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The Riviera Maya Travel Guide

The 10 Most Magical Cenotes in the Riviera Maya

Cenotes are a refreshing change from the typical Riviera Maya beach scene. Here are the most enchanting ones to visit.

One thing that’s certain about Riviera Maya is that there is no shortage of places to swim. Whether it’s rivers, certified Blue Flag beaches, dazzling rooftop pools, or cenotes, you’ll have a whale of a time in, on, and around the waters of this coastal region south of Cancún in the state of Quintana Roo.

Of these places to get some laps in, cenotes are the most enchanting. Formed by the collapse of bedrock, these natural pools are as clear as blanco tequila and treat swimmers to views of cathedral-like rock walls draped with vines and illuminated by sunlight beams. Derived from the Mayan word “dzonot” (meaning “water-filled cavity), these sinkholes are gateways to subterranean rivers and calcareous caves. The Maya believed them to be portals to the Xibalbá (the underworld), and worship, rituals, and harvest-invoking ceremonies were performed at cenotes (pronounced “seh-no-tays”), with an estimated 2,500 of them scattered around the Mexican Caribbean.

There are cave cenotes, semi-open cenotes, completely open cenotes that are akin to enormous swimming pools, and underground cenotes untouched by the sky that are best left for experienced divers. You’ll find them with stalagmites (from the floor) or stalactites (hanging from the ceiling), and some have ziplines or Tarzan swings for spirited jumps or simple wooden stairs for those preferring a more cautious entry. Some are free of charge to enter and swim in, while others have nominal fees that go towards maintenance and security. While cenotes are all remarkable in their own right, here are 10 to add to your must-visit list.

1 OF 10

Cenote Dos Ojos

WHERE: Near Tulum

Not to be confused with Cenote Dos Osos (also known as Cenote Zamna), Dos Ojos is a favorite for both casual swimmers and serious divers alike (certain parts are as much as 120 meters deep). This cenote between Tulum and Akumal gets its name, “Two Eyes,” from its two linked sinkholes that appear like eyes peeking out from the jungle canopy.

The “blue eye” cenote opens to the sky, while the “black eye” cenote is enveloped in darkness and requires a flashlight or guide for exploration. Up to 120 meters deep at certain parts, Dos Ojos is one of Riviera Maya’s top diving cenotes and was featured in the 2002 documentary Journey into Amazing Caves.

2 OF 10

Cenote Azul

WHERE: Near Puerto Aventuras

Unlike its neighboring cenotes (Cenote Jardín del Eden, Cenote Cristalino, and Cenote Kantun-Chi), Cenote Azul is open-air with an “L” shape layout providing plenty of space to find secluded sun-dappled corners. Its pristine lagoon-like waters host unique ecosystems, including the spa-famous foot-nibbling “pedicure” fish, which are harmless. There are amenities like life jackets, a snack bar, and restroom facilities, and accessing it is easy via the 307 Highway, with ample signage leading to a convenient parking area. Given the abundant marine life and gin-clear waters, it’s a sublime snorkeling spot with deeper pools for the more intrepid and parts that are knee-deep where families with little flippers can happily flap around.

INSIDER TIPMost cenotes have shower mandates. It’s crucial to respect these ancient sanctuaries by rinsing off before entering to minimize water contamination, as some sunscreens or insect repellents can harm this fragile ecosystem.


3 OF 10

Cenote Jardín del Eden

WHERE: Near Puerto Aventuras

Many Riviera Maya cenotes go by different names, and Cenote Ponderosa also moonlights as Cenote Jardín del Eden (Garden of Eden). With crystalline waters and verdant foliage that conjure images of an earthly paradise, this large open-air cenote is wholly deserving of its evocative name. Just a stone’s throw from Puerto Aventuras, swimmers, cliff-jumpers, and snorkelers alike find joy in the cenote’s depths (reaching around 15 meters), where jade and gold treasures from Mayan sacrifices reportedly lie waiting.



4 OF 10

Gran Cenote

WHERE: Near Tulum

A short pedal from Tulum lies Gran Cenote, a half-moon-shaped cenote where you can glide through turquoise waters beneath a dome of hanging stalactites. Sunlight pirouettes through the foliage as birds flutter passed, resident iguanas perch nearby, turtles swim below, and bats hover above. “Gran” means “great” in Spanish, and this is one of the country’s most popular cenotes. It has all the desired amenities for a full day of sand-free swimming: picnic areas, hammocks, restrooms, showers, and snorkel rentals.

5 OF 10

Punta Esmeralda

WHERE: Playa del Carmen

Punta Esmeralda is an open-air cenote that spills into the Caribbean Sea, creating a natural shallow spa where freshwater and saltwater mix, blending in swirls of blue and green upon meeting. It’s located in the north of Playa del Carmen between Nicte-Ha and the Colosio neighborhood and it is accessible on foot or via a 15-minute bike ride from Centro. Despite this proximity to the city’s hustle and bustle, Punta Esmeralda remains an utterly serene white sand beach with child-friendly waters that are perfect for a family outing.

6 OF 10

Cenote Siete Bocas

WHERE: Ruta de Cenotes

The quaint fishing village of Puerto Morelos is blessed with around 57 cenotes dotted along the Ruta de Cenotes (Cenotes Route). Of these, Siete Bocas (Seven Mouths) beckons swimmers and snorkelers with its seven entrances, and each portal unveils a distinct perspective. Inside, slivers of sunlight pierce through to illuminate the ancient stalactites, and an underwater cave system links all of the seven mouths so prepare to feast your eyes as you glide through the light-dappled waters with your snorkel at the ready.

7 OF 10

Cenote Calavera

WHERE: Tulum

Also known as the “Temple of Doom,” Calavera is one of the best cenotes to visit for its proximity to downtown Tulum, as you can bike there in mere minutes. “Calavera” is Spanish for “skull,” and it is marked by three openings—one large and two smaller—that uncannily mimic the eyes and mouth of a skull. This cenote offers both snorkeling and diving experiences, and it is unique in that it’s connected to Sac Actun, the world’s largest underwater cave system. Bring your own snorkeling equipment, towels, and cash for fees and snacks, which must be purchased there.

INSIDER TIPMany of the popular cenotes get exceptionally busy on weekends so you’ll have a more tranquil experience when visiting on a weekday.


8 OF 10

Cenote Zacil-Ha

WHERE: Near Tulum

The water is turquoise, inviting, and pure at Cenote Zacil-Ha, which is aptly named after the Mayan word for “clear water.” Admission fees are a tad higher for foreigners and grant access to basic amenities like restrooms and picnic areas. Located only a short distance from Tulum, this cenote is small, with wooden decking and steps leading into the refreshing waters. Best of all, a zipline was installed over the cenote for swimmers to swoop over the open water with a unique aerial view.

9 OF 10

Cenote Zapote

WHERE: Ruta de Cenotes

You can tackle a trio of cenotes when you head to Cenote Zapote along Puerto Morelos’ Ruta de Cenotes. Cenote Zapote itself is the main draw, stretching 118 feet across and plunging 206 feet down with three platforms for the daring to leap from heights of up to 14 meters. For seasoned divers, there is plenty of allure down below where the fossils of a centuries-old sloth were once found.

The rare “Hell’s Bells” speleothems will also amaze you at Cenote Zapote. Nearby, Cenote Las Palmas offers an adrenaline surge with its 98-foot-long zipline, while over at Cenote Abuelo Che Che, stalactites and stalagmites guard the waters where swimmers and snorkelers drift.

INSIDER TIPIn Quintana Roo’s neighboring state, Yucatán, Cenote Suytun has a perfectly circular viewing platform that makes it highly ideal for photos. Social media vitality has made this one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico, so go early to avoid extra-long lines.


10 OF 10

Cenote Yal-Kú

WHERE: Akumal

Yal-Kú is part lagoon, part cenote swimming hole that’s 10 minutes from Playa Akumal by car. Here, you’ll swim alongside sea turtles, barracudas, and parrotfish in crystalline waters that are a natural phenomenon—a result of the halocline effect where fresh and saltwater meet. There is also a restaurant and a sculpture garden on the grounds. Jump into the water, float, snorkel, or just admire from the edges, but don’t miss the chance to explore this biodiverse subterranean wonder.