One of Yucatan’s biggest draws is its beautiful cenotes. Keep reading to find out more about the best cenotes in Cancun for a fun-filled stay in Mexico.
The lush jungles of Yucatan are home to some of the most interesting natural formations the world has to offer; an underwater river and cave system so intricate scientists in the area are still trying to work it out. That’s right, Mexico’s states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo have a massive underground and river cave system allowing for other geological features like cenotes to have evolved over thousands of years.
Cenotes are natural freshwater sinkholes found only in this area of Central America. Over years underlying bedrock has sunk leaving the different shapes and sizes of the cenotes we see today. Some are round sinkholes with large openings at the top while others are completely covered like an underground cave partially filled with water.
I should probably mention at this point that there actually are no cenotes in Cancun. To see them you’ll have to travel a little further outside of the city to other parts of the Yucatan Pensinsula. Many can be found not too far from the city. The best cenotes in Cancun are actually close to Valladolid, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Entrance fees to the best cenotes in Cancun vary depending on popularity. The most expensive cenotes are the most popular ones while the off-the-beaten-path, smaller cenotes seem to be much cheaper.
I recently spent 5 months in the Cancun area exploring all the amazing cenotes and it was one of my favourite things about this region of Mexico- make sure not to give these top cenotes in Yucatan a miss.
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WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN VISITING THE BEST CENOTES IN CANCUN?
Cenotes are really magical places and if you’ve never seen one before, expect to be quite taken aback. While they do differ quite dramatically in shape and structure, you can expect to find crystal clear water at the bottom in which you can swim and explore a brand new underwater world. The water is lovely and cool and it’s a great way to refresh and cool off from the hot Mexican sun.
Some of the cenotes such as Cenote Oxman and Cenote Ik-Kil require you to climb down quite a few stairs in order to get to the water at the bottom.
In some cenotes, the more developed ones, you’ll find areas to change and leave your belongings as well as bathrooms. In others, there is no infrastructure whatsoever.
You’ll need to shower before getting in in order to preserve the state of the water and make sure not to be wearing any creams, sunscreen or insect repellant. The chemicals in these alter the fragile underground river ecosystem and negatively affects flora and fauna.
Most cenotes are quite dark places and the cave cenotes are even darker so make sure to bring a tripod if you’re interested in taking good quality photos.
Getting around really depends on where you base yourself. You’ll find that all the best cenotes in Cancun are actually extremely spread out throughout Yucatan and Quintana Roo. To visit many of them and to move from one to another, you’ll need a car.
Of course, if you base yourself in Valladolid or Tulum, you’ll be able to get to a few cenotes in this list by bicycle. If you’re based in Cancun, the best thing to do is to rent a car to explore the cenotes of the area.
Alternatively, use the form below to check the best car rental rates for Cancun.
THE BEST CENOTES IN CANCUN
In order to better navigate this quite large post, I’ve listed the cenotes in order of general location on the map as they tend to be grouped together. We’ll start with the group of cenotes around the quaint little colonial city of Valladolid, before moving into Quintana Roo to the Puerto Morelos area, then Playa del Carmen and finally Tulum.
Here is my map of cenotes in Cancun for your reference and easy trip planning.
Cenote Oxman is probably the best cenote near Cancun and it was probably my favourite of all the cenotes near the town of Valladolid, Yucatan.
Located on an old ranch, which has now been converted into a relaxing picnic area and restaurant, Cenote Oxman is one of the largest open cenotes around.
What makes this one truly unique though is the number of vines and tree roots hanging down into the water. With the deep blue colour of the water, speckled with harmless black catfish and the sounds of the birds and bats above, it’s a jaw-droppingly beautiful place.
This blue cenote also has a platform and a rope swing (one of the only ones in the area) which you can swing off into the water for some extra fun. For a truly magical experience, arrive when it opens at 8 am. I had it all to myself and the eery silence, echoes and peace made it magical. Note that life jackets are now mandatory for swimming and jumping into the water.
Price: 150 pesos (for cenotes only), 250 pesos (for pool and restaurant)
This is the most Instagram-famous cenote and you’ll no doubt recognise it from the app. For this reason, it gets really crowded but still is one of the best cenotes in the Yucatan.
Cenote Suytun is blue pool with the a platform jutting out into the water and at a certain time of day, it gets illuminated by a shaft of light coming in from the opening above. Actually, I should say that there used to be a stone platform- well it’s still there but it’s entirely underwater now due to groundwater levels having risen in the last few years.
Cenote Suytun is an incredibly photogenic cenote in Mexico but also one where you can feel the hundreds of years of history that it has.
Swim in the cool, placid blue waters, relax and take it all in. If you want to catch the cenote when the light beam hits the platform make sure to come at around midday on a sunny, clear day.
This is the busiest time however and if you want to get some great shots on the platform without having to wait, it’s best to visit first thing in the morning, when it opens at 9 am or right before it closes to be able to swim by yourself and enjoy the peaceful environment.
Price: 150 pesos
Cenote Ik Kil is the furthest away from Cancun but it is right next to Chichen Itza, so if you’re heading out there for the day- this is a great place to stop by to cool off after a visit to the Mayan ruins. Due to its proximity to Chichén Itzá, it is one of the most popular cenotes in the area. Not only due to the location but also for the fact that it’s absolutely, jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Compared to other cenotes this sinkhole is larger and deeper and the water is a clear, dark blue- in this respect it’s quite similar to cenote Oxman.
Streams of water cascade down the sides, vines and roots hang down barely touching the glassy surface of the water and atmospheric Mayan music plays in the background. There’s nothing else to do but go for a dip or simply float around taking it all in.
Many Chichen Itza tours stop here on the way out so it gets very busy- try to get there as early as you can in the morning. The experience here is also a little on the commercial side so if you’re looking for a raw, peaceful experience this is not the cenote for you to visit.
Price: 150 pesos (cenote only), 350 pesos (for restaurant token and entry)
Cenote Zaci is located right in the middle of Valladolid, perfect for if you’re exploring the city and you need a place to cool off.
While it’s not the most picturesque or the cleanest, being right in the middle of the town, you’ll find lots of locals here as well as tourists making it a great spot to people watch. It’s also super affordable too.
Cenote Zaci is actually a really big- one of the biggest cenotes in Cancun – an open cenote with hanging vines and streams of water tumbling down like a scene out of The Jungle Book.
Price: 30 pesos
Cenote Samula is easily reached from Valladolid by either car, taxi or even bicycle. Cenote Samula is located right next to cenotes Xke’Ken, in fact, they are on the same complex.
You can buy tickets for one or the other but I would definitely recommend both if you have the time. Cenote Samula is a cave cenote with a small hole at the top that lets light in in different directions throughout the day.
Cenote Samula is quite a big cave cenote with turquoise water which turns darker the deeper the water gets. It’s a lovely place to swim and relax for a few hours. Note however that there isn’t much space to put your things inside this cenote and it’s also pretty wet so it’s a good idea to bring a dry bag to protect your clothes and valuables.
Cenote X’keKen is smaller, it’s very much about the cave itself rather than the water. You’ll notice all the amazing stalactites and columns of limestone formed over millions of years. A swim in both is a must, even just to cool off and enjoy the freshwater.
Make sure to bring a tripod here for photography as they are both dark inside.
Price: 80 pesos for one cenote, 125 pesos for both
CENOTE SIETE BOCAS
The road from Puerto Morelos to the town of Leona Vicario, is known as the ‘La Ruta de Los Cenotes’ or Cenote Road. As the name suggests there are a number of wonderful cenotes in the area and due to this area being much less popular than Tulum or Valladolid, these cenotes also see much fewer people.
Cenote Siete Bocas is a lovely little cenote, or should I say seven cenotes all grouped together in the middle of the Mayan jungle. These small pools are perfect for swimming and diving. While the openings are quite small, all these small cenotes are linked together through a series of tunnels and caves underground.
While it’s probably not the best cenote for taking photos, this is a great one to come to be away from the crowds and also for freediving.
Price: 300 pesos
CENOTE LA NORIA
Further away from Puerto Morelos along the Ruta de Los Cenotes, you’ll find Cenote La Noria, one of my favourite cenotes in the area and probably the best cenote in Cancun. Cenote La Noria is another cave cenote, but it does have quite a large opening at the top letting in quite a bit of light.
From the opening, you descend down an old wooden staircase to the platform at the bottom from where you can dive into the beautiful turquoise waters. There’s also a little swing and a mini-zipline for added fun so it’s a popular place with kids and families. Inside you’ll find beautiful rock formations- especially if you swim around and explore underwater.
Around the water itself there isn’t much space to relax but on the grounds, you’ll find plenty of space in the jungle to relax and refuel but it’s best to bring a few snacks when coming out here (just keep them hidden because they aren’t actually allowed inside).
Price: 200 pesos
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 natural 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, it feels a lot less claustrophobic than some of the others- it feels like a watering hole in the middle of the jungle- almost like you’re sitting in a garden with a large river running through it.
Cenote Azul 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.
Price: 120 pesos
Opening hours: 8.30 pm -5.30 pm
Another cenote that’s 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.
As mentioned above, Cenote Azul and Cristalino are very similar so it’s probably not worth going to both. If I had to choose I’d go with Cenote Azul as life jackets here are not mandatory. In Cenote Cristalino, you’ll have to wear a life jacket even to swim in waist-deep water.
CENOTE DOS OJOS & CENOTE TAK BE HA
Dos Ojos Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes in Cancun and near Tulum. In fact, this is a complex of cenotes that includes Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) and a few other cenotes like Tak Be Ha.
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 benefit 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 making it the best cenote in Cancun for scuba diving.
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 couldn’t possibly get any bluer. Jump straight in and admire 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.
Once you’ve spent enough time at Cenote Dos Ojos make your way further into Cenote Tak Be Ha. This is one of the best underground cenotes in the area and it has the most incredible blue water perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Located right in the middle of the jungle, make sure to come here early for a truly unique experience.
To get the most out of photography in this dark and small cenote make sure to bring a wide-angle lens with a low F-stop and a tripod.
Price: 350 pesos
Opening Hours: 8 am-5 pm.
Read more: Travel Blogger Photography: What’s In My Camera Bag? – perfect for taking amazing photos in cenotes.
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
Opening hours: 8am-5pm
The first cenote located on the road from Tulum toward Coba, Cenote Calavera is a fun cenote to visit from Tulum.
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 water 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 + more if you want to take photos with a DSLR- this is one of the cenotes that tries to charge you quite a bit of cash just for going in with a DSLR
Opening Hours: 9 am – 4 pm
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 was still a small queue to get in as quite a few people had the same idea.
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 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 10, and it’s on your wish list then get it on Amazon here.
Entrance Fee: 180 pesos
Opening Hours: 8 am – 4.45 pm.
Carwash cenote or Cenote Aktun Ha as it’s also known is a great cenote to visit from Tulum, a little further up the road from Gran Cenote.
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
Which cenotes in Cancun will you be visiting on your next trip? Let me know your comments and questions below, I’d love to hear from you.
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