Tulum is a jungle-beach town located on the eastern end of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, in the state of Quintana Roo. The city is a haven for hippies and tourists seeking an escape.
Many people find themselves choosing Tulum as a vacation spot. This may be for its eco-chic vibe, spiritual atmosphere, and endless list of things to do. The town boasts white-sand beaches, blue waters, delectable cuisine, and incredible ancient ruins. But, Tulum’s most fascinating and beautiful highlight has to be its magical cenotes.
The Yucatán Peninsula is home to more than 6,000 cenotes, the largest number of cenotes in the world, 226 of these are in Tulum alone.
While many of Yucatán’s cenotes are inaccessible because they’re too small or lay deep underground, a remarkable number of these are open to the public. These cenotes are of different types but still big enough to swim, dive, or snorkel in.
If you’re looking to go cenote-hopping or are on the search for the perfect one to spend a day with your family, then here’s a list of the best cenotes in Tulum for you.
What Is a Cenote?
Cenotes are natural limestone sinkholes or caves. You can find them in sedimentary limestone rock filled with clear groundwater or rainwater.
When a cave collapses on itself, it may give rise to a cenote. After the cave’s roof collapses, the area fills up with cool water, forming a cenote. This process can take thousands to millions of years. Once fully developed, a cenote becomes home to many different kinds of plant and animal life, even turtles.
Depending on the impact of the cave’s collapse, a cenote can be either open-air or close-air (a cave cenote). When the roof of a cave completely collapses, it forms an open-air cenote.
On the other hand, when most of the entire cave’s roof is still intact, it results in a closed-air cenote. These are also called “cave cenotes” since they’re closed off like a cave.
Why Tulum’s Cenotes are Special
Tulum’s cenotes may differ in size, age, formation, and watercolor. Each cenote is special for its unique reason and will draw you in with its natural beauty and mystical atmosphere.
Tulum was once a Maya walled city. Proof of the Maya civilization still stands today here in the form of ancient ruins like palaces, temples, pyramids, and stone carvings. The cenotes of Tulum are rich in history because they have a special connection to the Maya people who once called this town their home.
To the Maya people, cenotes were very sacred. They believed that these underwater cenote caves were a passage to the underworld and that some Gods lived in these cenotes.
The Maya people also considered the cenotes’ waters to be sacred and have healing properties. Not only this, but they also used this water for sacrifices to their Gods, asking for good fortune in return.
The 8 Best Cenotes in Tulum
Tulum’s cenotes are one of the quickest ways to escape the town’s humid jungle heat. The second best way is to stay at a luxury hotel or an all-inclusive resort where the modern facilities make your stay one of comfort and ease.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the complete list of some of the best cenotes in Mexico’s Tulum town.
1. Casa Cenote (or, Cenote Manatí)
Casa Cenote, or Cenote Manatí because of the manatee see cows that once lived here, is one of the most famous underwater sinkholes in Tulum. It connects Nohoch Nah Chich (a long underwater cave system) to the sea.
The sinkhole is an open-air cenote, like a river. It’s an excellent site for swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, free diving, or scuba diving. This cenote is unique because it has a mix of freshwater and saltwater. It’s also special because of its lazy-river current, unlike other cenotes, which usually have no current at all.
Casa cenote’s wildlife is a great blend of different creatures because of its special mix of fresh and ocean water. Coati, birds, and butterflies visit the cenote’s banks, while blue crabs, Cichlids, and tropical fish, live near the mangrove roots.
Situated approximately 5.6 miles (nine kilometers) north of Tulum, an unpaved road leads to Casa Cenote. An entrance fee costs roughly 150 pesos (USD 7) and includes a life jacket. The cenote is only about a 20-minute drive from Akumal, so there’s an option to make a road trip out of the adventure.
2. Cenote Aktun-Ha
Cenote Aktun-Ha has an interesting history of being a car-wash site back in the day. The name “Aktun-Ha,” translates to “car wash” because decades back, taxi drivers used the site to wash their cars when traveling between Tulum and Cobá.
It’s a beautiful, open-air cenote in Tulum featuring stalactites in the cave part. Many people visit Aktun-Ha for swimming and diving in the clear water. But the cenote is also famous for snorkeling, where you can discover fascinating rock formations and befriend turtles. Brightly colored lily pads make the place as pretty as a picture.
Similar to Casa Cenote, Aktun-Ha has a slight current. The edge of the cenote has a deck for jumping off into the water or sunbathing if splashing around isn’t your style. An odd, small crocodile lives here, although he’s known to be people-shy.
What was once a pit stop for taxis looking to clean their cars is now a quiet, peaceful tourist spot with otherworldly beauty and nature. You can visit Cenote Aktun-Ha for an entrance fee of 40 pesos (USD 1.89), but divers pay an extra 120 pesos (USD 5.68).
3. Cenote Choo-Ha
The name “Choo-Ha,” meaning “water that drips,” stems from the extensive stalactites and stalagmites found in this cenote’s cave.
With a small entrance, the way to Choo-Ha is a narrow wooden stairway on the ground level leading to the underground cenote. Once inside, you’ll be in awe of the thousands of stalactites hanging from the high rock ceiling and the crystal-clear water that turns blue when touched by sunlight.
The site is a series of three cave cenotes; namely, Multum-Ha, Tamcach-Ha, and Choo-Ha. While Choo-Ha is the most fascinating of them all, Tamcach-Ha is famous amongst cliff divers and Multum-Ha for scuba diving.
Only a 10-minute drive from the Cobá Archeological Zone, Cenote Choo-Ha is a wonderful place to take a refreshing dip. The entrance fee for each cenote is 100 pesos ($4.73 USD). Life jackets are available to rent.
4. Cenote Calavera
Cenote Calavera is more suitable for scuba divers but worth the visit for anyone looking to escape the Tulum heat.
The name translates to “skull cenote” in English because the cenote’s holes, with sunlight pouring through them, look like a skull from some angles. The cenote is also nicknamed “The Temple of Doom” because of the small “altars” in the cave wall.
The open-air cenote is like a hole in the ground accessed by a ladder leading to the underground pool. Freedivers at Calavera love jumping off the surrounding rocks into the “pit”. This is a truly thrilling experience.
There’s also a jumping platform and a swing that makes for dreamy Insta-worthy pictures. Nature is in abundance here, with the surroundings covered in jungle foliage.
An entrance fee to Cenote Calavera costs about 100 pesos ($4.75 USD). The best time to visit this cenote is in the mornings when it’s especially quiet. Tulum Ruins is only about a 13-minute drive away, ideal for a half-day trip.
5. Gran Cenote Tulum
Gran Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes in the country. The cenote provides access to the largest cave system in the world (Sistema Sac Actun). It’s also a famous spot for travelers on a trip from Tulum to Coba or vice versa.
The place is a string of open-air cenotes connected by partially submerged tunnels and wooden pathways. The primary cenote is like a river that winds and meanders around. It has enchanting cave parts for exploring and is a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.
The sunbathing decks pull in swimmers looking to relax in the sun. Nature surrounds the cenote in the form of rock formations and a lush jungle, while crystal-clear water along with fish and turtles make up the cenotes.
The entrance fee for the Gran Cenote costs about 180 pesos ($8.51 USD). Life jackets, snorkeling gear, and lockers are available to rent. Because of the cenote’s popularity, especially on Instagram, it can get pretty crowded.
6. Cenote Dos Ojos
Cenote Dos Ojos, meaning “two eyes,” lies between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, just a 20-minute drive south of Akumal.
The site is a system made up of two different cenotes, the Blue Eye and the Black Eye. Dos Ojos contains the deepest known cave passage in Quintana Roo, and its cenotes connect to Sac Actun’s cave system. So, they’re well worth the visit.
Blue Eye is an open-air cenote with sparkling water, while Black-Eye is a pitch-dark cave that you can only explore with a guide and flashlight. Both the “eyes” are great options for snorkeling to discover the stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Other activities include scuba diving and, of course, swimming. Choose between “The Barbie Line,” an easy route surrounding the light-filled cavern, or “The Batcave Line,” a more challenging dive as it’s darker and feels more “cave-like.”
With all these impressive highlights, it’s no wonder the entrance fee costs about 200 pesos ($9.43 USD). This is definitely one of the pricier options on this list and in the region, but it is well worth the visit.
7. Cenote Cristal and Escondido Cenote
About a half-an-hour drive away from Tulum are two large open-air cenotes right opposite each other, providing an ideal option for a half-day trip. Since they’re off the tourist radar, they tend to be less crowded. So, if you’re looking for a dip in a quiet and peaceful cenote, consider visiting this site.
Cenote Cristal and Escondido are great underground sinkholes for swimming and platform jumping. Although generally quieter compared to other cenotes on this list, Cenote Cristal is the busier of these two cenotes. Here, you have access to a diving platform and little surrounding hangout spots.
Across the street, the Escondido cenote is a narrow, skinny strip of water featuring a rope swing on one end. A long underwater tunnel connects the cenotes to each other, which you can swim with scuba gear only.
You can expect to pay about a 120 pesos ($5.68 USD) entrance fee for both the cenotes.
8. Cenote Azul
Cenote Azul is a cluster of turquoise blue, open-air cenotes connected by a network of pathways. Located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, this cenote site gets very busy on weekends since it’s a popular spot for families with kids.
A combination of shallow and deep pools, Cenote Azul, has something for just about everyone. The main cenote is the deepest pool on-site for adults, while kids can have their share of fun in the shallow pools in the center.
The nearby jungle and rocky shelves give the cenotes shade, keeping it mostly cool even on the hottest days. Many restaurants and picnic areas surround the cenotes. On-site activities include cliff jumping, free diving, and snorkeling.
You and your kids can also grab a spot on one of the flat, partially submerged rocks to relax while the tiny fish of the cenotes give you a mini pedicure. For 120 pesos ($5.66 USD) per person, you and your family or friends could have a fun-filled cenote-picnic day.
Summary of the Best Cenotes in Tulum, Mexico
A visit to this Mexican town is incomplete without visiting at least one of these underground sinkholes. But, I recommend checking out at least three cenotes so you can experience the different types that exist.
With more than 200 cenotes in one town alone, it’s tough to pick the best-of-the-best ones. This post listed some of the most popular and famous cenotes in Tulum, Mexico. Hopefully, some of these cenotes have stirred awake the travel bug in you and made it onto your Tulum itinerary.