Cenotes near Cancun

The 10 most beautiful cenotes near Cancun

Unless you’re an avid follower of natural limestone sinkholes, you may not be familiar with the cenote. Coming from the Mayan word ‘dzonot’ meaning ‘well’, cenotes are natural pools that form when the roof of an underground cavern collapses, topped up by rainwater and underground rivers. Located inland, these cenotes are like liquid jewels on the landscape; most partially hidden underground and glinting with an irresistible turquoise hue. If you happen to be vacationing along the eastern ridge of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, either in Cancun or nearby, be sure to venture from the beach to find a whole host of glorious cenotes, in the area between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Some are more accessible than others with the one’s open for tourists being safest and easiest. Just this once we’ll tell you to skip the sunscreen to protect the water’s ecosystems and crystal transparency. Find the perfect place to take a dunk while on vacation in Mexico with our list of the most beautiful cenotes near Cancun and throughout Yucatan.

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1. Cenote Siete Bocas, Puerto Morelos

Give a gay man a cenote and he can chill for a day; give a gay man 10 cenotes and he can chill for eternity… or something. First then, in our top 10 list, is Cenote Siete Bocas, the pool of seven mouths. Unique it its formation with seven small entrances into its maze-like cavern system, Siete Bocas is perfect for a lazy day of adventure, allowing you to jump cliffs, swim and explore underground to your heart’s content before picnicking in the area. Surrounded by jungle, this cenote is both quiet and shady, with the opportunity for a cheeky jungle walk for those with a good sense of direction. Cenote Siete Bocas is located inland from Puerto Morelos, 12 kilometres from Highway 307 on the Puerto Morelos Cenote Road, La Ruta de Los Cenotes.

2. Cenote La Noria, Puerto Morelos

Picture-perfect and primed for a photoshoot, Cenote La Noria is another of the top cenotes in the Yucatan, as gorgeous at the surface level as it is underwater. A swimmer’s and diver’s paradise near Cancun, Cenote La Noria boasts seemingly bottomless crystal-clear waters swimming with fish while impressive stalactites hang from above, giving the feeling of exploring an ancient Mayan underworld. Just slightly further west than Siete Bocas, Cenote La Noria is an ace spot, in proximity to a variety of eco-parks and adventure tour operators all keen on helping visitors get the most out of La Ruta de Los Cenotes. Just over an hour’s drive from Cancun’s best beaches, Cenote La Noria is decidedly one of the top Cancun cenotes, reachable within an afternoon.

Photo: Marc Tran

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What makes Cenote Azul special is its openness; there is no roof, just sunlight dispersing through the jungle canopy high above

3. Cenote Azul, Playa del Carmen

Open to sunlight and providing a choice of turquoise fresh water pools is Cenote Azul, a popular watering hole just south of Playa del Carmen, not far inland from the coastal road. Also in the area are El Jardin del Eden and Cenote Cristalino, making for an ideal day of cenote hopping. What makes Cenote Azul special, however, is its openness; there is no roof, just sunlight dispersing through the jungle canopy high above. Slightly more shallow than its cavernous neighbours, Cenote Azul is good for both children and non-swimmers, while also offering cliff jumping opportunities and wild jungle scenery to keep everyone entertained.

4. Cenote Dos Ojos, Tulum

Adding intrigue near Tulum is the slightly less touristy Cenote Dos Ojos, which pulls its visitors through a series of dark caverns on a slow-moving underground river. Home to both bats and small freshwater fish, Cenote Dos Ojos is like something straight from myth, enclosed by stunning cave formations and featuring natural columns, stalactites and stalagmites. When you tire of watching the bats fly about overhead, try snorkelling with a waterproof flashlight or join a diving group to explore Dos Ojos’ larger, more impressive, aquifer. Easily accessible from the main highway north of Tulum, Cenote Dos Ojos is both convenient and mystical.

Cenote Dos Ojos | Photo: Roberto Nickson

Photo: Jared Rice

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Cenote Dos Ojos is like something straight from myth, enclosed by stunning cave formations and featuring natural columns, stalactites and stalagmites

5. Cenote Xkeken, Valladolid

Further inland than we’ve so far ventured, into the colonial city of Valladolid, find Cenote Xkeken, one of many amazing cenotes in the area. While there are no cenotes in Cancun proper, Valladolid is an easy drive and home to a number of cenotes Cancun claims as its own. Located southwest of Valladolid, not too far from ancient Mayan site Chichén-Itzá, is Cenote Xkeken, home to one of the deepest caverns, accessed via a winding stone staircase where inky waters are watched over by a lifeguard. While no jumping is permitted and light is limited, the ambience makes Xkeken worthy of a visit, fed by birdsong and one heavenly beam of light during afternoon hours. At ground level, there is another dry cenote to explore with a cave echoing the melodic sounds of the jungle surrounding.

Photo: Jakob Owens

6. Cenote Samulá, Valladolid

Also lit by a singular ray of light is Cenote Samulá, where the dramatic lighting serves to highlight turquoise waters embedded with tree roots. Another of Valladolid’s best known and locally-run cenotes, Cenote Samulá offers good infrastructure and services, all yours for a small entrance fee. A little larger than Xkeken and with better lighting, Cenote Samulá has the additional selling point of being open at night, illuminated with purple lighting to give an ethereal club-like feel. Although swimming is not recommended, the views and photo opportunities at Cenote Samulá more than makeup for the fact.

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7. Cenote Zaci, Valladolid

Our third offering in Valladolid is the semi-open Cenote Zaci which benefits from a ton of natural light thanks to the partially collapsed cave roof. The contrast between leafy greenery and stalactites is unique to Zaci, with a raised perimeter path perfect for cliff jumping. Perhaps the most centrally located cenote we’ve discovered, just three blocks from the historic town centre, Cenote Zaci retains an otherworldly ambience, making for the ultimate road trip from Cancun (around two hours each way). Bring a good camera to catch a rare shot of Zaci’s bat colonies as they move adroitly among the numerous miniature caves.

Photo: Jakob Owens

Photo: Marv Watson

8. Cenote Yalahau, Yum Balam Nature Reserve

Part of the larger Yum Balam Nature Reserve, Cenote Yalahau is a cooling stop-off point on a day trip of discovery around the mangrove forests and bird refuges surrounding. While the location isn’t the most accessible, with a two-hour journey from Cancun and a boat ride to the preserve, Cenote Yalahau remains a top choice, particularly for nature lovers. Make the most of Yum Balam with an organised boat tour that will stop at several outposts, ensuring one stop is at Cenote Yalahau, where you’ll discover a bubbling cenote fed by spring water and surrounded by a shady boardwalk for drying off. Bring your binoculars (or borrow your tour guide’s!) for a spot of birdwatching from the forest canopy lookout.

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9. Cenote Yokdzonot, Yucatán

West of Valladolid towards Mérida, just 15 minutes from Chichén Itzá, is the freshwater Cenote Yokdzonot. Relatively new on the cenote trail and therefore less touristy, Cenote Yokdzonot is a refreshing outpost after a sweaty day of Mayan history. The site is managed by a cooperative of Mayan women known as ‘Zaas Koolen Haá’ (‘Clear Water’) who, for a small fee, maintain the quality of the cenote and rent out bicycles, snorkels, abseiling gear and even camping equipment. A majestic site of crystal water reaching a depth of 45 metres, lined by tree roots and demarcated by rustic railings, Cenote Yokdzonot is prime for swimming and other activities such as zip-lining.

Photo: Jhovani Serralta

10. Cenote Choo-Ha, Cobá

As tranquil as they come is Cenote Choo-Ha, inland of Tulum towards the northwest. Set nearby the prominent tourist spot of Cobá, Cenote Choo-Ha is the perfect activity in tandem with a tour of Cobá’s ancient ruins. One of three underground cenotes in the area (the other two being the Tamcach-Ha for cliff jumping and Multun-Ha for scuba diving), Choo-Ha is best for its stalagmite formations in shallow waters that are perfect for non-swimmers. Enter through a small ground-level opening before climbing down a spiral wooden staircase. Once the stairs straighten out, the cave opens up into a large round cavern with high rock ceilings and ultra-clear waters. Both quiet and serene, Choo-Ha is a place to relax in magical surroundings after a heavy day of ruin gazing.

Photo: Luz Mendoza

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