The best Cenotes to visit in Tulum
Tulum is renowned for its laid back vibes, white sand beaches, and, of course, the picturesque cenotes that dot its surrounding jungle. But with an eye-popping six THOUSAND cenotes in the Yucatán peninsula, it can feel impossible to narrow down which ones are worth exploring.
Good news, though- Tulum’s got some of the most gorgeous and unique cenotes in the Riviera Maya, from Cenote El Pit, a scuba diving mecca to Cenote Zacil-Ha, with its very own zipline. So without further adieu, here are 10 of the best cenotes near Tulum.
What’s a cenote?
First off, you’re probably wondering “what the heck is a cenote?” Well, friends, a cenote (pronounced suh-NO-tay) is essentially a sinkhole, formed when limestone bedrock collapses and exposes an underground cavern or river underneath it. These caverns usually have chily groundwater flowing through them (no warmer than 75°!), which is perfect for cooling down under the hot Mexican sun.
Because of the Yucatán’s geological make-up, the peninsula is absolutely stuffed with them. In fact, while cenotes can be found in several countries around the world, like Zimbabwe and Canada, the Yucatán has the highest concentration of them on the planet!
Cenotes were of great importance to the ancient Mayans that once lived here. Not only did they act as a reliable source of freshwater, but they also held great spiritual significance, as they were believed to be the entrance of the underworld. In fact, cenotes were even occasionally used for sacrificial purposes, with archaeologists recovering gold, jade, and even human remains, whose injuries are consistent with human sacrifice, from their depths.
Nowadays, cenotes are thankfully used for more cheerful purposes, with hundreds of them having been turned into swimming holes for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
There are three types of cenotes: open-air, semi-open, or underground.
- Open-air cenotes have completely collapsed into themselves, leaving the entire underground cavern exposed to the sky above. I try not to play favorites with my cenotes, but these are kindaaa best- they tend to be bigger than other cenotes and, because of their exposure to the sun, are usually a bit warmer to swim in.
- Semi-open cenotes are mostly underground, but have small openings that let air and light in. They can look particularly dramatic when the opening in the ceiling creates light beams, much like in the very Instagram-famous Cenote Suytun (discussed more below!).
- Underground cenotes are exactly what they sound like and have no natural light to illuminate them- and accordingly, are the chilliest option of the three!
How to Get to Cenotes Near Tulum
Several of the cenotes listed below are within a quick bicycle ride (10-30 minutes) from Tulum. You can usually borrow a bike from most of the hotels and hostels in the region or alternatively, there are several places to rent one in town.
If you’re planning on spending a bit of time exploring around the Yucatan (after all, it’s one of the best places to work remotely in the world!) or if you plan on visiting cenotes or other amazing sites, like the Coba ruins, that are a little further out, it’s worth considering renting a car. Having your own car provides the flexibility to go wherever you want, whenever you want and driving here is safe and easy.
Best Cenotes Near Tulum
With that, let’s dive in (get it?!).
1. Cenote Calavera
- Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo (2.8 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 250 MXN
- Amenities: There are limited amenities here, like a bare-bones changing facility and some snacks, drinks, and beer for purchase.
Calavera means skull in Spanish and, once you see this cenote, you’ll quickly understand why! You can jump into this cenote by any one of three holes that resemble the eyes and mouth of a skull. But be careful if you enter through either of “the eyes”- it’s a tight squeeze!
For the less brave folks out there (*raises hand*), you can alternatively climb in, using a ladder.
Once you’re in the cenote’s cool waters, you can watch the bats sleeping overhead, feel some of the tiny fish nibble on your toes, or take a breather on the swing hanging in the middle of the cenote. For keen photographers, the sunshine streams into the two smaller holes casting impressive light rays into the cenote, making for some very cool photos. And while this cenote is on the smaller side, it’s nonetheless a highlight of a Tulum travel itinerary.
Because of its proximity to Tulum, it often can get quite busy here, especially later in the afternoon. So if you want to get this cenote all to yourself, try to hit it as soon as it opens at 9 AM!
2. Gran Cenote
- Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo (5.0 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 500 MXN, which includes a snorkeling set and life jacket rental
- Amenities: There are showers and tiny bathroom stalls where you can (uncomfortably!) change into your swimsuit. While you can’t get food or drinks onsite, there’s usually a small snack stand right outside the cenote’s gates.
With turquoise water and otherworldly rock formations, Gran Cenote is one of the most famous cenotes in Quintana Roo- and for good reason!
It’s actually composed of two open air cenotes, connected by an underground cavern. One of the cenotes offers a large and deep pool with enormous underwater stalactites and stalagmites, while the other is a smaller, shallow pool that’s perfect for relaxing in the sunshine.
Be sure to make use of the snorkel set- not only can you catch spectacular light rays through the rock formations under the water, but you can also observe the cenote’s wildlife, which include adorable tiny turtles, blue crabs, and small fish.
Wildlife isn’t just confined to under the water, though- if you swim through the cavern connecting the two cenotes, you’ll find hundreds of chirping bats flying overhead (not to worry, though- bats are friends, not foes! They won’t bother you!).
Alternatively, if you’re headed here solo, you should try to time your visit for either first thing in the morning (at 8 AM when it opens) or after 3 PM, when the groups have left for the day.
3. Cenote Car Wash
- Location: Rancho Viejo, Quintana Roo (8.9 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 200 MXN (cash only). There’s also additional fees if you want to scuba dive- or even just to use your trusty GoPro!
- Amenities: Facilities here are simple but clean– just the way I like it! There are changing rooms, restrooms, lockers, picnic tables, and a booth to rent lifejackets or snorkel gear and purchase snacks.
Thanks to its proximity to Tulum, Cenote Car Wash makes for a fabulous day trip from town. If you’re planning on heading to the Coba Ruins, you’ll actually drive right past it on your way there- you can even make it a twofer by stopping at the neighboring Cenote Zacil-Ha (more on that below!).
While this cenote is officially called “Aktun Ha” (meaning “water cave” in Mayan), it got its nickname in a bit of an unusual way- given this is an open air cenote just a few hundred feet from one of the main roads in the area, taxi drivers would often stop here to wash off their dusty cabs. And, thus, Cenote Car Wash was born!
Despite its slightly gross past, it now boasts crystal clear waters. Plus, with its interesting underwater rock formations and abundant wildlife, like fish, turtles and even a (harmless!) crocodile, this is one of the best choices in the Yucatán peninsula for snorkelers and divers. In fact, this is a popular location for scuba divers who are learning how to cave dive.
This cenote is also a great option for families, with wide wooden platforms, perfect for relaxing in the sun, and even a rope swing to jump into the water.
A rope swing and an allegedly friendly crocodile- what more could you ask for?!
Recommended by Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler
4. Zacil-Ha Cenote
- Location: Rancho Viejo, Quintana Roo(9.2 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 200 MXN. You can rent a life vest for an additional fee.
- Amenities: This cenote offers some of the most amenities of any of the options in the area, including outdoor showers, bathrooms, a restaurant, a pool, and plenty of places to chill, like lounge chairs and picnic tables.
Zacil-Ha is an open cenote, with stunningly clear water. And while it may not be big or deep, it makes up for its smaller size with lots of fun quirks, like a zipline you can use to drop into its waters or little hidden caves to explore around the cenote’s perimeter.
We all know that Tulum can get quite expensive– so one of the best things about this cenote is that it’s geared more towards a local crowd and thus, is more affordable than some of the more touristy cenotes in Quintana Roo.
In fact, if you’re looking to avoid crowds, this is probably going to be your best option- there’s only one tour bus that arrives around 2 pm and leaves an hour later. Otherwise, you can basically plan to have this baby all to yourself!
5. Casa Cenote
- Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo (11.1 km from downtown Tulum)
- Entrance Fee: 150 MXN
- Amenities: Other than a parking lot, basically none!
Casa Cenote is quite unique, with emerald waters and green-leafed mangroves that surround its open pool. From an aerial view, this cenote mimics the shape of a snake, slithering into Yucatan’s unspoiled greenery.
Its pool is quite large and long, allowing for lots of fun water adventures like kayaking, which are available to rent, or snorkeling. It also happens to be one of the best places for scuba diving in the Riveria Maya, with excellent opportunities for beginner divers to try their hand at exploring the beautiful underwater world lurking beneath the surface.
Perhaps because of its unique proximity to the ocean, there’s also a lot of wildlife here, including yet another “friendly” resident crocodile (cheekily named “Panchito”) or even a family of manatees that earned this spot its nickname, Cenote Manati. Sadly, though, the manatees haven’t been seen here for a while (but perhaps you’ll be the lucky one to spot them next!).
6. Cenote Caracol
- Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo (16.7 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 300MXN
- Amenities: Cenote Caracol is much less developed than some of the neighboring cenotes and, thus, the only amenities it really has are a multi-purpose room (you can rent life jackets here! Change your swimsuit! Store your belongings!) and an outdoor shower.
This cenote is definitely off-the-beaten-path and can be a little challenging to get to. If you’re looking for an adventure, though, you can find it by driving along a rugged, dirt road off Highway 307 for a few miles through the jungle. But this little extra effort is worth it- there’s a good chance you’ll be the only one enjoying the cenote!
The cenote has two parts – a cave system where you can gaze up at stalagmites and the cenote itself.
Start your visit with a walk through the caves, which have a wooden walkway winding through them. When you’ve gotten your fill of stalagmites, make your way to the cenote entrance, where you will be given a life jacket before you descend down a long ladder to the cenote below.
Once you’re in the water, the cenote has plenty of interesting things to explore, with fish swimming around you, caves to be discovered, and tiny fruit bats hanging off the ceiling.
7. Cenote Dos Ojos
- Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo (22.2 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 200 MXN for entry. You can also rent snorkel gear for an additional 100 MXN.
- Amenities: Cenote Dos Ojos has all the necessities- think bathrooms, changing rooms, lockers, and even a snack shop!
Dos Ojos is one of the most beautiful cenotes near Tulum that you can visit while you’re traveling the Yucatan! The cave is called Dos Ojos, meaning “two eyes” and offers one of the biggest underwater cave systems in the Yucatán. The cenote was named for its shape, as its cave system splits into two tracks once you’re underwater.
This is one of the most popular spots for scuba divers in the region, with lots of amazing cave diving opportunities in its turquoise blue waters. Even if you don’t dive, though, not to worry- it’s still a great place to snorkel, with lots of beautiful fish and cave formations to see.
One word of warning, though- too many visitors were dropping their cameras in the cenote, so, in order to protect this beautiful place, the use of cameras is prohibited in the water. So, leave your GoPros at home for this one!
8. Cenote El Pit
- Location: Quintana Roo (25.0 km north of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance fee: $25. Since most visitors come here for diving, the entrance fee is usually included in your dive package (usually around $150 for a two tank dive).
- Amenities: There are pretty minimal amenities here, with just basic toilets, changing rooms, and a table to assemble your dive gear.
You can certainly just swim in Cenote El Pit, but with its gorgeous underwater caverns, this spot is primarily known for fantastic cenote scuba diving. Because of its extreme depth, an advanced scuba certification is required.
During your dive, you’ll see all different kinds of cool things underwater, like spectacular lightrays penetrating the water from the ceiling above, beautiful stalactites, and the trippy feeling of diving through a halocline. This is basically a layer that looks like smoke in the water, caused by refraction of light passing through water layers with different salinities and densities. This just adds to the eerily beautiful experience of diving through El Pit’s crystal clear waters!
9. Cenote Choo-Ha
- Location: Cobá, Mexico (53.4 miles northwest of downtown Tulum)
- Entrance Fee: 100 MXN
- Amenities: There’s the basic necessities here, like restrooms, changing rooms, and life jackets.
Cenote Choo-Ha, located near the Coba ruins, is a closed cenote, meaning that visitors must climb down into a fairly small hole in the ground to access its waters.
Due to the enclosed nature, Choo-Ha cenote has a rather otherworldly feeling, with huge stalactite formations hanging dramatically from the ceiling. These incredible rock formations are only illuminated by the lights that have been installed to help visitors see down here, which just adds to the ethereal beauty of this place.
Given their proximity to each other, this is an excellent pitstop after a day trip to the Coba ruins– you can cool off here after spending hours exploring these incredible ruins in the jungle. If you time your visit in the afternoon, though, you may need to battle with crowds- so for a better chance of enjoying the cenote in peace, go first thing in the morning or shortly before it closes.
10. Cenote Suytun
- Location: Valladolid, Yucatan (94.5 km northwest of Tulum)
- Entrance fee: 150 MXN for adults and 100MXN for kids, which includes a complimentary life jacket to wear if you want to swim in the cenote.
- Amenities: There’s quite a few amenities here, from toilets, shower, and changing rooms facilities to a gift shop and eateries.
While this one might be more of a hike from Tulum, Cenote Suytun has got to be one of the world’s most Insta-worthy cenotes today. It’s known for its enormous cavern, with a single beam of light streaming down onto a small platform in the center of the cenote. You know the one I’m talking about!
Because of how, well, EPIC this cenote looks, it can get quite crowded, so, for your best opportunity to get a good shot without too many people milling around, try to get here as soon as it opens at 9 AM. Additionally, I’d recommend bringing along a camera that works well with low-light conditions, like our trusty Sony Alpha camera, as well as a tripod.
While many folks just come to Cenote Suytun to grab a photo, you can definitely swim here . Although, a word of warning- given the limited light in this cenote, you can’t really see underneath you in the water and there’s lots of decently sized black fish swimming about- so this may be better suited for visitors with more adventurous spirits. Plus, you may or may not get a few dirty looks from the folks waiting in line to take their photo.
It’s also worth noting that there’s actually TWO cenotes here! The lesser-known cenote is to the left of the ticket booth. Because it’s an underground cenote, you’ll have to descend down some stairs, but the otherworldly view is worth it!
If you have some time after exploring Cenote Suytun, drive 15 minutes to the nearby town of Valladolid, where you can find even more cenotes and lots of cultural and culinary destinations!
Things to know before visiting a cenote
- You can’t use sunscreen. Usually, I’m screaming from the rooftops about slathering on that sunscreen, but in cenotes, you’ll unfortunately need to leave your bottle at home. Cenotes are incredibly fragile environments and the oils in sunscreens and other types of spray or lotions can damage them and the wildlife that call cenotes their homes.
So if you’re susceptible to sunburn (like, for example, my milky white husband), I’d recommend planning your visit to avoid when the sun is at its most intense and also including a rashguard with SPF in it on your Mexico packing list.
Be sure to bring the essentials. Luckily, there’s not a ton you’ll need at cenotes, but here are a few items you shouldn’t forget:
- Quick-dry towel: Most cenotes have rocky ledges or platforms where you leave your towel, where it’s not uncommon for someone to splash or drip on. Since cenotes’ waters are usually pretty chilly, you’re definitely going to want a big, fluffy towel, like this one, that dries out quickly so that you’ll have something warm and cozy to wrap around yourself as soon as you get out.
- Travel insurance: Listen- people are ziplining, cliff jumping, scuba diving… doing all kinds of crazy things into and around cenotes. So make sure you have insurance in case, well, something crazy happens while you’re here!
We love World Nomads Travel Insurance because they cover a lot of more adventurous activities (pssst… like scuba diving!) that a lot of other insurance companies don’t. Just make sure to read your specific coverage terms carefully before you go- knowledge is power!
- GoPro: Cenotes look incredibly unique, both above and below the water and when I visited the Yucatán, I was kicking myself I hadn’t brought my GoPro. These little cameras are SO COOL- they take great videos both above and underwater, they have neat tools, like in-camera image stabilization, and you can literally just slide it in your pocket. Amazing!
Where to Stay in Tulum
So we’ve got cenotes near Tulum covered, but do you know where you’re staying while you’re in Tulum? Here are some spots to consider to rest your head between all those cenote adventures!
- Aloft Tulum: This hotel is conveniently located between Tulum’s bustling downtown and beach area. With friendly staff, fun perks, like welcome drinks, and a rooftop pool that’s a whole vibe, this is an awesome (and affordable!) option.
- Dune Boutique Hotel: If you’re looking for a hotel literally right on the beach, Dune should definitely be on your list. The boho, yet modern decor is on point and you’ll be overlooking the Caribbean. Not a bad spot to call home for a night (or five!).
- Mayan Monkey Hotel and Hostel: If you’re looking for a more happening atmosphere (think, like, a slightly bougier hostel), this place is an awesome spot for solo travelers or digital nomads, with perks like a coworking space, free breakfast, and nightly parties.
There you have it- 10 of the most jaw-dropping cenotes near Tulum. Do you have any questions about visiting? Sound off in the comments below!