One of Mexico’s greatest natural wonders is the cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. Surrounded by thousands of years of mythology, the cenotes have become a legendary part of the Riviera Maya’s extreme tourist destination. But even though there’s some truth to that idea, cenotes are one of the most iconic attractions of the regions and of Mexico.
If you’re thinking of visiting the cenotes on your next trip, here are 5 things you need to know about visiting cenotes that will help you enjoy your trip to the fullest.
When should I visit them?
We’ll start by telling you that the Yucatan Peninsula is a tropical climate, and no matter what time you come, you’ll never escape the heat unless you’re in an air-conditioned building.
The low season (from April to November) has plenty of discounts on cenote tours and ecotourism parks throughout the Riviera Maya, but it’s also the hottest season. If your heat tolerance is low, we suggest you avoid the area during July, August, and September.
If you’re looking to discover more than cenotes and the Riviera’s archaeological sites, we recommend that you go during the high season from December to February when the temperature only gets up to around 85°F (27°C) but the shade can keep you cool at around 68°F (17°C).
How do I get there?
Cenotes are located between the most tropical parts of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, we suggest you book a tour with a travel agency and request a guided tour to visit the cenotes in the area in a safer and more organized manner. These tours generally cost around 1500 Mexican pesos per person. You can also hire a local taxi who will happily bring you to some cenotes such as the Chaak Tun (from the Playa del Carmen) or the Gran Cenote (from Tulum.)
You can also go on your own with private transportation, but keep in mind that there’s tropical jungle surrounding some of the cenotes, which makes some of them hard to get to.
What can I do there?
Besides swimming, there are plenty of other activities that you can do depending on how adventurous you are and your experience.
The most refreshing and family-friendly activities include snorkeling and guided kayak rides in the same cenotes, which cost between 100 and 500 Mexican pesos, depending on the place.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable adventure, then scuba diving in these geological marvels is a must-do (or must dive!). Talk with a local guide to schedule a scuba diving session based on your level of expertise, or if you’re an expert and have the necessary permits, you can schedule a solo expedition. For example, the Dos Ojos cenote is a challenge for even the most experienced divers, with a possible descent more than 360 feet below the surface.
Once you’re done enjoying the crystalline waters of the cenotes, you can relax and enjoy authentic and delicious local cuisine or, if space permits, go rappel or zip lining along one of nature’s greatest mysterious wonders. Remember to be a good guest and respect the rules at each place you visit and clean up after your visit.
Is there a difference between cenotes?
We can classify cenotes into three different groups: open sky, semi open, and subterranean (or cave) cenotes. The price of entry varies between each type of classification, from 75 to 200 MXN pesos per person. It’s also possible that activities that were available before are no longer open to the public.
We recommend that you ask in advance about the condition of each cenote to give you an idea of what you’ll find when you arrive. The majority of cenotes have basic bathroom service and are handicap accessible, so you don’t have to worry about finding yourself in the middle of a jungle by accident. In some cenotes, you can stay in cabins with a jacuzzi, visit a few museums, go shopping, and enjoy a traditional Yucatan meal at a local restaurant.
Are cenotes really the door to the underworld?
According to Mayan tradition, the land of the dead was a mythical place located physically in the underground. Caverns, gaps, abysses, trenches, and other geological openings were treated like doors to the underworld known as Xibalba where the spirits of our ancestors, gods, and other supernatural beings lived.
Cenotes, with their crystalline waters and immense size, were revered. Water was seen as the main connection between Xibalba and our earthly world. Today, we know that although cenotes are connected by subterranean caves and rivers, their true origin is from the ice glaciers of the Pleistocene era when sea level lowered and left the ground exposed to limestone rock. A few meters under the surface, the subterranean rivers continued functioning as rainwater filtration systems until the rock eroded and the river ceiling collapsed, exposing the water to the open sky.
The result was a cenote, one of the most beautiful and mystical natural formations in the world.
Now that you’re ready to set out on your next trip, get your camera ready, pack your bags, and don’t forget to register (for free!) on Re_set, where you can get incredible discounts on your stay in all of the Riviera Maya with our free trial membership.