Those incredible cenotes of Mexico!
You can swim in them, snorkel in them and some are even deep enough to dive into. Whichever way you choose to explore them, you are assured a phenomenal experience of the cenotes!
What are cenotes?
You’ve almost certainly heard the word “cenote,” but you may have wondered about its meaning. It wasn’t until travelling through the Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, where most of cenotes in Mexico exist, that this author became curious.
The term “cenote” comes from the Yucatec Mayan word ts’onot — what we refer to as a sinkhole or pit resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.
How many cenotes are there?
There are over 3000 of them in Mexico, so you will have a lot to choose from! Some are fully exposed; others are covered, with access such as a ladder or stairs. The colour of the water is an enchanting turquoise and the depth of some of these cenotes can be hundreds of feet.
In fact, Mexico has the deepest water filled sinkhole in the world, the El Zacatón cenote near the town of Aldama in northeastern Mexico. Locals thought it was “bottomless” but through modern technology, the depth is now estimated at 1099 feet.
Can I swim in all cenotes?
Not all cenotes are pleasant swimming holes, though, and some come with long histories. One of the most famous is the “Sacred Cenote” or “Well of Sacrifice,” located inside the Maya archaeological site of Chichén Itzá in Yucatan.
Supposedly reliable sources (Spanish and Mayan) report that it was used for human sacrifices as a form of worship to the rain god Chaac. American archaeologist Edward Herbert Thompson dove into the cenote in 1909 (after some previous dredging attempts). Among the objects found at the bottom were gold, jadeite, copal, potter, flint, obsidian, shell, wood, rubber cloth and human skeletons.
Poisoned water in the cenotes is one of the theories explaining the demise of the Mayans in this area. It is said that the cenotes are all linked; therefore when sacrificing into one cenote, the tainted water carries through to another cenote that might be used as drinking water.
On a more cheerful note, though, let us identify the favourite cenotes for the aforementioned pleasurable exploration:
Cenote Azul – Playa del Carmen
This cenote is a definitely a favourite. Surrounded by lush vegetation and full of stunning blue crystalline water, there is a reason it’s a busy spot. Get here early to beat the crowds!
El Zacatón – Tamaulipas
This is the cenote mentioned above. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t swim in it but, if you are an experienced diver, you can dive into it. It is worth checking out anyway!
Cenote Suytún – Valladolid
About 10 km outside the gorgeous city of Valladolid, this rural cenote has some cabins around it, a perfect plan if you have some time. The water here is a little shallower, but watching the fish swim below while checking out the stalactite formations, is magical!
Cenote La Noria – Puerto Morelos
Nestled between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, La Noria is an incredibly deep cenote, making it more popular with divers, but swimmers love it too because of the nifty addition of a swing in one of the caves and a floating platform at the centre of another. And a side note: Puerto Morelos has some pretty epic snorkelling, too.
Cenotes de Santa Barbara – Homun
These recently opened cenotes, located about an hour from historic Merida are epic! There are actually three cenotes that you visit on the property, each one unique and special. If you leave Merida early, you may find yourselves the only ones in the cenotes.
The first two are underground and accessed by wooden stairs. They are deep, blue and absolutely beautiful, and you could float in them for days. The last cenote on the route around the property (walking or a wee train) is an open air one of about 70 metres depth. It may be a little scary when you first jump in but seeing all the way to the bottom among the fishes is pretty cool. Plans are to open another two cenotes on the site.
One can hardly say enough good things about cenotes in Mexico; whichever one you choose, you will have a unique and enjoyable experience!
Our ‘Hello Mexico’ trip includes a guided tour to Chichén Itza where you can see the “Sacred Cenote” and also a day trip to the cenotes of Santa Barbara from Merida.