My Top 5 Favorite Cenotes in Yucatan & Quintana Roo

by | Last updated May 23, 2019 | Mexico, Travel Blog | 0 comments

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I never met a cenote I didn’t like. Find out which 5 cenotes in Mexico are my absolute favorite and why.

Swimming in the cenotes of Mexico is one of my bucket list favorites of all time. Everything about these sacred water holes created from the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs just mesmerizes me!

From the vivid teal greens and blues, the clarity and stillness of the water, the surrounding rocks, jungle, or caves, hanging tree roots, to the swinging ropes… In sum, I just love the feeling of swimming and floating in a cenote surrounded by nature. It’s actually on my bucket list to scuba dive in their underwater caves one day.

There are over 6,000 cenotes spread out across the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo. Most are hidden in locals’ backyards or are not discovered. The very few that have made Mexico’s tourism soar are open to the public, and ones that you can enjoy a refreshing dip in.

Best to watch cenote compilation video on mobile in portrait mode.

Out of those 6,000+ cenotes, I can count on two hands how many cenotes I’ve been to. And while I can’t guarantee these are the absolute best cenotes that exist out there in Mexico, at least these 5 cenotes are my favorite from the ones I have had the opportunity to discover in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.

My #1 Favorite Cenote: Cenote Yaxbacaltun (Cuzama, Yucatan)

 

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Don’t even bother looking up this cenote on Google, it’s likely you won’t find reviews for it. Which is exactly why it’s one of my favorite cenotes of all time.

It’s a very private cenote that’s only reachable via local guide in the town of Cuzama, Yucatan. It’s located about 45 minutes outside of the city of Mérida.


Cenote Yaxbacaltun is my ideal cenote for three reasons:

1. It’s not popular, so you have it basically to yourself and it’s super cheap to get in (~30 pesos)

2. The cenote semi-open, meaning it’s half-underground. You have both cave + sunlight/open-air surrounding you

3. It’s got a swinging rope and a rickety jumping ledge (for extra fun)


The cenotes of Cuzama require a little extra effort to get to, certainly. First, take a local bus from central Mérida to Cuzama. On the way, you’ll pass cute small towns and get a good view of the Mexican countryside.

Once you arrive at the plaza, there are already tuk-tuks waiting for the foreigners to get off the bus. All of them offer you personal guided tours to see the cenotes of Cuzama.

From our experience, it seems like each guide has their own knowledge of the various cenotes you could visit, so your visit might include a different itinerary of cenotes than ours or someone else’s.

Our Cuzama Cenotes guide and his motorbike tuk-tuk

We found this to be even more unique! Our guide was also helpful in explaining the history behind some of the cenotes, telling us about the townspeople and how they acquired a cenote or found one in their backyard while constructing, and so on.

Our guide proposed us to visit 3 of his favorite cenotes which weren’t so popular, but really beautiful. We happily agreed and took off to ride in his motorbike tuk-tuk across the town. It took us roughly 3 hours to visit 3 different cenotes in Cuzama.

Each is different, with their own character, but the first one we went to remains our absolute favorite! Cenote Yaxbalcatum really wows its onlooker.

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

It takes zig-zagging on dirt paths to get there. So we arrived not really knowing what to expect. And because of it, we were so pleasantly surprised. In the middle of seemingly nowhere is this gorgeous natural cave and watering hole.

To reach it, you have to go down a flight of rickety stairs, passing by the dangling tree roots seeking a bit of nourishment from the crystal, still water below.

The sun seeps in and reflects off the water onto the multi-colored cave walls, giving the place a sparkling effect. Hundreds of bats are zooming from crevis to crevis, making lots of chirps and other bat noises as they go. We arrived down on the platform and the water was just calling us in.

There was only 1 other family of locals or visiting nationals enjoying the fresh water. We were underground, but also above ground, in a way. Somewhere at least where the sun could reach us and make the water less nippy.

We dipped our toes in and all these “pedicure fish” came to greet us and cleaned our skin from debris. Once we built up the courage, we lanced ourselves into the chilly teal-blue-green pool.

I could look down and see my feet ever so clearly. At the back of the cenote stood a rickety diving platform. We had to jump off its slippery edge at least once each!  The cenote also has a swinging rope, which just makes everything even better and more fun.

Cuzama Cenotes | Bucketlist Bri

Cenote Yaxbacaltun

I could’ve stayed in the Cenote Yaxbacaltun for hours. It’s one of the most beautiful cenotes in that it really gives you the full “wow” experience when you arrive and when you leave. It’s just that good.

Tips for visiting Cenote Yaxbacaltun:

Entry is separate from our guided tour. Costs roughly 30 pesos. Bathrooms are available to rinse off any creams, lotions, etc. before entering the cenote (very important).

Semi-open below-ground cave with a descending staircase.

Swinging rope + jumping/diving platform.

➳ Remember to not use sunscreen!

#2 Cenote Zaci (Valladolid, Yucatan)

 

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Coming in at a very close second is the Cenote Zaci (which is an extremely underrated cenote, in my opinion).

Compared to the “must-see” cenotes (like Grand Cenote or Cenote Ikkil), the cenote Zaci offers 10x the tranquility and fun.

Cenote Zaci is just walking distance from downtown Valladolid. Being so close to the city center, I didn’t have high hopes. But I was very wrong.

Entrance only costs 30 pesos. And while you’re buying your ticket stub, you can hear trickling water in the distance, but you can’t see it.

The air from the cave-like tunnel chills you and makes you excited for the ride as if you were waiting in line at a water park.

The area opens up to this vast pool down below. It’s completely encircled by rocks, plants, and hanging tree roots. It’s a long way down, but the pathway winds around in both directions, so choose your pick!

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

Cenote Zaci

The cenote is big and deep, so there’s plenty of space for you to swim. A pump-driven waterfall is falling from the plants in the sky above you down into the middle of the cenote. Ah – hence the sound from outside.

I kept imaging Cenote Zaci to be like a scene from Jurassic Park. As silly as that may sound, it’s what it felt like.

One minute you could be strolling the quaint city plazas and the next, you’re in a remote, jungle-like semi-covered cave with a gigantic, natural pool. I mean, it’s just awesome!

If you’re an adrenaline-seeker like me, you’ll especially appreciate Cenote Zaci’s jumping ledge. I can’t tell you how high, but wow.

The jump certainly takes your breath away until you splash into the water! It’s quite high, so I could only muster the courage to do it once!

Tips for visiting Cenote Zaci:

➳ Go early or around mid-day when everyone’s out for lunch.

➳ There’s a high jumping ledge for true adrenaline junkies.

➳ Semi-open cave with waterfall pump + jungle vibes.

➳ Entrance ~30 pesos, life-jackets optional.

➳ Wash off all sunscreen or lotions before entering the cenote.

#3 Cenote Azul (Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo)

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul is probably one of the more popular cenotes with its proximity to popular Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

And although it does receive negative marks from me for being overcrowded, the cenote still remains unique and is worth a visit.

If you want to visit a completely open-style cenote, Cenote Azul offers vivid hues of blues and greens, lots of quiet corners, a moderate temperature, sunshine, restroom facilities, and so on.

The downsides? Cenote Azul is expensive to visit. And despite when you plan your visit, it’ll most likely already be teeming with visitors.

We decided to go to Cenote Azul primarily because it is a completely open-air cenote (since we had largely visited semi-open or closed cave cenotes before). There are other alternatives along the road to Playa del Carmen, but we chose Cenote Azul for its high reviews.

But without negating its beauty, the over-development of the area (parking, paid bathroom facilities that don’t work, the closed on-site restaurant?, the gravel pathways, and fake Mayan relics, etc.,) definitely made the experience much less authentic.

Despite the downsides, I still find Cenote Azul to be one of my more memorable cenotes. Less so for its swimming options or fun swinging ropes or high ledges, but more for the open-air space, shallow water, and vivid colors.

Tips for visiting Cenote Azul:

➳ Go as early as possible or as late as possible.

➳ Relax in the shallow water and enjoy a free fish pedicure.

➳ Above-ground and open-air with a small ledge to jump from.

➳ Entrance fee is expensive ~100 pesos. 

➳ Do not apply even biodegradable sunscreen. Plan to bring a hat or sit in the shade as Cenote Azul receives all-day sun exposure.

#4 Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat (Cuzama, Yucatan)

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat

Cenote Tza-Uju-Kat is another largely-undiscovered cenote in Cuzama. Tza-Ujun-Kat is mostly underground but has a large hole where sunlight filters in onto a circular platform of plants and stone.

It’s one of the largest cenotes and is sort-of shaped like an underground donut (with the center is a large platform and the donut bit being the surrounding water).

Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat was the third cenote on our Cuzama cenotes tour, and it was a really a great way to end the day.

Though it’s not the best for adrenaline-seekers (there aren’t any jumps or swinging ropes), it’s a nice cenote if you want to go hang out with friends and work in a few swimming laps in the cool water.

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

The shimmery cave walls are so thick you can hardly hear anything but the titter-tatter of bats and ringing of other peoples’ laughter. The space is so large, the water so still, the stalactites so dense.

Overall, the cenote tza-ujun-kat offers a much different experience than our first, and my favorite, cenote. Nonetheless, each cenote is so different it’s worth visiting all types and styles.

Tips for visiting Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat:

➳ Go anytime, it won’t be very busy.

➳ Enjoy the peacefulness of the cave and water.

➳ Mostly underground. Accessible via stairs.

➳ Entrance fee is cheap ~30 pesos. 

#5 Cenote Multum Ha (Coba, Quintana Roo)

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

Cenote Multun Ha

Last but not least is my first-ever cenote, Cenote Multun Ha. If you want to see a truly 100% underground cenote, this is it!

Since it’s one of the most popular cenotes near Coba, it’s wise to go either early or late evening before closing.

This cenote remains one of my favorite cenotes in Quintana Roo because it offers a peek into the reality of most undiscovered underground cenotes. Cenote Multum Ha, as we were told, is a fairly young cenote as it is still completely covered.

To reach it, you must descend 20-ft down a flight of slippery, winding stairs to reach this magical watering hole.

From what I remember, you’re not allowed to go down without a life-jacket in hand, even if you don’t end up wearing it in the cenote. But be careful, this is not a shallow cenote!

The only place for your feet to grasp is the underwater nylon ropes they’ve secured to the cave walls for people to rest on.

Be warned: the water of Cenote Multum Ha is the coldest I’ve felt! It’s freezing because of the fresh underground water (with no sunlight, ever). So once you jump in, keep kicking around to get warm!

There is artificial lighting secured to the cave ceiling. In pictures, it looks like a hole with sunlight seeping in, but it’s just a light fixture.

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

I love Cenote Multum Ha for its complete secludedness underground. You just wouldn’t imagine walking on the path that below you was a pristine blue, natural underground swimming hole!

Tips for visiting Cenote Multum Ha:

➳ Go later in the day or early in the morning. Most people visit after their visit to the Coba ruins late-morning or mid-day.

➳ Cenote Multum Ha is a completely enclosed underground cave.

➳ Brace yourself, the water is really cold!!

➳ Entrance fee is around ~55 pesos. (Tours to see all 3 cenotes around Coba costs ~165 pesos).

Cenotes Are Fun! But Let’s Preserve Them!

⚠️ Before You Jump Into Cenotes... Read This! ⚠️
Many blogs and reviews state you can use biodegradable sunscreens in the cenotes. This is not the case. Don’t buy the sunscreen from the market that says “approved for cenotes” because that’s a lie. Using a sunscreen, even biodegradable, will rub off your skin and leave a thin layer of oil floating on top of the water, which is why it’s prohibited. Plan to bring a hat instead or stay in the shade if you visit an above-ground cenote.

Cenotes are truly magical. But oversharing of popular cenotes (i.e. Cenote Ikkil) is compromising the quality of cenote tourism.

While many families still own and operate their own cenotes, some are government-owned and managed in an attempt to promote Mayan culture and general Mexico tourism on the Riviera Maya.

While best efforts are made to conserve cenotes, it is up to us, the visitors, to respect the sacredness of each cenote. With so many tourists, some cenotes are suffering from the overexposure of human waste, harmful sunscreens, and so on..

The Mayas believed cenotes were gates to the underworld and they were often locations of human sacrifice, worship, and rituals.

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

The cenote at Chichen Itza holds many secrets…

There are still ceremonies for worship today (not human sacrifice..) and thus cenotes remain very sacred and pure for the communities.

Diving excavations at the cenote on the site of Chichen Itza revealed the remains of human sacrifices back when Chichen Itza was an important, inhabited city. Women, men, and even children were found at the bottom of the cenote, along with precious jewels, relics, and other treasures.

Almost every Mayan city was built on or very closeby to cenotes because of their extreme importance in the everyday lives of Mayan culture; not only because they are sacred locations but because the pristine underground water from the cenotes was the Mayas only source of potable water (i.e. Tulum Ruins).

When you visit a cenote in Mexico, please be respectful and mindful of your impact.

Follow the rules and don’t horse around. Wash off all body lotions, makeup, and sunscreen. You are getting to experience something truly sacred and protected that up until now, has never before been discovered and enjoyed by foreign populations.

Cherish each cenote as if it were your own, so they can continue to inspire and educate others about their purity and cultural importance for the indigenous Maya.

Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo | Bucketlist Bri

Cenote Yaxbacaltun

Final Thoughts: My Top 5 Favorite Cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo

Swimming in the cenotes of Mexico is something I would never tire of! I would absolutely go back and explore the other hundreds and thousands of known cenotes in a heartbeat. I’m hoping to go back soon!

If you love nature, swimming, crystal clear water, and adventure, then you’ll have a blast discovering cenotes – whether it’s these 5 or another 5. All that matters is you go and discover the exhilaration. 🙂

xo, Bri

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My 5 favorite cenotes of Yucatan & Quintana Roo that range in open, semi-open, and closed styles. Some have swinging ropes and daring jumping ledges, but all of them are beautiful in their own way! #cenotes #bucketlist bucketlistbri.com

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