Best Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula
One of the best things you can do in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is explore some of its thousands of cenotes. These are hidden, underground sinkholes you can swim in: they’re a little mysterious, & capitalize on the massive amount of water that’s found underground in this region. Though countless cenotes have already been found, it’s said many more are sure to be discovered. Exploring them is a MUST while you’re in Cancun, because they only exist in a handful of places around the world. I spent over a month in the Yucatan, & here I’ll take you inside some of the “Best Cenotes of the Yucatan…”
What is a Cenote?
First off, what the heck is a cenote? And how do you pronounce it? There are slight variations in the way Mexicans say it, but generally, they say: “Say-NO-tay.” Emphasis on the “NO.” Some also pronounce it as, “Si-NO-tay.” Either should work for you.
Definition of a Cenote: Cenote (Say-NO-tay) comes from a Mayan word that means, “sacred well.” Cenotes are natural swimming holes that are created by the collapse of limestone bedrock, which then forms these amazingly gorgeous, secret subterranean pools. Most cave cenotes are filled with freshwater that is rich in minerals ~ clear & very pure, as they’re naturally filtered by the earth.
Map of the Yucatan’s Best Cenotes
Cenote Samula, Dzitnup, Mexico
Cenote Chaak Tun
Cenote Dos Ojos
1. Cenote Dzitnup
Cenote Dzitnup is actually TWO cenotes in one: both Cenote Samula & Xkeken are located here, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck at this stop. The small town of Dzitnup is located just outside of Valladolid, which is a two & a half-hour drive from Cancun. My friends & I drove here straight after renting a car at Cancun International; we stopped for a trendy lunch in Valladolid, then after visiting the cenotes, made our way to Chichen Itza. Dzitnup is a perfect stop on a road trip from Cancun to the mighty Mayan World Wonder….
***GWTW Insider Tip: When I asked locals in Cancun what their favorite cenote was in the entire Yucatan Peninsula: they often cited Cenote Dzitnup ~ I think because you’re getting two for the price of one!
I thought both of these cenotes were STUNNING ~ particularly Samula. It’s a truly spectacular cave cenote, with incredibly high walls leading down to crystalline, turquoise waters. My friends were able to get pictures of me from high above, making the scene even more dramatic. Highly recommended.
Read this article for an overview of the best places to stay by Chichen Itza….
Cenote Dzitnup Information
- Opening Hours: 8:30AM-5:20PM Daily
- Entrance Fee: $60MXN for 1; $90MXN for 2 cenotes (approx. $4-8 US)
- Two Cenotes in One: Both Cenote Xkeken & Cenote Samosa are here
- Nearby Towns: Valladolid & Dzitnup (see map above)
- What to Bring: Chemical-free sunscreen (keep the freshwater fresh ~ leave your fragrances & chemicals home) & a cute bathing suit for your highly Instagramm-able cenote pics.
- Where to Stay: Check out hotels in nearby Valladolid, or if you’re going on to Chichen Itza, stay at the beautiful Mayaland Resort.
- Important Notes: Google Maps was incorrect on this one; their “Cenote Dzitnup” was out in the boonies, past the real one. The “real” cenote is only 2km from the main highway ~ don’t go all the way to Dzitnup. If you do, you’ve gone too far.
2. Cenote X’Canche
If you’re headed to either the Pink Sea (located in the northern Yucatan, by Rio Lagartos), or the ruins of Ek Balaam (just north of Valladolid), then Cenote X’Canche makes for an easy stop. Especially if you’re exploring Ek Balaam’s ruins in the heat: taking a cool dip afterwards in X’Canche will feel simply divine.
This is one of my favorite cenotes in the entire Yucatan. I rented a bike & pedaled to X’Canche after spending two (sweaty) hours at Ek Balaam, & was SO ready for a cool dip. The ride was short & pleasant (10 mins), & when I got to the cenote at about 2PM, tour groups had cleared out, leaving only about five other people there ~ & some big, black catfish! X’Canche has a rope swing, zip-line, life jackets, a cool suspension bridge, caves to walk under, & is partially open-air. I loved this one. Highly recommended.
It really feels like you’re out in the jungle here….
Cenote X'Canche Information
- Opening Hours: 9AM-5PM Daily
- Entrance Fee: $50 MXN; $80MXN with bike rental (approx. $3-5 US)
- Special Features: Zip-line, rope swings, high diving allowed, life jackets available, & a cool suspension bridge to walk across. Plus catfish to swim with, makes this one of the best cenotes in the Yucatan.
- Nearby Towns: Valladolid & Tizimin (see map above)
- Location: One the same grounds as the ruins of Ek Balaam, just north of Valladolid, & southeast of Tizimin. Where to Stay: Check hotels in Valladolid, a 30-minute drive from X’Canche.
3. Cenote Chaak Tun
If you’re in Playa del Carmen, Cenote Chaak Tun is only a 10-minute taxi ride from town (to the west). It’s one of the more expensive cenotes (entrance is $30 US), but you’re also given a guided tour, & in total, spend about two hours underground, exploring different parts of the caves. The best pictures I got of ANY cenote (the cover shot) ~ I got here, making it an easy pick for one of the best cenotes of the Yucatan. But bring a waterproof camera here, because pretty much everything you have will get wet. Lockers are available near the main entrance for belongings that you don’t want to bring into the cave…
Cenote Chaak Tun is a little creepier & more mysterious than other cenotes we visited. It definitely has ambiance, which I loved ~ & which is why I recommend it, even with its higher price tag. Exploring a little past the main areas, you’ll find some awesome cave formations, lit by eerie purple, green, & red lighting. It’s creepy good fun…
Cenote Chaak Tun Information
- Opening Hours: 9AM-3PM Daily (Google says they’re open until 5 ~ typically, not the case)
- Entrance Fee: $30US (as of April 2017)
- Annoyances: Inconsistent hours, more expensive than most other cenotes, & add-on charges for wetsuits, etc. No real refreshment offered ~ so bring your own water, etc. Some sections of the tour are very tight quarters & may not be good if you’re claustrophobic. But overall, the caves are SO beautiful ~ it’s worth it.
- Where to Stay: Check out hotels in popular Playa del Carmen ~ a 15-minute drive to Cancun. If you want to splurge, check out the Royal Plaza del Carmen. On a budget: try Hotel Itzaes or Angelo’s ~ I’ve stayed at & enjoyed both.
4. Cenote Ik-Kil
Similar to Dzitnup, Cenote Ik-Kil is very close to Chichen Itza ~ so if you’re visiting, you’ll want to check this cenote out, as it’s one of the most popular & photographed cenotes in the Yucatan. With popularity, of course, comes crowds ~ so if you’re not a fan , then skip this one.
Even though it will likely be crowded, Cenote Ik-Kil is still worth your time, as it’s strikingly beautiful, with vines reaching all the way from the top of the cenote down to the water. It’s a sacred place for the Mayans, no doubt for its proximity to Chichen Itza; they used it both for relaxation as well as Mayan rituals. Ik-Kil is open to the sky, & is one of the deepest known cenotes in the Yucatan, at 40 meters (130 feet) deep. On site, there’s a restaurant, changing rooms, store, & the Lodge at Chichen Itza is a fantastic place to stay nearby.
Cenote Ik-Kil Information
- Opening Hours: 9AM-5PM Daily
- Entrance Fee: $70 MXN (approx. $5 US)
- Nearby Towns: Piste & the Chichen Itza ruins (see map above)
- Important Notes: If you don’t like crowds or lots of stairs ~ skip this cenote. Many Chichen Itza tours stop here, so you’ll rarely be alone. The cenote is very deep & has catfish swimming in it, but life jackets are available.
- What to Bring: Chemical-free sunscreen & a cute bathing suit since this is one of the most photogenic, best cenotes in all of the Yucatan.
- Where to Stay: One of the three main Chichen Itza hotels: Mayaland Resort (my pick), Hacienda Chichen, or the cheaper option, Hotel Dolores Alba.
5. Gran Cenote (by Tulum)
Gran Cenote, located close to Tulum on the highway to Coba, is one of the Yucatan’s best cenotes for getting fantastic, underwater shots. You definitely want to bring a GoPro or waterproof camera here. You can both scuba dive & snorkel at Gran Cenote: it’s big enough & deep enough for both activities ~ because similar to Ik-Kil, this is one of the deepest cenotes in the Yucatan, at 40 meters (130 feet) deep. Bring your snorkel gear or rent some in Tulum!
Read about the most gorgeous beachfront hotels in Tulum here….
Gran Cenote Information
- Opening Hours: 10AM-5PM Daily
- Entrance Fee: $25 US
- Nearby Towns: Tulum, located on highway leading to Coba ruins (see map above)
- Important Notes: Fairly crowded due to its close proximity to Tulum, but great for those who want to dive, snorkel, or get great underwater shots in the crystalline blue water. Lockers & showers available up top.
- Where to Stay: There are TONS of lodging options in Tulum ~ but my pick would be to stay somewhere right along the ocean (not up in town). Check Tulum hotel prices here. Our top pick: La Zebra.
- What to Bring: Waterproof camera or GoPro.
Sleep Well After the Cenotes…
I don’t know why…but every time we swam in a cenote, we had the BEST SLEEP ever!! I can’t tell you exactly why ~ maybe it’s the minerals in the water (magnesium?), or that sacred Mayan energy ~ who the heck knows!? An unintended but welcome side effect…
Read Next: Best Snorkel Spots in Cozumel