Cenotes in Mayan Riviera and Yucatan You Have to See to Believe!

January 30, 2024

cenotes in mayan riviera

Pronounced “say-NO-tay,” a cenote is a natural sinkhole created when the ceiling of limestone bedrock collapses, partially exposing a cave opening into an underground river or waterhole.

There are at least 6,000 cenotes or sinkholes scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, thought to have been formed by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.  These freshwater underworlds were considered sacred by the ancient Mayans and played an important role as the bridge between the earth and the underworld. Ancient artifacts and human bones thought to be from human sacrifices have been discovered in many.

They can either be open, semi-open, or cavernous (entirely underground and accessible only by hole or tunnel). Many of them are connected by networks of subterranean cave systems, and the ancient Mayans considered them a gateway to communicating with the gods.

They are found in areas that are rich in limestone, creating incredible swimming holes filled with clear cool water.

Types of Cenotes

  1. Fully-Open Cenotes. Thought to be the oldest cenotes, they are giant holes in large water bodies, open to the external world exposing a natural pool surrounded by jungle vegetation and lit by natural light. While these can be deep and dangerous, they are the most tropical.
  2. Semi-Open Cenotes. Semi-open grottoes are a combination of fully open and cave cenotes. They are middle-aged types of cenotes. Their ground-level limestone is partially caved through which sunlight streams in, allowing a glimpse of the sinkhole. These are reputedly the most magical.
  3. Cave Cenotes. These caverns are the youngest. Cave cenotes have very cold water since they do not receive much light since their roofs have not eroded to let it in.  They have stalagmites and stalactites and are said to be the most mysterious.

How to Get Around

The best way to see several cenotes is to rent a car. It’s pretty easy to drive around the Yucatan peninsula and renting a car will give you the most flexibility.

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Here are 14 cenotes in Mayan Riviera and Yucatan that you can’t miss!

14 Samula

cenotes in mayan riviera

Cenote Samula is a partially open cenote. It is a bit different as it is fitted out with artificial lights inside the cave. Aside from the lights, it’s very natural-looking, with roots dangling from the ceiling.

13 Cenote Tulum

cenote tulum

Cenote Tulum is private and you can only access it by staying at Uman Glamping. Set in the middle of lush jungle surroundings, it feels a bit like Eden itself! We stayed in a yurt with a boardwalk leading to the cenote. The only drawback is that the cenote was deep and the only way to get in was to jump off the platform.

12 Corchito

corchito cenote

Near Progreso Beach is a hidden gem called Reserva Ecológica El Corchito, accessible only by boat. The highlight of El Corchito is the cool-temperature cenotes that are available for swimming.

There are three open-air cenotes in the ecological reserve that exude a green glow due to the sun reflecting through the mangroves. The sinkholes range from less than 3 feet deep to over 6 feet deep. There is also a small shallow cenote, that you can dip your feet in to get a “fish pedicure.”

Corchito is home to a variety of wildlife, including the famous raccoons, flamingos, crocodiles, and various species of birds.

11 Zaci

cenotes in mayan riviera

Bernard DUPONT, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cenote Zaci is an oasis right in the heart of Valladolid, making it a convenient option, especially if you do not have a rental car. This cenote is part of a cave system, part of which is filled with water where visitors can either take a relaxing swim or explore. This small cenote isn’t the most impressive, but it has a zip line and is very family-friendly.

10 Gran Cenote

cenotes in mayan riviera

Dronepicr, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Close to Tulum, Gran Cenote is an underground cave with an opening at the top. crystal clear emerald water, two pools, and a cave.

Due to the large number of tropical fish, turtles, and stalagmites in the water, it’s a great place to snorkel. The two chambers are connected by a cave tunnel that you can swim through.

9 Casa Cenote

cenotes in mayan riviera

dronepicr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Casa is an open-air cenote that seems more like a river than a sinkhole. The magical cenote is in a mangrove surrounded by a lush jungle and vine-covered palms. It’s very long so a life jacket is recommended.

Locals call it “Cenote Manati,” because it is said that Manatees used to live there. While there are no manatees currently in Casa Cenote, a “friendly” crocodile named “Panchito,” allegedly not dangerous, does sometimes pop up.

8 Cenote Azul

cenote azul

Cenote Azul was one of the first cenotes in Mayan Riviera that I visited. It’s not the biggest cenote, which makes it a great one for first-timers, because there are fewer crowds.

The cenote is filled with crystal clear emerald water surrounded by lush jungle greenery. There are several platforms of various heights you can jump off into the refreshing water as well as a small cliff to jump for the more adventurous.

You’ll find a lot of small fish in this cenote making it great for snorkeling, or simply to enjoy a “natural pedicure” as they nibble the dead skin off your feet.

7 Cenote Oxman

cenote oxman

Cenote Oxman is inside an open cenote inside a collapsed cave where both natural light and tree roots descend into its clear blue waters. There’s lush vegetation around the interior walls.

There’s a Tarzan rope that swings out over the water, for those brave enough to jump off the high platform.

At the entrance is Hacienda Oxman with a restaurant, a pool, and lounge chairs.

6 Laguna Kaan Luum

laguna kaan luum

The secret gem Laguna Kaan Luum was our favorite spot in Tulum and the best place to cool off! Frequented mostly only by locals, this slice of heaven is a respite from the hordes of people everywhere in Tulum.

In the middle of a lush green jungle, the open dark blue cenote is surrounded by a shallow lake of crystal clear turquoise-green, bathwater warm water.

It’s imperative to stay away from the dark cobalt-blue cenote near the middle of the lagoon; it’s very deep and has strong currents that can drag you down to the bottom, which is said to be 262 feet deep.

The charming site is mostly rustic, surrounded by grass with a few thatched palapas for shade, a tower to climb for views, two piers, overwater hammocks, and swings.

5 Calevara Cenote

calavera cenote

Secret gem Cenote Calavera is one of the most unique and fun cenotes in Mexico!

Calevara means “skull” in Spanish and is named because of the shape of this cenote, which has two small holes in the ground that represent eyes and one large hole that represents the mouth. The deepest part is 54 feet deep.

Cenote Calavera is a “Cántaro” or jug type of cenote that has an opening in the roof that is smaller than the water-filled cave cenote below. Most people jump into the largest “mouth” hole; the eye holes are smaller but you can jump one person at a time doing a “pencil” jump (although people have gotten injured).

If you don’t want to jump, you can enter the cenote via a long wooden ladder. There’s also a fun swing hanging from the top of the cenote, but you have to do a short swim from the ladder to get onto it. This swing makes it one of the most Instagrammable cenotes in Tulum.

Calavera Cenote is also known as the “Temple of Doom,” due to the animal skeletons that have been seen by divers.

4 Cuzama Cenotes


You get a three-for-one at Cuzama Cenotes.

Half the fun is getting to the first cenote. The only way to get into the jungle sites is in a cart pulled by a horse/mule. Hang on to your hat, because it’s a bumpy (albeit fun) ride!

The first cenote looks like nothing more than a hole in the ground surrounded by tree roots with a rudimentary ladder to descend –not for the claustrophobic.

The other two look similarly unspectacular at first, but once you descend into the depths, you reach expansive caves enveloping an otherworldly subterranean abyss filled with dark aquamarine water, unique rock formations, and jungle vegetation hanging down.

3 Ik Kil Cenote

cenote ik kil

One of the most famous and popular Yucatan cenotes, Cenote Ik Kil is a very deep, but open-top cylindrical cenote. This means that the swimming area is open to the sky rather than being enclosed in a cave-like cenotes. Swimming in the crystal clear waters with the hanging vines cascading into the water is truly breathtaking. Its proximity to the world-famous Chichen Itza Mayan ruins means that it’s always packed with bus tours unless you go first thing in the morning.

2 Cenote Suytun

cenote suytun

Just a short drive from Valladolid, stunning Cenote Suytun beckons with its shallow, emerald waters deep inside a rocky cave. A large cleft in the top of the cave creates a stunning sunlight opening that shines directly into the pool.

The most striking feature of Cenote Suytun is the stone pier leading to a circular platform that juts into the middle. Visitors walk into the middle of the pier and bask in the exquisiteness of the cavernous space enveloping them.

Suytun has become an Instagram sensation due to its dramatic landscape, so depending on the time of day and time of year, you’ll need to wait in a queue to get your photo. Attendants time you, so you won’t be able to take as much time as you’d like. Still, it’s worth it.

1 Cenote Cocolitos


Cocalitos in Bacalar is a peaceful, swimmable lagoon with fossilized stromatolites billions of years old and considered to be the oldest life forms on earth. The open cenote has swings and hammocks. Cocalitos is nothing short of magical and is a popular spot for those Instagram photos.

The bathwater warm water is so crystal clear and shallow that it almost looks invisible! There’s also a pier where you can jump into the water and hammocks that touch the water.

Cocolitos has a festive restaurant on site that overlooks the water, playing entertaining contemporary Latin pop music.

What to Bring

  • Biodegradable sunscreen. Not only does it protect the fragile marine environment, but regular sunscreen is not allowed.
  • Waterproof camera such as an Insta360 for drone-like shots or a GoPro for underwater shots
  • Water shoes. The surfaces both underwater and on the beach can be slippery and rocky.
  • Dry bag to keep your belongings dry while in the water.
  • Microfiber tower which is quick-dry and is also sand-repellant.
  • Cash – Some cenotes are remote and do not accept credit cards.

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More to Do


If you’ve got more time to explore Mexico, there are many amazing places in the Yucatan that you will love, such as Mayan ruins and gorgeous colonial cities. Click here to learn more about places to visit in Mexico.

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of the “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the next few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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