The Yucatan peninsula’s white sand beaches and sparkling sea get all the attention, but if you’re looking to cool off away from the crowds, you’ll want to consider taking the plunge into a natural pool or Cenote Mexico. The mineral-rich natural pools were formed thousands of years ago and were once revered by the Mayans, who called them ‘sacred wells’. The cenotes in Tulum and cenotes in Cancun are some of the best in the Quintana Roo region, so we’ve rounded up 10 of the most beautiful.
Planning a cenote trip in Mexico:
Cenotes dos Ojos
Cenotes dos Ojos is one of the biggest and best-known cenotes of Tulum. It gets its name, which translates as ‘two eyes’, from its two distinctive pools, connected by a 400-metre passage. It’s great for snorkelling, with plenty of tropical fish and turtles to swim alongside. The caves also feature hundreds of beautiful – but fragile – stalactites and stalagmites. When you’ve had your fill of snorkelling and swimming, you can stretch out in the sun on one of the hammocks overlooking the water.
Cenote Azul is a wide-open cenote, partially shaded by the jungle canopy. It isn’t too far from Playa del Carmen, halfway between Cancun and Tulum, and close by to the El Jardin del Eden. The water here is crystal clear, surrounded by wild jungle. There are two platforms to jump from, but the water is relatively shallow too so it’s family-friendly too.
Gran Cenote is another popular network of underwater caves and caverns close to Tulum. The turquoise pools are connected by wooden walkways hung over the lush jungle floor. It’s great for snorkelling but it’s also popular with divers since the pools reach depths of around 15 metres.
It’s well-equipped too, with bathrooms, changing rooms, lockers and snorkelling equipment to rent. There’s even a shop selling snacks and drinks, with picnic tables in the shade. It’s located around 4 km west of Tulum, so it’s easy to catch a cab or cycle to.
Cenote Siete Bocas
Known as the ‘Pool of Seven Mouths’, Cenote Siete Boasa is a unique lagoon formation with seven small entrances (mouths). It’s mostly underground, with a few open pools, so perfect for those looking to explore caves – think Jurassic Park. You can jump off cliffs, snorkel and float around too. It’s not one for vertigo sufferers though, as to get to it you’ll need to climb down a long ladder or take a leap from the nearby rocks.
The cenote is surrounded by thick and shady jungle so perfect for cooling off in the blistering heat. You can enjoy a walk around the jungle too.
Located around 10 km north of Tulum, Casa Cenote is the ultimate snorkelling destination. Its shape makes it feel more like a river than an open pool, and there’s a natural ‘snorkelling route’ that takes you through around 250 metres of open water before you hit the jungle.
The waters reach depths of 8 metres, which is shallower than most cenotes, so it’s a good option for less confident swimmers. Around the mangrove there’s hundreds of fresh-water marine life to explore too, like platys, guppies and mollies.
Cenote Calavera is more off-the-beaten-track than most cenote Tulum. Calavera actually means ‘skull’, which the large bool and two tiny swimming holes look like. It’s a highly Instagrammable spot and you’ll only ever be in the company of two or three other people at most. It’s perfect for adventurous travellers too since you can throw yourself off the surrounding rocks. There’s a ladder and a swing in the pool too.
Cenote Cristalino is located close to Playa del Carmen. The ‘U’ shaped pool is open, rather than inside a cave, so it looks more like a swimming pool. It’s surrounded by lush mangrove trees, which means it’s also great for snorkelling. There’s a small half cave to swim through but no one would judge you for floating the whole time. There’s also a four-metre cliff jump so if you’re feeling adventurous, you can plunge into the six-metre waters below.
Cenote Selvatica is located along the Ruta de los Cenotes, probably the most famous cenote Cancun. It’s the largest of the collection, set in an eco-park. The pool is large and beautiful, but the real draw is the activities, which includes a 12 circuit zip-line adventure, bungee swings and ATVs. You’ll probably want to spend the whole day here and there are plenty of packages that can be purchased and reserved in advance.
This cenote is a good two-hour drive from Cancun, but it’s worth the drive. It’s located right in the middle of Valladolid, a pretty and colourful town worth exploring at the same time. It’s one the largest cenotes in the region, half-covered by a cave ceiling and half-open to the sky – so it’s unusually bright. The rock walls are covered with thick greenery, stalagmites and stalactites.
It’s as deep as it is large, reaching 100 metres at the deepest point and at least 25 metres at the shallowest areas. There’s a helpful rope swing hanging across the pool for when you get tired too.
Apparently, until very recently this lesser-known cenote was where taxi drivers would stop to wash their car. It actually even translates as car wash too. The shallow, open-air cenote is a great place to swim and snorkel. The water is clear enough to spot fish from the surface, but you’ll be amazed by what you’ll see underwater. There’s everything from sea turtles to tiny crocodiles beneath the surface. At $40 pesos to enter, it’s also the most affordable cenote on our list too.
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