The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its beaches, but even more famous for its cenotes. These are fresh-water pools, many of them located within the deepest and most remote points of the jungle. The ancient Mayans called them “dzonots”, which roughly translates to “abyss” or “the deep”. The first Spaniards to explore these shores called them “cenotes”, natural wells. Since there are no rivers in the Yucatan, rainwater percolates down through the porous limestone into underground caves and river systems and flows out to sea. From time to time, the thin limestone crust gives way, revealing a sinkhole of fresh, cold water. “Gin-clear” best describes the visibility you’ll encounter in these exotic underwater worlds, making them excellent for snorkeling, diving, or just having a refreshing swim.
To help you prepare for your adventure in these unique and beautiful environments, we’ll take a look at cenotes worth finding in the in Tulum and the surrounding area.
Dos Ojos is one of the most famous cenotes in the Yucatan. Its cavern and cave systems have recently been linked up with (need the name of cave system here, making it the largest cave system ever discovered.) Dos Ojos in Spanishmeans “Two Eyes”, aptly named for the twin cenotes you’ll find here. One is very shallow with the brightest blues and greens you’ve ever seen, while the other is very deep and dark. Both are excellent experiences.
Dos Ojos – What You Need to Know
To get to Dos Ojos, drive one kilometer south of Xel Ha on MX 307, and you’ll see the sign on the right. Entry fee is 100 Pesos.* Open 9am-5pm daily, with parking available.
This cenote is so close to the road that, at one time, the Mayan locals would occasionally pull up in their cars and use the crystal-clear waters to rinse off their vehicles. There are some incredible caves here, but even if you simply snorkel, you’ll see beautiful underwater formations and aquatic life.
Carwash Cenote – What You Need to Know
In Tulum, turn right onto MX109 toward Coba. This is the road to the Coba ruins. Drive 7.6 kilometers and turn left at the marked entrance. Open 9am-5pm daily. Limited parking is available, and the entry fee is 40 Pesos for swimmers and snorkelers, and 120 Pesos for divers.*
A huge cenote set in a lush tropical garden, Gran Cenote is a favorite for both snorkelers and divers, with a series of surface caverns that offer swimmers a glimpse into the mysterious underworld of the Maya, with stalactites hanging above you as you float above the dark abyss. Beginners need not worry, there are many places within Gran Cenote where one can stand and take a break. As evening falls upon the jungle, it’s very common to see the occasional bat flutter by. This is a very popular destination for divers and snorkelers of all skill levels.
Gran Cenote – What You Need to Know
In Tulum, turn right onto MX109 toward Coba and drive 3.5 kilometers. Gran Cenote is well marked on the right. We recommend you get there earlier or later in the day, as mid-day can be crowded at times, especially during high season. Open 8am-5pm daily. Entrance fee is 180 Pesos* with ample parking available.
Just south of Puerto Aventuras, Cenote Azul is popular with learning snorkelers, divers, and families. There are shallow portions of this cenote where you can stand, or lay back and chill in the cool, clear aquamarine waters. Banded Tetra, with it’s iridescent blue and pink and Boxer Pupfish are common here.
Cenote Azul- What You Need to Know
Driving south on MX307 from Playa Del Carmen, Cenote Azul is about five minutes past Puerto Aventuras, well marked with a sign. Admission fee is 100 Pesos*, with limited parking, so get there early.
Named for the gentle “sea cows” which used to frequent these waters, Cenote Manati is still a “must do” for snorkelers and divers. The waters of Cenote Manati are crystal clear, and friendly to both snorkelers and divers, winding its way through lush tropical mangroves.
Cenote Manati- What You Need to Know
The entry for Cenote Manati is located eight kilometers north of Tulum on MX307 on the right (east) side of the road, clearly marked. We advise that you go in the mid-morning hours on a weekday to avoid crowds, and then spend the afternoon at Casa Cenote, right across the road from Cenote Maniti. Cenote Manati runs underground beneath the road, and sitting seaside under Casa Cenote’s palapa, you’ll see the fresh water from the cenote bubble up into the sea. Entry fee is 120 Pesos per person, limited parking is available.
So next time you’re in the Riviera Maya, remember the beach is not the only underwater world to be explored. There’s a huge jungle out there, and within it are cenotes holding secrets science is still uncovering. If you’d like to know more about this or other cenotes in the Yucatan region or set up your next vacation to the wondrous and mysterious jungles of the ancient Mayas, click here, and we’ll be glad to help. Or, sign up for our newsletter.
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