The Best Cenotes in Tulum (to Snorkel, Dive and Explore)
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While in Mexico, my local friend took me to all of the best cenotes in Tulum. Then, 3 years later, I came back to Tulum to explore the cenotes once again. That means this post is about the best of the best cenotes, with insider local knowledge just for you! These are the Tulum cenotes that I would recommend for people wanting to dive, snorkel and free dive in these amazing structures!
What are cenotes?
If you’ve heard of them but have found yourself wondering “But, what ARE Cenotes?” you’re not alone. Many people who travel to Mexico only hear about the cenotes once they are already there.
According to Wikipedia, “A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”
However, not all cenotes are exposed. Some have been discovered by tiny rock openings that you have to squeeze through or take a ladder down!
Cenotes were sacred to the Ancient Mayan people used them not only as a source of life but also as graveyards and a place of sacrifice. In fact, cenotes are still sacred to the Maya, which means lots are closed off from public use.
Some cenotes are highly decorated, with beautiful stalactites hanging from the roofs of the underwater caves. Others have the remains of ancient animals fossilised in their walls.
The Yucatan is like a giant sponge, with hundreds of kilometres connected through a network of underground rivers and cave systems. There are over 4,000 known cenotes in the Riviera Maya region and so far, seven of the world’s ten longest mapped underground waterways exist beneath the Yucatan Peninsula.
There are many cenotes open to the public, just waiting for you to explore. Some of the best cenotes are in Tulum, and below I will talk about why you should most definitely visit the cenotes in the Riviera Maya.
The Very Best Cenotes near Tulum and Playa Del Carmen
Most of the best cenotes in Riviera Maya cost money, but there are still some free cenotes in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen which I talk about below!
ⓘ Tulum and Playa del Carmen are so close to each other that I have included the best cenotes near Playa del Carmen at the bottom of this guide. If you prefer to read about Playa del Carmen cenotes, Jump to the Playa Del Carmen section.
The Best Cenotes near Tulum
Sac Actun System
Sac Actun, meaning ‘white cave’ in Mayan, is the second-longest underwater cave system in the world, accessible by hundreds of sinkholes (aka cenotes). These gorgeous caverns are punctuated by stalactites and stalagmites jutting out all over the place. Sac Actun is only 4km from Tulum but is also easily accessible by Playa Del Carmen as well. The best cenotes in Sac Actun are listed below.
CENOTE DOS OJOS
In this winding underwater cave system, both diving and snorkelling are damn good in Dos Ojos (Two Eyes). This is the best place to go diving in Mexico and perhaps the world, for first-time cavern divers. As the divers wind their way through the cave system, they can occasionally get a glimpse of the snorkellers and free divers alongside them.
The cave system is mapped out by reel lines which makes the first timer like myself feel more than safe navigating these confusing tunnels. It’s totally breathtaking here and absolutely worth the price. Some of the BEST diving I’ve ever done!
BEST FOR: Snorkelling, diving and free-divers
ENTRY PRICE: Snorkellers: 120 MXN Pesos / Divers: 380 MXN Pesos
CENOTE EL PIT
The Pit is one of the deepest cenotes in the area, and the visibility is on point. You can see about 40m down! The entrance is steep and narrow but once in the water, it opens up into a huge menacing cavern. This is a cenote for divers only. Recently, snorkellers and swimmers have been banned.
At about 30 meters deep divers can see what looks like the sandy bottom with an eerie branch sticking out from it. Actually, this is a white gas layer, which is caught between the salt and fresh waters. The cave then drops even further but can’t be reached by diving. The Pit is easily one of the best cenotes for divers, due to the amazing things you’ll see down there and the fact that its open-water, so suitable for all divers.
BEST FOR: Diving
ENTRY PRICE: Divers: 570 MXN Pesos
CASA CENOTE (TANKAH)
Casa Cenote was perhaps my most favourite, mainly because it was adorned with mangrove roots and cichlid fish hiding in amongst them. It was also really accessible and not too many people there. Although you can dive it’s not very deep and it’s open-water so it’s best for beginner divers who aren’t ready to go inside the caves yet.
Because it’s so close to the ocean it’s got some cool brackish water fish that you don’t see in the other caves. There is also a long cave going from the cenote out to the sea for anyone brave/stupid enough to try to swim through it.
BEST FOR: Snorkelling
ENTRY PRICE: 40 MXN Pesos
CENOTE PET CEMETERY
Famously called Pet Cemetery due to the animal skeletons found inside that can still be seen when diving. One set of remains was first believed to be that of a dog but was later found to be of a prehistoric camel. For the snorkellers the cave inside is lit up, there are bats everywhere and there are lots of cool places to explore. For advanced divers, it’s one of the best cenotes to dive because all of the bones and fossils are still in their original position.
This beautiful cenote is the most difficult to get to out of all the Sac Actun cenotes due to its remoteness. But that just means there are fewer people when you get there. Nearby, there’s also a rainforest walk with spider monkeys to be spotted in the trees.
BEST FOR: Snorkelling
ENTRY PRICE: 350 MXN Pesos with a guide
CENOTE ARCO MAYA
Arco Maya is the only free cenote in Tulum that I went to. It’s quite well hidden but is a great place to get some quiet as no one else will be around. It’s also a great place to go for sunset as the tree-line is low. There’s a nice deck for you to sit on and a few cichlid fish swimming around the mangroves.
Being off the normal tourist trail, this cenote can be difficult to find. It’s located just before the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an at the Arco Maya caseta arch. Once at the caseta, you’ll see a sign pointing you in the right direction of the cenote. I read recently that sometimes this cenote is blocked off from the public due to an ongoing ownership dispute. However, it usually isn’t manned so if someone is there that day you will just have to pay to enter.
BEST FOR: Snorkelling
ENTRY PRICE: Free (unless it is being manned, then you may have to pay a low entry fee)
LAGUNA KAAN LUUM
Laguna Kaan Luum is a wide, bright green lagoon cenote located just outside of Tulum. It is a locals’ secret and if you go at the right time of day (afternoon) you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
Laguna Kaan Luum reminds me of the Blue Hole in Belize. The centre of the cenote is fenced off because it is REALLY DEEP (80 metres deep, actually). But the outside area is shallow and most people could stand. It’s the perfect cenote to bring your kids to! The soft sand at the bottom is known as a great skin exfoliator, but it smells like rotting eggs. Maybe that’s why it’s so good for you!
BEST FOR: Swimming and diving
ENTRY PRICE: Swimmers: 50 MXN Pesos / Divers: 150 MXN Pesos
READ: Heading to Tulum? Check out my Budget Guide to the Yucatan Penninsula
The Best Cenotes near Playa Del Carmen
Photo credit: laradanielle / CC BY-ND
CENOTE AZUL, JARDIN DEL EDEN & CRISTALINO
Cenote Azul is 26 metres deep, has crystal clear waters, rocks to sit on and mangrove roots to swim through. There’s also an easy platform here to jump from and plenty of fish to follow around.
Jardin del Eden also has platforms to jump from and trees to climb as well. There are also places to chill with your feet in the water and have the little fish eat the dead skin. Just like in the foot spas! Cristalino has a really cool cave you can swim through. All three cenotes are right next to each other so you can make a day of it!
BEST FOR: Snorkelling and jumping in from the edge
ENTRY PRICE: Adults: 100-150 pesos entry / Children: 50
For beginners, the snorkelling at Yal-Ku Lagoon is flipping great! This is THE place to come to if you love to see lots and lots of fish. Try feeding the fish bits of banana – they’ll go nuts for it! The place is HUGE and there’s also a small cave you can dive through.
Nearby, you can head to Akumal to swim with sea turtles. There are LOADS of green turtles in Akumal because they come to eat the seagrass there.
BEST FOR: Snorkelling
ENTRY PRICE: 200 MXN pesos + snorkel hire
Mexico Cenote Map
This custom cenotes map includes all of the best cenotes in the Riviera Maya as well as cenotes near Tulum that I didn’t go to but have been recommended. The Tulum and Playa Del Carmen cenotes that I went to and thought were the best are marked with a heart.
Click on each icon to see more information about the cenote and its entry price. To open this map in Google Maps simply tap the small square icon on the top right-hand side of the map.
If you are using the map from your phone, the map should save into “Your Places” > “MAPS” automatically. You can select an area (such as Isla Mujeres) to download and use offline if you won’t always have access to data. For more information on how to download maps for offline, click here.
Cenotes are usually located on private property, meaning prices can change at any time at the owner’s discretion. I check prices regularly whenever I can but sometimes the price I have listed may not be the most recent. Feel free to comment and let me know if a price is different to what I have listed in this article.
Other things to do in Tulum
Visit Tulum Mayan Ruins to see beautiful ancient Mayan architecture. Or visit Cesiak Centro Ecologico Reserve: A thin patch of road girt by tropical forest and water. Inside the UNESCO heritage reserve is a lagoon, Sian Ka’an Cenote, a turtle sanctuary and a cabaña.
Where to stay in Tulum
Shabby but cute, Mama’s Home has the best backpacker vibes! The rooms are packed with beds, but the breakfast is flipping amazing. It’s also one of the cheapest hotels you’ll find in Tulum.
Check latest prices for Mama’s Home Hostel
This gorgeous eco-hotel is a little more expensive than the hostels, but you get what you pay for. Within a minute you will walk right into the ocean, making it one of the best Tulum beach hotels out there! The whole hotel is run off solar power so it’s super eco-friendly. Don’t worry there are generators for backup if the sun’s not out that day. It also boasts a big communal kitchen so you can save money by not eating out every meal!
Check latest prices for Las Palmas Maya
Clean, crisp and engulfed in a lush garden. Featuring free WiFi and an outdoor pool, what more could you want? Well, it is a tiny bit further out of town but if you have a car, it’s fine. It is nice and close to a huge supermarket and a short walk to the restaurant district.
Check latest prices for Mango Tulum Hotel
Cenote Packing List
If you’re doing your own trip to the cenotes you will definitely want to bring your own snorkelling gear. Some of the bigger cenotes will rent snorkel gear to you at a price. From my experience from around 50-200 pesos each time. But most of the time the gear is old, crappy and has had other peoples mouths all over it! On my first trip to Mexico, I bought a top-of-the-line snorkelling kit and I did not regret it. Snorkelling in the cenotes may become your favourite thing to do in Mexico
Packing light and don’t want to bring too much baggage? I have found a tiny pair of Goggles just as useful for exploring the cenotes. Sure, what you’re seeing isn’t as clear and you can’t breathe underwater, but it still does the job!
You read that right! You are 100% NOT ALLOWED to wear normal sunscreen in the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya. The bio-diversity in cenotes is fragile and the ingredients of most sunscreens and insect repellants can severely damage the cenotes and harm the fish. Some popular cenotes will even require you to shower before entering because of the oils on the human skin. This is also a problem for the fragile reefs surrounding the beautiful shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. If you plan to do any snorkelling or diving, anywhere in this area, you will be asked not to wear normal sunscreen. It’s best to buy biodegradable sunscreen at home and bring it because it can be difficult to find and/or very expensive in Mexico.
GoPro Hero Action Camera
You really don’t want to travel to Mexico without an underwater camera. Mexico is a water-lovers paradise and it would be a shame not to capture all your special memories made in the cenotes. GoPro underwater cameras are so cheap now and you can use them for loads of different types of photography, not just water. You really don’t have an excuse not to buy one when their prices start at only $199 USD!
Dive Light for GoPro
Did you know that the deeper you go the more colours you’ll lose out of your photos or video? Water cuts out light, meaning by about 10 meters deep your GoPro footage will be all blue. A way of adding colours back into your picture is by using artificial light. This dive light starts at only $28 USD and is so bright you’ll be sure to easily take gorgeous underwater video, especially in the cenotes!
Have you seen those amazing half underwater and half above water photos? They are done with this awesome contraption called a dome. It essentially makes it much easier to get those awesome shots. Mine is currently in the mail and I can’t wait to try it out at the cenotes!
Waterproof Head Torches
Exploring cenotes seriously quickly became one of my favourite activities in the Rivera Maya, and I am confident they will become one of your favourites too. The dark cave cenotes, such as El Pit, Dos Ojos and Pet Cemetary Cenotes, are much better explored with a head torch. But you will need a waterproof one, for obvious reasons. The market for waterproof head torches is slim, but I have researched the crap out of them and these ones I think are the best:
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Super low-cost waterproof head torch. This headlamp had been on my radar for a long time because it’s cheap, waterproof, sleek and small. It’s also readily available in Amazon stores around the world. It outputs quite a bright light (250 lumens), which you will want inside the cenote caves. It also dims and flashes. Another thing I love about this torch is the red light, which is good for spotting animals at night! It is only waterproof up to one meter though so this is NOT a diving lamp.
Princeton Tec Apex LED Headlamp
A sturdy waterproof torch with a lifetime warranty. This is my second choice for a waterproof headlamp. It is bigger and bulkier than the Black Diamond, and it also costs more. However, this is a seriously sturdy headlamp that can be used for literally everything. It comes with five output modes, up to 170 hours of burn time and you can even buy a rechargeable version of this torch! I know I hate having to buy AA Batteries all the time. This is a seriously powerful rechargeable and waterproof head torch without the huge price tag.
If you plan to dive, you’ll want a dive light in the cenotes!
BESTUSN Diving Headlamp
There are loads of different types of dive lights out there to choose from but I particularly love headlamps. It shines where you look, leaving your hands free to play with cameras or do other more important things. In particular, this one looks great! It has rubber straps to grip better underwater, it is seriously bright with 3 modes including dimmer, and you can take it 150 metres underwater. All for a seriously good price.
MORE: See more travel gear I love and use here
My tips for visiting the cenotes
1. Swimming: The oils from human hands and certain elements in lotions and repellents can severely damage this natural growth process and also harm the fish. Some cenotes will require you to shower before entering and you may also like to get a biodegradable sunscreen.
2. Diving: You MUST dive with an experienced guide in the cenotes so you don’t get lost. It’s quite dangerous; people have got lost in the many tunnels and drowned inside. A couple and their inexperienced guide died while I was visiting Tulum. You’ve been warned.
My Tulum Recommendations
1. While there I CouchSurfed with an amazing American guy (hey Tom!) and he had a car and was able to take me to all of the cenotes mentioned above. If hiring a car isn’t possible there are a few tours that do excursions to a few different cenotes in the day.
2. In Tulum, I dived with Zen Diving. JC was one of the most professional and friendly dive instructors I have ever had. He obviously loves his job diving the cenotes and goes out of his way to ensure his customers have the best day diving of their lives! He took us to three lesser-known but seriously incredible cenotes, helped us perfect our buoyancy and had really nice diving gear. Zen Divers are the only dive center I can wholeheartedly recommend when diving in Tulum!
I wrote a love letter to Mexico…
READ: Going to Cancun? Make sure you Check out Isla Mujeres as well!
Currency: Mexican Peso
$1 USD = 18.92 Mex$
I was here: November 2014
Originally Posted: November 30, 2016
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