Are you going to Yucatan in southern Mexico? In that case a dive in a cenote must be on your wish list. Rightly so! These underground lakes are unique natural phenomena with beautiful blue water, a fascinating ecosystem and magical atmosphere. We found it difficult to choose between all the cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula, but can now tell you exactly how to make that choice. We collected all popular cenotes that we could find on a map for you and give you the best tips to find an abandoned cenote.
What is a cenote?
We already called cenotes an underground lake. They are underground water pools with bright blue water, fish and lots of mystery. Almost all of them are connected to each other underground, but that system has still not been properly mapped. In any case, it is clear that this is the largest underground water system in the world. We do understand why the Mayans saw these places as a gateway to the underworld and therefore as holy places! Did you know that in many cenotes offerings from Mayans have also been found? Yes, also human sacrifices.
Tip: before your trip to Yucatan, take a look at National Geographic’s Lost treasures of the Maya series, where archaeologists make discoveries in cenotes, among other things!
We have been told that most cenotes are the result of a meteorite impact in Yucatan thousands of years ago. The crater of this meteorite covers the entire west of the Mexican peninsula. You will find most cenotes along the edges of this 180 kilometer wide crater. For that reason, many cenotes can be found close to each other, such as to the south of Mérida at the towns of Homun and Cozuma. Apart from that meteorite, cenotes have also been created by the sinking of the soft limestone around the underground rivers. These cenotes can be found more in the east of Yucatan.
How do you find the most beautiful and abandoned cenotes?
A cenote is at its best without an audience. We were lucky three times to have a cenote all to ourselves. It was absolutely impressive and beautiful! The endless depth was magical and also creepy. Little fishes swam around us and with our snorkel (tip!) We explored all corners of the underground pool.
But cenotes are also super popular. Many have therefore become a kind of public swimming pool with dozens of families and day trippers. Even then, the setting of a staircase deep into the ground, bright blue water and tree roots in the water naturally impressive and unique. But for the really magical effect, you would prefer to have such a cenote entirely for yourself. So you are no doubt reading in now. Where can I find the most beautiful places?
Many travel blogs and travelers claim to have the best tips, but our experience is that you should not rely on that. Usually these tipsters just got lucky with their tip. We followed these tips ourselves and ended up with very busy cenotes. On the other hand, we also had a cenote for ourselves, where a few tourist buses just stopped at our departure. We could recommend you this one as the most beautiful cenote in Yucatan, but actually we were just lucky.
Pro tips for finding the perfect cenote
1. Come as early as poss
ible The classic tip for having a place for yourself also applies to Mexican cenotes. Most travelers are – certainly on vacation – not early risers and do not stand at the gate at opening time. Many cenotes are also visited as part of a day tour along several highlights, including such a cenote. Even if those tour buses leave fairly early, they will not be at a cenote at opening time.
2. Stay away from popular travel destinations Some cenotes can be found just steps away from popular travel destinations such as Tulum or Valladolid. It should therefore not surprise you that those places are the busiest. The Gran Cenote within cycling distance of Tulum? Or those beautiful pools in the heart of Valladolid or Mérida? The chance is smaller that you can enjoy the water there in peace.
3. Rent a car If a cenote is not within walking or cycling distance of your travel destination, it will be a lot harder to get there. That is also the reason why there are fewer people, but also a challenge for you. Public transportation (takes a long time), taxi (pricey) or tour (pricey and busy) are options. We therefore recommend that you rent a car, if only for a day to explore cenotes.
Tip: read all prices, sales tricks to safety and traffic rules when renting a car in Mexico.
4. Consider skipping the popular, instagrammable cenotes. That one cenote that you see everywhere on instagram? With that plateau in the middle on which exactly a sunbeam shines? Which even has its own instagram account? Breaking news: you are not the only one who wants to go to a cenote for this picture. The cenotes that you see most often on social media are of course the most popular with all travelers. Yet we have also spoken to travelers who had this insta-famous cenote Suytun for themselves at opening time.
5. Do your research via Google Maps Skip this time to find the most beautiful place, but go for Google Maps. You can conveniently load our overview map for cenotes at the bottom of this blog onto your Google Maps. You always have it in your pocket. The great thing about Google Maps are the photos of other travelers at the destinations. So click on some cenotes in your area to view images. Many people and the atmosphere of a public swimming pool? We will skip that. Beautiful blue water and a deep cave? This may be your spot!
5. Pay attention to the parking places Do you drive into a parking lot for a cenote and do you see three tour buses, five minivans and twenty cars? We immediately turned around and drove on to the next spot. Because Yucatan has thousands of cenotes, chances are that you will find another cool spot within fifteen minutes of driving. Our map is ideal for finding the next cenote in no time.
6. Consider luck and coincidence It may not be what you want to hear, but it is also a bit of luck and coincidence. We first visited the tips from travelers who told us that certain cenotes were never visited. But during our visit there were hordes of tourists. That’s just bad luck for us, luck for them. We have therefore opted to always take our card and visit a cenote at random.
To illustrate our luck: we visited Oxman at Valladolid (busy), Kankirixche at Mérida (just us), the three cenotes with horse tram from Santa Barbara at Mérida (a bit busy) and the cenotes Multum Ha and Muul ichi Ts’ ono’ot at Coba (just us). Oxman was advised to us, but super busy that day. The cenote also had a large restaurant and a swimming pool with sun beds. Cenote Kankirixche has photos on Google Maps with many people, but we were alone. When we left, a few vans just arrived. The three cenotes with horse tram on Cozuma are well known and therefore somewhat busier. But because there are three cenotes, the visitors are also spread over several pools. The two cenotes near Coba were completely empty and one of them had not even been visited that whole day.
An overview of all cenotes in Mexico
During our research into the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico we searched all blogs. In the end, we rarely followed the tips. But during the investigation we had collected an overview of almost all cenotes in Mexico! To save you that detective work and to give you a hand, we naturally like to share the result with you.
Click on the button below and save the card. That way, you can easily bring out the cenote card when you are in Mexico.