It’s no secret, Mexico is one of the hottest tropical destinations right now with digital nomads and freelancers of all ages choosing to work remotely.
Mexico, and Tulum especially, is the perfect mix of white sand beaches, piercing turquoise water, and deep jungle greens. The vibe is laid back like Bali and there is no shortage of epic adventures to be had.
One of Mexico’s most visited attractions is its many cenotes, pronounced “say-no-tey”. A cenote refers to an underground cave that contains permanent water. Basically, it’s a natural sinkhole where the ceiling of the cave has collapsed. Cenotes can vary in shapes and sizes, some being completely underground whereas some have a large opening (mature cenote) see below.
They say that Mexico has over 6000 cenotes, with many of them still yet to be discovered. Cenotes are filled with adventure for all ages. You can swim, snorkel, free dive, scuba dive, or even jump. I have yet to meet a cenote I didn’t enjoy!
This list of the best cenotes in Tulum and near Tulum could be endless, but I’ve narrowed it down to some of my favourites I’ve visited over the past 4 months of living in Mexico!
This blog post is labeled Best Cenotes in Tulum and near Tulum (not clickbait) but in fact, the best place to base if you’re planning to explore several is Playa del Carmen. When looking at a map, PDC is centrally located right between Cancun and Tulum making it a quick drive to anywhere (approximately 45 minutes in either direction).
I purposely chose to base myself in PDC because I was doing my freediving course with Blackfin Freediving. I’m working on a full blog post on my Freediving experience and why I chose Playa del Carmen vs Tulum so keep an eye out! In the meantime, you can find my Tulum travel guide and my list of the most Instagrammable places in Tulum.
Top Tips before heading to a Cenote:
- In order to protect the fragile environments in the cenotes, only use a mineral or reef-safe sunscreen.
- Most cenotes will require you to shower beforehand (yes ladies, that means even getting your hair wet). Just embrace it and rock the wet look. The reason being is to wash away any products like perfume, hairspray, lotion that can damage the clarity and environment of the cenote.
- Don’t hang on to stalactites or stalagmites or mangrove trees roots
- Don’t litter or leave anything that can damage the environment
- Most cenotes have little to no cell service once you turn off the highway so make sure to send any necessary texts or post before getting too close.
What to pack for a Cenote:
- Swimsuit – if you’re someone that is going for the photo opp and wants options, pack a spare. Many of the cenotes offer so much variety you could shoot in the same one and it looks like a totally new cenote.
- GoPro/ Underwater camera/ Waterproof phone case. If you’re coming to Mexico to be in the water I highly recommend investing in an underwater camera housing (very expensive) or at least a GoPro (far more affordable). The GoPro has amazing photo and video quality, it’s pocket-size and is perfectly waterproof. If you aren’t one for camera gear I’d make sure to pick up an underwater phone case so you can still capture the moment. The camera quality on phones is so good now, you’d be surprised by it!
- Pack a Towel. I’d recommend borrowing one from your hotel or packing a small towel to travel with. I love traveling with a small microfiber towel, they are super quick to dry and take up very little space.
- Change of clothes. If you’re anything like me and you plan to be in the water for hours I always like to pack a change of clothes so I can be dry on the car ride home. I get really cold so I always bring a sweater with me, especially after a long freediving session and it’s not good to sit in a wet suit for too long.
WARNING: most cenotes will charge a drone/ camera fee and some don’t allow cameras at all. I’ll try my best to reference the price and photo rules as of February 2021.
Best Cenotes in Tulum
Right outside of Tulum on the main road you’ll find Calavera (which means skull). Named for the three circular openings that look like a skull from above. This Tulum cenote has changed a lot over the years due to its increased popularity. Recently the owners build a bar and set up hammocks and chairs so it is a place you can hang out all day. All the work they have put into this cenote has since been reflected in the price. It’s one of the most expensive entrance fees you will pay for a cenote.
This cenote is for adventurous souls and does not disappoint! You can jump in by the large opening but if you really want a cool video, jump through one of the small openings in the rock face. In a split second, it looks like you just disappear! Check out the reel I posted! This cenote is so much fun and there are so many possibilities for Instagram shots here, especially reels!
*Note: Cenote Calavera is just a short drive from the Grand Cenote, which makes it easy to do these both in one day! Also, we used our professional camera and tripod to help achieve our shot here.
- Cenote Calavera Entrance Fee: 350 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: No rentals but lifejackets are available free of charge.
- Photography Rules: Both DSLR cameras and GoPros were accepted at no charge.
Coming from Tulum on Carretera 109 towards Coba, Cenote Calavera will be on your right (5 minute drive).
The Grand Cenote is just a short taxi ride from the Tulum Beach Area. Many people don’t know this but this cenote actually has 2 completely different areas connected through an underground passage you can snorkel through.
The more popular side is the one more visible upon entering. It’s deeper and a richer blue/ green color. The other side is definitely the more photographed on Instagram with its clear light blue water and wood railing. You may even spot some friendly turtles!
The common misconception is that to get to the shallow area you need to swim through the channel but in fact, you’ll see the entrance to the main area on the left of the property, if you walk diagonally to the right, you’ll get to a staircase to the Insta-popular spot where you can drop your stuff and snag a photo.
*Note: There are strict rules here which include no professional cameras and no tripods. 2 years ago this wasn’t the case but now you can’t even bring your camera in so don’t even try, especially if you are coming in a taxi.
**Be prepared ladies – they do make you shower completely before entering the cenote!
- Grand Cenote Entrance Fee: 300 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: Rentals of masks and snorkels are available
- Photography Rules: No professional cameras allowed. GoPro and iPhone only.
Just past Cenote Calavera. 5 kilometres away from Tulum town centre, on the Carretera 109 towards Coba.
This cenote is unique in the sense that typically you’d imagine a cenote to be a big sinkhole/cave however Casa is a long stream with a little current completely surrounded by mangroves, think a lazy river. This means that unlike many cenotes where you can leave your stuff on the side, you will want to leave all your stuff in the car. That means no phones so make sure you pack your underwater camera or waterproof phone case with you!
This cenote can be enjoyed by everyone whether you are a scuba diver, free diving, or just snorkeling. What truly makes this place special is its endless swim-throughs (for freedivers this is a dream). It’s just as it sounds, it’s got caves and channels through the mangroves to swim through.
I’ve been to this cenote 3 times now (once for freedive training and twice for fun dives), there is so much to discover that it never feels repetitive. Each time I’ve discovered something different. And to top it all off there is a resident crocodile that lives there, Panchito! Typically you can find him perched on his usual rock bathing in the sun but the first time I visited, Panchito decided to get in the water and take a swim with us. I’m not going to lie, there was a moment of panic but then I quickly realized how used to people he is and he just wanted to swim with us. He was so curious and even played around with our instructor of Blackfin Freediving.
Would you ever swim with a croc?
**Please remember to always respect the wildlife and their surrounding environment. Despite this crocodile being used to humans in the cenote, it is still a wild animal. Remember to always maintain a safe distance and to not poke, pull or provoke him in any way.
- Casa Cenote Entrance Fee: 150 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: Rentals of masks, fins, and snorkels are available
- Photography Rules: Cameras and Go-Pros are accepted for an extra fee
Carretera Cancun – Tulum Km. 246, Tankah Mz. 3, 77780 Tulum, Q.R.
Located just south of Tulum, It’s a scuba divers’ dream come true but it will definitely leave you with goosebumps! If you’re looking for depth, this is one of your best options as it reaches as deep as 60 meters. What makes Cenote Angelita so unique is the thick underwater cloud of sulfur that sits 10m deep.
The reason this cenote is better for experienced scuba divers is because you need to swim through that cloud in order to get to the clear waters below. This happens when freshwater and saltwater meet. I have yet to visit Angelita but what I’ve heard from friends is that while crossing the hydrogen sulfate cloud it feels like you’re on set of a sci-fi film. It’s eerie, it’s dark, it’s spooky yet totally fascinating.
Do you dare to dive below the mysterious thick cloud to discover what lies beneath?
- Cenote Angelita Entrance Fee: 300 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: Can only be visited with a local instructor
- Photography Rules: Cameras and Go-Pros are accepted for an extra fee
Cenote Angelita is located on the 307 Highway, approximately 12 minutes drive going south from Tulum, 80 km from Playa del Carmen
Best Cenotes Near Tulum
I split this section up into the best cenotes in Quintana Roo and the best Cenotes in the Yucatan so that you can decide how far you want to drive if you are based in Tulum. You could do a road trip to visit some of these cenotes or do day trips depending on where you stay.
Best Cenotes in Quintana Roo
Taak Bi Ha
Located roughly 20 minutes from Tulum, the entrance to this cenote is a little more hidden. Turn into the entrance of Cenote Dos Ojos but don’t pay for that park, tell the guard you are going to Taak Bi Ha and they will open the gate for you. It’s better to be safe and ask as we drove 1 hr down the wrong dirt road parallel and we had to turn back. Keep to the right down the bumpy dirt road until you reach the parking lot for Taak Bi Ha (about 3km).
This cenote is completely underground so beware, the steps getting down are steep. Once inside it opens up to a large underground with some of the most beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites I’ve ever seen. Because this cenote is completely caved in, you’ll notice the water is a little chillier than others that have direct sunlight.
In fact, this cenote is so dark that they have artificial lighting installed to brighten it up. We didn’t realize this before heading there so in my opinion it wasn’t the best place for photos but it still was a ton of fun. If you don’t have a mask and snorkel, rent one, you won’t regret it. Under the water, the stalactites are even cooler!
- Taak Bi Ha Cenote Entrance Fee: 350 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: Snorkel rentals available
- Photography Rules: All cameras accepted
Cenote Taak Bi Ha is the same entrance as Dos Ojos. Carretera Federal 307, km 244.5, 22km north of Tulum
This is one of my favourite cenotes. From the outside, it just looks like a deep blue hole in the middle of the jungle but the magic of this cenote is under the surface when the sun hits the water. It creates incredible light rays that are like laser beams! It really is hypnotizing, and epic for photos! I’ve been twice and would jump at any opportunity to revisit.
Most cenotes are light turquoise color where you can see the bottom, swim through the rocks and enjoy the marine life but Maravilla is pretty erie at first. It’s deep blue & underwater you don’t see much. The first time I dove down and followed the light rays for photos I went so deep when I looked up I was under a cave I didn’t know was even there. But just follow the light and you’ll be fine.
Maravilla is most commonly used for depth training if you’re a freediver as it is 30m deep. It’s also visited by a few scuba diving schools if you have your advanced license. Once below the surface, the cenote opens up to a larger cave. If you’re interested in doing your freediving certification I did mine with Blackfin Freediving and highly recommend going with them.
Important note: This cenote exact location cannot be revealed as it is privately owned and not open to the public. It can only be visited with a local freediving or scuba diving school.
- Cenote Maravilla Entrance Fee: Can only be visited with a local instructor
- Extra Rental Fees: Not available
- Photography Rules: Steep camera fees for drone and DSLR
Located approximately 1h30 mins from Tulum, 40 minutes from Playa del Carmen in Puerto Morelos.
Another favorite of mine! It’s actually 3 cenotes in 1 but each time I’ve been we’ve spent the entire time in the main one, the other 2 are pretty small but still worth checking out. What I love about this cenote is crystal clear waters (hence the name), and its awesome swim-throughs through mangroves & caves.
There is also a 3-meter platform you can jump from making it fun for all. I’ve been there twice now, once on my own and once with a freediving guide. You definitely do not need a guide for this cenote, if you’re a freediver you can discover some of the swim-throughs on your own however our instructor did take us through this dark cave which led us to another underground cenote, this can only be accessed with a local guide.
The first time we visited we told our taxi we’d be 2 hours and we were there for 5 hours! They do have a little cafe there with chips, drinks and some food but I would recommend packing snacks or lunch and spending the day here. If you’re like me and don’t want to wear a wetsuit but you get cold easily, having lunch and warming up in the sun is nice to break up your time in the water.
- Cenote Cristalino Entrance Fee: 200 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: Mask and snorkel rental available
- Photography Rules: All cameras excepted
Located approx 30 minutes from Tulum & 18 minutes from Playa del Carmen in Puerto Aventuras.
Garden of Eden
Another cenote with endless adventure. We were brought to this cenote by our freediving instructor during our training but it is open to the public. If you want to spend more time working on your jumping, diving or flipping skills this is the cenote for you. It’s got a 4m platform where everyone lines up to jump from and if you want to be even more adventurous there is a tree that you can climb and jump out of. If you’re looking to snorkel, keep your eyes peeled.
If you’re a large group this is the perfect cenote to spend a few hours at. Pack a picnic, bring a speaker and make a day of it. They have barbecues and little cabanas you can set yourself up at.
- Garden of Eden Cenote Entrance Fee: 200 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: not available
- Photography Rules: Both pro and semi-pro cameras are not allowed
30 minutes outside of Tulum, Puerto Aventuras is halfway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen
Similar to Maravilla this cenote has incredible light rays but it is completely underground. Light pours into this cenote from the small entrance at the surface. Getting down to the actual cenote you will have to climb down a steep set of stairs, be careful going down as the stairs get really slippery when wet.
As a freediver this cenote is great for depth training (it reaches 30m deep) but it’s also open to the public to swim. Note that because it is completely underground the water is a little colder. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m forever cold, even with the thickest wetsuit my instructor had for me. I was still trying to shake the shivers and eventually had to take a break on the surface to lay on the concrete and warm up before continuing to dive.
- Cenote Kin-Ha Entrance Fee: 200 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: not available
- Photography Rules: All cameras allowed
In Puerto Morelos, 1h40 mins from Tulum – Take the 307 until you see signs for Puerto Morelos
In English, the name of this cenote translates to “two eyes”- because from the surface it looks like 2 separate sinkholes filled with crystal blue water, from an aerial view it looks like two enormous blue eyes looking to the sky. Dos Ojos is actually a single cenote, with the two sinkholes connected by a 400-meter long passageway.
Dos Ojos is actually of the most popular cenotes in Tulum, which also translates to one of the most crowded. If you’re planning to get photos here my recommendation is to go early & shoot quickly! I’ve heard from friends who have been that this cenote is great for underwater photos but not the best for over-the-water shots as the cave makes it really dark. I actually have yet to visit this one, probably because of how busy it gets but I will and report back!
- Cenote Dos Ojos Entrance Fee: 350 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: snorkels & fins available for rent
- Photography Rules: Both pro and semi-pro cameras not allowed
Cenote Dos Ojos is on the Carretera Federal 307, km 244.5, 22km north of Tulum
Located in the Yucatan
You’ve no doubt seen this cenote circulating on social media over the past year and it’s of the coolest cenotes I’ve ever been to! This cenote can be visited on a day trip but I would really recommend spending a few days in Valladolid.
Oxman is so deep underground that you have to walk down about 6 flights of stairs to finally get to the water. Oxman is famously known for its rope swing, you’ll see tourists lining up over and over again to swing themselves into the deep. Cenote Oxman is also visited by local freediving schools and is great for depth training.
One of the biggest perks of this cenote is the grounds on which it’s on. When you pay the cenote entrance fee you also get access to the Hacienda Oxman pool. A lot of people will spend the day here swimming in the cenote, then coming up to the pool to get some sun, order food and relax. It’s a great way to spend the day.
And if you want to make your experience extra special I’d recommend booking a stay in the hacienda. Hacienda means estate and Hacienda Oxman is over 200 years old! We found it on Airbnb and it was really affordable. There are only 2 rooms available, but the property is so historic, it’s definitely something to experience. We had the place to ourselves, just us, the security guard, and one of the most jaw-dropping cenotes I’ve ever seen footsteps from my door! Book your stay here!
- Cenote Oxman Entrance Fee: 150 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: No rentals but life jackets are mandatory
- Photography Rules: 200 pesos recording fee for drone
1.5 hours from Tulum in Valladolid – Follow México signs for 305D and 180D to Valladolid
Another very popular photo spot on Instagram. This cenote is completely underground so you have to walk down a narrow stairway to get there. What makes it so popular is the long manmade platform in the center. If you time your visit right the sun shines down casting a light beam right onto the platform like a spotlight. Depending on the time of year this may change but the best time to visit 11-2pm to get that spotlight, it’s also the busiest time to visit.
I have yet to visit this cenote personally but I warn you that you won’t be the only one who wants to get this insta-worthy picture so be prepared to stay in line. When it is a little busier expect to wait in line for at least 15-20 minutes. If you pull up and the parking lot is super busy with cars and tour buses I wouldn’t even pay the entrance fee, it will be too crowded and you won’t get a good picture on the platform.
While most of the photos only show people standing on the platform, you can also enjoy snorkeling here as well. To be honest, it never ever crossed my mind to swim in this cenote, but it is possible.
**Note that as of March 2021, this platform is completely underwater due to some of the tropical storms Mexico has recently experienced and it is believed that it will remain underwater for the rest of the year.
- Cenote Suytun Entrance Fee: 120 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees: 30 pesos for lifejacket rental (mandatory for swimming)
- Photography Rules: All camera accepted
1h15 mins from Tulum in the town of Valladolid. Cenote Suytun is 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of Valladolid, Mexico
If you want to enjoy cenote Ik Kil the best way possible then come early. Being one of the closest cenotes to Chichen Itza, most tourists will book a tour that will combine Chichen Itza with visiting cenote Ik Kil. Tour groups and big busses show up in the parking lot around 11:30am, and it can quickly go from 30 people inside the cenote to an hour later more than 100 people. So if you want to try and beat the crowd, morning is your best bet.
The walls of cenote Ik Kil are covered in green leafs and vines that hang down from the top of the cenote. Most of the vines reach the water below which is what gives this cenote such a dramatic look. On paper Ik Kil one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan, due to its size, long vines, and high walls. But as a creator, it’s one of the busiest, with life jackets and a guided tour being mandatory, it also makes it one of the most difficult cenotes to shoot at.
- Cenote Il Kil Entrance Fee: 150 pesos
- Extra Rental Fees:
- Photography Rules: Forbidden to fly drones
Just off Highway 180 between Piste and Valladolid, not far from the city and Chichen Itza.
This blog post took me a while so I hope this helps you gain a little more insight into the many cenotes in and around Tulum. As I mentioned in the beginning there are over 6000, so you could spend your life discovering them all. But, if I missed one you think is worth mentioning please let me know, I’d love to add it to the list!
Most of the underwater photos captured are by oceanographer, Pepe Salcedo, owner of @blackfinfreediving, check them out on Instagram!
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