As the tropical summer heat soars one looks for ways to cool down and visiting one of the many amazing cenotes is just the way to do it! Pronounced “se´no te”, they are natural sinkholes found uniquely in the Riviera Maya. They are caused by the collapse of the limestone bedrock that constitutes much of the state of Quintana Roo. Amazing, crystal clear, fresh water pools are exposed and in the past used by the Mayans for fresh water. Now locals and tourists alike use the many cenotes for a refreshing dip, snorkeling or scuba diving. Not to mention that the temperature is significantly cooler than the ocean and most swimming pools! The water is fresh and so clean that even your hair and skin feel different after taking a dip. It has been said that the waters possess healing properties. Perhaps it is the tranquility and nature that heal as well! If you dive it will be an experience of a life time. I felt like I was floating in space as it can be difficult to know where the surface is from the bottom given the clarity of the water and the amazing rock formations of stalactites and stalagmites.
The Yucatán Peninsula has almost no rivers and only a few lakes with many wetland or marsh areas called mangroves. Cenotes are the only consistent source of potable water and have long been the principal sources of water in much of the Yucatán Peninsula. Historically, Mayan settlements required access to water so communities, including the famous Chichen Itza, were built around these natural wells. Some cenotes like the Sacred Cenote in Chichén Itzá played an important role in Maya rites. Believing that these pools were gateways to the afterlife, the Maya sometimes threw valuable items into them. The discovery of golden sacrificial artifacts in some cenotes led to the archaeological exploration of most cenotes in the first part of the 20th century.
Enough of the history lesson! Moving on to exploring some of the great cenotes in the area.

Cenote Ik kil

Cenote Ik kil

Cenote Ik kil is also known as the Sacred Cenote, previously mentioned. It is a crystal clear, round, well-type cenote. Located on the highway between Chichen Itza about 3 kilometers from the ruin site this cenote is about 130 feet deep! It is about 85 feet from the surface so you will need to walk down a stairway to reach it. Ik-Kil is more popular with swimmers and snorkelers than divers. There is a restaurant and small palapa homes for overnight stays. Look for the waterfalls and the lush green vegetation hanging all the way down to the water!


grand cenote

Grand Cenote

Grand Cenote or Gran Cenote was the first one that I ever visited and definitely lives up to its name. Just a short drive from Tulum it is well worth the visit. There are areas for swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers. Look for the fish and turtles and be careful not to hit your head on the impressive stalactites! There are changing and bathroom facilities and a restaurant which was not there the many years ago that I visited for the first time. Many people say this is their very favorite cenote. Note that tour buses go here so can be busy. I suggest going in the early morning or late afternoon.


dos ojos

Dos Ojos

Dos Ojos means two eyes which gave this impressive cenote its name. Cenote Dos Ojos or “two eyes” is located about 5 kilometers south of Tulum. This cenote was named Dos Ojos because it is actually two circular cenotes. There are areas for swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers. This is a world famous cenote and there is a large cave system below where divers can explore almost 500 meters of the underwater world in the immediate area. IMAX filmed part of their film “Journey into Amazing Caves” here. There are bathroom facilities and snacks available. Look for the “Bat Cave”! AMAZING

Another great road trip is the Ruta de Cenotes. This “ruta” is a road that is filled with many different cenote locations. A memorable one was Siete Bocas; meaning seven mouths. It has seven opening resembling mouths that open to the most crystal clear water where you swim and snorkel underground.

You will find many cenote locations on the west side of the highway from Cancun all the way to the Belize border. So grab a suit and go explore this wonderful, unique experience that Mexico has to offer.

Do you have a favorite Cenote? Let us know your top pick!

By Susan de Lima

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