Are you travelling to Yucatan in southern Mexico? Then we’re sure a dive in a cenote is on your Mexico wish list. And it should be! These underground lakes are unique natural phenomena with beautiful blue water, a fascinating ecosystem and a magical vibe. We found it difficult to choose between all the cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula, but we can now tell you exactly how to make that choice. We selected all popular and off the beaten track cenotes we could find on a cenote map. And we’ll give you the best tips to find an abandoned cenote all for yourself.
Scroll down to find the cenote map at the end of this post!
What is a cenote?
We already referred to cenotes as an underground lake. They are underground water pools with bright blue water, fish and mystery. Almost all of them are connected to each other through an underground water system, but that system has never been properly mapped. Scientists do know that this is the largest underground water system in the world. We totally 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 been found? Yes, even human sacrifices.
Tip: watch National Geographic’s Lost treasures of the Maya series to see archaeologists exploring these cenotes.
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 western part of the Mexican peninsula. That’s why most cenotes are located along the edges of this 180-kilometre wide crater. Many cenotes are therefore super close to each other, like the ones 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 into the underground rivers. These cenotes can be found more in the east of Yucatan.
How to find the best cenotes in Yucatán?
A cenote is at its best without a crowd. We were lucky to get to experience a cenote all to ourselves even three times. It was absolutely impressive and beautiful! The endless depth of the pool is magical and also a bit creepy. Little fishes swam around us and with our snorkel (tip!) we explored all corners of the underground pool.
But cenotes are also very popular. Many cenotes have therefore become a kind of public swimming pool with dozens of families and day-trippers. Even then, the setting of a staircase deep leading you underground, the bright blue water and tree roots in the water will be impressive and unique. But for the most magical effect, you would prefer to have such a cenote entirely for yourself. So that leaves you with one important question: how to find these beautiful cenotes without any crowds?
Many travel blogs and travellers claim to have the best tips, but our experience is that you should not rely on that. Usually these bloggers just got lucky at that cenote. We followed some of these tips ourselves and ended up at extremely busy cenotes. On the other hand, we also had a cenote to ourselves for about an hour until two tourist buses stopped and it got extremely crowded. We could now recommend you this one as the most beautiful private cenote in Yucatan, but actually we were just lucky.
Pro tips for finding the perfect cenote
1. Come as early as possible
The classic tip for having a place for yourself also applies to Mexican cenotes. Most travellers are – certainly on vacation – not early risers and don’t like to wait at a gate early at opening time. But that’s when they are least crowded. Many cenotes are visited as part of a day tour along several highlights and cenotes. Even if those tour buses leave fairly early, they will not be at a cenote at opening time.
2. Stay away from the most popular travel destinations
Some cenotes can be found just outside of popular travel destinations like Tulum or Valladolid. It should 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 those pools 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), taxis (pricey) or tours (pricey and busy) are options. But we recommend you to rent a car in Yucatán, if only for a day to explore cenotes.
Tip: read all about prices, sales tricks, safety tips and traffic rules in our blog about 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 with the perfect sunbeam? The cenote that even has its own Instagram account? Breaking news: you are not the only one who wants to go to that famous cenote for that stunning picture. The cenotes that you see most on social media are the most popular with travellers. Yet we have also spoken to travellers who had the insta-famous cenote Suytun for themselves at opening time. Sometimes it’s just luck.
5. Do your research via Google Maps
Go for Google Maps. You can easily download our Yucatán cenotes map at the bottom of this blog onto your personal Google Maps. This way you’ll always have them with you. The great thing about Google Maps is the photos of other travellers at the destinations. So click on some cenotes in your area to view images. Many people and the atmosphere of a public swimming pool? Skip that one. Beautiful blue water and a mysterious deep cave? This may be your spot!
5. Count busses at the parking
When driving into the parking lot of a cenote, count tour buses. If you spot three tour buses, five minivans and twenty cars? You might want to turn around and drive to the next spot. Yucatan has thousands of cenotes, so chances are high you will find another cool spot within fifteen minutes. Our map is perfect for finding the next cenote in no time.
6. Get lucky
This may not be what you want to hear, but finding the best cenotes is also a matter of luck. We first visited the tips from travellers who told us that certain cenotes were rarely visited and absolutely magical. But during our visit, there were just hordes of other tourists. That’s just bad luck for us and good luck for them. We therefore opted to just open our map to find a cenote and just pick one nearby.
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 highly recommended to us, but super busy that day. The cenote also has a large restaurant and a swimming pool with sunbeds. Cenote Kankirixche has photos on Google Maps with many people, but we were all alone. When we left, a few busses 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.
Yucatán Cenotes Map: all Mexico cenotes in one map
During our research into the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico, we searched all blogs we could find. During our research we created an overview of pretty much all cenotes in Mexico that were recommended by other travelers! To save you the same work and help you explore the best Yucatan cenotes, we love to share the result with you.
Click on the button below and save the map. That way, you can easily bring out the cenote map during your Mexico trip whenever using Google Maps.