When you are planning your next trip to the Yucatán, don’t miss out on Tulum’s best cenotes. There are literally thousands of these sinkholes on the peninsula, and hundreds to choose from within an hour’s drive from Tulum. Some of them are even accessible via bicycle!
A cenote is a limestone sinkhole filled from underground freshwater rivers. They can be closed and cave-like, semi-open with cliff overhangs, or completely open, resembling a pond from above. Each has its own unique character. Whether you’re an expert diver or just looking for somewhere to swim, here are my top picks for the best cenotes close to Tulum:
1. Gran Cenote
Gran Cenote is one of the most popular on the Riviera Maya — and you’ll understand why as soon as you get there. It’s a semi-open cenote with both open areas and cave-like areas underground that you can explore. Expertly placed platforms allow visitors to dip into the blue water at various points, and there are both shallow and deep areas for every level of swimmer. This cenote also has a lot of turtles swimming about that are relatively unfazed by humans coming in and out of their habitat.
Snorkeling gear is available to rent; I recommend doing so because there are plenty of turtles and fish to peek at, not to mention the cool rock formations below the water’s surface. You could spend anywhere from 1 to 3 hours here exploring, depending on how much you want to see.
There are plenty of tours that include Gran Cenote. Check them out here.
- Cost: 180 pesos to enter ($9 USD, but if you pay in dollars, it costs $10 USD), a locker costs 30 pesos ($1.50 USD), and you can rent a life jacket for 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) or snorkeling gear for 80 pesos ($4 USD).
- Hours: 8am to 4:45pm (entry until 4pm)
- When to go: The least crowded times to go are at 8am (right when it opens) or around 3-4pm, when most people have left. Keep in mind that the 4:45pm closing time is strict, so going in the afternoon will limit the amount of time you have to explore.
- How to get there: Gran Cenote is about 3 miles from downtown Tulum, along the highway to Coba. This cenote is easy to bike to, but you can also hop on a combi along the highway and tell the driver to drop you off at Gran Cenote. A taxi ride will cost you around 70-100 pesos ($3.50-5 USD).
- Pros: This is one of the best cenotes for snorkeling, and it’s known for having a lot of freshwater turtles. It’s very easy to get to and from. Because it’s semi-open, you can explore the cavelike areas without having to scuba dive.
- Cons: It’s one of the most expensive and the most popular cenotes, meaning there is a chance you’ll encounter big crowds.
2. Cenote Calavera
This cenote is one of my favorites. It’s another semi-open one and gets its name (calavera, which means “skull”) from its skull-like look. The two openings look like eye holes, which is neat to look at from above. Even though it is on the same road as Gran Cenote, it attracts far fewer visitors and has a much more relaxed atmosphere.
There is a ladder that takes you down into the cenote, where you’ll find a swing and a rope to hold on to. There’s another opening that you can jump through into the cool water below. There isn’t any snorkeling gear available to rent, so if you want to take a look underwater, you’ll have to bring your own. Viator has a tour that includes both El Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera.
- Cost: 250 pesos ($12.50 USD)
- Hours: 9am to 5pm
- When to go: Anytime of day is fine, because it generally doesn’t attract huge crowds. If you go around noon, when the sun is directly above the cenote, you’ll be able to snap a sweet pic from the swing in the bigger opening.
- How to get there: This one is less than 2 miles from downtown Tulum, on the highway to Coba. It’s on the way to Gran Cenote, so you can hit up both of them in the same day if you’d like. It’s an easy distance to bike to, or you can take a combi or taxi there, just like you would if you were going to Gran Cenote.
- Pros: It’s much less known than other bigger cenotes, so you likely won’t encounter huge crowds. There’s also ample shade, and the vibe is much more laid back in comparison to Gran Cenote.
- Cons: There are no lockers to store your valuables while you swim. This cenote isn’t as developed as other more popular ones, so the facilities are very simple.
3. Cenote Car Wash (aka Cenote Aktun Ha)
Cenote Car Wash is one of the most unique and impressive cenotes you’ll find near Tulum. It’s open and quite large in comparison with others in the area. It got its name from a literal car wash that used to operate next to the entrance along the highway, which served as a landmark to find the cenote, but the indigenous name of it is actually Aktun Ha, which means “water cave” in Mayan.
This cenote is best known for its underwater garden that you absolutely have to explore, using snorkeling or scuba gear. The plants growing below are varied, differing from those in other cenotes because of its location and exposure to sunlight. In the summertime, there is even a part of the cenote that feels like a jacuzzi, because of the way the algae trap heat and release it in bubbles.
Cenote Car Wash is also a favorite among divers because it has an 18-meter-deep underwater cave with amazing stalactite formations and speleothems (structures formed by the deposition of minerals from water).
- Cost: 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) to swim, 120 pesos ($6 USD) to dive with your own equipment.
- Hours: 9am to 5pm
- When to go: It’s best to get there in the morning, right when it opens, but any time of day is fine, because it doesn’t get nearly as crowded and rarely sees tour groups.
- How to get there: The entrance to Cenote Car Wash is on the Quintana Roo 109 highway to Coba, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Tulum. It’s further out than Gran Cenote and would be quite far to bike to, about 5.5 miles. A taxi ride there will cost 120-150 pesos ($6-7.50 USD), but you could also catch a combi along the highway there for about 10 pesos ($0.50 USD).
- Pros: The underwater garden is an incredible sight, and the entire cenote is gorgeous. I like that the majority of visitors there when I went were divers. It’s quieter and more low-key than other cenotes.
- Cons: There isn’t any snorkeling or diving gear to rent there, so you have to bring your own. You also need to have a certification to dive there, which can be a con for some people.
4. Cenote Zacil Ha
Cenote Zacil Ha is a go-to for families, because it has all the amenities you would want if you were traveling with children. It’s an open cenote with a wooden deck around it, making it easy to get in and out of. The key feature of this one is the zip-line that you can take over it; you can even jump into the cenote from above. The clear turquoise water is stunning and makes for perfect diving conditions.
The average depth is just 3 meters around most of the cenote, but there is an underwater cavern that is popular among divers. The opening to the cavern has a deep cobalt blue color from above. You have to have an open-water or cavern diving certificate to dive here. The chamber underneath is called Las Lágrimas (“tears” in English) and has stalactites that look like tears, which is how it got its name.
- Cost: 100 pesos ($5 USD) to enter, 10 pesos ($0.50 USD) to zip-line
- Hours: 9am or 10am to 5:30pm, depending on the season (during high season, it opens at 9am).
- When to go: To avoid crowds as much as possible, try to get there right when it opens (by 10am, just to be on the safe side) or an hour or two before it closes. Avoid going on weekends, as it gets very packed with local families then.
- How to get there: Zacil Ha is right next to Cenote Car Wash, about 6 miles from downtown Tulum, along the highway to Coba. A taxi ride there will cost 120-150 pesos ($6-7.50 USD), but you could also catch a combi along the highway there for about 10 pesos ($0.50 USD).
- Pros: It’s one of the few cenotes in the area where you can zip-line above the water. It has a very family-friendly atmosphere, which is good if you’re traveling with kids. It’s quite built up, so there are plenty of facilities there, such as lockers and a restaurant.
- Cons: It’s small in size, and if there are a lot of people there at once, it can feel claustrophobic. It’s also so developed nearby that it has more of a swimming pool feel than a natural cenote vibe.
5. Cenote Cristal
Cenote Cristal is another open sinkhole that has the appearance of a lake or lagoon. Its pristine waters are ideal for a swim, and it has a high wooden deck that you can climb to the top of and leap into the water from. The cenote is quite deep throughout, so much so that you can’t see the bottom of it regardless of the fact that the water is completely transparent.
You’ll mostly see fish swimming about, so if you want to explore what lies in the depths of Cenote Cristal, consider diving. The cenote has several underwater caves to explore, as well as an underground tunnel that connects it to Cenote Escondido, which is on the other side of the highway from Cristal.
This cenote is ideal for a picnic and a chill, relaxing day. There are palapas (small, thatched-roof huts) and tables around the water’s edge where you can hang out alone or with friends. You might even be able to spot a toucan or iguana if you’re lucky!
- Cost: 120 pesos ($6 USD), which includes admission to Cenote Escondido across the road. You can buy your two-cenote pass at either of them.
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: Even when this cenote is crowded, it’s big enough and has enough places to chill out that it’s not too big of a deal. If you want to have the place to yourself, go as soon as it opens or a couple hours before it closes.
- How to get there: This one is close to downtown Tulum (under 4 miles) and easy to bike to. You can also take a taxi for around 70-100 pesos ($3.50-5 USD). A cheaper option is hopping on a combi headed south toward Chetumal or Felipe Carrillo Puerto, which will only cost 15 pesos ($0.75 USD). Just make sure to tell the driver that you want to get off at Cenote Cristal or Cenote Escondido (which is across the street).
- Pros: It’s a relatively quiet cenote for a swim and to enjoy the sunshine. It’s quite big and also very easy to get to.
- Cons: The walk from the road to the cenote can get very buggy during the rainy season. I’m talking literal swarms of mosquitoes. Bring (eco-friendly) bug spray!
6. Cenote Escondido
Even though Cenote Escondido is just across the highway from Cenote Cristal and joined to it via an underground tunnel, they are quite different. While Escondido is also an open cenote, it’s long and thin, sort of like a river. The contrast of the lush green jungle with the deep blues of the water is stunning.
There are rock cliffs on the edge of the water, about 2-4 meters high, that are great for jumping into the water below. There is also a fun rope swing for all the daredevils out there.
This cenote is a popular diving spot, because of the number of caves below the surface. You will have to arrange your dive with a local company.
- Cost: 120 pesos ($6 USD), which also includes admission to Cenote Cristal across the road. You can buy your two-cenote pass at either of them.
- Hours: 8am to 5pm (entrance closes at 4pm)
- When to go: This cenote is relatively uncrowded, so any time of day is fine to visit. There’s plenty of shade, and the water stays cool, so it’s a great place to take a break from the sweltering sun.
- How to get there: Follow the same directions for Cenote Cristal, except look to the other side of the highway for the Cenote Escondido sign. From the entrance, you will have a short walk to the cenote.
- Pros: It’s perfect for a midday swim, since it’s one of the least crowded cenotes in the area. There tend to be more families and small groups there as opposed to big tour groups, which makes it more serene compared to other, more popular cenotes.
- Cons: Just like Cenote Cristal, it can get very buggy on the walk from the road.
7. Cenote Dos Ojos
Dos Ojos (meaning “two eyes”) gets its name from the two adjacent sinkholes that are connected by a long corridor. Technically, Cenote Dos Ojos is two cenotes, one of them being more popular than the other. The incredibly clear water is breathtaking and definitely worth seeing, if you don’t mind the steep entrance fee.
Snorkeling is a great way to fully enjoy the beauty of Dos Ojos, and it’s also a favorite of divers — and a great place for beginner divers too! — but you have to organize your dive with a diving company in advance, per the rules of the cenote. If you want to snorkel, you can bring your own gear or rent it there.
If you’re not staying in Tulum but still want to include Dos Ojos during your Cancún or Riviera Maya vacation, this tour includes Dos Ojos and a full tour of the Tulum archaeological site in the same day.
- Cost: Entrance is 350 pesos (about $18 USD). Snorkeling gear is 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) for a mask and snorkel plus 70 pesos ($3.50 USD) for flippers.
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: As soon as the cenote opens at 8am is the best time to go. Crowds will start arriving at this super-popular spot around 9:30 or 10am.
- How to get there: Dos Ojos is about 14 miles north of downtown Tulum, on the highway to Playa del Carmen. You can either take a taxi there for about 200-250 ($10-12.50 USD) pesos or take a combi (40 pesos, $2 USD) going to Playa del Carmen and tell the driver to drop you off at the turn for Cenote Dos Ojos. From there it’s about a 20-minute walk to the cenote.
- Pros: It’s close to two other great cenotes: El Pit and Nicte Ha (see below). The water is gorgeous, and the passageway between the two pools is unique to Dos Ojos.
- Cons: The price for Dos Ojos is more expensive in comparison to most others, and it’s just as popular as Gran Cenote, meaning crowds accumulate quite quickly.
8. Cenote El Pit
This cenote is a diver’s paradise. Only experienced divers are allowed to dive here because of its depth (119 meters), making it the deepest cenote on the Yucatán Peninsula! There is a floating hydrogen sulfide cloud at 30 meters deep, which is one of the most exciting features of the dive. In fact, it is known to be one of the most legendary places to dive in the whole world!
Cenote El Pit is part of the Sac Actun system, which is the largest known underwater cave system in the world. This includes Dos Ojos and Nicte Ha, all of which you could visit in the same day.
- Cost: 300 pesos ($15 USD) if you’re visiting this alone, or 500 pesos ($25 USD) for a combined ticket with Dos Ojos
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: If you’re diving (which is an extra cost), the morning hours have the best light streaming into the depths of the underwater cavern.
- How to get there: El Pit is part of the same cenote system as Dos Ojos and is less than 2 miles past it. To get there, follow the directions for Dos Ojos and continue walking, following the signs for El Pit.
- Pros: The diving is the main attraction here, so if you’re a diver, the biggest pro is that you’ll have one of the most epic dives of your life.
- Cons: If you aren’t a diver, this cenote is quite expensive for just a swim and a look around. You can snorkel and see the stalactites below, but the surface of the cenote is quite comparable to other less expensive ones in the area.
9. Cenote Nicte Ha
Another part of the Sac Actun system is Cenote Nicte Ha, an open cenote that has beautiful turquoise waters just right for a swim. The vibrant green fauna around the edge give Nicte Ha a Garden of Eden vibe. You’ll even see plenty of lily pads and their flowers floating closer to the water’s edge. There’s also a rock overhang on one side that is fun to swim over to and explore.
Since it’s so close to Dos Ojos and El Pit, this place often gets overshadowed, even though it’s one of the best cenotes in the area for swimming and soaking up the surrounding jungle. It’s perfect after your early-morning stop at Dos Ojos, as it is much less popular, so it’s not necessary to get to super early. I like Nicte Ha more than Dos Ojos because of how peaceful and quiet it is.
To see Nicte Ha and Pet Cemetery (see below) in the same day, this tour from Viator is a great option.
- Cost: 200 pesos ($10 USD)
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: The best time to go is in the morning, but you can save this one for late morning after you visit Dos Ojos, since it’s less crowded.
- How to get there: The entrance to Nicte Ha is actually before Dos Ojos, so follow the directions to Dos Ojos but keep an eye out for the Nicte Ha sign after you head inland from the highway.
- Pros: It’s a beautiful, tranquil place to relax, swim, and snorkel. It’s close to other popular cenotes and therefore a great place to check out while you’re staying in Tulum because you can hit up all of them in the same day. It’s less crowded than other cenotes, and there aren’t many tours that visit it.
- Cons: There isn’t anywhere to rent snorkeling equipment, so you’ll have to bring your own. The walk in from the highway is about 20 minutes, which could be a con for some people.
10. Cenote Pet Cemetery
Are you confused or intrigued by the name of this one? Don’t worry, I was too! Cenote Pet Cemetery gets its name from the abundance of animal bones that can be found in its depths. Some researchers believe that the Mayan people made animal sacrifices here thousands of years ago.
This is another cenote that is best explored by scuba diving. The white stalactite, stalagmite, and column formations, paired with the abundance of natural light pouring in, create an exciting sparkling effect that can also be seen by snorkeling. In order to see the animal bones, however, you will have to dive.
Around the opening to the deep part of the cenote, there is an average depth of just 3 meters, making it a nice place to swim and snorkel. However, the steep entrance fee and the fact that you can only visit Pet Cemetery with a guide make it really only worth the price if you can dive there.
- Cost: 450 pesos ($22.50 USD)
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: Since you can only visit Pet Cemetery with a guide, choose a time that works best for you. The light is best in the early morning and afternoon.
- How to get there: Follow the directions to Dos Ojos and continue along the same road until you see the sign for Pet Cemetery.
- Pros: It has a wealth of history and is one of the only places where you can find artifacts like animal bones.
- Cons: It is very expensive for non-divers and perhaps not worth visiting if you aren’t diving.
11. Cenote Xunaan-Ha
This cenote is one of the most off-the-beaten-path ones you’ll find in the Riviera Maya. It’s in Chemuyil, a small village between Tulum and Akumal. If you are looking for a cenote that has a much more down-to-earth, local vibe, this is it. On any given weekend, you’ll likely find people from the community hanging out here, but it stays relatively quiet during the week.
Xunaan-Ha is an open cenote with a platform that you can jump from and ropes to hold onto while you swim. Bring your own snorkeling gear to make the most of the underwater flora and fauna, as there isn’t anywhere nearby to rent it.
Viator has a tour that includes this cenote along with the Tulum archaeological site. What a great combo!
- Cost: 100 pesos ($5 USD)
- Hours: 9am to 5pm
- When to go: Since this cenote is relatively unknown, you can go any time of day and find very few people there. Locals tend to visit more on the weekends, so avoid going then if you want the place mostly to yourself.
- How to get there: The cenote is about 14 miles from downtown Tulum, in the village of Chemuyil. The easiest and most cost-effective way to get there is by taking a combi toward Playa del Carmen and telling the driver to drop you off at Chemuyil. The ride should cost you around 45 pesos ($2.25 USD). From the highway, you can walk to the cenote entrance.
- Pros: It’s pretty sweet that this cenote hasn’t gained a lot of popularity yet, because it’s just as beautiful as other cenotes but without nearly as many people. It’s also quite easy to get to from Tulum.
- Cons: There aren’t many amenities available at the cenote itself, and there isn’t much else to do in Chemuyil besides visit the cenote.
12. Cenote Azul
Cenote Azul is sizable, with a few different connected pools. One of them is shallower and well suited for children or not-so-confident swimmers. There is another one that is much deeper and has a cliff to dive in from. The water is so clear that you can see all the way to the rocky bottom in most places.
This cenote is best for swimming and snorkeling, but flippers are not allowed. It’s not suited for diving at all. With the cliff to jump off, it’s a fun place to take a leap, swim around, and enjoy the atmosphere of the jungle.
- Cost: 120 pesos ($6 USD) to enter
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: Like most of the more popular cenotes, this one is best to visit in the morning on a weekday when there are fewer people there.
- How to get there: Cenote Azul is just south of Puerto Aventuras, about 30 minutes north of Tulum. A taxi from Tulum will cost around 200 pesos ($10 USD), but taking a combi is just as easy. To take a combi from downtown Tulum, find one that says Playa del Carmen and tell the driver to let you out at the entrance to Cenote Azul.
- Pros: The water is pristine and the limestone is nice to sit on to chill out. There’s a more family-friendly vibe, with people cliff-jumping and having a good time.
- Cons: It can get a little rowdy in the afternoons when it’s more crowded.
13. Cenote Angelita
Cenote Angelita is another superstar when it comes to diving. Most divers flock to this cenote to see the optical illusion that the hydrogen sulfate cloudlike layer creates underwater. This halocline is essentially where freshwater and saltwater meet, at around 30 meters below the water’s surface. There are tree branches reaching out from below the halocline, which create a mystical effect comparable to walking through a misty forest at night.
While Cenote Angelita is best known for its diving, it’s not a bad spot to relax and take a dip. In fact, it’s popularity among divers just might mean that you have the place to yourself if you’re just there to swim.
- Cost: 100 pesos ($5 USD), plus an additional fee to dive.
- Hours: 8am to 5pm
- When to go: Anytime of the day is suitable to visit if you’re there to swim, as it rarely gets crowded. If you’re diving, the morning hours are the best, because the light can penetrate to the depths below much easier.
- How to get there: Angelita is further south than Cristal and Escondido, and a bit too far to bike to. The easiest way to get there is to take a taxi for around 100-120 pesos ($5-6 USD) or to grab a Chetumal- or Felipe Carrillo Puerto-bound combi for 20 pesos ($1 USD).
- Pros: It’s unlikely to be crowded. The halocline effect is an incredible sight to see if you’re a diver.
- Cons: There aren’t many amenities, and you’ll have to arrange to dive with a local company if you wish to do so.
Guidelines and Best Practices
- Sunblock: Most sunblocks contain chemicals that are very harmful to the the ecosystem of cenotes, lagoons, and the ocean. In fact, many of the chemicals in traditional sunblocks are partially responsible for coral bleaching. Yikes! Either omit sunblock, or opt for one that says “reef safe” or “ecopark friendly” on the label. These are mineral sunblocks and don’t cause damage the way chemical ones do.
- Rinsing off: At some cenotes, like Gran Cenote, for example, you’ll see an open shower area. Sometimes there are signs instructing visitors to rinse off before stepping into the cenote, but last time I visited the area, many of them didn’t have a sign. Make sure to keep an eye out for these shower areas, so you can rinse off any residue on your skin from lotions, soaps, etc.
- Leave no trace: Would you want to roll up to your chosen cenote and find a ton of trash there, floating around in the water? Of course not! Be mindful of everything you bring with you, and make sure not to leave any trash behind.
- Respect the local culture: Cenotes were and continue to be, in some cases, places of worship for the Mayan people. As you can see above with Pet Cemetery, these sacred sinkholes have a rich history and immense cultural significance. Tulum is infamous for its raves, and some of them are held in privately owned cenotes. This has upset locals, and I personally think it’s pretty uncool, although I understand that everyone can make their own decisions. Just food for thought.
- Bring cash: Some of the more popular cenotes have card readers, but the smaller ones will only take cash. Make sure to bring enough pesos for your entrance fee, transportation, and snacks.
Not all cenotes are created equal. Some are best suited for seasoned divers, and some are excellent places to swim, snorkel, and relax for the day. Whatever cenote adventure you’re looking forward to, I hope you’ve found your next favorite spot on this list!
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