As part of the Yucitan Penninsula, Tulum has some of the best underwater sinkholes, or cenotes (pronounced “say-no-tays”). These natural formations happen when limesone is gradually eroded or a cave collapses, opening a window to a new beautiful world. Cenotes were once the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people. They considered cenotes to be an entrance to their “underworld” where their gods live and their spirits reside after death. Archeologists still find remains of human and animal bodies that were sacrificed during their ancient rituals.
Of course, that was in the past. Now, cenotes have come an excellent place to dive, swim, and snorkel. Over the past 5 years they have seen a boom in travelers, explorers, and adventurers alike. Cenotes near Tulum like Gran Cenote and Dos Ojos are as picturesque as they are popular (I’ll include these in another post). Your best bet is to get there right at opening if you want to snap a few pictures, or risk waiting in lines of orange life vests.
I did plenty of research before my trip, however, my mission was to find the least crowded cenotes and explore the locals recommendations. During our cab drives and interactions with the local bartenders and staff, I compiled a list of some of the best cenotes to visit. Below is a guide the locals recommendations, their favorite cenotes to explore, swim, and snorkel AWAY from the crowds.
TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO A CENOTE:
- Wear Biodegradable Sunscreen: In order to protect the fragile environments in the cenotes from damage, only use a mineral, biodegradable sunscreen. Chemicals in most brand name sunscreens are major culprits for coral bleaching and are harmful to both you and the environment.
- Wear Water shoes or Sandals: One thing I wish I had been more prepared for. Some cenotes are a bit of a trek. Others, are surrounded by limestone and rock. Keep your feet safe and wear durable shoes.
- Bring a Towel: I mean, you are planning on jumping in after all, aren’t you?
- Bring a Go Pro or underwater camera: The cenotes are not a scene you will want to be forgotten. Bring some camera equipment with you so you can snap and share you memories with friends and family when you return home.
- Bring Snorkel Gear: If you plan on spending some time under water plan on bringing some snorkel gear. While most of the main attractions offer snorkel gear for an extra price, some of these less known cenotes may not offer them.
This little cenote is right outside of Tulum ( about a 8 minute drive from downtown) and is named for the three circular openings that look a bit like a skull from above. The water here is deep, so the best way to get in is to jump! The two openings that are supposed to be the “eyes” are very narrow, a perfect spot to brush up on your pencil dives, and for the less adventurous, there is a ladder down into the main hole, so you can climb in if you don’t feel like jumping.
We arrived a bit after 9 am and enjoyed this cenote with a few others. We had about 30-45 minutes before more people started to show. Christmas week everywhere was busy, so I assume this is less crowded during the off season. Regardless, this is a cenote you can not miss.
CENOTE CRISTAL & CENOTE ESCONDIDO
About 5 minutes south of Tulum Pueblo on 307 South by taxi. Cenote Escondidio & Cristal are a 2 for 1 deal and very affordable. They are located close to Tulum, right off of the main highway. Reach them by bike, rented scooter, taxi, or collectivo. Cenote cristal has very nicely landscaped areas with benches, picnic tables & a jumping platform and Cenote escondido offers a rope swing and benches to sit. Both cenotes have beautiful crystal clear water with highly active fish so be sure to bring along your snorkel gear!
Located about 20 minutes south of the ruins in the heart of Tulum is Cape-Ha Cenote. You wont find much on the internet about this little gem. Our cab driver told us this is one of the less traveled cenotes that you should try to see while you can. This cenote is hidden in the trendiest part of town, the hotel zone, which is easy to miss when your busy looking at all the beautiful boutique hotels and restaurants. Unfortunatley, you’ll have to ask the locals about where the entrance is, there is no sign just a few men who will charge you the admission. So, if you’re looking for one of the more secluded cenotes to have all to yourself, this just may be the one.
Cenotes are definitely one of the most unique parts of the Yucatan. Each Cenote has it’s own unique look. No, not all Cenote’s are created equal, but that’s what makes “Cenote hopping” so fun! You can commit an entire day to cenote hopping or visit 1 or 2 in the morning before you start your day. Remember to always ask your taxi drivers for Tulum’s best kept secrets!