Cenotes are like portals to a different world. From the surface, they may appear like nothing special, but look down and go further then you will find surreal beauty. The cenotes are sinkholes formed from collapsed limestone bedrock which exposed ground water underneath. These water pools can be partially enclosed, fully open, or completely hidden underground with nothing but a small opening on the surface. Thousands of cenotes are located in the Yucatan Peninsula and if you know where to look, you’ll discover some of the best secret swimming holes in the world.
Here are some of the best cenotes in Mexico:
Cenote Calavera – near Tulum
The word calavera means “skull.” Cenote Calavera (also known as Temple of Doom) was named because of the three holes on the ground that appear to be the holes in a skull. The biggest hole on the ground, about 10m in diameter, serves as the entrance to this cenote. The gorgeous colour of the water is simply inviting even as you look at it from above. When we got into the clear water, we saw the real size of the underground cavern – it was huge!
This was the site for our first swim in a cenote and truly memorable to us. After a hot day of biking around Tulum and exploring the magnificent Tulum ruins along the coast, swimming in Cenote Calavera was definitely the best way to rejuvenate. The place is also more private compared to other cenotes we visited in Mexico. We had to share the swimming hole with 5 other people at first but after a while we got the chance to have Cenote Calavera to ourselves.
Apart from swimming, people visit this cenote for cave diving. We saw two divers come out of the water when we were there and they had pretty amazing stories of the cave system underwater.
How to get to Cenote Calavera:
Cenote Calavera is located along the highway, about 2km from Tulum Pueblo (main town). We went to this Cenote by bike from the Tulum archaeological site, which took us around 20 minutes.
Entrance Fee to Cenote Calavera: $80 MXN
Cenote Ik Kil – near Chichen Itza
Cenote Ik Kil is a like a hole straight into the jungle. This large cenote, about 25 meters below the surface, is draped with different vines and tree roots from above. It feels like you’re swimming in another world. The water is quite clear but it is very deep. It’s definitely one of the most popular cenotes in Mexico because of its proximity to Chichen Itza but it’s well worth a visit.
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This cenote is fully developed as a public swimming attraction, complete with changing rooms, toilets, showers and locker areas. Don’t be discouraged to go, as the cenote itself still retains its natural beauty. However, expect big crowds in this cenote since it is a popular stop for tour groups that go to Chichen Itza.
How to get to Cenote Ik kil:
Cenote Ik Kil is located on the highway between Chichen Itza and Valladolid. Taking a taxi from the archaeological site of Chichen Itza costs $60 MXN.
Entrance Fee to Cenote Ik kil: $70 MXN
Cenote X’Keken (Cenote Dzitnup) – near Valladolid
Cenote X’Keken has the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations among the cenotes we’ve seen in Mexico and the turquoise water adds more to its appeal. This cenote is almost fully enclosed in a crystal-like cave and there is a small hole above which provide some natural light. Artificial lights are also installed within the swimming hole which almost makes the water sparkle. This place is also home to a lot of fish, so it’s perfect not only for swimming but also for best for snorkelling.
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Cenote Samula – near Valladolid
Cenote Samula provides a similiar enclosed atmosphere as Cenote X’Keken but instead of the stalactites, the highlight is a small hole on its ceiling where tree roots cascade a few meters towards the cenote. This is also source of the natural light which shines over the water. In contrast to the other cenotes in the Yucatan, there is a shallow area, almost like a small island, at the center of this cenote. The variation in water depth makes for an interesting change in colour from light turquoise to deep turquoise blue.
How to get to Cenote X’keken (Cenote Dzitnup) and Cenote Samula:
Cenote X’keken (Cenote Dzitnup) and Cenote Samula are located 3km from the town of Valladolid. From Valladolid, you can either rent a bike or take a taxi ($70 MXN). The best option (as it was cheap) is to take a collectivo to Dzitnup which costs $20 MXN per person. The collectivos are located at Calle 44, one block away from the main square.
Entrance Fee to Cenote X’keken and Cenote Samula: $35 MXN (for local) and $65 MXN (for foreigner)
Cenote Zaci – Valladolid
This massive cenote boasts stunning cave formations, flora and fauna. Cenote Zaci is one of the biggest cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula. The water is not very inviting for swimming (compared to other cenotes in Mexico) but it remains a gorgeous attraction in the heart of Valladolid.
How to get to Cenote Zaci:
Cenote Zaci is located only a few blocks from Valladolid’s main square. This is one of the easiest cenotes to visit from Valladolid.
Entrance Fee to Cenote Zaci: $35 MXN. If you just want to see the cenote and don’t intend to swim, you can see the place for free via the viewing point from the nearby restaurant.
Sacred Cenote – Chichen Itza
Ancient Mayans placed high importance on cenotes. The cenotes were considered a gateway to the underworld and ritual offerings have been made in these natural wonders. The Sacred Cenote, located in the archaeological site of Chichen Itza is the best way to appreciate the historical significance of the cenotes in Mexico. There is no direct access to the Sacred Cenote, but there is a view point where you can see its deep green water enclosed in limestone formations and lush vegetation. Swimming is prohibited in this cenote (I didn’t find it appealing to swim here anyway just thinking of all the human sacrifices) but important dives to unveil Mayan history were done here in the past.
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How to get to Sacred Cenote:
Sacred Cenote is located within the archaeological site of Chichen Itza. From Valladolid, you can take the second class bus, Oriente to Chichen Itza which costs $26 MXN.
Entrance Fee (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site): $220 MXN
Location Map of Cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
What do you think are the best cenotes in Mexico? Have you been to any of the cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula or other parts of the world? Let us know.
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