Visiting a cenote is an absolute must while traveling the Yucatan Peninsula.
Not only are cenotes stunning examples of pristine nature, but they’re also perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, photography, and learning more about Mexico’s history. In particular, to the ancient Mayans, these cenotes were considered sacred portals to the underworld and were often used for ceremonies and sacrificial offerings.
During my 5.5 weeks traveling the Yucatan Peninsula, I had an absolute blast checking out cenotes. In particular, my day visiting cenote Jardin del Eden (halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum) was fantastic.
So, what is a cenote?
Cenotes (pronounced se-NOH-tays), are natural limestone sinkholes scattered around the Yucatan. It’s believed that cenotes were formed by a few factors — namely, ice-age climate change and underground rivers dissolving the porous limestone. There are fully open cenotes, semi-covered cenotes, and cavernous cenotes. While 2400 cenotes have been studied and registered, it’s estimated that there are over 6000 cenotes scattered around the Yucatan.
These ten essential cenote tips will make sure you have all the info you need before you go.
Let’s dive in! (pun intended)
10 Essential Cenote Tips
Tip #1 – Leave the Sunscreen Behind
Did you know that most sunscreens have chemicals in them that harm local organisms? Well, it’s true, and so to help protect the beautiful lusciousness of cenotes in Mexico, they ask that you leave the sunscreen at home. Yes, there are certain sunscreens that are reef-safe and don’t contain these chemicals, but this is a “better safe than sorry” kind of situation.
Given that most cenotes are heavily shaded with surrounding jungle, you shouldn’t have too much trouble not getting a sunburn.
Tip #2 – Bring Enough Cash
In order to keep the cenotes safe for use and offer amenities, a lot of cenotes charge an entrance fee. This fee fluctuates based on the cenote itself (usually due to popularity), but I recommend bringing at least a few hundred pesos with you to cover this. For example, at the time of writing this, the entrance fee to Gran Cenote is $180 pesos (around 10 dollars).
Further to this, if you want to rent snorkel gear or a locker, you’ll want to bring a little extra dough.
Tip #3 – Bring a Quick-Dry Towel
While you’ll undoubtedly need a bathing suit to go with your towel, my third cenote tip is to bring a towel of the quick-dry variety over more conventional ones.
Unless you keep your towel in a locker (if they’re provided at your chosen cenote), you’ll probably have your towel close at hand, and between splashes and periodic dry-offs, you’re going to want one that stays relatively dry.
Tip #4 – Time Your Visit Strategically
Depending on the time of year and which cenote you decide to visit, you may have quite a few other people there with you. For most situations, this isn’t a huge deal but if you’re looking to get some amazing cenote photos, then I’d highly recommend getting there as soon as the cenote opens.
That said, if you’re going to a cenote to beat the heat, mid-day is obviously the best time. Cenote’s are cool water, lots of shade, and a ton of fun — perfect for a sweltering Mexican afternoon.
Tip #5 – Bring an Underwater Camera
I can’t even tell you how much fun it is to take an underwater camera into a cenote. Whether you just plan to swim around, snorkel, or scuba, I highly recommend having something do document your time. Personally, I use a GoPro Hero 7 (although the photos in this post were taken with a Hero 4).
Tip #6 – Don’t Be Shy About a Lifejacket
Here’s the deal — cenotes are naturally-created limestone sinkholes and, by their very nature, they vary in depth. While I consider myself to be a fairly strong swimmer, if you’re at all unsure about swimming unassisted in a cenote, then either bring your own lifejacket or choose a cenote where you can rent one (bring sanitizer though, of course).
Further to this, if you feel a little shaky in the water, then keep in mind some cenotes have certified lifeguards on duty. The cenote where these photos were taken, Jardin del Eden, had a lifeguard surveying the scene who stood up and watched every time someone would cliff dive into the water. Worth his salt? Probably.
Tip #7 – Bring Snorkel Equipment
While swimming is a great way to explore a cenote, you can easily level up your experience by bringing along some snorkeling equipment. Not only will you be able to see all the fish in the water this way, but you’ll also get a clearer view of your surroundings in general. While there was snorkel equipment available for rent when I visited Mexico, due to our new world of being as sanitary as possible, I recommend bringing your own set.
This set from Speedo is a solid choice.
Tip #8 – Or Book a Scuba Diving Tour
If you’re looking for an extra special cenote experience, then you’ll be pleased to hear that many cenotes let you scuba dive. Cenote scuba diving is great as, depending on where you go, there are whole labyrinths of caverns to explore.
If the cenote you want to go to has scuba diving, chances are you’ll be pitched scuba diving tours at the gate, but I recommend not going this route. In order to have a safe, highly-rated experience, it’s best to plan ahead and book with a reputable company.
Tip #9 – Research Your Chosen Cenote’s Wildlife
I’m going to get real with you for a second when I say that you should 100% research the wildlife found in your chosen cenote. This is because, well, some of them are home to crocodiles. I mean, there are all other kinds of flora and fauna too, but as far as things to be semi-aware of go, I want to put the crocs on your radar as a friend of mine said she saw a crocodile at a small cenote near Tulum. That said, I haven’t heard of any crocodiles in the most popular cenotes in Mexico, so you’re most likely safe — I certainly didn’t see any.
Also, while I don’t know the particulars on this, I do know that you can book cenote tours that will specifically take you to where crocodiles are. To each their own.
Tip #10 – Look Up The Amenities
As you’ve probably figured out from all of my other tips, the amenities differ at each and every cenote in Mexico, and all it takes is a quick google search to know what to expect at your chosen cenote. Some cenotes are awesome for families while others are stunning for scuba divers. Some cenotes have lifeguards on duty, while others have no such luxury. Some cenotes even have restaurants, showers, and fully-equipped bathrooms on site.
Cenote Packing List
That’s it for my 10 essential tips for visiting cenotes in Mexico! Have you ever been to a cenote? Do you have any more questions about visiting one? Let me know in the comments!