We had been on our trail to explore the magical Mexico. Starting with four fantabulous days in the heart of the country – Mexico City, we flew over to Cancun and wasted no time in witnessing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza, which was a couple of hours drive away from Cancun, read our delightful experience here. No trip to Mexico, however, is ever complete without experiencing the underwater world of cenotes (pronounced as say-no-tay). In this post, we bring to you our pick of the five best cenotes to take a splash in, in the eastern Mexican region of Yucatan.
Sacred to the Mayans, cenotes are natural sinkholes found mostly in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Born as a result of collapsed bedrocks and thus exposing the underground water, there are more than 6000 cenotes only in the Yucatan region alone. Obvious that unless you are in a mission to explore and discover each and every one of them, it is imperative that you don’t miss out the must-see ones so simply keep on reading this post.
First, some tips to help you better plan and pack before you set off for Mexico to discover the top 5 cenotes.
5 Must-visit Cenotes
Cenote Ik Kil, Cenote Suytun, Cenote Cristalino, Cenote Jardin de Eden and Cenote Dos Ojos.
What to carry
Waterproof camera, swimwear, goggles, towels, flip-flops. Life-jackets and fins are available for hire at every cenote. Remember, they don’t allow sunscreens to be applied to protect the natural habitat under water. Also, carry change because many cenotes only accept cash to purchase entry tickets.
Cenote Ik Kil
Our 1st choice in the cenote discovery trail is Ik Kil. We made the plan in such a way that we started driving early from Cancun to arrive at Chichen Itza first. Read here to find out in detail about our electric experience of seeing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. On our way back to Cancun, we went to cenote Ik Kil which was just a short drive away from Chichen Itza Archaeological Park. This way, we could hit both birds in one stone in the same day’s driving.
Possibly the most well-maintained cenote complex in the region, Ik Kil was used by the Mayans as a site of sacrifice to appease the rain god Chaac. With an open sky above, the water level is nearly 85ft below ground level, making it a perfect spot for taking a steep jump! Shehzaad was brave enough to join the queue in the carved stairway and to take a rather heroic plunge straight into the sacred waters. Obviously, there was no chance to find any human bones or jewellery as found earlier deep inside the cenote by the archaeologists. With vines reaching down to the water below and small waterfalls creating a sense of mystic, Ik Kil seemed like the jewel in the Mayan crown of cenotes. The site also had restaurants, changing rooms, shower facilities and options to stay overnight in the vicinity of the Mayan magic.
Entry fee: 70 $MXN per adult.
Near the colonial city of Valladolid, cenote Suytun was actually on our way back to Cancun from Chichen Itza. But we didn’t have enough time on that day so we planned to visit Suytun during our onward journey from Cancun to Tulum towards the end of exploring Cancun area. Suytun means “centre stone” and it could not be a more befitting title for perhaps the most photogenic cenote in the Yucatan region.
Not a great site for swimming, but the best site for a photo opportunity to stand on the circular centre stone while the sun rays from the hole above created a magical moment of being in the limelight. Centuries old stalactites on the roof of the cave added that extra layer of mystery and myth to the entire experience.
At the entrance, there was a well-maintained souvenir shop selling local handicrafts, especially jewelry made of Mexican silver. Whether you fancy some items to bring back home or not, don’t leave Cenote Suytun before having some freshly squeezed orange juice from the cosy little stall next to the souvenir shop. Nothing like some fresh juicy bits of orange to splash colors on the Cenote experience at Suytun.
Entry fee: 70 $MXN per adult.
If you pay attention to the map we’ve provided above, you would notice that both Ik Kil and Suytun were nearer to the Chichen Itza. While the other three recommended cenotes i.e. Cristalino, Jardin de Eden and Dos Ojos were closer to the paradise town of Mexico – Tulum, in the Playa del Carmen region.
Either using Tulum as a base or while making the 2 hour drive from Cancun down south to Tulum, you could explore these cenotes. We preferred to reach Tulum first and start the discovery of these three cenotes the following day, starting with cenote Cristalino.
As the name suggests, the water in this cenote was crystal clear and the half cave allowed us to take a swim through. With some interesting rock formations below water, the cenote had cute little small fish friends who were eager to plot tiny pecks on our submerged ankles. So if you are in the mood for some early morning natural pedicure, you know where to dip your feet into.
Entry fee: 150 $MXN per adult.
Cenote Jardin de Eden
Possibly the most impressive of the cenotes found along the Playa del Carmen region, this cenote was situated well away from the motorway. Tucked nicely amidst the lush green forest all around, Jardin de Eden indeed looked like a paradisiacal site under the open sky, with so much mystery under water.
The cenote had some gigantic rocks under water and the quality of the water was also so clear that snorkelling with our hearts content is perfectly possible. There was even a giant rock in the middle of the cenote which was earlier part of its roof which later collapsed. This allowed us to even stand on its shallow surface to really contemplate at the natural phenomenon in action all around and especially down under.
There was a small cliff on one end of the cenote which allowed for some amateur Olympics divers (!) like Shehzaad to take a straight plunge! This cenote is also popular with professional divers who could be seen getting up close and personal with the underwater world way down below.
On our way back through the jungle, we spotted a few calm local residents- Iguanas. This is a common sight in most Cenotes. Keep calm and click pictures, they are as welcoming as the rest of the Mexicans.
Take note in the map that Cenote Jardin de Eden and Cenote Cristalino are very close to each other while the Cenote Dos Ojos is nearer to Tulum.
Entry fee: 200 $MXN per adult.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Our 5th and final pick of the cenotes in our discovery was the Cenote Dos Ojos. Literally meaning, two eyes, this cenote has the largest network of underwater caves which makes it a mecca for experienced divers. With the deepest cave passage at 118 meters deep, the 61km long cave system is very popular with groups of divers who came with their thermal wetsuits, oxygen tanks and masks. This cenote is also famous for its bat caves which are witnessed during the diving discovery under water.
We opted for a gentle snorkel only in the mild and clear waters which remain at around 25 degrees Celsius all throughout the year. The clear waters down below were irresistibly inviting, so much so much that Shehzaad went in for the dive deep down under. Being a guest in the underground world of transparent waters, the perspectives were transformational, the experience was ethereal.
Just like we recommended you earlier to try out freshly squeezed orange juice at Cenote Suytun, we recommend you to sip some super cool coconut water upon exit from Cenote Dos Ojos. Local vendors who came with their produce right outside the main entrance offered us some cold coconut water to chill with. Some fresh Cenote waters to snorkel in and some fresh coconut waters to slurp in, a perfect conclusion to eventful discoveries of top Cenotes.
Entry fee: 200 $MXN per adult.
Due to the fact that the Yucatan region didn’t have any rivers or water bodies, the Mayans had reasons to hold these cenotes in high regard. Used as a source for their rituals and necessity of water, these cenotes offered us this unique immersion into the wonders of nature. When you swim in a cenote in Mexico, you feel no one is between any rock or a hard place. Rather, the relation between the giant rocks and the crystal-clear waters are always transparent under the Mexican sun. Even then, the mystery allures those who could venture even deeper through the caves and the tunnels which supposedly connect all the cenotes in the Yucatan region!
Feel pity for those who go to Mexico and take a splash only in the hotel pool or in the beaches of Playa del Carmen. Feel happy for those who have made the right choice to know Mexico through its trail of the cenotes. Just like a sensation of total purification when you jump into one, enlightenment happens when you see for yourself what lies beneath the gentle calm waters. Make sure your five senses are fulfilled by experiencing our recommended five cenotes above.0