Mexico is home to a ridiculous number of cenotes (pronounced “se-NOH-tay”), which are natural sinkholes formed when the rock formations collapse and reveal the fresh groundwater beneath. It is so closely associated with the Mayan culture as it plays and important role in their day to day life and often used by ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings. Yep, no big deal.
Explained in words, there’s nothing too exciting about a cenote, but if you ever find yourself in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, a visit to at least one cenote is an experience worth writing, and taking lots of pictures about. Whether you go on your own (it’s not too bad to make the drive there and pay entry yourself) or through a small group tour, visiting a cenote in Mexico should be on your to do list.
What is a Cenote?
Cenotes are natural freshwater natural pits or sinkholes formed by the collapse of bedrock that exposes the natural freshwater reserve underneath. They are most commonly associated with the Mayan culture and they can be found dotted around the Yucatan Peninsula. The reason they are such an interesting and surreal experience is easy once you’ve been there – it makes for a stunning and otherworldly swimming / snorkeling / scuba diving experience!
Pro Tip: Bring along your GoPro or waterproof camera as these are definitely pictures you won’t want to miss!
Visiting 2 Cenotes in Mexico.
As I was travelling in a small group of 3 girls, including myself, we decided to book and join a small group tour. Yes you have to pay a little bit more, but we weren’t on a budget, and safety was our priority. We ended up visiting 2 cenotes that were on top of my list and closest to where we were staying: the Dos Ojos Cenote (Two Eye) near Tulum, and Ik-Kil near Chichen Itza which also happen to be the most scenic and worthwhile cenotes to visit if you are pressed in time and money.
Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) Cenotes
The Dos Ojos cenote was about 1.5 hour drive from downtown Cancun and I thought was the most impressive due to its incredibly clear water, and the fact that it is an impressive 82 kilometers cave system with 28 cenotes connected. It is also considered one of the longest underwater cave with depths as deep as 119M at its deepest level.
Read More: Postcard From | Cancun, Mexico
Although the underwater cave system is comprised of around 28 cenotes, there are two main entrances, which are connected through a small cave that makes it look like a pair of eyes looking into the underwater world. I got to swim between the 2 cenotes, and I can tell you that it gets incredibly dark and terrifying so make sure to go on a guided tour if you can!
Since it is a very popular destination, it’s worthwhile to make this cenote one of the first places to visit when you are there. We were lucky to have arrived before a large group so we got to enjoy a fantastic swimming experience that was quiet and almost like our own; we had the caves to ourselves for about 20-30 minutes (which is really all you need to appreciate the caves before diving in).
The visibility of the water is excellent – the water is so clear that you can see every pebble and rock and fish at the bottom, and the only thing that could possibly cloud the experience would be if there is no sunlight. With sunlight, the view from underwater is that much better. There are several pictures below which hopefully convey a sense of what the experience was like to swim underwater.
It is also possible to dive through the cave systems although I opted for snorkeling instead due to limited time, and the fact that I was not certified.
The Dos Ojos cenote is also one of the more popular tourist destinations so there is a change room/bathroom available and parking is free. You also don’t need to spend too long if you don’t want to – a half-day excursion is enough to give you a sense of the otherworldliness of these cenotes.
Tickets can be purchased online so if going with a guided tour, make sure the price of the ticket is included.
A visit to Mexico would not be complete without visiting the Ik-Kil cenote nearby which is part of the Ik Kil Archeological Park and is the host to the Red Bull Diving Competition. I found that the cenote was impressive from the outside, although I’m sure its equally impressive. You can literally look down the cenote from about 26m up, and it is just a picturesque experience – the vines and leaves that line the wall make for a very fairy-tale looking, and scenic relaxing place to be.
Read More: Chichen Itza Day Trip
Looking from the bottom, up, you see a hole and the sky. Imagine what it would be like to swim and look at the clouds through this very impressive formation.
The Ik-Kil cenote happens to be located very close to the Chichen Itza so it tends to be a bit more crowded. To get to the water, you need to descend down fairly steep steps of around 26m though it’s fairly safe (albeit a little wet sometimes) and places to break take a break. Since I went with a tour (as part of the previous cenote trip), I didn’t have to pay my ticket separately however be sure to check if they accept card payments!
Similar to the Dos Ojos cenote, there is a locker/change room and bathroom facility on-site.
Overall Experience at the Cenotes
After visiting a cenote, you’ll be working up a real appetite. I have to say that visiting cenotes have been a fantastic highlight of my Mexico trip. I can’t even pick my favourite of the two because it would be absolutely unfair – they’re both striking on their own and offers a completely unique experience.
The minute I got back, everyone was asking what a cenote was, where I went, and what I did. Ultimately, it was a great experience and a highly recommended one to try out if you will be visiting the Yucatan peninsula soon.
Visiting Cenotes with Cancun Adventure Tour
As mentioned earlier, I booked our trip through Cancun Adventure via the Cenotes and Lagoon Tour. Although a little bit more expensive than going at it ourselves, safety and a pleasant experience was our top priority. We were in a small group of 6, with 3 of us making up that group. The air-conditioned transfer, very attentive and informative guides, pick up directly to and from the hotel and this was an incredible tour experience. Plus, if you book online, you get 15% off which is a great cost-saving for larger groups.