The Yucatan Peninsula is packed with gorgeous cenotes, and some of the best cenotes are found near the lovely Valladolid. Cenote Xkeken is definitely the most scenic one – or at least, the one my sister and I enjoyed the most (though back when we visited I complained a lot about how cold the water was!).
What’s special about Cenote Xkeken is the light: it’s dim and gives the place a special aura. The stalactites add to the atmosphere!
If you are planning a road trip to Mexico, you should definitely add this cenote to the list of places you should visit. Continue reading to discover what you need to know about it, and how to best plan your visit.
Everything You Must Know About Cenote Xkeken
What Is Cenote Xkeken?
Cenote Xkeken (also known as Cenote Dzitnup or Cenote Xquequen), as you can probably tell by the name, is a cenote. If you’re wondering what a cenote is, it’s a sinkhole that has revealed an underground pool of water – often fed by freshwater, and sometimes by seawater.
Cenotes (coming from the Yucatec Maya word tsʼonot) were revered by the Maya people, who historically used them not only as sources of freshwater, but also as places for their rituals.
What is so special about Cenote Xkeken?
If you have read my post about cenotes in Mexico, you will know that are multiple kinds cenotes (open, semi-open, cave and underground), and Cenote Xkeken is a cave cenote. However, it is partially open to the sky thanks to a small opening in the roof of the cave. Part of the charm in visiting this cenote is the striking and spacious cavern in which it is set.
Being inside a cave also means rock formations. At Cenote Xkeken you can see many of these including incredibly long stalactites hanging down from the cave ceiling – some of these even appear to have bunched together, forming otherworldly shapes. It’s almost as if you’ve entered into another planet entirely.
To get down into the cenote, it’s a simple matter of descending a stone spiral staircase that leads right down into the water. The actual pool itself is particularly special thanks to the small opening in the roof of the cave I mentioned earlier. Here, natural light pours in like a spotlight and dances on the surface of the water, illuminating the cenote in all its turquoise beauty.
Alongside the striking visual aspect of Cenote Xkeken Valladolid, it’s also special in that it is run by the local community. They have implemented infrastructure and facilities to help visitors have a smooth visit. That means there’s a lifeguard on duty, along with other safety precautions.
The other special thing about Cenote Xkeken is that there’s also a neighboring cenote to add to your itinerary when you visit. That would be Cenote Samula which also features a hole in its roof, meaning light comes pouring in to dramatic effect. It also has vines hanging down which adds to the adventurous atmosphere.
What to do in Cenote Xkeken Valladolid
When you arrive at Cenote Xkeken, you’re going to want to jump straight in and enjoy the beauty of this subterranean watery world. But first, you have to get down that spiral staircase (taking care to watch your step, of course, as it can be slippery).
There’s a choice of places where you can enter the pool easily – again, make sure to take care as the paths in the cavern are often uneven.
If you’re planning on diving or jumping into the cenote, you’ll have to rethink those plans. It’s actually not permitted to jump or dive into Cenote Xkeken. As a result of this, there are no diving platforms as you may find at other popular cenotes throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Though the water here is cool and refreshing, it’s not so cold that it’s uncomfortable (some cenotes can be pretty cold). That means that swimming here is part of the fun of visiting, for sure.
Cenote Xkeken is also a great place to come if you’re not much of a confident swimmer, as there are ropes strung out across the water that you can hold onto, allowing you to float around without worrying. Life jackets are actually a requirement for those who are not strong swimmers (children included), so if you feel like you need one, they’re on offer.
All those incredible rock formations and stalactites situated in the cavern of Cenote Xkeken are, of course, best viewed once you’re in the water. Floating around on the surface and gazing up in wonder at all this geological magic is one of the best parts of visiting here.
If you like snorkeling, you can bring your mask and snorkel. There are plenty of fish that call this cenote home, so snorkeling around is a good option to catch a glimpse of them and see what else is happening below the surface.
Though connected by an underground river, you’ll have to get out and make your way over to Cenote Samula if you want to include this as part of your visit too. Activities at Samula – accessed via a stone stairway – also include swimming, snorkeling, floating around, and admiring the light pouring in from the sky.
Practical Information On Visiting Cenote Xkeken
Now that you know just why it’s so cool to visit Cenote Xkeken, you may be wondering about the practical side of things – how to get there, what facilities are on offer, when it’s open, and all the other details that will be essential for making your trip run smoothly.
To help you out, I’ve done the hard work for you and included all the information you’ll need for visiting this amazing cenote.
Where is Cenote Xkeken?
Cenote Xkeken is situated near the town of Valladolid, a colonial era town with plenty of historic buildings to discover. It’s a popular base for exploring not only Cenote Xkeken, but other notable nearby sites such as Chichen Itza.
How to get to Cenote Xkeken
By far the most straightforward way to reach Cenote Xkeken is by car.
I have already pointed out that Mexico is an ideal place for a road trip. You can rent a car at Merida or Cancun airport and drive around Yucatan easily: roads are typically in good conditions. If you haven’t already rented a car, you can find a selection of places to hire them in Valladolid – just make sure to go with a reputable company.
It’s probably best you book a car online beforehand. You can do so here.
All you need to do is head west out of Valladolid towards Chichen Itza, along the old 180 Highway. Since it’s not very far away at all, the drive is fairly simple. The only thing is that you’ll need to look out for the turning on your left (right after Hacienda Selva Maya). This narrow road then leads all the way to the parking area of the cenote.
Another thing to be careful of when driving to any cenote, but particularly this one, is what to put in your GPS. For example, this place was once known as Cenote Dzitnup. Just take care and make sure you’re going to the right one!
By Guided Tour
There is a tourist bus that leaves to Cenote Xkeken from the main plaza in Valladolid. This is often part of a package tour booked with a company or arranged through your accommodation, so you won’t be able to just walk up and get on the bus.
While it’s not the cheapest option, going to Cenote Xkeken as part of a tour makes this a hassle-free trip. You’ll also get a guide thrown in for the price of the tour, meaning you’ll get some local knowledge and history.You may even have other destinations included as part of the package.
However, if you want to spend longer at the cenote – or if you don’t like the idea of visiting in a crowd of people – then this method of getting there may not be the one for you.
You can book a guided tour of this cenote and other places from Valladolid here.
These shared vans are ubiquitous in Mexico and are a popular (and very cheap) way to travel around – especially for short journeys. Budget travelers will be happy to know that it’s possible to grab a shared colectivo from Valladolid to Cenote Xkeken.
To do this, head to the bus terminal in Valladolid. Here there’s a colectivo stand in front of the bus station itself. When you get on the colectivo, just make sure you tell the driver that you’re intending to go to Cenote Xkeken, and they’ll either point you in the direction of the correct colectivo, or – if it’s the right one – tell you when you need to get off.
Expect to pay around 35 Mexican Pesos (less than $2 USD) for a one-way trip to cenote riding a colectivo.
Due to it being situated very near to the town of Valladolid, one pretty good transport option to reach Cenote Xkeken is to travel there by bicycle. Part of the route there is actually made up of a bike trail, which makes the journey even easier and safer. However, biking along the roads should only be done if you’re confident on two wheels.
The ride takes around 45 minutes from the center of Valladolid. Note also that much of the route is uphill on unsealed roads, so it can be hard going at times.
There is a choice of bike rental shops scattered around town. You can expect to pay anywhere from 100 to 150 Mexican Pesos (between $5 and $7.50 USD) to rent a bicycle for the day. However, it is also possible to pay the hourly rate of 20 Mexican Pesos ($1 USD) per hour to rent a bike, too.
Because Cenote Xkeken is quite close to the center of Valladolid, getting a taxi is a convenient way to get between the two. A ride to the cenote is very quick taking only around 10 to 15 minutes.
However, maybe aside from taking a tour, it’s probably the most expensive way to reach the cenote. It costs approximately 100 Mexican Pesos ($5 USD) one way, and when you want to get back, you’ll often have to pay for the taxi driver’s trip out of the city to the cenote as well as the fare back to town. That means the journey back to Valladolid can often be double.
But you never know, you may befriend other travelers at Cenote Xkeken who won’t mind sharing the taxi fare back to Valladolid.
Opening hours of Cenote Xkeken
Cenote Xkeken is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, every day of the week.
Admission fee for Cenote Xkeken
Admission to Xkeken Cenote is 80 Mexican Pesos (that’s just $4 USD). It’s 125 Mexican Pesos ($6.30 USD) if you want to visit both Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Samula. For children, it’s 50 Mexican Pesos for Xkeken, and 80 Mexican Pesos for both.
You can get tickets at the ticket office, which is at the carpark, and then follow the signpost to either Xkeken or Samula.
Facilities at Cenote Xkeken
Cenote Xkeken is a fairly well-developed destination. There’s a lot going on here to make your visit more convenient and safer. Even so, the facilities are quite basic, so don’t expect modern facilities that you may find at some of the more well-trodden cenotes (Xkeken is community-run, after all).
Lockers are available for a small price, so you can keep your belongings safe when swimming in the cenote. This is recommended particularly at busier times.
Changing rooms, bathrooms and showers
Thankfully, there are changing rooms at Cenote Xkeken, so you can get changed into or out of your swimsuit in privacy. It is also recommended to shower before entering the cenote so as to reduce the amount of chemicals that might enter the pristine water system (i.e. sunscreen, mosquito repellent).
These are on offer to rent for those who require them. As I said earlier, you’ll be required to hire a lifejacket if you’re not a strong swimmer (for example, children). You’ll find these available to hire at the entrance of the cenote before you descend the stone steps into the water. Note that you can’t take your lifejacket from Cenote Xkeken to Cenote Samula – you have to return them as you leave each one.
For when you’ve built up an appetite after all that swimming, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a collection of food stalls at Cenote Xkeken. Here you can find delicious Mexican snacks as well as refreshing drinks. If you’ve brought your own food, there are seated areas to enjoy a picnic.
What to pack when visiting Cenote Xkeken
Make sure to pack these essential items:
- Snorkel or goggles to glimpse underwater life
- Underwater camera
- Reef shoes – it’s pretty rocky
- Small cash for admission and snacks
- Refillable water bottle – save on plastic waste
- Dry bag (for your wet swimsuit)
If you are planning a trip to Mexico, make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Things To Do In Valladolid
- The Best Things To Do In Merida
- The Best Cenotes Near Merida
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico