Scattered with Mayan ruins and tropical rainforests, the Yucatan Peninsula is an idyllic destination for an exotic vacation. Lurking beneath the lush jungle and colorful beach towns, the region is also home to Mexico’s alluring cenotes.
When planning a holiday or road trip in the Yucatan, you can look forward to stopping off at these phenomenal swimming holes to refresh between seeing the sites.
But with over 6,000 cenotes waiting for you, you need to do your research ahead of your trip! That’s exactly where this post comes into the picture. Read on for the best cenotes in Yucatan to add to your schedule.
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Table of Contents
What is a Cenote?
Before we start going through the best Yucatan Peninsula cenotes, let me quickly fill you in on what is a cenote.
Pronounced ”say-no-tay” a cenote is a type of sinkhole that emerges after an underground limestone cave collapses and reveals the groundwater below. They are associated with the Yucatan Peninsula although a number are also located in Belize and Guatemala.
This part of the world is known for its porous limestone soil and subterranean rivers which when paired with the tropical climate (rain!) leads to the emergence of the cenotes.
The term originates from the Mayan word “ts’ono’ot” which means “well” and during the time of the Maya people, cenotes were used as a source of drinking water and irrigation.
Types of Cenotes in the Yucatan
There are actually a couple of different types of cenotes in Yucatan Peninsula which are categorized as follows:
- Cavern cenote: Entirely beneath the ground, cavern cenotes are deep and fed water from an underground river paired with a trickle from the surface. They have no natural light which means they are devoid of flora but you will usually see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
- Semi-open cenote: Predominantly underground, semi-open cenotes have small openings that invite sunlight to pour into the cave and rainwater will keep the water fresh.
- Open cenote: The oldest of all three types, open cenotes are the result of caves that have entirely collapsed in on themselves. Fully exposed to the sky, the water in the basin is the warmest and these are the most accessible and overall offer the best conditions.
Tips for Visiting the Cenotes in Yucatan Peninsula
- Some of the best cenotes in Yucatan are more developed than others and come with bathrooms, shower facilities, and lockers for hire. When visiting those without lockers, you will need to keep an eye on your possessions while swimming. Avoid carrying valuables such as jewelry or wads of cash. Theft is rare but it does happen.
- Do not touch the reeds, vines, corals, and wildlife such as turtles while swimming and snorkeling. You should also avoid grasping the stalactites and stalagmites.
- You have to take a shower before entering the cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. This is mandatory, in order to preserve the cenotes (yes, there are guards who check this). Some cenotes are stricter than others, and you sometimes have to wash your hair as well before they let you in the water.
- Wear a life jacket to avoid tiring (this is mandatory anyways for most of the cenotes in Yucatan).
- Be aware of anyone who tries to offer you a tour. Often this is a tourist trap and means that the person who approached you is just going to walk you to the cenote and then ask for a tip.
- The most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan are in hot demand. If you want to experience them without too much of a crowd, you will need to arrive to coincide with opening times. Alternatively, you can also go 1 hour before the closing time to avoid the biggest crowd during the day.
- Weather conditions can impact the cenotes and at times they may close unexpectedly. You can always ask your hotel to investigate prior to driving to your chosen cenotes.
What to Pack for the Cenotes in Yucatan
If you want to swim in the cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula then you should pack a bag with the following essential items.
- Swimwear: An obvious one if you want to take a dip! Some of the cenotes have changing areas and bathrooms but it’s easier to just wear your swimmies under your clothes. I always have a basic white swimwear with me and I’m also obsessed with this white one with the cute ruffles! If you’re looking for something more on the budget side, check out this slate blue criss cross ruffle swimsuit or this ruffles striped one-piece in red. (Yes, I might be too obsessed with ruffles, haha!)
- Towel: Unfortunately cenotes in the Yucatan don’t offer towels for rental, so it’s important to have your own. I recommend having a good quality microfibre towel as these are super light, ultra soft and dry very quickly.
- Dry bag: Having a sturdy dry bag comes very handy when visiting the best Yucatan peninsula cenotes. After all, you don’t want all your belongings, especially your camera to get wet, right? We made the mistake of going with a normal backpack once and it got soaking wet, so I strongly suggest buying a good dry bag instead!
- Non-slip shoes: Accessing the cenotes often requires descending down a long flight of steps and the humidity makes them quite slippy. Wear walking sandals or sneakers with a decent grip to reduce your risk of slipping and be prepared that they are going to get wet!
- Water shoes: If you want to kill two birds with one stone, I recommend wearing water shoes. These come in handy if you to avoid catching your feet on the rocks and also can be worn while descending to the cenotes. These water shoes for example are super affordable, lightweight and flexible, and come in so many fun colors.
- Biodegradable sunscreen: Altough most cenotes in Yucatan permit wearing any sun protection while you’re in the water, it does come in handy to have a sunscreen with you if you’re planning to do some tanning in between enjoying the crystal clear water. It’s important to preserve the ecology of the cenotes and their surroundings, so please make sure to wear biodegradable sunscreen!
- Insect repellent: As the cenotes are buried amidst the Yucatan jungles, take some insect repellent with you to protect yourself from getting bitten. Please make sure to wash this off before entering the water!
- Cash: Since cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula are located in the jungle, you rarely have any internet network or ATMs nearby. Therefore, it’s important to always have cash with you as the admission fees at the cenotes are generally payable by cash.
- Snorkeling gear: Sometimes this is available for hire at the larger cenotes but having your own snorkeling gear will reduce costs (and they are much more hygenic anyways).
- Life jackets: These are available at most of the best cenotes in Yucatan however if you have your own life vest, you can always take it with you to avoid extra fees where rental isn’t included in the admission charge.
Best Cenotes in Yucatan You Can’t Miss
1. Cenote Suytun
Entrance: 200 MXN ($11.50 US)
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 4.30 pm
When thinking of the most beautiful cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, Cenote Suytun is often the first one that comes to mind. If you’ve scrolled through any photos from Mexico, I’m sure you’ve already come across this one!
Full of stalactites and stalagmites, Cenote Suytun is one of the most iconic cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula thanks to the long pier that floats above the surface of the crystal clear water. One thing to note is that it’s not always above the water as the water level is constantly changing so sometimes it’s flooded with water.
The pier comes to a stop right in the middle of the swimming hole where natural light pools down from above. The best time of day to experience the beams of sunlight is just after midday so it’s worth scheduling your visit according to this.
Swimming is permitted at Cenote Suytun but a life jacket is mandatory (this is included in the entry price). You always have to wear the life jacket when you’re in the water, however, if the pier is not underwater, you don’t need to wear the life jacket as long as you stay on the pier.
One important consideration to note is that the maximum time you can spend at Cenote Suytun is one hour.
2. Cenote Chukum
Entrance: 200 MXN ($11.50 US)
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm
Named for the chukum trees that dot the surrounding area, Cenote Chukum (Chukum-Ha) is a newcomer on the scene but has swiftly earned a reputation as one of the best cenotes in Yucatan for adventurous souls.
The cenote is huge and has a constant flow of water which ensures the basin maintains a vibrant turquoise hue. Highlights of this adventurous cenote include the three diving platforms, a rope swing, and even a zipline. For even more adrenaline, you can rappel your way into the cavern.
As with Cenote Suytun, a life jacket is mandatory if you want to swim at Cenote Chukum and is included in the price. If you visit Cenote Chukum then you will also need to factor in time to wash your hair before jumping in. This is another mandatory requirement besides taking a full-body shower.
3. Cenotes Dzitnup
Entrance: 225 MXN ($13.50 US) for both
Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 5 pm
Cenotes Dzitnup covers two neighboring swimming holes: Cenote Xkeken (also known as Dzitnup) and Cenote Samula. The two cenotes are right next to each other with one entrance booth, so you can choose to visit one or both.
These cenotes are a short drive from Chichén-Itzá which makes them two of the best cenotes in Yucatan Peninsula for a post sightseeing dip. Despite their proximity to the Mayan ruins, they tend to attract fewer tourists and so a highlight is the lack of crowds you’ll encounter.
Both cenotes are embellished with stalactites and stalagmites and if you’re lucky you might catch the resident bats stretching their wings. They are free of attractions and so offer a less touristic experience overall.
Yet again a life jacket is mandatory and you need to pay for this on top of the admission fee. Rental is 20 MXN ($1 US) for Cenote Samula and 30 MXN ($1.5 US) for Cenote Xkeken. You cannot keep the same life jacket so if you visit both then you will pay twice.
A quick word of warning. When we arrived we were greeted by a guy at the entrance who showed us where we could find the ticket booth. He then stuck around and walked us to the first cenote where he asked us for a tip of 100-200 MXN ($5.50-11.50 US) for what he branded a 5-minute “tour”.
This felt like one of the tourist traps I cited earlier so I would recommend avoiding ending up in the same citation.
4. Cenote Oxman
Entrance: 150 MXN ($8.50 US) or 350 MXN ($20 US)
Opening hours: Daily, 7 am – 5 pm
Strewn with vines and tree roots, Cenote Oxman is one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan with a wilderness feel. Set amid a collapsed cave, waves of sunlight flood the space and keep the foliage lush and green.
Due to the access to the sun, the water in this cenote feels a little warmer in comparison to other cenotes. Highlights of Cenote Oxman include the diving platforms and a jump rope. Access to the water is via a staircase of around 70 steps which provides a birdseye view as you descend.
The higher entrance fee of 350 MXN ($20 US) also includes dining at the Hacienda Cenote Oxman, a former agave plantation. You can opt for a 200 MXN ($10 US) credit to spend in the restaurant or apply 350 MXN ($20 US) to access the buffet. The hacienda complex is equipped with a large open-air swimming pool.
Again, a life jacket is mandatory but the rental is included in the entry price. Lockers and showers are available at the complex.
5. Cenote Zaci
Entrance: 60 MXN ($3.50 US)
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm
This huge open cenote is located in the heart of Valladolid and is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and museums. As it is open to the elements, Cenote Zaci is bathed in natural sunlight while the vegetation creeping up the sides of the cavern is vibrantly green.
This is one of the top cenotes in Yucatan for photography, swimming conditions, and daredevils. It is possible to jump from the cliffs from heights of up to 8 meters (26.2 feet).
Wearing a life jacket is mandatory. The water depth varies dramatically with the deepest sections registering around 100 meters (328 feet).
There is a rope strewn across the water to help you if you need to catch your breath.
6. Cenote Ik Kil
Entrance: 180 MXN ($10 US)
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm
Easily one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan, Cenote Ik Kil is distinguished by the long tendrils of vines that hang from the mouth of the cave and hover above the turquoise water giving it a real jungle atmosphere.
Cenote Ik Kil was considered sacred to the Mayans and is where they would worship Chaac, the Rain God.
Situated a 5-minute drive from Chichén-Itzá, Cenote Ik Kil is the closest option for a post pyramid dip. A life jacket is mandatory when swimming at Cenote Ik Kil and hire is included in the admission fee. Lockers are available for hire.
If you get hungry then there is a restaurant right next to the cenote where you can feast on the Mexico buffet for 350 MXN ($20 US) per person. The other option is to pick up something light from the budget-friendly snack bar next door but note that they only accept cash.
7. Cenote Calavera
Entrance: 250 MXN ($14 US) plus 200 MXN ($11.50 US) camera fee
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm
Located close to Tulum, Cenote Calavera earned its name as it resembles a human skull. It’s definitely one of the most unique cenotes in Yucatan and also one of the best Instagram spots in Tulum.
As the nondescript entrance is hidden away it is often overlooked by tourists, making this one of the best cenotes in Mexico to escape the crowds and soak up the bathing experience at a more leisurely pace.
However, since the cenote itself is super small, it does fill up quickly. So if you want to have the whole place for yourself, it’s best to go either right at opening time, or one hour before closing time.
Cenote Calavera is popular for diving and it is possible to plunge into the pristine water or swing yourself into the pool with the rope. If you’d rather not then you can enter via the ladder that is propped up against the cenote hall.
Besides the main entrance to the cenote, there are two smaller holes from which you are permitted to jump into the water.
No life jacket is needed to swim at Cenote Calavera however you can rent one for 50 MXN ($3 US).
8. Gran Cenote
Entrance: 500 MXN ($29.50 US)
Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 4.45 pm
Buried deep in the jungle just outside of Tulum, Gran Cenote is a series of two cenotes that are connected by caves. In addition to the radiant beauty of the Gran Cenote, these sinkholes are also the habitat of turtles!
You will benefit from taking your snorkel if you have one when visiting one of the top cenotes in Yucatan for wildlife while the water itself is as pure as you’ll find. Furthermore, when you swim through the caves that link the cenotes, you’re likely to encounter resident bats and birdlife.
Use of a life jacket is mandatory at Gran Cenote and hire is included in the price. Before you jump in you are required to wash your hair and your whole body to preserve the natural habitat. It’s a given but you must also resist touching the turtles.
9. Cenote Dos Ojos
Entrance: 400 MXN ($22.70 US) or 700 MXN ($39.80 US) for a guided tour
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm
Cenote Dos Ojos is another dual offering: two of the best cenotes in Yucatan for the price of one! If you know your Spanish then you will already know that the name means “Two Eyes Cenote.”
The water at this cenote system is an ethereal shade of blue and the two sinkholes are connected by one of the deepest underwater channels, reaching depths of 118 meters (396 feet). Additionally, there is a separate bat cave, however, you can only visit this as part of the guided tour.
The first cenote is more popular while the second hole is smaller and darker, but equally special. Life jackets are mandatory if you want to swim at Cenote Dos Ojos and are included in the entry fee.
10. Cenote Azul
Entrance: 150 MXN ($8.50 US)
Opening hours: 8.30 am – 5 pm
Cenote Azul, the “blue cenote”, is one of the best cenotes in Mexico for snorkeling due to the swarms of fish and beautiful corals that reside in the water. In fact, if your feet need some TCL, one of the highlights of this cenote is that you can enjoy a natural fish spa as the resident fish nibble your toes!
This large, open cenote is divided into varieties of depths. Where the water is at its deepest, it is possible to enjoy some cliff jumping.
Life jackets are not mandatory at Cenote Azul and if you do want to wear one you’ll need to pay an extra 30 MXN ($1.70 US) for the hire. As the water depth varies quite considerably, they are recommended for weaker swimmers and children.
Due to the size and open-air setting of Cenote Azul, you can easily spend a few hours here swimming, snorkeling, and catching some rays on the side of the sinkhole.
11. Cenote Aktun-Ha (Cenote Car Wash)
Entrance: 300 MXN ($17 US) plus 150 MXN ($8.50 US) camera fee and 150 MXN ($8.50 US) drone fee
Opening hours: Daily, 9 am – 4 pm
Cenote Aktun-Ha, meaning “Water Cave”, also goes by its nickname, Cenote Car Wash. This bizarre name refers to when local taxi drivers would wash their vehicles in this cenote!
Fortunately, they no longer do this and the cenote water is sparkling clean. This massive, open cenote is one of the best cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula for diving and snorkeling if you want to expand your underwater adventure.
A life jacket is mandatory at Cenote Aktun-Ha but you will need to pay a rental fee of 30 MXN ($1.70 US) on top of the admission.
This is one of the lesser-known cenotes in Yucatan so even if you go in the middle of the afternoon, chances are you’ll have it all to yourself!
12. Cenote Zacil-Ha
Entrance: 300 MXN ($17 US) plus 150 MXN ($8.50 US) camera fee
Opening hours: Daily, 10 am – 5.30 pm
The final sinkhole on my list, Cenote Zacil-Ha is an open cenote surrounded by glorious green jungle and endemic birds who will peer down at you from the treetops. There are lots of fish in the water waiting to treat your feet to a fish spa and there is also a zipline for added fun.
No life jacket is required in this cenote and the water is clear and reaches a maximum depth of 10 meters (32.8 feet). In addition to the cenote, there are two swimming pools available at the complex which are open daily, 11 am – 5 pm. These are handy as the cenote itself is rather compact in size.
There are also some cabins for hire if you want to stay here and be the first to jump in. Due to the relatively shallow depth of the sinkhole and the other amenities, Cenote Zacil-Ha is one of the top cenotes in Yucatan for kids and is popular with local families.
Planning a trip to Mexico?
Then you might want to take a look at all our other travel guides about Mexico. I promise, they are just as awesome as this article was!
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