What is a cenote? What are the best Cenotes near Tulum? And how do I reach them?
These were all questions of mine when I first arrived in the Riviera Maya. I was so intrigued and wanted to explore them all.
Learning that there are over 6000 cenotes in Mexico, I realized that exploring them all would be impossible. There are tons near Playa del Carmen that we love.
In the beginning, it was difficult to decide which ones to visit. Before making my journeys to the different cenotes I spent hours researching, looking at pictures, comparing costs, and determining travel time to reach each of them.
Choosing my favorite ones based on the gathered information, I planned my route, rented a car, and began exploring.
Save yourself hours of google searching and dive into this article to learn all the details on the 5 best cenotes near Tulum.
What is a Cenote?
Cenote, pronounced seh-no-tay, is a natural sinkhole of limestone rock that creates a chamber that is filled with fresh water. The chambers can be open-air or closed off like a cave or cavern. Cenote is a Mayan word that translates to “sinkhole”
The limestone rock is soft and porous which allows rainwater to seep in to fill the caverns and feed the underground river system. This is the largest underwater river system in the world and it is understood that all the cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula are connected through it.
Fun Fact: There are no above-ground rivers in the Riviera Maya.
Open-air cenotes begin on the ground’s surface. These cenotes look a lot like lakes and lagoons. Cenotes below the ground are caves and caverns varying in size and appearance.
Once you start discovering them, you will be captivated by how incredible and unique each one is. Before long you’ll be plotting excursions to the Riviera Maya just to explore the different cenotes!
Importance of Cenotes in Mayan History
Cenotes are the only source of fresh water in the Yucatan peninsula. They provided water to the Mayan civilization. It is because of this that Mayan cities and kingdoms were able to thrive and flourish. Chichen Itza and Coba are two main examples.
Cenotes were also sacrificial sites for the Mayan cities. The Mayans believed that cenotes were the passageway to the underworld. Or in the Mayan language” Xibalba.”
Xibalba was home to many Mayan gods including “Chaac” the god of rain. It is believed that human sacrifice was conducted when the Mayans were experiencing long periods of drought.
After death, Mayans didn’t believe that you went to a “good place” or a “bad place.” Death was celebrated as the next stage of human existence, and that passage to the underworld was a celebration of life.
What to bring to the best Cenotes near Tulum
Plan for a day of activity, swimming, sun, and adventure. Check out our full packing list for Tulum here.
It is important to know not to use sunscreen while visiting the cenotes, as most cenotes will prohibit it. When you enter the water with sunscreen on your skin, the oils wash off leaving a film on the water. This disrupts the ecosystem and the cleanliness of the water.
If you are searching for protection from the sun, use a rash guard. Yoga pants work great to protect the legs. I tend to get cold easily in cenotes so using a rash guard and yoga pants keeps me nice and warm in the freshwater.
Here is a list of items you might want to pack while visiting the best cenotes near Tulum:
- Rash guard/swimming pants
- Snorkel gear
- Go pro, underwater camera, or waterproof phone case
- Local cash (Pesos)
- Snacks or Lunch
- Water or soft drinks
- Dry change of clothes
After visiting the cenotes I recommend showering off. Sometimes, because of the minerals in the water, my skin is left feeling dry.
Lifejackets will be available at most cenotes. At some, it is even mandatory that you wear them. If this is the case the rental fee of the lifejacket is included with your admission fee.
These cenotes are incredibly deep and there is very little known about just how far they run. Wearing a lifejacket ensures your safety and those of the people who work at the cenotes.
It may feel frustrating that you have to wear one when you want to swim deeper into them, but whirlpools can occur at any time and they have claimed the lives of strong swimmers in the past. This is why they ask people to wear life jackets.
Now that you are packed and set to go let’s get on to the good stuff! The 5 best cenotes near Tulum.
Best Cenotes in Tulum
1. Dos Ojos
One of the most popular cenotes in the Riviera Maya is Cenote Dos Ojos and there are many reasons for that.
Some people enjoy the natural beauty of the cenote, while others may find the caves mysterious and intriguing.
It is a scuba divers’ paradise as there is much to explore underwater.
The property of Dos Ojos is huge and actually is home to 5 different cenotes all offering different experiences. For this reason, Dos Ojos is called Parque Dos Ojos (Dos Ojos Park).
The park is very easy to find with its incredible location situated along the Carretera Federal.
Dos Ojos is located 22.2 km (13.7 miles) north of Tulum. Traveling by car will take you about 30 minutes. You can also reach Dos Ojos by public transportation by taking the local Colectivo, or shared taxi vans.
Once you arrive at Dos Ojos you will need to pay an entrance fee before advancing through the park. At this time you will need to decide what cenotes you would like to visit.
The 5 different cenotes that the Park offers are Dos Ojos, Jaguar, Nicte Ha, The Monkeys, and the Pit.
Dos Ojos, Jaguar, and Niche Ha offer basic admission or tour packages. Access to The Pit is only offered through diving centers because of its depth and access to The Monkeys is only accessible with a guided tour.
The Cenote Dos Ojos itself is incredibly wonderful. It is great for swimming, snorkeling, and, scuba diving.
The name Dos Ojos means “Two Eyes”. This is because the cenote is naturally made up of two large sinkholes (the eyes) that are 70 meters (230 ft) in diameter, connected by a 400-meter-long passageway (1,312 ft).
To get to the entrance of the cenote you must walk down a staircase to reach the water. There are two platforms at the bottom that you can use to get in and out of the water.
You will definitely want to use your snorkel equipment. Below the surface are brilliant rock formations and small fish. Visibility is so clear.
The sunlight from above casts beautiful light rays into the water glowing up the bottom surfaces with beautiful shades of green and turquoise.
There is plenty of room to swim and explore and the base of the cenote drops to great depth. While snorkeling it is fun to watch the scuba divers below coming and going through the various tunnels.
After you visit Dos Ojos I would recommend checking out either Jaguar or Niche Ha. Both are open-air cenotes with beautiful lush foliage and pathways surrounding them.
Cenote Jaguar even has a zip line over it. Take a ride and enjoy the stunning jungle views from above.
Dos Ojos park has bathrooms, lockers, hammocks, a restaurant, and even offers massages on site.
This is a great place to spend an entire day exploring the different cenotes and the magic of the Mayan.
2. Cenote Carwash
One of the best Cenotes near Tulum is Cenote Car Wash.
Strange name isn’t it? The original name of the cenote is Aktun Ha (in the Mayan language). It is said that in earlier days, drivers passing by would use the free fresh water from the cenote to wash their cars. That is how it got its nickname “Carwash”.
Cenote Carwash is really close to Tulum. Some tourists even reach the cenote by bicycle. This is a great option if you are up for a nice ride and don’t have a vehicle.
From the center of Tulum, Cenote Carwash is only about 9 km out of town. A 15-minute drive or 30 minutes or so on a bike.
The entrance fee to the Cenote is 300 pesos (about $15 USD) and it is open from 9 am to 5 pm (this might change depending on the season). Do have Mexican pesos available in cash as that is the only method of payment they accept.
Cenote car wash is a large open-air lake-like cenote. Throw on your snorkel gear and jump in.
Below the water, you will see cool rock formations, wildlife, and vegetation. Many different species of freshwater fish are swimming about. I even saw a few small turtles chewing on the plants around the perimeter.
Apparently, there is even a tranquil resident crocodile that calls Carwash his home although I have never seen him.
Trees, vines, and lush greenery surround the perimeter of the cenote. The owners of the property have added a rope swing and jumping platform to add to the fun. You will see kids, teens, and even adults jumping off the platform making a dramatic entrance into the water.
The cenote has a depth of 50 feet (15 meters). Perfect for exploration by snorkeling, freediving, and scuba diving. Because of the surface space and the sunlight that enters, Cenote Carwash is one of the most colorful cenote dives in the Riviera Maya.
The property offers bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables, and you can also rent snorkel equipment.
Cenote Carwash is a great spot to visit for first-time Cenote explorers. It is a bit smaller in size, and the water is a bit warmer than other cenotes in the area.
Visit Carwash as one of the closest Tulum cenotes to get a taste of what the cenotes in Tulum have to offer.
3. Cenote Suytun
You might recognize cenote Suytun due to its popularity on Instagram and Pinterest. This is one of the best cenotes near Tulum to capture that perfect Instapost-worthy photo.
While searching for the best cenotes near Tulum I came across many beautiful Instagram photos featuring this cenote. Wanting to recreate the magic as seen in many images I made my journey to see what it was all about.
Cenote Suytun is located in the state of Yucutan, about 94 Kilometers (58 miles) from Tulum. It is easiest to reach this cenote by having a car. The drive time is roughly about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Tulum city center.
Admission to the cenote site costs 200 pesos (about $10 USD) and is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily with the last entry being at 4 pm.
Suytun is a young cave cenote with a circular shape and enclosed by a vault. The ceiling at the surface has a circular opening that allows sunlight to penetrate inside. To reach the entryway to the cenote you must climb down the stairs through a wide rock tunnel.
On your descent, you will start to see the beauty and majesty of the cenote. Stalagmites and stalactites create the walls and ceiling of the cenote.
There is a long pathway leading to a circular platform in the center of the cenote. Water fills the cenote with the exception of the pathway and platform. The center of the platform makes for a beautiful picture moment.
You can also use a life vest to swim around and discover the cenote and the underwater views. Because the sunlight only enters from an opening above, the views below the water are a bit darker and the water is much cooler.
When I visited Suytun back in 2021 the walkway and platform were under about 3 meters of water due to heavy rainfall from that year. So we got to explore the entire cenote by swimming which was equally as cool. The dark water added a sense of mystery to my adventure, but I never got that famous photo that I was hoping for.
There is also another cenote on site that you can visit called Cenote Suytun Kappeh.
The property has a buffet restaurant available from 12- 6pm every day and sometimes you can witness Mayan dance performances.
Feel like spending the night? Suytun has a few small cabanas on site which to can rent out to further enjoy your visit.
4. Casa Cenote
Casa Cenote is a great cenote near Tulum to spend a few hours or even all day. Casa Cenote is located right across from the beach so you can spend a few hours exploring the cenote and then enjoy the beach for the rest of the afternoon.
From the center of Tulum, Casa cenote is a short 20-minute journey. It’s 11 kilometers or 6.8 miles from the city center.
The easiest way to reach the cenote is if you have a vehicle because you can drive directly to the cenote parking lot.
If you are taking public transportation from Tulum, you will be left on the highway and will need to walk about 1 km (.6 miles) or so until you reach the cenote.
Taxi and private drivers are also options but I really suggest renting your own vehicle for Cenote exploring days.
There are different admission options to Casa Cenote. Swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and scuba diving are all activities offered at this Tulum cenote.
My group and I opted for a snorkel tour with a guide. This is because if you tour the cenote with a guide, you are allowed to access the entire cenote. There are areas that you are restricted from exploring if you do not have the guide.
I loved exploring this cenote as it was reminiscent of a lazy river! There is a small current that runs through it letting you float along and relax. Wearing a life jacket is recommended even if you are a strong swimmer.
Casa Cenote is an open-air cenote with a relatively shallow depth of only 6 meters (20 ft). The way the ground has sunk underneath created edges and different peaks and valleys on the rock formations.
The views below were really spectacular and the visibility is great. Light from the sun beams down and reflects greens and blues off of the rocks and sand.
The cenote is home to many fish, turtles, blue crabs, and even a crocodile. No need to worry or be afraid of him. He is friendly and likes to spend his days sunbathing on the rocks.
Admission costs 150 pesos (about $7.5 USD) and if you choose to take the tour it costs 500 pesos (about $25 USD). Snorkel gear is available for rent at the Cenote.
If you select the tour option your snorkel gear, fins, life jacket, and wet suit are all included. I recommend wearing the wetsuit. The water is a bit chilly, and that wetsuit will keep you nice and warm as spend your time in the freshwater.
The longer you spend in the water, the colder you will become, so even if it feels warm at first, the wetsuit will allow you to stay in comfortably for longer.
Lockers, change rooms, and porta-potty-style bathrooms are all available on-site.
If you are hungry after your adventure you can make your way over to the restaurant located on the property of the Casa Cenote Hotel.
A plate of guacamole and a margarita is the perfect snack to refuel on your adventures of the best cenotes near Tulum.
5. Gran Cenote
A lot of friends of mine told me that Gran Cenote is one of the best cenotes near Tulum and they were right.
Gran Cenote is only 5 kilometers (3 miles) outside of Tulum. A short 10-minute drive, a 15-minute bike ride, or if you feel like getting your steps in for the day, a 60-minute walk. Keep in mind this journey is on a highway so please take appropriate safety precautions.
Entrance to the Cenote is 500 pesos (about $25 USD) and they accept cash of USD or pesos. Your lifejacket and snorkel equipment are included in the price. Lockers are 30 pesos (about $1.50 USD) extra to rent.
This cenote is great because it is open air with cave-like features, so you can get an idea of what an actual cave cenote might look like.
The owners have built walking platforms, staircases, and sundecks around the cenote for your enjoyment.
Sun lights up the water and casts pretty rays of blue and green off of the rocks and the views below are spectacular! Don’t be surprised to see wildlife here. The cenote is home to many fish, turtles birds, iguanas, insects, and bats.
Jump into to water from one of the swim platforms for a refreshing entrance and a photo-worthy moment.
Bathrooms, change rooms, and lockers are all available to you onsite. As well there is a small snack bar with an area of picnic tables. The perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.