Where to Find the Best Cenotes in Mexico
I couldn’t catch my breath. My hands were shaking. I tried to steady the Go Pro, but it was an exercise in futility. I looked into the deep chasm in front of me and couldn’t will my feet to move. From below it didn’t look this high. It didn’t look this narrow. I closed my eyes. Opened them. I had to stop thinking. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and flung my body out into open space. With a satisfying splash, my feet broke the plane of water below me. We were cenote diving, and it was incredible. Want to experience this for yourself? Here’s where to find the best cenotes in Mexico.
Where to Find the Best Cenotes in Mexico
The word cenote means ‘sacred well’ in Yucatec Maya. These underground lakes and rivers were revered by ancient Mayans as holy sites, likely because they were the sole source of water in the Yucatan Peninsula. Hidden beneath a layer of limestone, these crisp freshwater oases have now become the tourist attraction du jour for visitors to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the surrounding areas. Sure, you could blow your travel budget going to the Disneyland-eque theme parks along the Riveria Maya. Or you could hop off the beaten track and see these wonders in all their natural splendor.
La Ruta de Cenotes
Just outside of Puerto Morelos, there’s a two-lane highway that’s riddled with cenotes. If you rented a car, find your way to this highway and just start turning off as you go. Some of these parks are hard to find, but getting lost is half the fun, right?
Cenote 7 (Siete) Bocas
If off-the-grid adventures are your preferred mode of travel, Cenote Siete Bocas is the spot for you. It’s rustic, it’s not super busy, and the opportunity to explore above and below ground is extensive. This cenote is named after the seven openings to the sky, and it means ‘seven mouths’ in Spanish. You can swim under rock walls to the various openings, and a couple of them are deep enough to jump into from the top.
Cost: 300 MXN/person
This place is a little more developed, and because of that it is a little pricier. But this cenote is so cool, you may find it worth the price. It’s only accessible via an ATV ride, so you will be required to rent these and take the tour. Your best bet is to negotiate this at the cenote entrance itself rather than booking in town — you’ll get a much better deal. There are opportunities to jump from staggering heights into the cool water below, or you can take the stairs.
Cost: 350 MXN/person
Claustrophobic? Does the idea of swimming around inside a cave kinda freak you out? Las Mojarras might be a better option for you, then. It’s a completely open-air cenote. It can get swampy at times, but you won’t be able to see it before you pay the entrance fee so you’ll have to roll the dice. There are ATVs and a zipline if you’re craving an adrenaline rush, but they are optional activities.
Cost: 300 MXN/person
Near Chichen Itza and Valladolid
An excursion to Chichen Itza is an absolute must if you visit the Yucatan Peninsula. But after a morning there, why not spend the day cooling off in the cenotes in the area? Some of the best in the region are within 30 minutes’ drive of the famous archaeological site, so bring a swimsuit!
This might be my favorite cenote that I visited in Mexico. Nestled in the tiny village of Yokdzonot, chances are good that you’ll get this swimming hole completely to yourself. The deep blue water is home to schools of tiny fish, and tree roots drape down the sheer rock walls like curtains, dipping their ends in for a drink. It feels like paradise lost, then found again.
Cost: 60 MXN/Person
This cenote has been made famous by many a travel photographer. It boasts the dramatic ‘skylight’ opening at the top, with the sun’s rays illuminating a natural island in the middle of the bold blue water. It can be dark in here, but swimming from light to dark is a pretty cool experience. The tree that used to grow in the skylight fell with heavy rain, but it doesn’t make the impact any less dramatic.
X’chechen is in the same park as Samula, and it’s worth the extra cost to buy entrance to both. This cenote is nearly completely covered, save a tiny little window in the rood that lets in one dramatic ray of light. It’s well-lit inside, so you can navigate the stairs and getting into your swimsuit with minimal trouble. It’s fun to see the difference between these two underwater lakes, and experiencing both is worth the cash.
Cost: 65 MXN/person for one, 100 MXN/person for two
Near Playa del Carmen
There aren’t many cenotes that haven’t been ravaged by commerical tourism in the Playa del Carmen area. Mega-parks like Xcaret, Xel Ha, Xplor, and more have commoditized the Yucatan’s natural beauty into a Disney-like attraction. Even once-off-grid spots (like the one below) have had price increases and require guides when self-exploration used to be the name of the game. That said, this spot is still worth visiting, even if it’s not ‘the way it used to be.’
Once upon a time, you could explore this cenote without a guide, and without any restrictions on where you could go. Now a guide is required, and there are limitations on where you can go within the caverns. That said, the rock formations inside these two massive caves are absolutely mind-blowing, and just experiencing it is worthwhile. We hear great things about the guides, so maybe their addition isn’t too terrible. Be sure to tip.
Cost: 500 MXN/person
Near Tulum and Coba
Tulum is new hotspot for travelers to the Yucatan region. What was once a sleepy backpacker village has become the playground of the digital glitterati, and the cenotes in the area have become more trafficked as a result. Fortunately, they’ve managed to retain some of their natural grandeur. Here are the best in the area.
Cenote Dos Ojos
If you’re a diver, this is your spot. This cenote boasts one of the longest underground river/lake systems in the region, and Tulum regularly trucks divers in from town. You can head out there on your own if you have a car, and you may pay a little less. If you get there early enough, you might be able to get the place more or less to yourself, before the tours show up.
Cost: 100 MXN/person
Despite it’s wild popularity, there’s a reason this cenote is on the must-do list. The color of the water, the abundance of turtles (!!) everywhere, and the aura of frolicking in a nymph’s grotto make it truly special. It may get busy, especially on a nice day, but you’ll manage to find a little corner of this cavern all to yourself. It’s a great place to cool off on your way back from the ruins at Coba, or if hanging out at the beach in Tulum starts to lose it’s luster.
Have you visited any amazing underground rivers on your travels? Tell me about your favorites in the comments!