A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.
However, not all cenotes are exposed. Some have been discovered by tiny rock openings that you have to squeeze through or take a ladder down!
Mayans believed that cenotes were an entrance to the underworld, so they were often used for human sacrifices and material offerings. In fact, at the Sacred Cenote found within Chichén-Itzá, archeologists have found many important ceramics, jewelry and bones.
The Yucatan is like a giant sponge, with hundreds of kilometers through a network of underground rivers and cave systems. There are over 4,000 known cenotes in the Riviera Maya region and so far, seven of the world’s ten longest mapped underground waterways exist beneath the Yucatan Peninsula.
At the cenotes in Mexico, you’ll be asked to swim without any lotions or creams on your skin at all, as they can poison fish, sea plants, and other delicate marine life. However, you can get a biodegradable sunscreen.
There are many cenotes open to the public, just waiting for you to explore. Some of the best cenotes are very close to Tulum, here are some:
CENOTE DOS OJOS
In this winding underwater cave system, both diving and snorkelling are great! This is the best place to go diving in Mexico and perhaps the world, for first-time cavern divers. As the divers wind their way through the cave system, they can occasionally get a glimpse of the snorkelers and free divers alongside them.
The cave system is mapped out by reel lines which make the first timer more than safe navigating these confusing tunnels. It’s totally breathtaking here and absolutely worth the price.
Gran Cenote is a perfect cenote for everyone with its sandy bottom and bats living in the cave. The center garden includes palm trees, water lilies and elephant ears with a platform for sunbathing. Keep an eye out for toucans if you happen to be visiting during January or February as they tend to pop out of nowhere sometimes.
CENOTE EL PIT
The Pit is one of the deepest cenotes in the area, and the visibility is on point. You can see very deep down The entrance is steep and narrow but once in the water, it opens up into a huge menacing cavern. This is a cenote for divers only. Recently, snorkelers and swimmers have been banned.
At about 98 feet deep, divers can see what looks like the sandy bottom with an eerie branch sticking out from it. Actually, this is a white gas layer, which is caught between the salt and fresh waters. The cave then drops even further but can’t be reached by diving. The Pit is easily one of the best cenotes for divers, due to the amazing things you’ll see down there and the fact that it is open-water, so suitable for all divers.
Cenote Azul is 85 feet deep and has crystal clear water perfect for swimming in. You can also meet some iguanas living in the bushes around. Although the place can get quite crowded everyone can find a spot to either relax or jump from a cliff. There are plenty of fish that will swim around your legs, so be prepared to be tickled a lot. If you can hold your breath for long enough there is a small underwater cave passage that you can free dive through.
CASA CENOTE (TANKAH)
Casa Cenote is usually a favourite, mainly because it is adorned with mangrove roots and cichlid fish hiding in amongst them. It is also really accesible and not too many people there. Although you can dive it’s not very deep and it’s open-water so it’s best for beginner divers who aren’t ready to go inside the caves yet.
Because it’s so close to the ocean it’s got some cool brackish water fish that you don’t see in the other caves. There is also a long cave going from the cenote out to the sea.
LAGUNA KAAN LUUM
Laguna Kaan Luum is a wide, bright green lagoon cenote located just outside of Tulum. It is a locals’ secret and if you go at the right time of day (afternoon) you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
Laguna Kaan Luum reminds one of the Blue Hole in Belize. The centre of the cenote is fenced off because it is REALLY DEEP (262 feet deep, actually). But the outside area is shallow and most people can stand. It’s the perfect cenote to bring your kids to! The soft sand at the bottom is known as a great skin exfoliator, but it smells like rotting eggs. Maybe that’s why it’s so good for you!