Best Cenotes of the Yucatan!
One of the best things you can do while in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is to explore some of the hundreds of cenotes that exist here. Some people even say there are thousands of cenotes in this region, some of which haven’t even been found! Exploring the Yucatan’s best cenotes is a MUST while you’re in this region, because they don’t exist anywhere else in the world ~ except in a handful of places. Cenotes are unique to the Yucatan, & the best ones are waiting to be found…
What is a Cenote?
First off, what the heck is a cenote, anyway? And how do you pronounce it? There are slight variations in the way Mexicans pronounce it, but generally, this should work: “Say-NO-tay.” Emphasis on the “NO.” Some people also pronounce it like, “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 created by the collapse of limestone bedrock, which then forms secret subterranean pools. Most cave cenotes have freshwater that is mineral-rich, clear & very pure, as they are filtered naturally by the earth.
Map Best Cenotes of the Yucatan!
Cenote Samula, Dzitnup, Mexico
Cenote Chaak Tun
Cenote Dos Ojos
1. Cenote Dzitnup
Cenote Dzitnup is actually TWO cenotes in one: both Cenote Samula & Cenote Xkeken are located here, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck at this cenote. It definitely fits into the “Best Cenotes of the Yucatan” category. When I asked locals in Cancun what their favorite cenote was in the entire Peninsula: they said Cenote Dzitnup.
I thought both of these cenotes were STUNNING ~ particularly Xkeken. Cenote Xkeken is a true, spectacular cave cenote, with high & dramatic walls leading down to crystalline, turquoise waters. My friends were able to get picture of me from high above, which make the scene even more dramatic. Highly recommended.
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 Instagrammable 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 (in the northern Yucatan, near Rio Lagartos) or to the ruins of Ek Balaam (just north of Valladolid), then Cenote X’Canche makes for a perfect & easy stop. Especially if you are walking the Ek Balaam ruins in the heat, taking a cool dip in X’Canche before or after will feel wonderful.
This is probably one of my favorite cenotes in all of the Yucatan. I rented a bike to pedal to X’Canche after spending a couple of (sweaty) hours at Ek Balaam, & I was SO ready for a cool dip. The bike ride was short & pleasant (10 mins), & when I got to X’Canche at about 2PM, the tour groups had cleared out, leaving only about five other people there ~ & some big, black catfish! X’Canche has a rope swing, a zip-line, life jackets, a cool suspension bridge, caves to walk under, & is partially open-air. I loved this one. Highly recommended.
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 10-15 minute taxi ride from town (to the west). It’s one of the more expensive cenotes (entrance is $30US), but you’re also given a guided tour, and in total, spend about 2 hours underground, exploring different parts of the caves. The best pictures I got of ANY cenotes (like the cover shot) ~ I got here, making it my pick for one of the best cenotes of the Yucatan. But you also need a waterproof camera, because pretty much everything you have will get wet (lockers are available near the main entrance for everything else).
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 think it’s one of the best cenotes, in spite of the higher price tag. If you explore a little past the main areas, you’ll find some of the coolest cave formations, lit by eerie purple, green, and red lighting. It’s creepy cool 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 Cenote Dzitnup, Cenote Ik-Kil is very close to Chichen Itza ~ so if you’re going to Chichen Itza, you’re probably going to want to check this place 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 of them, then skip this one.
Even though it will probably be crowded, Cenote Ik-Kil is still likely worth your time because it is strikingly beautiful, with vines reaching all the way from the top of the cenote down to the water. It’s also 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. This cenote is open to the sky & is one of the deepest known cenotes in the Yucatan, at 40 meters (130 feet) deep. On site, there is also a restaurant, changing rooms, a store, and cottages for rent. Recommended.
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
Gran Cenote, close to Tulum on the highway to Coba, is one of the best cenotes of the Yucatan for getting fantastic, underwater shots. You definitely want to bring a GoPro or waterproof camera to this cenote. You can also scuba dive & snorkel here, because as the name suggests, this is a big cenote.
to the sky & is one of the deepest known cenotes in the Yucatan, at 40 meters (130 feet) deep. On site, there is also a restaurant, changing rooms, a store, and cottages for rent. Recommended.
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 pick: La Zebra.
- What to Bring: Waterproof camera or GoPro.
Sleep Well After the Cenotes…
I don’t quite know why…but every time after we swam in a cenote, we had the BEST SLEEP ever!! I’m not a scientist or anything, & I couldn’t tell you exactly why ~ maybe it’s the minerals, or the fresh water, or the sacred Mayan energy ~ who the heck knows!? But after you’ve swam in some of these cenotes, get ready to have some of the best sleep of your life. An unintended but welcome side effect.
Have you been to any of these cenotes ~ the best cenotes of the Yucatan?! Which ones aren’t on this list that you loved? Let me know in the comments below!