explore

Dedicated to bringing you captivating stories, bucket list destinations, and off the beaten track experiences from near and far. 

welcome to the blog

Exploring Cenotes In Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

Latin America


The best cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

The Best of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Mexico and I have a sordid history. I’ve always tried to keep an open mind, but if I’m being completely honest, I don’t have many memories south of the border that don’t involve stolen valuables and a lot of time spent on the wrong side of the bathroom door. So as I prepared to descend into the black abyss at my feet, I couldn’t help but wonder what unforeseen series of unfortunate event’s waited for me below. After all, Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings  – yes, that’s HUMAN sacrifices. The way my luck in Mexico had gone in the past, nothing seemed too far fetched. 

It’s not as if this little adventure to find Aktun Ha had started off smoothly. None of the locals we asked had heard of it, and unlike the hundreds of cenotes that dotted Google Maps, this one was conspicuously missing. We weren’t sure if we were in the right place when we pulled up. There were no other cars, no tour buses, nothing – just a small piece of scrap wood with the word “CENOTE” handwritten in all caps. The sign hung askew on a tree in front of a small home with a handful of kids playing in the dirt out front. As we exited the car a tiny woman emerged from the home.  A few words were exchanged in Spanish, and the woman motioned for us to follow her into the backyard. Now, standing at the edge of a small black hole in the ground, I still wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Caution to the wind, I watched as Quin disappeared into the darkness.

As my eyes adjusted, I stared up at the ladder I’d just come down. Upon closer inspection, it was clear the ladder wasn’t really a ladder at all. It was actually pieces of rusted out track that had been cobbled together by suspect welding and chintzy wires. As the rest of the cenote came into view, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Stalactites framed a pool of crystal clear water that glowed bright blue where the sun filtered in from above. It was stunningly beautiful, and I could only stand in awe as I wondered what it must have felt like to be the first person to discover this cenote.  

It’s experiences like the one at Aktun Ha that stick with me long after I’ve returned home. Travel is all about finding special places that transcend a mere destination to become a story. And as we traveled through Mexico it was obvious that despite its popularity, there’s no shortage of stories to be had on the Yucatán Peninsula. You just have to be willing to take the road less traveled. Here are a few of my favorite cenotes, as well as a few other off-the beaten path locations to get you started! 


Climbing the stairs back up from Cenote Noh-Mozon near Merida, Mexico.

Climbing the stairs back up from Cenote Noh-Mozon near Merida, Mexico.

What Is A Cenote

A cenote is basically just a sinkhole. They form when limestone bedrock collapses forming a natural pit that exposes the groundwater underneath.

Cenotes are famous for their strikingly clear water. The water is so clear because it comes from rain water that has slowly filtered through the ground, which removes particulates from the water along the way. Cenotes come in all shapes and sizes and can run for miles underground uninterrupted. While it’s common to see partially collapsed cenotes that look like subterranean swimming pools, you can also find them above ground.

On a slightly darker note, it’s believed that cenotes were used by the ancient Maya as sites for sacrificial offerings.

Cenotes Near MERIDA

For those looking to travel beyond Mexico’s beautiful beaches and escape the tourists for a more authentic experience, Merida is a great alternative to Cancun and Tulum. Centrally located within the Yucatán Peninsula near the Gulf of Mexico, Merida serves as a convenient base for day trips to the region’s UNESCO-listed archaeological sites as well as many of my favorite cenotes. The cenotes in this area are as beautiful as anything you will find near Tulum, but they cost a fraction of the price ($3-5 US), and there’s a good chance you’ll have them all to yourself.

Cenote Aktun Ha

If you read the intro to this blog, then you already know all about Aktun Ha. This cenote was a truly special location. More than a location, it was an experience. After the initial sketchiness of descending down the rusted out ladder, it was like being in our own underground paradise. 


Located in the backyard of a small house near "Los 3 cenotes de Cuzama.”

Located in the backyard of a small house near “Los 3 cenotes de Cuzama.”

Cenote Noh-Mozon

Cenote Noh-Mozon might have been my favorite cenote of the entire trip! There is a wooden staircase that winds its way down to a platform that makes entering the cool blue water easy. Or you can jump 9 meters from the top! We spent all afternoon at Noh-Mozon swimming, cliff jumping, and enjoying the solitude. We only saw one other couple while we were there. There’s also a number of other cenotes along this stretch of road that are also quite nice, and worth stopping at if you have the luxury of time. 


Cenote Noh-Mozon near Marida was probably my favorite cenote of the entire trip!

Cenote Noh-Mozon near Marida was probably my favorite cenote of the entire trip!

Cenotes Near VALLADOLID

Another great alternative base for your Yucatan trip is the charming town of Valladolid. From colonial era churches and architecture, and close proximity to a number of stunning cenotes (including one in the middle of town), there’s no shortage of things to do and see in the area. The center of the city features a plaza surrounded by restaurants and shops. If you are looking for a yummy bite to eat don’t miss out on Yurbabuena. 

Cenote Lol-Ha

Located in Yaxunah town, about 15 miles from the archeological site of Chichen Itza, Lol-Ha is another quiet cenote with clear blue water, perfect cliffs for jumping, and few, if any people. 


Cenote Lol-Ha.

Cenote Lol-Ha.

Las Coloradas Pink Lake

Okay so it’s not a centoe, but we went to Las Coloradas Pink Lake because I received a number of tips while in Mexico from people recommending it. The photos I found online looked promising – huge expanses of white sand to relax on while you take in the bright pink water reflecting fluffy white clouds in the distance. The reality was quite different. The area is now highly regulated, you have to pay a guide an exorbitant price to take you on a 10 minute walk along one of the salt ponds. You aren’t allowed to veer off the path, you can’t go near the water, and everyone is taken to the exact same spot to shoot. On top of that, drones are no longer allowed. Unless you have your heart set on getting a photo of some pink water, in my opinion the experience is not worth the drive. 


Walking along Las Coloradas Pink Lake on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Walking along Las Coloradas Pink Lake on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Cenote Palomitas

The unique thing about Cenote Palomita is that you can rappel down into it! But if that’s not your thing, you don’t need to. There is also a nice staircase that will take you down into this sizable cenote. The rappel is super fun though, and it’s a great way to get a new perspective. 


Make sure to ask about the option to rappel down into Cenote Palomita!

Make sure to ask about the option to rappel down into Cenote Palomita!


If you don’t want to rappel into Cenote Palomita, there is also an easy flight of stairs you can take down to the water.

If you don’t want to rappel into Cenote Palomita, there is also an easy flight of stairs you can take down to the water.

Cenote Ik-Kil

Just down the road from the famous pyramids of Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most visually stunning cenotes, Ik-Kil.  Needless to say, Ik-Kil is not off the beaten path. In fact, it can feel a bit like an amusement park when you first arrive – complete with restaurant, gift shop, and a parking lot full of tour buses. But as the saying goes, it’s popular for a reason! Adorned with lush vegetation that drapes down to the water from the almost perfectly circular opening and cascading waterfalls, Ik-Kil resembles a scene out of Avatar. 


Cenote Ik-Kil is probably one fo the most famous cenotes in Mexico. And for good reason!

Cenote Ik-Kil is probably one fo the most famous cenotes in Mexico. And for good reason!

Cenotes Near Playa Del Carmen & TULUM

Tulum has blown up over the past decade, and if you haven’t been there in a few years it’s almost unrecognizable. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s certainly no longer qualifies as an intrepid destination. It’s home to many popular natural attractions like Cenote Calavera, and Grand Cenote, but you won’t be alone. Not only are the cenotes around Tulum flooded with people, they are also 2-3 times more expensive than the equally beautiful cenotes around Merida and Valladolid. That doesn’t mean that Tulum isn’t worth visiting—it is. But it does mean you will have to adjust your expectations, especially if you’re coming from some of the less touristy areas.


Cenote Calavera can get extremely crowded, so try and arrive early if posable.

Cenote Calavera can get extremely crowded, so try and arrive early if posable.


Grand Cenote is another popular cenote relatively close to Tulum. As a result it can also get very busy.

Grand Cenote is another popular cenote relatively close to Tulum. As a result it can also get very busy.

Cave Diving In Mexico & The Pit Cenote

Cave diving in Mexico, specifically in El Pit Cenote has been on my bucket list for years, and it did not disappoint! Because it’s only open to scuba divers it’s relatively uncrowded compared to many of the other cenotes near Tulum. In fact, we were the only people there when we went, which was ideal for photography. To capture the famous light rays that shine through the water at this gigantic underwater cavern, you’ll need to schedule your dive for mid-day so that the sun is high enough to shine through the El Pit’s narrow opening. We organized our dive through Dive Mike in Playa Del Carmen and I would highly recommend them for any of your scuba diving needs in the area. 


Diving in El Pit was definitely a highlight of the trip!

Diving in El Pit was definitely a highlight of the trip!

Other Things To Do Near Tulum

Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an

There are numerous tours you can join to visit Sian Ka’an. However, if you’re up for an adventure this unique ecosystem is also easily accessed independently from Tulum. Head south on the dirt road past all the beachfront hotels and cabanas until you drive through a Mayan arch. A Sian Ka’an visitor center is just beyond, and past that you’ll abruptly find yourself in an environment that feels worlds away from the posh hustle and bustle of Tulum’s developed tourist beach. For more detailed information, Roaming Around The World’s article on “How to Visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve” is invaluable. 


An areal view of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

An areal view of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Stay In The Jungle

Tulum is a great place to see and be seen. The people watching is hard to beat, and so are the beach bars. But if you don’t want to spend a fortune, or your goal is to get away from it all, then staying in the jungle might be just what the doctor ordered. We enjoyed a couple nights of solitude in one of the beautiful private villas at Tulum Wayak Jungle Villas. It was the perfect place to relax, while remaining within easy driving distance of Tulum beach and all the other attractions in the area. Plus, the owners were the sweetest people ever! 


The pool at Tulum Wayak Jungle Villas.

The pool at Tulum Wayak Jungle Villas.

What To Pack For The Yucatan Peninsula

You don’t need much to explore the Yucatan Peninsula. I’d recommend a few comfortable bathing suits, towel, camera, and a bag to carry everything. In addition there are a few essential items that I always bring with me when traveling. These include a portable power bank, reusable water bottle, and water purification. The latter two are particularly important for destinations that don’t have reliable potable water.


Relaxing on Xpu-Ha beach, about a 20 minute drive from Playa Del Carmen.

Relaxing on Xpu-Ha beach, about a 20 minute drive from Playa Del Carmen.

Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock

Other Adventures You Might Like!

12 Photos That Will Put Aruba On Your Bucket List

South Tyrol & The Italian Dolomites

The Ultimate Oregon Road Trip

72 Perfect Hours In Lake Tahoe

Reader Favs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Kim says:

    I read all your blog posts and this one is incredible. What an adventure. I’ve been to the Yucatan a few times but have only experienced one Cenote. Thank you for sharing your incredible photos and experience.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks so much Kim! I hope if you go back you are able to check a few more out. There are so many beautiful places to explore in the Yucatan Peninsula.

  2. Mdtwo says:

    What a great story of the wonders on the Yucatan Peninsula that are further than the 500 yards from the beach that the majority of visators see. Great beaches and reefs for sure, but clearly so much more to explore. Not so many decades ago, anything south of Playa del Carmen was an adventure – Playa del Carmen was not much more than a ferry terminal, and Taluum town was a dusty village on a dirt road. Love the ideas and the pictures – as always, the words compliment the photos and vice versa. Keep exploring….and writing!

  3. Doug says:

    I lived in Playa del Carmen for four years, I’m back in Canada now but I must say this is one of the better photo collections I’ve seen of the various cenotes in the region. I really love your photos and the stories were excellent too.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much Doug! Really appreciate the comment. Must have been quite interesting to live in Playa del Carmen for so long. I’m sure it changed quite a bit even while you were there.

  4. Stef.tk says:

    Thank you so much for this blog Jess! My husband and i have just bought a van in Costa Rica and are heading north to the United States and we are very much looking forward to visiting some of these cenotes now that we know some beautiful ones that aren’t going to be super busy. We have had a lot of stress and difficulties in Nicaragua between various scams, bribes etc (which we can understand given the political difficulties and desperation here, but it doesn’t make us feel any more welcomed) so we are hoping we have a more enjoyable experience in Mexico, one free from stolen valuables and bathroom accidents!

    • Jess Dales says:

      That sounds like quite the adventure! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had less than a smooth ride through Nicaragua. I don’t have any recent experience in other areas of Mexico, but we felt very safe the entire time we were in the Yucatan – no bribes or scams. I hope you have a wonderful time, and are able to visit some great cenotes. 🙂

  5. Léa says:

    Hi Jess !
    So, how can we found the cenote Aktun Ha exactly ? 🙂
    Thanks for all your tips !

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Lea! Unfortunately I don’t have exact directions. As I mentioned we kind of stumbled upon it, and that was part of the fun. But we where near the town of Chunkanan. Best of luck!

  6. Va says:

    Hello Jess! My wife and I will be visiting family in Merida in July. First off, thank you for posting this blog. As always, your photos are so captivating. I was intrigued by your post on Atkun Ha but everything I google brings up a cenote called the car wash and does not look anything like the photos you posted. Can you narrow the location of this? Is this cenote one in the same? Thank you for all that you do, you’re truly amazing.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks for the kind note Va! As I mentioned, that particular cenote was not labeled on the map, or at the location, so I got the name from the lady there, and it’s possible that I misunderstood her. I looked up the Car Wash though and that’s definitely not the same one. The cenote we went to was just past the town of Chunkanan. Hope that helps! Have a wonderful trip!

  7. peter dulis says:

    Fabulous photos Jess and great story telling –
    Another great cenote I came across last time I was down was Aktun Chen Eco Park Cave – one of the Top 10 Underground Walks from National Geographic. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Jess Dales says:

      Oh wow! Thank you so much for the tip. I’ll definitely add that one to my list for next time. I really can’t wait to go back and explore more. Such a beautiful area of the world!

  8. Kirtan P. says:

    Glad you were not "sacrificed" 🙂 and had an extremely positive experience! Lol. Thanks for sharing; what a fun read, Jess!

    • Jess Dales says:

      LOL thanks Kirtan! Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier, things got a little hectic on my last trip, and I sort of dropped the ball on life for a minute. Hope you are having a great weekend!

  9. Ashlee L says:

    Hi! I follow you on insta and love your stories and pictures! My husband and I are traveling to this area in Mexico in the next few weeks and we’re debating on the best transportation when we’re there. Did you get a rental car? Would you recommend going a different route? Thanks so much!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Ashlee! Sorry for the delayed response. We did rent a car, and that’s definitely what I would suggest! It was super easy driving around, and I loved having that flexibility, although there are lots of tours available to many of the places.

  10. Oreste says:

    Fabulous!!! Wow Jess

  11. Zhanna says:

    I haven’t been and don’t know anything about Mexico. I didn’t even have it on top of my list prior reading your blog post. You definitely change my perception about this country. I’m not going there yet, but very interested to visit it some time in near future. Thank you!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Zhanna! I’m so glad I could put it on your radar. Mexico, and in particular the Yucatan is really such a beautiful area of the world. I hope that if you ever do go you have a wonderful time!

  12. João Gomes says:

    Hi Jess, where did you take the first photo on "what to pack"?
    Love your blog and it helps a lot when looking for places to go.
    Thank you and regards

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi! So happy that you find the blog helpful. Means a lot! That photo was taken at Gran Cenote near Tulum. It’s quite crowded, and definitely one of the more popular ones in the area. But still very pretty!

  13. nibblicious says:

    So what’s your next move?

  14. Kristy Hall says:

    Hi Jess,
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful posts and tips for each place. My boyfriend and I are looking into visiting this coming July but have read that Nov- Feb are best times to go. Can you share when you went and recommendations on best time to go, thank you so much!

    Thank you,
    Kristy

    • Hi Kristy! I went in February. I think the main reason that people don’t recommend going in the summer is just because it gets so hot and humid. It’s also technically the rainy season, although the worst storms are generally in September/October. But if you have a high tolerance for heat, July could be a good time to take advantage of off-season prices.

      • Kristy says:

        Thank you Jess, I really appreciate your response and recommendations. Can you tell me what airport you flew into? We are looking at Cancun or Merida. Thank you!

  15. Lori says:

    Thank you so much, Jess. Your descriptions are wonderful and vivid and all your advice is very helpful. Just what I was looking for. The photos are amazing. I’ve always wanted to see the cenotes of the Yucatan but thought they were not this accessible. Now I know better and am adding them to my bucket list.

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed the blog post Lori! You are correct, most of the cenotes are quite accessible. I’m glad you added them to your bucket list! There’s really no where white like it!

  16. Bob Z. says:

    My wife and I absolutely loved the stunning photos you took of the cave cenotes! We’re going to the Yucatan Peninsula in September and we’ve planned our trip so that we can hit as many as possible. I know the caves can get dark sometime so we would be super grateful if you could share what camera settings you used and whether you have any tips for shooting. Thank you!

    • That’s so wonderful to hear Bob! I’m so happy you guys enjoyed the photos. The cenotes can be dark, although a lot of them are pretty open air. I would suggest trying to go to the more enclosed cenotes in the middle of the day when the sun is highest. As far as settings go, we shot most photos on the maximum aperture (lowest number), to let in the most light. For the darkest locations we also had to push the ISO up. Hope that helps. Have a wonderful time!

  17. krysta says:

    What do you use for water purification?

  18. Ring Toss says:

    You might be the most brilliant person on Planet Earth. Seriously. Well done.

  19. Javier says:

    Hi Jess, I just saw a video of you jumping into one cenote, which one is it? I am going to Tulum next week and was hoping to go there.

    Thanks!

  20. Nik says:

    Jess, I loved this blog and I’ve now narrowed down the sites I want to see next month in Mexico. Even though I’ve been following you and Quin on IG for years, I keep forgetting you have this great website. My only question is, do you recommend renting a car or should we rely on public transportation and/or ridesharing?

    • That’s awesome! I have a couple more from our most recent trip that I need to add. But there are so many good ones, you really can’t go wrong. I would definitely recommend renting a car. I honestly can’t even imagine doing it without one.

  21. Saleem Meerani says:

    Thank you for sharing this- would you share itinerary of Chiapas-Arco del Tiempo visit? How to get it there? Thank you

  22. Derek says:

    Your travels have inspired me! I do not travel much, but that will be changing.

Learn More >

Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

Meet the Writer

see you soon!

Before you go, make sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on new blog posts, upcoming events, and other fun travel resources!

Wander with Me

error: Content is protected !!