Aug 10, 7 years ago

Explore Mexico’s Cenotes Mexico’s Cenotes

Mexico is home to some of the world’s largest underground caves called cenotes. Derived from the Spanish language, a cenote is a sinkhole or deep natural pit that results from collapsed limestone bedrock. Some are dry while others fill with groundwater or receive flow from underground rivers that continue to the sea. They are particularly common in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico where the ancient Mayans used them for spiritual centers and sacrificial offerings. These pools in the jungles of Mexico represented the opening to the underworld, but also served as the only source of fresh water at the time. It is estimated that there are over 6,000 cenotes in the state of Yucatán, but only about 2,400 are registered.

Cenotes typically fill will clear, turquoise rainwater that has been filtered through the ground. Others receive sea water from a coastal aquifer system and when rainwater infiltrates, it settles above the higher density sea water which creates a density-stratified pool. Many pools are packed with fish like Sailfin Mollys and Mexican Tetras, creating a natural aquarium.

Each cenote offers something different depending on accessibility, water clarity, animal life, and depth. Some are at land level, relatively shallow and have ropes for kids to play on, which make them perfect for kids and families like Dzibilchaltún. The second type of cenote is an open well like Chichén Itzá. Third are underground cenotes made up of deep, complex aquifer systems perfect for adventurous SCUBA divers with a professional guide. In most cases, open water certification is required. Cenote diving is considered one of the most spectacular diving experiences because these micro-environments contain incredible diversity of plant and animal life set in gorgeous and remote caves. Lastly are semi-underground cenotes, popular for snorkel tours which visit several sites in the same region. Often times, access to these cenotes is only possible by an opening far above the surface of the water, in which case a rappel is necessary.

Whichever level of adventure you are looking for, you’re bound to find a cenote to match. Some of the best include Cenote Escondido in Tulum, Dos Ojos Cenotes, and Gran Cenotes.


Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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  1. October 22, 2012
    It was funny to read this because I just visited the Cenotes in the Yucatan a few months ago while living in Mexico City and when they told us we could borrow a wet suit for Dos Ojos we thought they were just being dramatic! But later we were sure glad for those wet suits that made snorkeling through the cold a wonderful and not-so-freezing experience! I agree that the white beaches of Playa are pretty but the Cenotes are a much more unique experience! Oh & I must add that some really seemed colder (Dos Ojos) than others (like Cuzama), but it may have been the extreme heat getting to the Cuzama Cenotes on the horse drawn carts!
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