Whether you want to cool off from a hot day, explore the underwater world of ancient Mayans or snap an exotic Instagram photo, the many cenotes (pronounced say-no-tays) of the Yucatan are a daytime excursion of adventure. Roughly 7,000 of these dream-like sinkholes can be found throughout Mexico with many of them in the Yucatan Peninsula. They are formed by the collapse of cave ceilings and can range in size and shape from vertical shafts of deep pools to broad, shallow caves with underwater passages. Here’s 5 of our top picks.
1. Dos Ojos | Tulum
Spanish for “two eyes,” this cenote’s geography represents just that. Dos Ojos is made up of two cenotes: one with high visibility and another called the “black eye” where a flashlight is needed to see. A cavern connects the two cenotes making the shape of two eyes. You can also find the deepest known cave passage in the region here at almost 400-ft. deep. Find this cenote south of Playa del Carmen and north of Tulum. Click here for map.
2. Ik Kil | Pisté
This well-known cenote can sometimes overflow with visitors as it is located near the popular tourist site of the Mayan archeological ruins. The round pool of water sits about 85-feet below the surface and is often what people picture when they think of cenotes. A carved out circular staircase winds down the wall, and long, extending vines hang down from the surface, dripping water and creating beautiful shadows. A waterfall on one side and mini platforms for diving also add to the fun. Located in between Chichen Itza and Valladolid. Click here for map.
3. Xkeken | Valladolid
Divers will not be a fan of this cenote, but casual swimmers and photo obsessed travelers will. This cenote provides plenty of shade for swimmers as the only opening is a single hole in the ceiling. Two ropes and a wooden walkway dance across the water and hundreds of stalactite formations hang from up above. Located a few minutes outside of Valladolid. Click here for map.
4. Azul | Playa del Carmen
For a less claustrophobic experience, dive into Cenote Azul where small fish swim at your feet. This open-air cenote is perfect for families and those in desire of something less Indiana Jones-like. The area is characterized by mini cliffs, varying levels of depth and paths to wander around on. Located just south of Puerto Aventuras. Click here for map.
5. Chaak Tun | Playa del Carmen
A lesser-known cenote, Chaak Tun is a hidden, dark gem. Made up of two caves with two separate entrances and tons of slender stalactites, this spooky cenote is an explorer’s dream. The main cave is large with lots to explore like side chambers and dark corners. A single hole in the ceiling remains the light source for this dim cave whose open for exploration as there are no roped off areas. Don’t forget to bring a light or you’ll be left in the dark. Located along Juarez away from the beach. Click here for map.