5 Best Cenotes in Yucatan in Pictures

The Best Cenotes in Yucatan

There are literally thousands of cenotes in Yucatan. Cenotes are underwater sinkholes formed when limestone caves collapse, revealing these underground pools.

The Mayans thought cenotes or “xenotes” were sacred, that they were portals to communicate with the gods of the underworld. This means that in the more sacred cenotes, human sacrificial remains have been found (the Mayans were hardcore about their gods that way). Jack and I thought exploring these cenotes were a blast. I’m just glad we didn’t see any human remains at the bottom.

Some of the cenotes in Yucatan have become part of the all-inclusive amusement parks that charge up to $100 for admission *gulp*. Among these, we considered seeing Rio Secreto having heard a lot of good things about it. But they don’t allow cameras inside and they want you to buy the photos they take for $25 a pop (thats $25 per photo). That’s just not really nice.

Did I mention there are thousands of these in the area?

If you don’t feel like spending tons of money on these resort cenotes, check out a list below of what we think are the best cenotes in Yucatan for the money.

Chaak Tun Cenote – Playa del Carmen

Chaak Tun Cenote in Playa del Carmen, one of the best cenotes in Yucatan
Chaak Tun Cenote in Playa del Carmen is one of the best cenotes in Yucatan
Chaak Tun cenote
Chaak Tun cenote

I’ve written more extensively about Chaak Tun cenote hereChaak Tun is by far our favorite cenote we’ve visited in Yucatan. It has many rooms to explore, impressive stalactites, and almost no crowd.

The beautiful Chaak Tun caves are kept in semi darkness and the shadows played havoc to our imagination. One time we thought we saw a water snake (and I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest) only to find out it was a piece of rope instead.

Seriously, it was a blast. Highly recommended but not for those who are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.

How to get to Chaak Tun from Playa del Carmen: see here

Grand Cenote – Tulum

This partially-open air cenote was lots of fun (and a lot less scary) to explore. Grand Cenote in Tulum has partially submerged tunnels that take you between open air areas, bats hanging overhead, underwater formations to explore, and docks to sunbathe on and jump from.

It was bright, airy, and popular. Recommended for first time cenote explorers.

underwater stalactite in Grand Cenote, Tulum, Mexico
Jack getting close and personal with a giant, submerged stalactite in Grand Cenote

Cenote X’Keken – Valladolid

Cenote X'keken Valladolid X'Keken cenote near Valladolid, Mexico

Cenote X’Keken is completely underground and reached by a narrow stairway. The stalactite formations were pretty impressive. It was dominated by a gigantic brain-like clump of limestone. Dip your feet in the water and let a group of small fish nibble at your dead skin cells (tickles). Then watch the catfish eat these smaller fish like popcorns.

The only reason this cenote is not higher in my favorite is that it has funky lighting. The spotlights changed color every minute from yucky blue to yuckier pink. It felt like being inside a flooded nightclub. It’s a pity.

How to get to Cenote X’Keken: a short taxi ride from Valladolid will take you to the complex that contains both X’Keken and Samula.

Cenote Samula – Valladolid

cenote samula

Cenote Samula could possibly be the most photographed cenote in Yucatan. There’s a gaping hole on the ceiling through which a massive system of roots reaches towards the water 25 feet below. It wasn’t as inviting for swimming though being rather small in size (compared to the others). It does make for a good photo-op, however.

How to get to Cenote Samula: see Cenote X’Keken above

Dos Ojos Cenote – Tulum

dos ojos cenote, mexico

Dos Ojos Cenote complex near Tulum has quite a bit of colllection of cenotes to explore. They are all connected by an underwater tunnel system which makes them popular with divers.

For snorkelers like us, we thought they were just ok. Too many restrictions on where we can/can not go without a guide. However, if you get a chance to piggyback off the scuba divers’ powerful lamps – do so. You get to see impressive formations you don’t get to see by yourself. We’ve written more about Dos Ojos cenote here.

How to get to Dos Ojos: the Tulum – Playa collectivo can drop you off at the entrance but it’s still quite a hike (1 mile?) to the actual cenote itself. We rented a motorbike in Tulum. Getting a ride with a passing vehicle is also a possibility. At the entrance they might tell you (or imply) that a guide is required – but it’s NOT true.

EDITED 2017: Even more cenotes!

Cenote Suytun – Valladolid

The Cenote Suytun, just east of Valladolid, Mexico, is typical of many natural sinkholes in the limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula
The Cenote Suytun, just east of Valladolid, Mexico, is typical of many natural sinkholes in the limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula (by David Stanley)

A nice enough cenote when the tour bus crowds are not here.

How to get to Cenote Suytun: It’s located on the road connecting Valladolid to Cancun at Km 6, about 5 minute drive from Valladolid.

Zazil Tunich – Valladolid

Zazil Tunich, one of the best cenotes near Valladolid

One of the best cenotes near Valladolid (by Zazil Tunich)
This is a very large and very beautiful cenote with impressive formations and run by a local family. Booking as part of a guided group is required though (150 pesos per person).

How to get to Zazil Tunich: KM 6, Carretera Yalcoba-Xtut, Valladolid 97780

A more personal reason why cenotes are a big deal to me: I’ve never been a good swimmer – but I finally learned how to tread water in these sinkholes. Yay! I have no doubt there are other equally impressive if not more cenotes in Riviera Maya. Would love to hear about your favorite cenotes if you’ve been to this part of Mexico before.

Other things not to miss in Yucatan: swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres and the Mexican folk arts at Casa de Los Venados

The Best Xenotes of Mexico

Recommended Tour: We rented a scooter for maximum flexibility and freedom. If it’s not an option for you (riding a scooter is fun, but it can be intimidating), we recommend this Viator tour that visits 4 different xenotes.

Recommended Hotels:
Hostel Orquideas in downtown Cancun is clean, basic, and centrally located.
Casa Tia Micha in Valladolid is affordable, highly rated, and makes a good base to explore the Yucatan cenotes.

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

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21 Replies to “5 Best Cenotes in Yucatan in Pictures”

  1. I enjoyed X’canche in Valladolid. Not a lot of people go. So peaceful. The entrance is right next to the entrance of the Ek Balam ruins. It’s run by the town’s cooperative. I think the admission is only $30MXN but I paid $130MXN because I was too lazy to walk the 1.5km stretch after climbing Ek Balam. You can also rent bikes for $100MXN. I took a collectivo taxi from Valladolid for $50MXN each way.

  2. I liked Cenotes Dos Ojos and Gran, and loved Xkeken and Samula. But another three that are lovely are the cenotes in the village of Chunkunan, near Cuzama, about an hour south-east of Merida. The cenotes are refreshingly cold, all quite different from each other, and reached by a quaint journey on a horse-drawn cart through the grounds of an old henequen hacienda.

  3. I saw 2 great ones near valladolid including the above shown x'keken which were great and reasonable at 59 pesos but some of these cenotes that charge 100 dollars and have become "disney-ized" is soooo depressing!! I wish the government would take over and regulate that! its scary what has happened to mexico , for example oaxaca has become sooo touristy now so most restaurants there charge nearly 30$ US for a meal!! my god!! i wouldnt even pay that price in paris for a meal so WHY WOULD I pay 30 US in the 3rd world for a meal with a tiny piece of chicken??? stop the "disney-ization" of mexico please!

  4. Found this looking for places to go tomorrow – in Valladolid now, just got back from X’Keken and Samula. Just wanted to add that they cost 59 pesos each, and a nice way of getting there is spending 20-30 minutes on a bike (we paid 10 pesos per hour and bike). And, I don't know how they "work", but it looks like there's a lot less water on your pictures than what we saw today! That little "island" we can see in the Samula picture, for example, was mostly under the surface. They were both nice to swim in, but Samula was much larger (!).

  5. Love these pictures! I went to a cenote as part of tour to Chichen Itza several years ago, but can't remember the name – it was pretty crowded though. Would love to go back and check out some of these. They looks so eery, but tranquil.

  6. How much the cost to go to ALL mention cenotes? Can you go without guide? And can you swim in all of them?

  7. I'm researching cenotes to visit & found this blog! I have a BIG question that will be a dealbreaker for us visiting: which of the cenotes allow personal cameras? My hubby is a photog & I refuse to pay to see one that only allows you to buy THEIR photos! Thanks so much!!

  8. Love these pictures! I went to a cenote as part of tour to Chichen Itza several years ago, but can't remember the name – it was pretty crowded though. Would love to go back and check out some of these. They looks so eery, but tranquil.

    1. I think you mean Ik-Kil. I was on the tour and we stopped there, went down the dozens of stairs, then down the ladder and into that crazy cold water!

  9. Some beautiful cenotes here – but I have to say that we visited a few near Merida which were also spectacular, plus the Cenote Azul near Chetumal on the southern end of the Yucatan. Can't believe that some of the cenotes are so expensive – $100 – seriously?!

    1. Dani, These are 100 Pesos = around 6 USD, Symbol for Pesos is $ with one l the one for USD carries two II in the S

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