Even if you’ve yet to hear the word cenote you’re probably been scrolling past images of them on various social media feeds for years. The jarring blue waters, often framed by limestone walls and dangling vines are something out of a fairytale. Living in the Yucatan for over 3 years gave me the opportunity to explore more than my fair share. Actually, my first ever international trip was to Riviera Maya, where I swan in my very first cenote. Flash forward 10 years. It was also the destination I took my 4-year-old niece on her first international trip. There is something special about Riviera Maya, and the magic of the cenotes has a lot to do with it. That is one of many reasons why I am so excited that EveryQueer is hosting Gay Cancun: The Rich Culture of the Yucatán Peninsula tour which includes a cenote tour.
What are Cenotes
A cenote is a natural sinkhole that is formed by the collapse of soft limestone bedrock, revealing underground water sources. These sinkholes are typically filled with fresh, crystal-clear water, making them ideal for swimming, snorkeling, diving, and when you’re feeling adventurous cliff jumping.
Cenotes are unique to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Many being found near popular cities like Tulum, Merida, Valladolid, and of course Riviera Maya. The Mayan people revered cenotes as sacred, and they were often used for ceremonial purposes as well as for drinking water and irrigation. Today, cenotes are popular tourist destinations, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to explore these beautiful natural wonders.
The Riviera Maya is home to tons of stunning cenotes, because they are natural they are all completely different, making a visit to each totally unique. It’s hard to give an exact number of cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula because new ones are still being discovered. However, it is estimated that there are over 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatan, with around 2,400 of them currently registered and documented. These cenotes vary in size and shape, from small, shallow pools to large, deep sinkholes that reach over 100 meters in depth.
Whether you’re looking to swim, snorkel, or dive, the Yucatan Peninsula offers an abundance of cenotes to explore and enjoy. Here are some of the best cenotes in the Riviera Maya:
Ik Kil Cenote
One of the most popular and stunning cenotes in the area. It is a large, open-air cenote with crystal clear water and a depth of over 40 meters. It is located near Chichen Itza, so it’s an excellent place to stop by before or after visiting the ruins. The cenote is about 60 meters in diameter and over 40 meters deep, with crystal-clear, turquoise-colored water.
The cenote is surrounded by lush vegetation and vines that hang from the top of the sinkhole, creating a natural curtain. There are also several cascading waterfalls that add to the beauty of the cenote. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and dive in the cenote, and there are platforms at various heights for jumping and diving into the water.
One of the unique features of Ik Kil Cenote is the stairway that leads down to the water, which is carved into the limestone bedrock and has a Mayan-inspired design. The cenote also has a small restaurant, restrooms, and changing rooms.
Ik Kil Cenote is super popular and can get busy during peak season, but it is worth a visit for its beauty and unique location near Chichen Itza.
Gran Cenote is another popular stop located in Tulum. It is surrounded by a thick jungle and features crystal-clear water. It’s a semi-open cenote, meaning that it is partially covered with a large cave opening in the middle that allows light to filter into the cenote and illuminates the crystal-clear turquoise water. In my opinion, the partially open ones are the most photogenic because of the way the light comes in.
Gran Cenote is one of the largest cenotes in the area. The water is beautiful but it’s also pretty cold that fact doesn’t deter people from swimming, snorkeling, and diving here. There are several underwater tunnels and caverns that divers can explore, and snorkelers can see a variety of fish, turtles, and other aquatic life. A bunch of wooden platforms and stairs make it pretty easy to access. On the property, there are facilities, including restrooms, changing rooms, and a small snack bar. Overall, Gran Cenote is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to the Riviera Maya even if it can be crowded at times.
Dos Ojos Cenote
Dos Ojos Cenote is known for its two interconnected sinkholes, which create an incredible underwater cave system making for some of the best best snorkeling and diving near Tulum.
The cenote system is a popular destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, as it is one of the largest and most extensive underwater cave systems in the world, with over 80 kilometers of explored underwater passageways. The water in Dos Ojos is crystal-clear and has a beautiful blue color, providing excellent visibility for diving and snorkeling.
The two sinkholes are connected by a large cavern called “The Bat Cave,” which is home to a large colony of bats.
Visitors can explore the cavern and see the bats flying overhead. The two sinkholes are also connected by a system of underwater tunnels and caverns that offer a unique and unforgettable diving experience.
This cenote is in a natural reserve area, that features walking trails and picnic areas making it a great option if you have some in your party who don’t swim.
Cenote Azul is a beautiful cenote located in the Riviera Maya, near Tulum. It is a semi-open cenote with a maximum depth of around 90 feet. The cenote has several trees and vines that hang over the water, providing tons of shade. There are several wooden platforms and stairs that allow visitors to easily enter and exit the water, as well as a small cliff that visitors can jump from into the deep water. The cenote is home to a variety of aquatic life, including fish and turtles, which can be seen while snorkeling.
This cenote is located near Valladolid and is known for its unique stalactite formations and crystal-clear water. It is a popular spot for swimming and taking photos. It is a semi-open cenote, with a large hole in the ceiling that allows light to filter into the cenote and illuminates the turquoise water. What makes this cenote unique is that its surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. There is also a small island in the middle of the cenote, which is accessible by a wooden bridge.
Cenote Suytun is a must-visit and truly one of my favorites.
If you’re a thrill seeker this is the cenote for you. Of all the cenotes i’ve been to this is the very best for cliff jumping. The cenote is named after its distinctive shape, which resembles a skull. It has three different openings, which visitors can jump or climb into the cenote. The largest of the openings is about 10 feet in diameter and leads to a large cavern with a maximum depth of around 40 feet.
Cenote Calavera is a bit off the beaten path and is not as well-known as some of the other cenotes in the area. As a result, it is usually less crowded than some of the more popular cenotes. There are basic facilities available, including restrooms and changing rooms, but visitors should note that there are no lifeguards on duty.
A beautiful and popular cenote located in the heart of the city of Valladolid. The cenote is named after the nearby Zaci Mayan ruin, which can be seen from the entrance.
The cenote is a large open-air sinkhole is 45 feet deep, and visitors can swim and snorkel in the cenote.
One unique feature of Zaci Cenote is the cave system that can be explored by certified divers. The cave system is located at the bottom of the cenote and consists of narrow passageways and caverns with stunning rock formations and crystal clear water.
There is a small restaurant here but its just a few blocks from the charming colonial town of Valladolid. Plan to beat the heat with a stop of lunch and paletas before or after your cenote visit.