Our Favorite Cenotes in the Yucatan

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula may be void of surface rivers and streams, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find water. You just need to look underground.

The Yucatan is like one big limestone hard sponge, where water flows through connected underground cave systems, cracks, and holes, occasionally revealing itself at the surface in the form of cenotes.

Cenotes (pronounced say-no-tay) are natural sinkholes created over years and years of erosion of the limestone bedrock. As rainwater absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, it forms a weak acid and as the water trickles through tiny cracks in the limestone, the weak acid dissolves a mineral in the limestone called calcite. As the limestone continues to dissolve over time, caves are formed, and when those collapse eventually, cenotes emerge.

Unlike the warm ocean waters surrounding the Yucatan, the cenotes are filled with cold, fresh water, making them a great place to cool off after spending the day in the sun.

Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people. They serve as an entrance to their underworld, where spirits go to reside after death.

So where should you go to find them? Here are five of our favorite cenotes in and around Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

Rio Secreto Cave System

Only discovered less than a decade ago, the Rio Secreto Natural Reserve is the longest semi-sunken cave system in the Yucatan, with more than 12 kilometers of underground rivers to explore. Down inside the cave system you get to walk, float, and swim past stalactites, which hang like icicles from the cave’s ceiling, and stalagmites, which extend upwards from the cavern floor, often joining to create large columns. Don’t forget to look up–numerous bats call these caves home.

Unlike the warm ocean waters surrounding the Yucatan, the cenotes are filled with cold, fresh water, making them a great place to cool off after spending the day in the sun.

The best way to get there? Jungle buggy of course. A cross between a go cart and a jeep, these four-wheeled dirt devils offer the quickest (and most fun) way to navigate the dusty, rocky, potholed roads that run deep into the jungle and to the entrance of the cave system.

Dos Ojos

Spanish for “two eyes,” the two neighboring cenotes are connected by a large cavern just waiting for you to come and swim, snorkel, or even scuba dive. One of the ten longest underwater cave systems in the world, more than 50 miles of Dos Ojos has been explored—and exploration is still ongoing. The system contains the deepest known cave passage in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo at a depth of 396 feet.

Tankach-ha

Like cliff jumping? Then this cenote is for you. Offering a great way to cool off after touring the nearby Coba Ruins, Tankach-ha cenote is a large, deep pool filled with crystal clear water. A wooden spiral staircase takes you 17 meters underground, with two different platforms from which you can dive–one at five meters and the other at ten meters height.

Casa Cenote

Casa Cenote connects one of the longest underwater cave systems in the world, Nohoch-Na-Chich, with the ocean. Surrounded by thick jungle and filled with mangroves and moss-covered rocks, this cenote offers a real remote feeling. Snorkel your way through deep winding pool where at the end you will see many different bird species and might spot a manatee or two in the hidden caves running deeper into the jungle.

Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people.

Gran Cenote

This large cenote is one of the most popular diving and snorkeling areas. The crystal clear waters let you see the huge stalagmites, stalactites, and columns that create a surreal underworld beneath the surface. Keep an eye out for the many freshwater turtles that call this cenote home.

Note:

If you do visit a cenote, skip the sunscreen. Even biodegradable sunscreens can harm this fragile ecosystem. Many visitor centers provide showers where you can clean yourself off before entering the water.

Share