It may be a destination known for its beaches but Tulum also has some of the best cenotes in Mexico. Found throughout Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes are freshwater sinkholes formed by the sinking of the limestone underneath to reveal the groundwater. In fact, the Yucatan Peninsula has a huge underwater river network that connects all of the cenotes- incredible! They are ideal for swimming and cooling off from the tropical heat. While there are thousands located all over the area, some of the most beautiful cenotes are in the Riviera Maya and in and around Tulum. Not far from the beach and town itself, they make an excellent addition to any Yucatan itinerary.
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To visit any of the cenotes mentioned in this post you’ll need to organise your own transportation as they are simply too far to walk.
Bicycle – bikes can be rented in many places in Tulum, both in town, along the beach strip or from your resort or hotel. They are a really good and safe way to get around Tulum- there are bike paths along all the main highways and not to mention, they make for great exercise too. Note however that the only two cenotes near enough for cycling are Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera. You’ll also have to take care cycling on the side of the highway.
Scooter – Scooters can be rented from a few places along the Tulum highway. You can use a scooter to get to the closer cenotes as well as to and from the beach and the Tulum ruins. You’ll need your passport to leave as a deposit and note that the highways outside Tulum going north aren’t suitable for standard 50 or 100cc scooters- they are simply too dangerous.
Car– The best way to get around the whole area is to rent a car. Car rental is relatively cheap in Mexico and it gives you the ability to cover a larger area in little time. With a car, you could essentially visit all the cenotes in this post in one day. You can rent a car in Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancun. I always recommend City Car Rental or Rental Cars for their great deals and service. Click here to get a quote for your trip.
Colectivo– Colectivos are shared minivans that take passengers to a variety of different locations up and down the coast and they are the most convenient and budget option. For between 30-50 pesos you can take a colectivo to the cenotes near Playa del Carmen such as Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino. Colectivos leave from the main junction in Tulum town.
WHAT ARE CENOTES
Cenotes are basically limestone sinkholes filled with freshwater. They are normally formed when the underlying bedrock collapses leaving the groundwater exposed in jagged, rocky pools. Cenotes are normally filled with crystal clear waters and are surrounded by unique rock formations and sometimes jungle. No two cenotes are the same.
Some cenotes are large enough to swim in while others are mainly underground and are still inaccessible to the public. Many cenotes are open-air while others are only accessible by ladders or stone staircases down into the abyss. Some may have a small hole at the top to let light in such as Cenote Suytun while others are completely dark. Cenotes were sacred places to the local Mayan population. It’s thought that they made sacrifices as offerings to the gods in the cenotes. These cenotes and underground rivers provided the Mayan’s with all their freshwater. Either way, there are popular places to come and spend a few hours or explore while in Tulum.
For the location of all the best cenotes in Tulum see the map below:
BEST CENOTES IN TULUM
As probably the most popular cenote near Tulum, Gran Cenote Tulum is definitely worth a visit. It’s a medium-sized cenote composed of two openings joined by a cave. You can swim from one size to the other through the cave. The water is every shade of blue imaginable and a dip in these cool waters is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. By the water’s edge, there is a decking area on which you can relax between dips and lockers and lifejackets are also available here. This cenote does get really busy so I highly recommend you getting there as it opens. I did and there will still a small queue. I headed straight past the first staircase to the back one where, as I descended down I could see countless terrapins swimming in the water- I was so lucky as they hide when people arrive.
Scuba diving is also possible at Gran Cenote but unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it. You can find more information on diving in Gran Cenote here.
In recent years, Gran Cenote and many other cenotes have banned or started charging ridiculous fees to take photos with DSLR cameras. The fee is quite ridiculous so I recommend just taking your phone or a GoPro instead. If you haven’t yet got your hands on the new GoPro Hero 9, then get it here.
Entrance Fee: 180 pesos ( $9.5/£7)
Opening Hours: 8 am – 4.45 pm.
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Cenote Calavera is located just a kilometre or so from Gran Cenote so these two can easily be visited together. Calavera in Spanish means ‘skull’ and while the Mayans did use cenotes for sacrifices to their gods, there are no skulls at the bottom of this pool (that we know of). The name comes from the shape of the cenote. It has a larger opening and then two smaller ones above, which sort of resemble the eyes and mouth of a skull.
It’s difficult to say how big this cenote actually is underground, but the dark, mysterious opening to it is relatively small and the water looks deep. It’s a great one for jumping straight into the abyss below. There’s also a small little hole that’s fun for jumping into the black hole below. Small, black catfish live in this and many other cenotes for that matter, so don’t be alarmed if one brushes against your leg, they are harmless. Cenote Calavera is also a great cenote for diving. Gear and a guide can be organised at the entrance.
Price: 100 pesos ($5/£4), more if you want to take photos with a DSLR
Opening Hours: 9 am – 4 pm
Closer towards Playa del Carmen, you’ll find a cluster of cenotes just off the main highway; Cenote Azul, Cenote Cristalino and Cenote Jardin de Eden. Cenote Azul is a large open-air cenote with cool, refreshing water beckoning to be dived into. There are also two smaller pools as you walk in. It’s surrounded by jagged rocky sides onto which vegetation clings giving it a wonderfully wild air. You can relax right by the water on the decking area that runs right into the cenote. You can sit on the edge and enjoy the cool water on your feet below and have the fish give you a pedicure by nibbling all the dead skin off.
Due to the openness of this cenote is feels a lot less claustrophobic than some of the others- it feels like a watering hole in the middle of the jungle. This cenote is extremely popular with other tourists and locals at the weekends. I highly recommend getting there early in the morning, as it opens or right before it closes. Try to avoid weekends too.
From what we gathered Cenote Azul is one of the most DSLR friendly. They only seem to charge extra for full on photoshoots. If you don’t draw too much attention to yourself snapping away with a DSLR then it’s ok.
Price: 120 pesos ($6/£4)
Opening hours: 8.30 pm -5.30 pm
Planning on visiting the Tulum Ruins? Check out the short Travel Guide here
Casa Cenote is a wonderful option if you’ve already seen some cenotes and want something different. Part freshwater cenote, part saltwater river, this cenote actually has a current and is the perfect place for kayaking, scuba diving classes and relaxing. Here you’ll have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife from coati on the shores to tropical birds, fish and even a solitary crocodile. There aren’t too many services or places to eat here to make sure to bring some snacks.
Cost: 120 pesos ($6/ £4)
Opening hours: 8am-5pm
Carwash cenote or Cenote Aktun Ha as it’s also known is a great cenote to visit from Tulum. It’s one of the cheapest cenotes in the area- perfect if you’ve already blown most of your budget on the others. It’s a large open-air cenote but also has a number of extraordinary underground caves- heaven for scuba divers. Taxi drivers used to come here when travelling between Tulum and Coba to wash their vehicles which is where the name comes from. Luckily this is no longer the case and it has become a great place to relax especially for families.
Cost: 50 pesos ($2.50 / £1.80)
Opening hours: 9am- 5 pm
CENOTE DOS OJOS
Dos Ojos Cenote is actually a complex of several different cenotes. Upon arrival, a member of staff will approach you and tell you about all the ticket options. Essentially you can just buy a single (for Dos Ojos only) or combined entrance ticket and explore the entire areas alone or go with a tour. The benefits of the tour, in this case, is that you can see more. There are some cenotes here that can only be entered via a tour group.
In my opinion, this is one of the best cenotes in Tulum and definitely the one with the bluest water. Cenote Dos Ojos has two parts to it. It’s actually quite a large cenote but most of it is located underground. Follow the signs around the complex and you’ll get to the pools suitable for swimming; crystal clear turquoise water of the perfect temperature that doesn’t get bluer. Jump straight in and revel how spectacular our natural environment really is. Right at the back, there is another part of the cenote which is essentially an open-air cave, one part cenote, one part picnic area. It’s a wonderful place to base yourself for a few hours so if you’re able to bring a picnic, do so. Cenote Dos Ojos is also one of the best cenotes for scuba diving. If you’re a qualified diver and you’re interested in some cenote/cave diving, inquire at the diving centre in Tulum or at the cenote entrance.
Price: 350 pesos ($18/£14)
Opening Hours: 8 am-5 pm.
Another cenote located close to Playa del Carmen. Strikingly similar to Cenote Azul in terms of size and shape, Cristalino is a great alternative to Cenote Azul- I probably wouldn’t recommend you see them both as they are so similar. Named Cristalino due to its crystalline waters, the water here is so clear you’ll want to dive straight in- and you should go right ahead and do it.
There are multiple decks and platforms made especially for diving and the crystal-clear water makes for some great snorkelling. It’s surrounded by gorgeous jagged rock, lush green vegetation and you really feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle. This cenote isn’t quite as commercialised as some of the others so it does indeed feel like a wild, natural swimming pool. A great idea is to bring a picnic and spend the afternoon here.
Price: 150 pesos
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm.
*2021 Update: The Cenote owners have now made wearing a life jacket while swimming in Cenote Cristalino mandatory, which takes the fun out of swimming in these natural places.
A lovely cenote really close to Tulum town but still well off the tourist trail, you’ll definitely find peace and quiet here. This cenote is long and narrow and it’s full of jungle life and fish. On one end you’ll find a rope swing which is always fun to jump off of. Next door is cenote Cristal and the entrance fee includes access to both. Here you don’t have to wear a life jacket when swimming making it a really lovely raw experience.
Cost: 120 pesos ($6/ £4)
Opening hours: 8 am-5 pm
TIPS FOR VISITING CENOTES
↠ Compared to cenotes elsewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula, the ones near Tulum and Playa del Carmen are more expensive and tend to be busier. You might need to prioritise some over others if you have a smaller budget. My personal favourites are Dos Ojos and Cenote Azul.
↠ I would advise getting there as soon as they open. Fewer people visit early in the morning meaning that you can enjoy the serenity and peace of the magical area.
↠ Many cenotes have restaurants/snack bars and places to eat so you don’t need to worry about bringing food or basic snacks, although if you want to its not a problem. There is often a picnic area on the grounds to enjoy some food post-swim. It’s also advisable to bring your own water to avoid dehydration throughout the day. Do so without the plastic though. Check out my favourite UV filter system water bottle here.
↠ Bug repellent and sunscreen are 100% not allowed. You are required to take a shower before entering the water to make sure your skin is free from any creams, oils or repellents. This is because the chemicals found in these products destroy life in the cenotes and give the water in the cenote a coat of oil at the top-yuk!
↠ Bring a towel and change of clothes – all of these cenotes have a bathroom and changing rooms for you to dry off and change before and after your visit so if you don’t have your swimsuit on underneath your clothing as you enter, don’t worry.
↠ While none of the above are completely closed cave cenotes, if you visit some, make sure to bring a tripod if you want to take good, clear photos as some corners tend to be a little dark.
↠ In recent months, authorities have come up with a lovely way to charge you more, especially if you want to take photos with a professional camera, so anything more than a phone or a GoPro. The regulations are very black and white and each cenote has its own rules. Some charge a hefty fee for use of a professional camera. Some won’t let you in with one unless you’ve paid the fee even if you promise not to use it. Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera do this and others have started to catch on.
My recommendation is to be flexible, especially if you don’t want to pay the camera fee. Bring your camera along knowing you might not be able to use it. In Cenote Azul we were discreet and no one said anything to us.
↠ Thanks to a new law, you’re now required to wear life jackets in most cenotes.
Do you have any questions about visiting cenotes? Which were your favourites? Let me know in the comments below.
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