cenotes
Dos Ojos is often mentions among the best cenotes in Mexico

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.

OPENING TIMES: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
ENTRANCE FEE: 350 MXN ($17.50 USD)

For a tour of Tulum ruins and Dos Ojos cenote, click here. For a tour of Dos Ojos and Casa Cenotes click here.

Tulum Cenotes
Cenote Calavera – Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

Cenote Calavera

Cenote Calavera is one of the most fun cenotes in Mexico. 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 the divers, there are plenty of chances to admire colorful rocks and fossils too.

OPENING HOURS: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

cenote Carwash
Bernard DUPONT, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cenote Carwash

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.

OPENING TIMES: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Make sure to read my post The Best Cenotes Near Tulum.

Cenote Jardin del Eden
The beautiful colors of Jardin del Eden cenote

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.

OPENING TIMES: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Cenote Azul
The gorgeous waters of Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul

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.

OPENING TIMES: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Chaak Tun
Chaak Tun cenote

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 hardhat, 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.

OPENING TIMES: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
ENTRANCE FEE: 500 MXN ($25 USD) (including tour and equipment)

For a 3-hour incredibly fun guided tour of Cenote Chaak Tun, click here.

Cenote Cristalino
Having fun at Cenote Cristalino

Cenote Cristalino

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.

OPENING TIMES: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

For more cenotes near Playa del Carmen, read this post.

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).

OPENING TIMES: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
ENTRANCE FEE: 150 MXN ($7.50)

You can visit Cenote Ik Kil on guided day trips departing from Cancun that also go to Chichen Itza and Coba. For more information, click here.

Cenote Suytun
Cenote Suytun and its stunning clear waters

Cenote Suytun

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 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.

OPENING TIMES: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

For a guided tour that goes, among others, also to Cenote Suytun, click here.

Cenote Hubiku
Cenote Hubiku

Cenote Hubiku

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 is a Mayan village, a tequila museum, and a restaurant, so visiting this cenote means you can enjoy a full experience aside from swimming.

OPENING TIMES: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

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.

OPENING TIMES: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
ENTRANCE FEE: 80 MXN ($4 USD); 125 MXN ($6.30 USD) for a combination ticket to both cenotes

For a guided tour of Cenote Xkeken click here.

Cenote Zaci
DaLoetz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cenote Zaci

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 diameters 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.

OPENING HOURS: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

The 3 Cenotes de Cuzama

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.

OPENING HOURS: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
Entrance fee: 400 MXN ($20 USD) for all Cenotes de Cuzama; includes the horse-drawn ride

Best cenotes in Mexico
Bruno Rijsman, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cenote Xlacah

Close to the archaeological zone of Dzibilchaltun, a city to which it provided water, this cenote is an incredible place for diving expeditions. The natural pool and completely open-air cenote has been an incredible source of archeological findings – with wooden artifacts, carved bones and pottery fragments.

OPENING HOURS: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm

Cenote Tajma Ha

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. 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.

By colectivo

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.

By guided tour

If you don’t want to drive in Mexico and you don’t want to deal with the potential hassle of dealing with colectivos, 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 Hubiku 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 Dos Ojos 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 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.

Further Readings

Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:

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Discover the best cenotes to visit in Mexico - via @clautavani

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