Best Cenotes in Mexico – Swimming in Mexican Cenotes in the Yucatan

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Mexican Cenotes: cenotes near Cancun, the cenotes in Tulum, and the best cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. What are cenotes? Why should you seek them out? Read on to find out. Headed to the Yucatan? Then make sure to visit some of the best cenotes in Mexico. Swimming through the Yucatan cenotes is easily one of our favorite things to do in Mexico with kids. We’ll tell you all about the Mexican cenotes experience and how to get the most out of it. We’ll also cover Merida cenotes when to visit cenotes near Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and the best cenotes in Tulum. 

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Best Cenotes in Mexico

We love exploring Mexico with kids, and after a few months in the Yucatan Peninsula, we’re happy to tell you about our favorite activity here: Mexican cenotes. If you can do only one thing in the Yucatan with kids, it’s swimming in a few Mexican cenotes. Are you keen for a swim? Then read on and see which ones to visit first. We’ll talk about what are the best cenotes in various areas:

  • Merida Cenotes
  • Cenotes Near Cancun
  • Cenotes Near Playa del Carmen
  • Best Cenotes Near Tulum

Not familiar with the Mexico cenote experience? Don’t worry, we’ll explain that too. Before we decided to spend some time in the country, I had no idea what cenotes in Mexico were either. 

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What are Cenotes in the Yucatan?

cenotes in the yucatan - Cenotes Azul cenote in Tulum

Cenotes are natural swimming holes, underground rivers, and cave networks filled with cool blue water. That’s right: they are freshwater, but many of them empty into the sea. There are thousands of cenotes in Mexico, and most of them are in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican Cenotes are OLD

Cenotes in the Yucatan came long before man walked the earth. Perhaps you’ve heard the theory about an asteroid hitting the planet, right? The one that helped kill off the dinosaurs? Well, many scientists believe that the northwest Yucatan was ground zero for that asteroid. The impact helped create a massive network of underwater rivers and pools. These became the Yucatan cenotes. Thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan have been discovered. They find new ones every year.

Yucatan Cenotes are Part of Mayan Culture

Ancient Mayan cities were often built around cenotes in the Yucatan because it was a source of clean water. The Mayans considered Yucatan cenotes the entrance to the underworld and other dwellings of the gods. Today, they are a great place to cool off in the intense heat. Seriously: temperatures in the Yucatan Peninsula can get up to 97º F/ 36º C and 95% humidity. That’s why a dip in a shaded pool with cool fresh water feels really, really good.

Mexican Cenotes are Varied

Cenotes in Mexico come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small jungle pools. Other Mexican cenotes look like a freshwater oasis near the beach. Then there are the subterranean cisterns that require a short hike and a few ladders to reach.

We love being in the water. Whether it’s canyoning in Galicia, kayaking in Borneo, taking scuba lessons in Lombok or learning to surf in the Canary Islands, jumping into some clean, clear water is what we love most. A day at a remote Mexican cenote reminds us of wild swimming in Spain: you earn your swim with a hike and only a few people around. Just you and the clear blue water. Beautiful.

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This List of Cenotes in the Yucatan is Incomplete

Cuzama Cave: Underground mexican cenotes

It would take years of dedication to visit all the best cenotes in the Yucatan. There are at least 6,000 known cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. Out of those, there are hundreds that are easily accessible by people like you and me.

This list of best cenotes in the Yucatan is just my opinion. I’m sure other travelers might agree or disagree on which are truly some great places to swim in Mexico. I could add a dozen more of the best cenotes in Mexico to this list, and this Yucatan cenote list may need to be updated with time. But here’s what I can tell you about for now.

Tips for Visiting Cenotes in Mexico with Kids

Cenote Yax Bacaltun - Merida cenotes

First I’ll cover a few tips before going to cenotes in Mexico. Then I’ll tell you about some of the best cenotes in the Yucatan to go to with kids, the best cenotes for jumping, the best cenotes for diving, and more. But before I do that, here are a few general tips and best practices for visiting Mexican cenotes.

No Sunscreen/Mosquito Repellant Allowed

Don’t slather up with sunscreen or douse yourself with bug spray before jumping in Yucatan cenotes. The water in the best cenotes in Mexico is clear, clean and a joy to swim in. Why does it feel so pure and refreshing? Well, one reason is that all those chemical-laden creams are forbidden. Apparently, some biodegradable sunscreens are allowed. If you use them, maybe put them on before you arrive in order to avoid a misunderstanding.

For what it’s worth, we experienced very few mosquitoes near the Mexican cenotes we visited. Moreover, our favorite cenotes in the Yucatan are the subterranean or partially underground kind. Because of this, sunburn wasn’t an issue for us. When we visited open-air cenotes, we wore our rash guards.

Maps, Stairs, Ladders and Tight Spaces

Cuzama Tree Entrance - Yucatan cenotes

Most of the best cenotes near Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are big, open and close to a parking lot. In contrast, many of our favorite Mexican cenotes are in the interior of the peninsula away from the beach. They require driving yourself or going with a guide. They also may be down some stairs or require climbing a ladder. Some openings to Mexican cenotes are tight. For example, one of them was under the roots of a tree. I barely made it through with my backpack on.

Mexican Cenote Supplies

If you’re making a day of visiting cenotes in the Yucatan, then there are a few things I think you might want to bring. All cenotes supplies are optional but suggested. 

Life Vests & Snorkels/Goggles 

If you travel with swimming gear, then bring them here. Most Mexican cenotes rent them out, but their quality varies.

Rash Guards, Sun Hats & Other Protection

No one rents out rash guards, and if you’re in an open-air cenote in the Yucatan, you need to consider sunburn protection. We always travel with rash guards. 

Sturdy/Grippy Shoes or Sandals

Visiting remote Yucatan cenotes means slippery surfaces. Including ladder. We sometimes wore simple flip flops, but in general, we usually wore something with a grip on the bottom.

Flashlight or Headlamp

Some underground cenotes in the Yucatan have dark pathways. There’s usually some light, but a headlamp can help when digging through a bag.

Snacks & Plenty of Water

Some of the big cenotes near Cancun and Playa del Carmen have people selling chips and bottles of water, but prices are hiked and there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything near remote Yucatan cenotes. Bring it yourself. We drove ourselves, so we always had a bag of sandwiches, water, and fruit. If you go with a guide or a tour, make sure that you know what the deal is with food. Some cenotes in the Yucatan have food available. Some even have restaurants. Then there are others that are just a hole in the ground with nothing nearby. Be prepared.

A Set of Dry Clothes for Everyone

Even in the hottest part of the year, the cenotes in the Yucatan are still refreshingly cool. That said, they can feel downright cold if you stay in them a while. Same goes for the shaded, subterranean environment you find them in. As a result, the temperature can remain much lower here than at ground level. I tend to enjoy drying out naturally in tropical climates like this one. Afterward, however, I was glad that I bought a dry shirt and pair of shorts. The kids were too.

Deep Pools, Slippery Surfaces, No Lifeguard

Cuzama Cenote using ladder: Merida Cenotes in the Yucatan

Most of our favorite cenotes in Mexico are far off the beaten track. There may be someone there taking the money and renting out snorkels, but don’t expect a lifeguard around. Like wild swimming, there is some inherent risk, and you should be aware of that.

Expect remote Yucatan cenotes to have stairs, ladders, rope swings, and slippery surfaces. Many Mexcian cenotes are deep — some of them very, very deep. There are ropes strung across the water in many cenotes in the Yucatan, but consider life jackets if you or the kids aren’t strong swimmers. Have fun, but be careful.

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Prices Vary

The prices of Mexican cenotes vary wildly. In fact, the price may be different by the time you read this. They certainly were different than many of the prices I read. Small, locals-only cenotes near the center of the peninsula tend to be around 25-30 pesos per person. Larger open-air cenotes near Playa del Carmen and cenotes in Tulum may cost five times as much. Each Yucatan cenote is owned and/or managed by a different group or family. 

Amenities Vary

Like with food listed above, every Mexican cenote we visited was different. Some cenotes near Playa del Carmen have changing rooms and full-time employees working on the landscaping. Other Merida cenotes near in the peninsula interior are family-run affairs with little more than a plastic chair and a box to collect money. Some rent snorkels and/or lifejackets, but quality varies. The larger, nicer (and more expensive) cenotes in Tulum and Cancun tend to have better and more varied amenities.

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Best Cenotes in MexicoCenote Garden of Eden: cenotes near playa del carmen

When listing up the best cenotes in Mexico, the list is heavily weighted in the Yucatan Peninsula. But where are the best cenotes in the Yucatan? Let’s go area by area first.

Merida Cenotes

The closest cenotes to Merida that we can recommend are Cenote Xlacah and Cenote San Pedro Cholul. These are not the best Merida cenotes,  just the closest. Cenote San Pedro Cholul is clean & clear, but just a hole in the ground near an apartment complex.

Cenote Xlacah is more interesting because it’s next to the small Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltún. Both are a few minutes outside the city by car. They’re nice for a dip, but cenotes in Mexico get much better. Now here are our favorite Merida cenotes.

Cenote X’batun & Cenote Dzonbakal 

These open-air Merida cenotes are close to each other and easy to access by car. Many people drop by these cenotes to cool off after a day at the Mayan ruins of Uxmal.

Homun & Cuzama

Rope Swing at Cenote Yax Bacultun - Yucatan cenotes in Mexico

These two small towns between Merida and Valladolid have many cenotes to explore. In fact, most of the town’s livelihood comes from showing people the cenotes of Homun & Cuzama. The easiest way to reach these Merida cenotes is by booking a tour online, but there are other ways. You can book a guide and transportation in most major cities in the Yucatan. Or just ask around.

If you’re like us, simply drive into town and sort it out yourself. The roads aren’t too bad and Google Maps does a pretty good job of helping you reach most Yucatan cenotes on your own. Or you can talk to locals when you approach the area. When we went to Homun, we used Google Maps and drove ourselves. When we went to Cuzama, we drove to some thatch huts. There you’ll find a makeshift train track and horse-drawn carts. More on that below.

Cenote Yax Bacaltun

stairs down to Cenote Yax Bacaltun - best cenote in Mexico

The dirt road that leads to this beautiful underground Yucatan cenote is unremarkable. You may even wonder if you’re heading in the right direction (we sure did). However, once you arrive, you’ll discover one of the best cenotes in the Yucatan that we visited.

We like underground cenotes in the Yucatan, but not when they’re too underground. For example, if the ceiling is too low or if there’s no sunlight trickling in, it can feel a little creepy or claustrophobic. We’ll swim there, but want to leave after 20 minutes. Not at Yax Bacaltun. This cenote near Merida is a large cave with a huge entrance, so there’s plenty of sunlight. There’s also a rope swing, which is a huge bonus.

Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat

Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat - Merida cenotes

Like Yax Bacaltun above, this is a large underground cenote near Merida with a huge entrance letting in the sun. This one is obviously popular with locals, too. There were at least half a dozen families frolicking in the waters here the last time we visited.

Cenote San Antonio

Cenote San Antonio - yucatan cenotes

This was an almost fully underground cenote, with only one mattress-sized hole letting in light from the surface. Most of this cenote near Merida looks like a cave with a swimming pool inside. Fluorescent bulbs light the interior. The water is deep and dark, and the kids enjoyed daring each other to go further from the entrance. Then they got creeped out and were ready to leave.

WARNING: Don’t Visit Cenote Santa Cruz

This is one Merida cenote that we won’t recommend. For one, it’s completely underground and unremarkable. Then we were told that there’s a second cenote you can reach by swimming under a rock wall. I tried it, and it was dangerous and not worth the risk. Do you want to swim straight down 40 seconds holding a rope in the dark, only to surface in a dirty pool on the other side? I did. Don’t waste your money on this one.

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City of Cuzama Cenote Tour (Bolonchojul)

Walking to Palapas at the Cenote Cuzama - best cenotes in mexico

Many of the best cenotes in Mexico are not accessible by car. The main cenotes in the city of Cuzama are like this too. You don’t drive up or hike in. Instead, you park near these palapas (straw-roofed huts) pictured above. There you’ll see what looks like a kiddie train track. We paid a local here 400 pesos and then climbed aboard a rail car. This may look like a train track, but it runs on literal horsepower. Our guide hooks the horse to the cart, and off we go.

Eating snack on the horse carriage to next cenote at Cuzama cenotes in the Yucatan

We rolled through the forest to three different Mexican cenotes. The first was accessible by stairs and had a large entrance. The second Yucatan cenote was deeper underground and required a ladder to reach. It had a large jumping point and a small hole for light to enter. The third cenote near Merida was much smaller and completely underground. Once you climb in, you’ll find a cave with stalactites and stalagmites.

We had thirty minutes at each cenote. We could have stayed longer at the second one, but felt that it was a fair amount at each. Our guide waited for us at each cenote and then shuttled us to the next. Once we’d been to all three, the horse trotted us back to where we started.

Sunlight coming into Cuzama cenote near Merida Mexico

Take a Full-Day Cuzama Cenote Tour from Mérida

Best Cenotes Near Valladolid

Most people roll through Valladolid during a visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. I highly recommend this, too. That said, Valladolid is a fun place to visit in its own right. One of the reasons to visit Valladolid is for its beautiful Yucatan cenotes. Here are our favorites.

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Cenote Zaci

Zaci cenote in Valladolid mexico

This cenote in the Yucatan’s interior is smack in the middle of downtown Valladolid. It’s mostly aboveground, but also partially covered with a cave wall. So there’s shade.

Cenote Ik Kil

This is possibly the most famous of all cenotes in Mexico. Cenote Ik Kil is a short distance from Chichen Itza and is considered part of the ancient city. This can also be a very crowded cenote since many tour groups drop by here after visiting the pyramids. Arrive early if you want to avoid the crowds. We actually chose to go to a different cenote instead of Cenote Ik Kil simply because we arrived late and didn’t want to deal with tour buses.

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Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman

Our favorite cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula

This lovely spot ended up being one of the best cenotes in Mexico that we’ve visited. It’s on the property of a Hacienda only 15 minutes outside Valladolid. You can even bike to it, as there are bicycle paths for a lot of the way there. The cenote at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman has a rope swing and a jumping spot. A local told us it was nearly 90meters (!) deep, but I can’t confirm that. The Hacienda also has a swimming pool and a small restaurant and bar. The food was unremarkable but decent and inexpensive.

Best Cenotes Near Cancun

If you’re looking for cenotes near Cancun, then just hire a driver, book a tour or otherwise head south. Then look at the lists for best cenotes in Playa del Carmen and Tulum below. Playa del Carmen is a little over an hour south of Cancun. Tulum is two hours. Valladolid is also two hours. Merida is a little over three hours from Cancun. There are cenotes in Cancun and the surrounding area, but we think that the best cenotes in the Yucatan take a drive to reach. 

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Best Cenotes Near Playa del Carmen

cenote azul - Best Cenotes Near Playa del Carmen

There’s plenty to do in the area with or without swimming, but the cenotes near Playa del Carmen are some of the best in Mexico and only a short drive away.

Cenote Azul, Cenote Garden of Eden, and Cenote Cristalino

These three Yucatan cenotes near Playa del Carmen are located within walking distance of each other. In fact, the entrances are all right next to each other but keep in mind they are not equidistant from the road. For example, Cenote Garden of Eden was a few minutes’ drive back, which would make for a long walk.

All three cenotes and have large open pools with clear, aquamarine water. Their proximity to the beach probably explains the slight saline taste to the water. Still, they still feel clean and don’t leave the same sticky residue that ocean water does.

All three Yucatan cenotes have places to jump from, as well. Our favorite was Cenote Garden of Eden, where the jump was around two stories high. Be careful where and when you jump, though. Groups of scuba divers regularly explore the deepest areas under the earth’s surface. You don’t want to land on them as they emerge.

Cenote Cho-Ha

This is a deep one, so claustrophobics beware. It’s about three floors down wooden stairs, where it’s well-lit but electric bulbs light up the thousands of stalactites over the crystal blue pool. One of the best cenotes in Mexico for the subterranean set. 

Cenote Sac Actun

Connected to one of the largest underground cave systems in the world, Cenote Sac Actun is massive and can be navigated with a guide or on your own. It has some really deep spots loved by divers, but can be enjoyed with or without staying submerged. This one is deep in the jungle, so you might have it to yourself if you make the effort. It has a creepy nickname — “pet cemetery cenote” — because fossilized bones were found here when it was first discovered. But don’t let that turn you off this Mexican cenote experience!

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Best Cenotes in  Tulum

Best Cenotes In  Tulum

Cenote Carwash

Taxi drivers used to clean up their rides here, thus the name. Today, it’s just another beautiful above-ground cenote in Mexico, with plenty to see above water and below. There is some plant life in the water, as well as a few crocodiles. You read right. They are small and stay from where the people are, however.

Cenote Dos Ojos & Gran Cenote

These are two of the most famous Mexican cenotes and for good reason. They are huge, shaded and have great opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. The grounds here are well-maintained and there is food and changing stations if you need them. Priced accordingly.

Cenote Caracol

It takes a few more minutes to reach this Tulum cenote, but it’s worth it. Deep in the jungle, many arrive by 4-wheel-drive. It’s a great diving opportunity as well, as it’s part of a massive underwater cave network. 

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Roundup: Best Cenotes in Mexico by Category

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Families with Little Kids

If you have small children and want to play it safe, then I’d probably recommend the larger open-air cenotes like Gran Cenote, Cenote Dos Ojos, and Cenote Azul. These have some shallower parts and have fewer stairs and steep drop-offs.

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Teens

Well, any Yucatan cenote is fun for thrill-seekers, I think. For us, it was any Yucatan cenote with a rope swing or a jumping platform. Cenote Yax Bacaltun and the cenote at Hacienda Luis Oxman both have great rope swings. Cenote Garden of Eden has one of the best jumping platforms.

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Cliff Jumping

Our favorite Yucatan cenotes for jumps was easily Cenote Garden of Eden. They have a nice platform right over the water so it’s about as safe as it can get. In other words, you could slip and fall off the platform and still fall straight into the water below.

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Swimming

For us, we prefer partially underwater cenotes because we are prone to sunburn. We need shade, so any underground cenote is our favorite for swimming. All of the cenotes we visited in Homun and Cuzama fit the bill nicely. If you can take the sun, then the list of cenotes near Playa del Carmen should help.

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Snorkeling

Most of the cenotes in the Yucatan’s east coast are great for this. In fact, they’re all good cenotes for snorkeling, but you’ll see more in open-air cenotes like Cenote Car wash, Cenote Azul, and Cenote Garden of Eden. We’ve also heard that Cenote Casa (not mentioned in this post) is a good Yucatan cenote for snorkeling.

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Scuba Diving

Out of the Mexican cenotes listed here, the best for diving are Cenote Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, and Cenote Car Wash. Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote both have good visibility and large galleries. They’re considered some of the best cenotes for beginning divers, too.

Best Cenotes in Mexico for Wildlife

Lots of cenotes have fish, but Cenote Car Wash has even more. There is some lush vegetation as a few turtles and small crocodiles, as well.

What Great Mexican Cenotes Are Missing?

Underground - best cenotes in Mexico

What other Yucatan cenotes would you add to this list? Have you been swimming in the best cenotes in Mexico? Where? What do you consider to be the best cenote in Mexico? Tell us in the comments!

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Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy or book something after clicking one of my links, we might get a small commission. You pay nothing extra, so don’t worry. Also, everything you see here is just my personal opinion. I only recommend places, activities, and gear that I believe will genuinely help my readers, and here I only want to help you find the best cenotes in Mexico!

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Comments

  1. We visited Sambula (Motul), Kikil, Xcanche (Ek Balam), and Canunchen & Tza Ujun Kat (Homun) this past week with our 14 and 10 year old boys. Canunchen was the best; hired the mototaxi (200 pesos) at west edge of town, parked at Tza Ujun Kat. We thought guide was taking us to Yax bacaltun after Canunchen as we requested; turns out he just returned us to our car at Tza Ujun Kat (Uinic is also there, we didn’t go in there after Tza Ujun Kat). Ratings:

    Canunchen (Homun) – 5 stars. Great clean site, bathrooms, showers, but bring your food. Drinks for sale. Two rope swings, two jumping platforms. Was 30 pesos each; pay upon arrival at the cenote. Several ropes to hang on to in the water.

    Kikil (Kikil) – 4 stars – Big pool, lots of sunlight, not crowded. 100 pesos adults, 40 kids 12 and under. They made us use their life vest; nowhere else did. There is a ledge you can climb up on that is about 2 meters high to jump in if you want. Also a pair of beautiful Toh birds.

    Xcanche – 4 stars. On site at Ek Balam, but is pricey for a few activities (was 1200 pesos for 4 of us), but definitely the one if you want to combine zip lining, rappeling, rope swing, etc. Kids adore this place, many younger twentysomething European tourists; I think locals avoid it. They either let you rent bike for the 1 km ride, or have them pedal you in a bike taxi. Nice restaurant (with cerveza), changing rooms, showers, and bathrooms. The locks for the changing room lockers are available on a little shaded platform you can walk right by; we did.

    Sambula (Motul) – 2 stars. Only 12 pesos each, and on site restaurant. Is primarily a cave cenote, popular with locals, and has an area to sit at the back end of the cave. Feels like you could drown here and no one would know, but has a spooky cool feel to it. Slippery getting in and out, so be careful. 12 pesos each.

    Tza Ujun Kat (Homun) – 1 star. Damp, dank, stinky and full of live flying bats and associated ground (and on its way to the ground) guano. It didn’t feel like we were in a bat cave; we were! Neat U-shaped swimming area, but our clothes had all been pooped on within 10 minutes. I thought that this cenote should just be left to the bats. 25 pesos each, was all locals. Rocks you can jump off of, but are pretty slippery. Even though the water is extremely clear, I would be scared to see the results of a water quality test here.

  2. Great article. Really interesting read. Our favourite cenote has to be yokdzonot. Incredible swim, beautiful surroundings and a small community run restaurant in site.

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