Cenotes in the Yucatan 101
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Mexico is not just about the beaches; the best part is diving in an underground sinkhole "cenote" and swimming in cold water after a hot day exploring ruins and hiking pyramids. We loved the experience so much we visited over ten cenotes during our stay in the Yucatan and found each one to offer something different. In this post, I'll share my top 10.
Cenotes became our favorite activity in the Yucatan. These nature-made sinkholes are great for swimming, snorkeling, diving, relaxing, and even having "fish therapy," aka fish pedicure.
So, what's a cenote? A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes were a significant part of Mayan culture, and it is believed that sacrifices of gold, jade, and humans were made here to honor the god of the underworld. There are four different types of cenotes: underground, semi-underground, at land levels like a lake or a pond, and open wells. The Yucatan has over 6,000 cenotes, and more continue to be discovered through the years. I've made a list of my fav cenotes from all the ones we visited and classified them by what's best to do at each.
1. IK KILL
This cenote is very popular due to its proximity to Chichen Itza, so it's best to visit before 9 am for a crowd free experience.
Ik Kill has a paradise/jungle feel and is best for families and travelers with limited time as it's only a 15 min drive from Chichen Itza, making it a convenient "on the way" stop. It's also ideal for cooling off on a hot day as this cenote has a ledge midway to jump from that's very fun! Ik Kill is an excellent intro to the world of cenotes, and if you're traveling to Chichen Itza, I highly recommend adding it to your stop.
2. Sacred Cenote
This cenote is actually inside of Chichen Itza -- one of the seven wonders of the world. The reason this cenote made my list of top cenotes in the Yucatan to visit is that despite it not being open for swimming, this cenote, in my opinion, was the creepiest of them all. Staring at this open well pit, also known as a sacred well or well of sacrifice, I couldn't help going back in time (mentally, of couse) to an era where human, gold, and jade sacrifices were made to honor the gods of the underworld. If such sacrifices took place, I, without a doubt, believe that was the spot where it all happened--spooky! This cenote is best for looking at while brushing up on some Mayan History.
3. Cenote Samula
I never thought that swimming in a sinkhole surrounded by bats would be this magical.
This cenote is located in Valladolid and is part of a two cenote park. We opted to visit just one "Samula", and it did not disappoint! With its ice-cold water, perfect on a hot day, and its beautiful shades of blue, swimming here was a real adventure! Plus, this cenote is less touristy; it won't be as crowded as the rest, no matter arrival time. This cenote is best for couples, photography, and swimmers as I found it to be very romantic, mysterious, and adventurous with deep and shallow waters. * There are life jackets in almost all the cenotes so, if you can't swim, no worries!
4. Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman
Our next cenote has something for everyone. Inside a hacienda, you'll find this little gem with a pool and drinks next to it for those wanting a bit more sunshine. This cenote's highlight is its cool rope where you can swing from and jump into the cenote!!! This cenote located in Valladolid is very local. Best for families, groups, and fun adventure seekers who can choose from chilling by the pool or jumping in a sinkhole.
5. Cenote Suytun
This place is surreal, magical, and actually real, although we felt we were on a movie set from its abnormal beauty. Hands down the most dramatic, spectacular, and photogenic cenote in the Yucatan!
This cenote is on the way from Valladolid to Tulum. If planning a visit, arrive when it opens to avoid bus tours that start coming after 10 am. This cenote is best for couples, photographers, and nature lovers.
6. Gran Cenote
This cenote is near Tulum on the way to Coba. It is one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico. It is very accessible and touristy, so arrive early for a not-so-crowded experience and avoid the tour buses arriving afternoon. This cenote is best for families, snorkeling, swimming, diving, and turtle watching. El Gran Cenote made the fav list due to its clear water; you can see the fish and turtles swimming even without snorkeling gear!
7. Laguna Kaan Luum
Tulum's best-kept secret; Kaan Luum Lagoon! Our favorite freshwater "beach" in Mexico. Only 30 min south of Tulum, you'll find this local freshwater lagoon. It's great for swimming, having a picnic, and using its sand as a natural body exfoliant. What makes this lagoon so unique is that in the center there's a cenote (the darkest shade of blue in this pic.) This cenote is an underwater one, and you need a divers permit to get in as it's very deep. Any divers out there up for the challenge???
8. Cenote Cristalino
Between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, you can find three sister cenotes right next to each other. Cenote Cristalino, Cenote Jardin del Eden, and Cenote Azul are less than a 1-minute drive away from one another. Did we go to all 3? Of course, we did! Up next, I'll share the highlights of each one so you can choose the one that works for you. In my opinion, all three are very similar (being open), so there's no need to visit all if you only have one day in the area. Let's start with Cenote
Cristalino: This Cenote is an open Cenote and has a secret garden feel as is less touristy than other cenotes nearby with beautiful nooks where you find yourself surrounded by nature and secluded from the rest. It's perfect for couples and groups as there's a fun cliff to jump from and nearby fruit snacks for purchase. Out of all three, this was my favorite one. This cenote is also very calm, so it's perfect for having fish therapy. Just sit by a rock and stay still and they'll all come swimming your way.
9. Cenote Jardin del Eden
The second cenote is Jardin del Eden: This cenote is an open cenote and has an adventurous feel. It's also less touristy than other cenotes nearby, with unusual spots to dive and cliffs to jump off from. It's perfect for divers and groups as there's a grill with burgers and hot dogs being grilled daily available for purchase.
10. Cenote Azul
Last we have cenote Azul. This cenote is open and offers stunning views with an "oasis" kinda feel. The perfect spot to cool off on a hot day! Best for families and individuals seeking a more chill vibe. The waters here can be shallow and deep depending on the area with nearby rocks to soak the sun in and cliffs to jump in.
Thanks for reading the list of my favorite cenotes in the Yucatan. I had so much fun putting this list together, mostly because I fell madly in love with the natural beauty of these sinkholes. There are so many cenotes in the Yucatan! Did I miss your favorite one? Leave a comment below. I would love to check it out one day... thanks for reading!