The Best Mayan Riviera Cenotes (in Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen)
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This huge guide lists all of the best Mayan Riviera cenotes from Cancun to Tulum. Including La Ruta de Los Cenotes in Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen cenotes. This guide includes all you need to know, so you can visit the amazing natural cenotes in the Riviera Maya, Mexico without paying for a tour!
CONTENTS OF BEST CENOTES, RIVIERA MAYA
What Are Cenotes?
If you’ve heard of them, but have found yourself wondering “But what is a cenote?” you’re not alone. Many people who travel to Mexico only hear about the cenotes once they are already there, not before they come.
According to Wikipedia’s cenote definition; “A cenote [in English] is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”
There are over 6, 000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula alone. However, not all cenotes are exposed. Some have been discovered by tiny openings in which you must squeeze through or take a ladder down, depending on how adventurous you are!
Cenotes were sacred to the Ancient Mayan people, who 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 Mayan people, meaning most cenotes are closed off from public use.
Some cenotes are highly decorated, with beautiful stalactites hanging from the roofs of the underwater caves leftover from when the caves were dry. Others have the remains of ancient animals and people fossilized in their walls and floors.
About the Riviera Maya Cenotes
The Yucatan in Mexico is like a giant sponge, with hundreds of kilometers 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.
The Riviera Maya contains both of the top two largest underwater cave systems in the world. The Sac Actun System (Sistema Sac Actun) meaning “white cave system” is the most impressive at 347 kilometers (215 miles) long. The other is the Ox Bel Ha system (meaning Three Paths of Water) is famous for containing a number of prehistoric human skeletons and cenotes in this system were thought to be important sites for ritual burial.
The Riviera Maya is the stretch of gorgeous Northeastern coastline that runs along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayan Riviera cenotes are some of the best and most densely packed cenotes in the world!
The Riviera Maya might just be my favorite area on Earth! And the cenotes in Riviera Maya are all absolutely spectacular and are a seriously fun day away from the beautiful beaches. I highly recommend you visit at least one cenote during your stay in Mexico.
If you are staying anywhere along the Riviera Maya (in Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen or Tulum) then it will be easy for you to pick a cenote or two and go to them for the day. You won’t need a tour, you can just take a taxi and arrange a pickup with the same driver if you don’t have a rental car.
BEST CANCUN CENOTES
Are there any cenotes in Cancun? The short answer is, no. There aren’t any immediately in Cancun. The closest (and best) cenotes near Cancun are on the Ruta de Los Cenotes near Puerto Morelos, only 45 minutes driving from Cancun. Here, you can visit loads of amazing cenotes, plus if you’re driving yourself, you can easily drop into Puerto Morelos for lunch.
We will talk more about this fantastic road filled with cenotes in a minute. Ready to go now? Use this link to jump to the Cenotes; Puerto Morelos section.
There is also a series of beautiful cenotes in Valladolid, which is about a 2-hour drive from Cancun. These cenotes include the Insta-famous cave Cenote Suytun and my personal favorite cenote of all time; Cenote Oxman.
Will you be visiting Chichen Itza from Cancun? There are a few really great cenotes near Chichen Itza (such as Ik Kil Cenote). If you are self-driving to see the ruins, you will drive right through Valladolid, giving you the perfect opportunity to explore the cenotes there.
If you’re up for a little detour on the way to Chichen Itza, drop in to see some of the impressive cave cenotes of Coba.
The best way to see cenotes in Cancun is to rent a car, then you can go visit whichever cenotes you want without the restraints and costs of being on a tour. Plus you’ll have a chance to better explore some of the charming colonial cities around the center of the Yucatan as well. Check out our Cancun cenotes map below!
RUTA DE LOS CENOTES, PUERTO MORELOS
Perhaps the most famous Puerto Morelos cenotes are the ones that run along “La Ruta de Los cenotes” or “the cenote trail.” This is a section of densely packed cenotes all along the one road. These are the most easily accessed cenotes near Cancun because they are only a 45-minute drive from the city.
We visited some amazing cenotes on the Puerto Morelos Cenote Route and I can very highly recommend them as some of the best cenotes in Mexico!
Cenote Verde Lucero
The luscious, emerald-colored cenote is one of the best Cenotes on the Riviera Maya. It’s also one of the lesser visited, meaning there’s a good chance you’ll have the whole place to yourself! ‘Verde Lucero’ translates from Spanish as ‘green star’ but for this cenote, it also means ‘bright green.’
If you are searching for the best cenotes Puerto Morelos has on offer then this cenote is a strong contender! This open cenote is set amongst a built-up jungle setting with lots of shady areas to escape the sun. It comes complete with picnic tables, paddle boards, a diving platform, and even a zip-line that, once you’ve paid the entry fee, is free to use! This is a great cenote for family fun and snorkeling.
Verde Lucero Cenote is also incredibly beautiful because of the lilypads lining the shallow parts areas. They are a lot of fun to take photos with as you weave around them, towards the rope that hangs across the water for a rest.
I have been to many cenotes in my time in Mexico, and Cenote Verde Lucero is my second-favorite cenote ever (behind Cenote Oxman in Valladolid). I really liked how the cenote was not too man-made, the owners have kept its original rainforest feel. If you’re lucky, the family of monkeys that live in the area might come for a visit (and try to steal your snacks).
Make sure you bring your snorkel gear, beer, and food for to this cenote – it’s sure to be a hit!
Cenote La Noria
Cenote La Noria is a remote semi-open cavern cenote located on the Ruta de Cenotes. It boasts milky aqua waters with bats flying around inside. There are two entrances into La Noria, one floating wooden platform, and the other is a tight squeeze down steps carved out of the original rock, which lead to the deepest part of the cenote. Cenote La Noria also features a jumping platform, a tire swing and loads of cool cave decorations to explore, making this is a highly recommended cave cenote near Puerto Morelos – perfect for rainy or hot days.
The La Noria cenote is part of a wider cenote park called Parque Recreativo Kaat-Ha, where they offer 4 zip lines, bicycle riding or ATV’s through the jungle, and scuba diving. You do not have to do these activities, however, and you may opt to pay for just the cenote, which will make your trip significantly cheaper.
Despite all of these adrenaline-inducing activities offered, the cenote remains mostly quiet and free of people. Upon arrival, it is as though you have discovered at a truly local destination. Nobody else was there at the same time as us (we stayed for several hours, even doing a little bit of a photo shoot) and this appears to be the theme of this cenote according to Tripadvisor reviews.
To access Cenote La Noria and the park, you must drive along a bumpy dirt road for a few minutes. The cenote is well signposted both on the main road and the dirt road, so it unlikely you’ll have any trouble finding it. We loved Cenote La Noria and we couldn’t help but think that this was definitely a hidden gem of Mexico and one of the best cenotes near Puerto Morelos.
Cenote Zapote is not just a great set of 3 cenotes, perfect for families to explore, but it is also one of the best cenotes in Puerto Morelos for scuba diving! This is because of the amazing “hells bells” that are a series of impressive formations lining the edges and ceiling of the cave inside Cenote Zapote. They look like elephant feet or lampshades, and there are hundreds of them! The bones of a fossilized sloth from the last Ice Age were also found by divers in this cenote – exciting!
Cenote Zapote can be accessed as part of a park called Cenotes Zapote that is built up for tourists and has all the facilities you need, as well as zip lines and other adrenaline-inducing activities. This makes it great to keep your family entertained for the whole day. The three cenotes inside the park are Cenote Palmas, Cenote El Abuelo Che, and Cenote Zapote.
If you are wanting to dive and see the Hells Bells, you will need an advanced divers certificate and at least a bit of cenote diving experience. The cenote entrance is quite narrow, but underwater it opens up into a large cavern, where the Hells Bells speleothems can be seen. Before you arrive, however, there is a sulfur cap from 4 to 100 feet thick that can easily disorientate divers and also means that whatever is underneath is marked by complete darkness. Zapote is the best cenote near Puerto Morelos for diving.
Head on over to our sister site Cenote Finder to find even more cenotes in Puerto Morelos.
Check out our Puerto Morelos Cenotes Map below!
BEST CENOTES NEAR PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Like Cancun, there aren’t actually any cenotes IN Playa del Carmen but there sure are a whole bunch of them just a short drive away! Perhaps the most famous Playa del Carmen Cenotes are the three along the Playa del Carmen to Tulum highway, just 45 minutes out of Playa. These are Cenote Cristalino, Jardin del Eden Cenote and Cenote Azul.
All are incredibly beautiful in their own right but they also get very busy. I did Jardin del Eden near closing time one day and that was pretty cool having the entire pond-like cenote all to myself! Check out our Cenotes Playa del Carmen map below!
Since there are two cenotes in Mexico with this name, we are talking about the Quintana Roo Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote). This popular cenote boasts crystal clear waters in a seriously tranquil setting. Iguanas laze around the edge and small fish dart around in the water. It is filled with boulders that give it shallow areas, making it perfect for families with small kids because they can stand up and jump off. There’s also a platform edge to jump into the deeper water of the large cenote. Cenote Azul is in an ‘L’ shape, so there are plenty of places to get away from the crowds. If you sit still in the water for a while, small fish will venture over to eat your dead skin – just like in the foot spas!
Cenote Azul is busiest on Sundays because this is the day local Mexicans have off work, so avoid the popular cenotes on Sundays. Get here either early or later in the day if you don’t like crowds since the middle of the day becomes quite overcrowded.
Cenote Cristalino is another super popular open cenote, found right next to Cenote Azul. The two are quite similar, just a different shape, and with slightly different prices. Cenote Cristalino has two really awesome spots to explore; the first is a cave you can swim through and the second is a mangrove forest to float through. The mangroves, in particular, are really cool because there are loads of fish hiding around the roots and it is interesting to see the formations with a snorkel mask. There is also a 4-meter high rock platform to jump from into the 6 meters of depth below.
Cenote Cristalino is busiest on Sundays because this is the day local Mexicans have off work, so avoid the popular cenotes on Sundays. If you want to stay away from the crowds, come either early or later in the day.
Cenote Jardin del Eden (Cenote Ponderosa)
Cenote Jardin del Eden (Garden of Eden) is a beautiful, large green-blue lagoon that’s really close to Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino. But this one is always everyone’s favorite out of the three – including me! It’s
Jardin del Eden cenote also has platforms to jump from and trees to climb and jump in from as well. There are small fish in there that if you stay still, they will eat the dead skin off your feet (like in the foot spas). It tickles but does not hurt.
Mornings and afternoons are the quietest time to visit. When no one around, its calm, tranquil, pond-like waters make it one of the most beautiful cenotes in Tulum.
Yal-Ku Lagoon (Cenote Akumal)
This is one of the best cenotes near Akumal (hence the name Cenote Akumal). It’s a huge open lagoon cenote that stretches out all the way past a headland into the sea. This cenote is spectacular, filled with colorful ocean fish, caves to swim through and loads of different areas to explore.
The snorkeling at Yal-Ku Lagoon is perfect for a beginner since it is not too deep and it is easy to enter and exit the water. 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 absolutely nuts for it!
When visiting Laguna Yal Ku, there are two entrances; one has an extremely high price and the other is much lower (listed below). The two entrances are near each other so if you find yourself at the expensive entrance, just look around for the cheaper one.
If you have snorkel fins, bring them (or hire them there). There is a lot of swimming involved with this attraction and you might get tired quickly without them!
On the same day, you can head to Akumal to swim with sea turtles. Akumal is famous for being a great place to spot sea turtles because they go there to eat the seagrass found in abundance in the bay.
Cenote Chikin Ha
We will admit, we came to the Chikin Ha Cenote Park mainly because we had heard about the Mayan Shaman purification ceremony that is conducted inside the cave of a cenote. Although we did not get to witness an actual ceremony, the cave was lit up by candles creating a mystical atmosphere.
The Chikin Ha park houses 3 cenotes. The first on the jungle path, called Cenote Xtabay, is an open and sunny cenote. It has a zip line that runs over the top and loads of water plants, fish and even the odd turtle. It’s the perfect cenote to explore with a snorkel mask and fins. It’s also quite shallow with a wooden platform, making it the perfect cenote for kids.
Cenote Chikin Ha is a grand cavern cenote with bright blue crystal-clear water. The underwater cave has spectacular rock formations and there are many hidden crevices to explore! Be sure to dive down to try and spot the scuba divers in the inky black of the deepest part of the cenote. If you prefer to relax, sit on the edge with your feet in the water and the fish will be delighted to nibble on your dead skin.
The furthest and final cenote of the three is Cenote Ta’ak bil-Ha, which is where you will find the Shaman purification ceremony, usually practiced on visitors before the visit the on-site temazcal (a Mexican sweat-lodge). This cenote is not for swimming due to the fragile eco-system and because this cenote is sacred. It can be explored underwater, though, by way of a scuba dive conducted from the Chikin Ha cenote, where you swim through the underground caves to Taak-Bil-Ha cenote.
CENOTES NEAR TULUM
Tulum is a cenote hotspot, and there are many famous cenotes in Tulum. In fact, there are so many great cenotes near Tulum that we simply couldn’t fit them into this article.
Instead, we have written a separate post on the Tulum cenotes that you can read here:
Want to travel to the Tulum cenotes pictured above? From top left, these are:
Tulum and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve mark the end of the Riviera Maya, all of the cenotes along this route are within a couple of hours driving from each other. This means day trips are super accessible from anywhere along the Riviera Maya and easy to do without a tour.
MAP: CENOTES RIVIERA MAYA
This custom map of cenotes in Riviera Maya includes all of the best cenotes from Cancun to Tulum.
Click on each icon to see more information about the cenote and its entry price.
To open this cenote map in Google Maps simply tap the small square icon on the top right-hand side of the map. These maps are fantastic, if you are in the area you can view the cenotes near me and see how clustered or spread apart they really are!
If you are using the map from your phone, the map should save into “Your Places” > “MAPS” automatically. You can select an area to download and use offline if you won’t have full access to your data in Mexico. For more information on how to download maps for offline, click here.
HOW TO GET TO THE MAYAN RIVIERA CENOTES
The Riviera Maya marks the highway that runs between the touristic areas of Cancun to Tulum. There are both ADO buses and Taxi Colectivos (public minivans that carry about 12 people) that run frequently up and down this highway (or Carretera). The highway is straight with many lanes, meaning driving yourself is also a very viable option to get around this area of Mexico.
Colectivos are a shared taxi van. They are fast and cheap and are always my most recommended way of getting around the Yucatan without a car. You can take colectivos along Carretera Tulum – Cancun or there are colectivo stands close to the main tourist areas of each place. I have marked on the map where colectivos can be taken in each tourist area along the Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen to Tulum Colectivos are only really good for cenotes along the Carretera such as Cenote Azul, Jardin del Eden, and Cenote Cristalino. To use the colectivo from Puerto Morelos up La Ruta de Los Cenotes, meet the colectivo across the road from the Oxxo (location is also marked on my map). This will allow you to see the Puerto Morelos cenotes close to the road.
The ultimate way to see all the Yucatan cenotes you want is to rent a car. We did this and think it is the best way if you love getting off the beaten path. You can very easily rent cars in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and even Tulum. The process is smooth and easy and you can use your license from home so long as it is written in English or Spanish. The drive between these places consists of flat roads and highways. Suitable for drivers of all levels.
I prefer to book online with Hertz as they are trustworthy and well-priced.
Always take pictures/video of the car before you leave the rental office to avoid scams (they can happen anywhere, not just Mexico).
From Cancun Airport
There are a few ways to get from the airport to the cenotes, via your hotel. Transportation from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen is easiest with a transfer. You can book one using the link above. Otherwise there are taxis or there is a bus that can take you into Cancun.
Want someone else to do the driving? Book a tour!
CENOTE PACKING LIST
After much time exploring countless cenotes around Mexico in my car, I have compiled a list of items you should bring to maximize fun and minimize risk.
If you’re doing your own trip to the cenotes you will definitely want to bring your own snorkeling gear. Some of the bigger cenotes will rent snorkel gear to you at a price, from my experience at around $50-200 MXN pesos each time you rent. But most of the time the gear is old, crappy and has had other peoples mouths all over it!
Packing light and don’t want to bring too much baggage? I have found that a small pair of Goggles just as useful for exploring the cenotes. It’s not the whole package but it does the job of seeing underwater.
You are NOT ALLOWED to wear normal sunscreen in the cenotes of Mexico. The bio-diversity in cenotes is fragile and the ingredients of most sunscreens and insect repellants can damage the cenotes and harm the fish. It is better to buy biodegradable sunscreen at home and bring it with you because it can be difficult to find in Mexico.
Biodegradable Insect Repellant
You must be mindful of what you bring into the cenotes. Their eco-systems are fragile and bug spray may harm fish. This spray, however, is made of all-natural ingredients. It is DEET free but powerful. It is not oily either. Perfect for your cenote adventures!
GoPro Hero Action Camera
Everyone has them nowadays, and there are loads of reasons they are perfect for capturing your cenote adventures! GoPro underwater cameras are so cheap nowadays 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!
Waterproof Phone Cover
Great for those of you who aren’t in the market for a GoPro and just want a way to capture your watery memories! FYI capturing video is much easier if you press record above the water and then dip the phone under.
Dive Light for GoPro
This was one of my most frequently used GoPro attachments in Mexico! Did you know that the deeper you go the more colors you’ll lose out of your photos or video? Water cuts out light, meaning by about 10 meters (33 feet) deep your GoPro footage will be all blue. The dive light is a way of adding colors back into your picture is by using artificial light. It’s also very useful in cave cenotes that don’t have much natural light.
Have you seen those amazing half-underwater and half-above-water photos, like in Cenote Verde Lucero above? They are done with an awesome contraption called a dome. It essentially makes it much easier to get those shots by expanding the surface area of the GoPro.
Black Diamond Waterproof Headlamp
This is a super low-cost waterproof head torch. The Black Diamond Storm headlamp had been on my radar for a long time because it’s cheap, waterproof, sleek and small. It outputs quite a bright light (250 lumens), which you will want inside the dark cenote caves. It also dims and flashes and has a red light (great for spotting wildlife at night).
Aqua Booties / Reef Shoes
Some of the less popular cenotes are set amongst the jungle with limited facilities. Protect your feet around and inside the cenotes by wearing these super stylish aqua booties. P.S. They are also great for exploring Cozumel Island and other places in Mexico with rocky shorelines too.
Also don’t forget:
- A hat
- Swim shirt
- Picnic blanket
- Beach bag or waterproof bag
BEST BUDGET HOTELS IN RIVIERA MAYA
CANCUN: Nomads Hostel & Bar Cancún
A gorgeous hostel that also has 6 well-priced private rooms with a private bathroom. It features a rooftop pool overlooking the city, clean and crisp rooms, and a bar onsite. There’s free yoga, plus breakfast AND dinner are included in the price and are super tasty. If you love the social atmosphere of a hostel, but want the feel and cleanliness of a private hotel, this is the place to be!
PUERTO MORELOS: Abbey Del Sol
This intimate casa-style hotel is everything you need at an amazing price. It’s clean, bright, airy and even has a pool! You may use the kitchen and a BBQ outside as well to keep costs down. The decor inside the hotel is lovely and the staff are exceptional. But the best part? It’s just a few steps away from the beach!
PLAYA DEL CARMEN: Vida Nueva B&B Peregrina
Renting out condos is the way to go in Playa del Carmen, and this one has it all! Complete with a big, spacious pool and is also only a few minutes walk from the beach, 5th Avenue, and all the bustling bars and restaurants. It has parking onsite, free wifi throughout and a kitchen to use. Oh and the price includes a really good free breakfast.
TULUM: Las Palmas Maya Eco Hotel
This gorgeous eco-hotel is one of the cheapest hotels along the beach road of Tulum. Within a minute you will walk right into the ocean! The whole hotel is run off solar power so it’s super eco-friendly. It even runs air conditioning. 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!
Airbnb in Riviera Maya
There are loads of unique accommodations on the Riviera Maya through Airbnb. From entire private apartments to rooms in the homes of friendly locals, Airbnb is a great way to get a more intimate experience out if your travels. If you are new to Airbnb, sign up with my discount link to receive up to $40 USD off your first stay.
How Often do I Update the Prices of Cenotes?
Mexico’s cenotes are almost always located on private property, meaning prices can change at any time at the owner’s discretion. I check prices regularly and update them, 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 from what I have listed in this article.
Pin These for Later!
I hope this post has helped you choose the best Riviera Maya cenotes for your needs. If you need any help or have anything to add, feel free to comment them below!
Originally Posted: November 2018. Frequently updated.
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