Cenotes (pronounced say-note-ay) are essentially sinkholes in which the sunken ground has given way to expose the groundwater underneath. When visiting the Riviera Maya, you’ll hear a lot about cenotes near Playa Del Carmen—and that’s because there are thousands of them dotting the Yucatan peninsula. No wonder it can feel overwhelming to find the best cenotes near Playa Del Carmen!
The Yucatan peninsula is home to the largest number of cenotes. In addition to there being an abundance of cenotes near Playa del Carmen, you’ll also find a large number of cenotes near Tulum as well.
This is due to the ground consisting of large limestone tables sitting above an expansive, complex underground river and cave system.
Rainwater, which can contain a weak carbonic acid, reacts to the limestone, causing it to dissolve over time—and eventually fall away and expose the underground water system, creating cenotes.
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The historical significance of cenotes
Cenotes are more than a refreshing watering hole. They’re also an integral part of Mayan history and were worshipped by the tribes for many reasons.
First, cenotes are the only access point to fresh water in the peninsula. The Yucatan peninsula is flat and has no visible river systems, which means the only fresh water in the area is underground.
It is because of cenotes that Mayan civilizations were not only able to survive here but were capable of developing remarkably large and rich kingdoms like Chichen Itza, Calakmul, and Coba.
To find new cenotes, Mayans often followed the Turquoise-browed motmot, a species of birds known to hang out in cenote openings. If you keep your eyes open during your next cenote visit, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of these beautiful birds!
The second reason cenotes were important to Mayans is that they were considered the passageway to Xibalba, or the underworld. Xibalba is where many gods, including Chaac, the god of rain, lived.
It was also where warriors and others were believed to go after death. It’s important to know that Xibalba is not synonymous with hell. The Mayans didn’t believe in a “good” place or a “bad” place.
Instead, they celebrated death as simply the next stage of human existence. Because of this, they worshipped cenotes and often performed rituals, ceremonies, and occasionally sacrifices near and in the cenotes.
Don’t worry. You’re unlikely to encounter any skeletal remains in the cenotes near Playa Del Carmen!
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How to get to Cenotes in Playa del carmen
Transportation options to and from the cenotes Playa Del Carmen, Mexico has to offer depends on which cenote you choose.
A handful of cenotes are accessible by colectivos (a public, bus-like shuttle van service) or a short taxi ride. There are also tour options, which include roundtrip transportation along with things like entrance and a guided tour of Playa Del Carmen caves.
If you want to visit a less crowded cenote, be prepared to rent a car. La Ruta Del Cenotes, meaning “the cenote route,” is a road that stretches west from the nearby town of Puerta Aventuras and is home to dozens of cenotes.
There are enough that you could even stop at a few of them in the same day. You’ll also be more likely to spot a monkey, a coati, or even a peacock in this area. Once, we even had a monkey crash our lunch! But don’t hold your breath on it. I’ve been plenty of times without any sightings, too.
Whichever cenote you go to, though, try to head out early. These popular watering holes can fill up fast—especially during weekends, holidays, and summer months. And most will close around 5 p.m.
What to Bring to Cenotes in Playa Del Carmen
Packing for a day at the cenote is pretty similar to how you might pack for the beach—but without the sunblock!
Sunblock, along with other lotions and oils, isn’t healthy for the cenote and creates an unsightly film on the water’s surface, which is why most parks forbid its use.
And because the current from the underground river is usually quite weak, even biodegradable options can quickly overwhelm a cenote and throw its ecosystem off balance.
Because of this, most cenotes will require you to shower before entering, rinsing off any repellent, sunblock, or lotion on your skin.
Here are a few things to bring to a cenote with you:
- Bathing suit
- A long sleeve shirt or rash guard to protect from the sun (and to keep you warm if you tend to get cold easily)
- A dry change of clothes
- Water & snacks
- Waterproof phone case or GoPro
- Goggles or snorkel set
- A small amount of cash for snacks, transportation, or lunch
Life jackets are typically provided or available to rent for a small fee.
If you want to bring food, check the rules of the cenote first. Some cenotes forbid any outside food or beverage, while other cenotes offer picnic tables and grills for rent! Most of the time, you can sneak in a few snacks without hassle.
5 Cenotes Near Playa del Carmen
There are hundreds of cenotes near Playa Del Carmen, making it extremely difficult to choose one.
To help cut your options down to a more manageable number of choices, I’ve curated a diverse list of what I consider to the some of the best cenotes in Riviera Maya. Whether you’re looking for the best jumping spots, good photo ops, or a more local experience, there is an option for everyone!
Best for: proximity to Playa Del Carmen, local transportation, low entrance cost, endless photo ops
Azul is my go-to cenote in Playa Del Carmen when friends and family come to visit. Accessible, affordable, and downright stunning, this cenote is a great spot for anyone, whether it’s your first cenote or your hundredth.
Taking after its name, these cenotes have a beautiful, deep blue, which contrasts beautifully with the surrounding greenery.
In the main area, you’ll find plenty of shallow rocks to sunbathe on, a platform for hanging out or small jumps, and a larger cliff for those who like a little more thrill.
If you bring a snorkel set, you can find different water plants and fish. You can even dip your feet in and let the “pedicure fish” pick away at your dead skin.
If the area feels too busy, you can easily sneak away down one of the many paths and discover several smaller, quieter cenotes. Even on the busiest days, I am almost always able to find a cenote all to myself!
Best for: proximity to Playa Del Carmen, local transport, low entrance cost, cave
Next door to Cenote Azul is another one of the closest cenotes to Playa Del Carmen, Cenote Cristalino.
At this Playa Del Carmen cenote, you’ll find a jumping cliff, an open swimming area with lots of sunshine, and a partially-covered cave area, which makes for awesome snorkeling views and underwater photos when the sun hits right!
Cristalino is a pretty chill cenote but can get crowded on weekends, holidays, and high season. If it gets to be too much, you can easily walk over to Cenote Azul and see if there is a lighter crowd there.
You can either negotiate with a local taxi or hop on a colectivo headed to Tulum to get here. The colectivo station is located in front of the Chedraui supermarket at Calle 1 Sur and Avenida 45 Norte (location on Google).
Just tell them you’re heading to Cenote Cristalino and listen for the driver to call it out. To catch a colectivo back, cross the highway to the side heading back to PDC and flag down the next sprinter van. Be prepared to have some patience. Colectivos can fill up quickly, and you may have to wait for a few of them to pass before you catch one!
Cenote Verde Lucero
Best for: DIY day trips, fewer crowds, BYO food/beer options, large groups
Located along “La Ruta de Los Cenotes,” about 40 minutes outside of Playa Del Carmen, Cenote Verde Lucero is a hidden gem—and perfect if you want a more authentic (and less crowded) cenote experience. While tour groups occasionally stop in for a visit, the parade of people usually starts late in the day and only lasts for about an hour or two, then the vibe calms back down.
In this quintessential cenote, you can climb the stairs into the cool water or take a more daring entrance using the zipline. Just hang on, zip on out, and jump down into the water. Between swims, you can relax at one of the palapa-covered picnic tables snacking on whatever food and drink you bring with you. There is even a grill available if you want to do a proper cookout. Just make sure to get here early to snag your spot!
Best for: day tour options with transportation, exploring caves in playa del carmen, variety of cenotes in one trip
If you want to check out a few cenotes but are short on time and don’t want the hassle of car rentals, Casa Tortugas is a great option. Casa Tortugas offers several cenotes in one spot and has an added transportation option.
My favorite part is that each cenote is unique.
One is perfect for jumping, one is open and shaped like a river, and one is part of an underground cave system that includes a guided tour. And keep an eye out when walking from cenote to cenote. The last time we were there, we spotted a family of monkeys with two babies hanging out in the mangroves!
The Casa Tortuga entrance fee includes a guided tour, life jacket, snorkeling gear, and entrance to 4 cenotes. Ziplining, lockers, lunch, and beverages are extra.
If you want to reserve your spot and add on roundtrip transportation to and from Playa Del Carmen, you can book with a tour agency ahead of time. I usually opt for Custom Experiencias for my tour needs.
Best for: Beautiful scenery, easy tour options, traditional Mexican experience, day trips
While Cenote Saamal certainly isn’t the closest cenote to Playa Del Carmen, it is still one of my favorites and a must-see if you are already planning to visit Chichen Itza.
Saamal is probably the prettiest cenote I’ve ever seen, with greenery climbing up the walls and a small waterfall dumping into the cenote hole.
The hacienda it belongs to is also beautiful, with traditional architecture, a relaxing garden, and stretches of greenery. Your entrance fee includes full access to the hacienda plus a delicious buffet of traditional Mexican food, allowing you to taste all of the classics in one sitting.
To get to Cenote Saamal, you have two options. The first option is to rent a car and make the drive to Valladolid to visit the ruins and the cenote.
Or, you can book a Chichen Itza day tour. The day tour includes roundtrip transportation, a guided tour of Chichen Itza, entrance to Cenote Saamal*, buffet lunch, and free time to explore Valladolid.
Ironically, the tour actually works out to be more cost-effective than the DIY route, so it’s something to consider!
*The tour guide mentioned that occasionally they may choose an alternative (but still amazing) cenote if Saamal is too busy.
Every cenote is a good cenote!
Remember, when it comes to Playa Del Carmen cenotes, it’s hard to make a bad choice.
These are just a handful of favorites from my experience, and there are thousands of more hidden gems to be uncovered. Still, each cenote is unique and beautiful, and whichever Playa Del Carmen cenote you choose, it is sure to be a great way to cool down and enjoy another relaxed day in paradise!