Cenotes are a truly magical experience and I completely understand why the Mayans valued them. Cave swimming is so unique and has an ethereal quality about it. Each cenote is different from the next with awesome rock formations to flying bats to ancient trees with gnarled roots. They are also a great way to cool off from the heat and re-energize yourself. Here are the five best cenotes near Tulum that we visited during our trip.
Cenote Dos Ojos.
Definitely our favorite as it is large, easily accessible, and has 3 different areas to swim in (although one requires a tour). Dos Ojos consists of two large cavernous cenotes that are open on one side and a bat cave. The two “eyes” do not require a guide and are simply breath taking. You can rent snorkel equipment, lockers, and buy food all within the Dos Ojos specific entrance. Additionally, there are also relatively nice bathrooms and a shower area, as well as hammocks for lounging in between swimming. I highly recommend renting/bringing snorkel equipment as the water is clear and beautiful. You can also dive, but I believe this requires a tour. Tip: get here early and you will have it to yourself!
How to get there: located off the main Tulum freeway 307 about 20 minutes north of Tulum. Take the 307 for 17 km, and you will see signs for Dos Ojos Cenote (actual cenote on your left). U-turn at the “retorno” and the main cenote complex will be on your right about 1.5 km after the retorno. You could easily take a cab, drive or bike. The Dos Ojos Complex entry houses several cenotes, so first buy your ticket and then drive another 2 kilometers in to reach the actual Dos Ojos cenotes, it will be on your left. Parking is free.
A close second for me. Nicte-Ha is located within the Dos Ojos main cenote complex, but is a separate ticket and entrance. This cenote has more open area with ample sunshine and a small cave area near the back. It is quite pretty with lily pads and a forest surrounding it. You can also jump off the cliff into the water. There is no snorkel equipment for rent here, but there are free life jackets if you feel you need it. The bathroom/changing area is minimal, but adequate. This cenote is a bit less popular, which I loved because we had it completely to ourselves at different times.
How to get there: Same as Dos Ojos, but at the main entrance buy your ticket for Nicte Ha. Drive about 1-1.5 kilometer and it will be the second cenote (after Jaguar cenote) on the right. There will be a sign that clearly labels it. Parking is free.
Cenote Calvera aka Temple of Doom.
Cenote Calvera looks as if it is straight out of Indiana Jones. This cenote is a completely underground active bat cave with three openings that let in light. Options for entry include jumping through one of the holes or climbing the ladder down. Warning: bats actually live here and fly around as you swim! This is a smaller, darker cenote and would be lower on my list to snorkel in, but is still fun to jump and swim around in.
How to get there: Head north on the main Tulum freeway 307 then make a left on the 109 road towards Coba. Continue on this for 2 km and the cenote will be on your right. Be very careful not to speed, the 40 km/hr sign is hidden by bushes. We got pulled over here and given the hidden sign, it seems like the perfect speed trap. Parking is free.
Cenote Samula is not in Tulum, but makes an awesome stop after visiting Chichen Itza or Ek Balam. It is located near Valladolid and is quite deep underground with an opening at the top which lets in rays of light. This cenote is also an active bat cave. However, because it is so big, we only heard the bats, we didn’t actually see them like at Temple of Doom. One snorkeller did find the skeletal remains of a bat in the water, which was both cool and creepy at the same time! This cenote is also less crowded, at one point we were the only people. This cenote complex also offers ATV rides and has another cenote within it, but we skipped that.
How to get there: From Chichen Itza take the 180 towards Valladolid for about 39 km (about 30 minutes). You will see a sign on your right for the cenote. Turn right and after about 2 km the cenote will be on your right. Parking is free, but an attendant may come up and ask for a “donation” for watching out for your car.
This was definitely our least favorite cenote. To be fair, we went in the afternoon, with limited time and just felt crowded and rushed. So crowded that I didn’t even take any pictures! We also had a bit of difficulty renting snorkeling equipment and lockers, the staff wasn’t very friendly and had run out of many things. That being said it was beautiful and I would try again in the morning and hope we get a different person for the rentals 🙂 This cenote also offers bathrooms, changing areas, and a nice grassy area where you can dry off in the sun post swim.
How to get there: Located off the same road as Temple of Doom, follow the same instructions and continue past Temple of Doom for 2 km. The cenote will be on your right. Parking is free.
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