You may not know it yet, but cenotes are the crown jewels of the Yucatan peninsula.
Not the beaches of Cancun. Not even the pyramids of Chichen Itza! But instead a network of natural pools that spring up in the middle of the jungle and from crumbling caverns below. The secret is out on cenotes, but there are still some secluded out there that you can visit and be the ONLY traveller there. Cenotes were actually worshipped by the Mayan people for their mystical energy. When you visit one, you will understand why!
We scouted out a handful when we backpacked southern Mexico, and we want to share some of our favourites with you (including a secret cenote that very few people know about!)
Some cenotes have become very touristy, turning into mini-resorts. With flocks of the people splashing around cenote’s can soon lose their magic. Luckily there are thousands to choose from. That means there are tons of options for finding your own refuge at some off the beaten path cenotes.
Here are some of our favourite cenotes that you can enjoy all to yourself!
Cenote Cristal & Cenote Escondido
Two cenotes with one ticket? Yes, PLEASE! And if that doesn’t do it for you, these cenotes will throw in a complimentary, o-natural pedicure courtesy of the little fishies that nibble on your toes. No pain, just tickles! This is budget backpacking at its finest folks.
Both of these cenotes are open-air pools surrounded by thick Mexican jungle. They make for a great hangout spot as you can take it easy in the shade for some lunch and cervezas, then cool off in the water. If one gets busy, you can easily cross the street to the other!
When we arrived at Cenote Escondido we saw some divers who were trying to map out the deep caves below. Take some snorkel gear with you to catch a glimpse of these unexplored caves!
Pack a day bag and easily waste the day away at both Cenote Cristal and Escondido.
You may have better luck taking a regular taxi compared to paying for a seat in a shared taxi. Haggle for 50 pesos. Easily the best method is to bike there. Renting a bicycle is apart of being in Tulum anyways! Take the main highway south for just over a mile.
Price: A ticket for both is $120MXN pesos.
Los Tres Cenotes
Heading to Los Tres Cenotes ends up being an exciting full-day trip into rural Mexico that makes for quite a unique adventure! The excursion also supports the local community of Chunkanán as their primary source of income, so you get to do some good on your adventures!
To reach these hidden cenotes you have to catch a ride on a horse-drawn cart pulled along ramshackle train tracks headed far into the brush. I imagine this is what it’s like to be in a Mexican wild western flick! The ride will be breathtaking if you come during the wet season when the brush comes to life, but you can expect a sore bum by the end of the journey year-round!
The first stop of the day is at the two smallest cenotes. One is more of a shallow pool sitting at the mouth of a open cave (not too much to see here honestly).
The next one, Cenote Santa Cruz, is straight up terrifying! You crawl down into a dark, poorly lit cave to find a small cenote encircled by steep rock walls. The water is so deep I couldn’t see the bottom. This time I wasn’t worried about toe-nibbling fishies but some cave-dwelling monster dragging me to the depths below. This probably doesn’t make you want to visit the cenote, but the spelunking experience is unlike any other cenote around!
Finally, you will reach the grandest of the cenotes where you will spend most of your time. This is by far the most impressive as the big cave opening tempts you to swim further in. The best part is there’s no time limit on how long you can stay (except if you’re catching the last bus home!) so just relax and enjoy.
Catch a shared taxi leaving for Cuzama (found on Calle 50 between 65 and 67). From Cuzama take a bicycle taxi to Chunkanán. NOTE: Make sure you make it all the way to the town. Many bixitaxi’s will stop short to show you their own tours to the cenote, taking money away from the village of Chunkanán.
Price: Hiring one rail cart costs M$300 (seats 4 people)
This beautiful grotto is located right in the centre of the town of Valladolid. Just out of nowhere there is a giant, yet gorgeous hole in the ground!
Green vines decorate the exterior of the cave, and a small stream trickles down into the pool from above to create a breathtaking setting. Tall rock platforms make for a great diving board if you have the kahunas to jump off!
For being in such a prominent location the cenote did not have many visitors! Few backpackers actually stay in the town of Valladolid, and most swimmers are simply locals looking to cool off.
Cenote Zaci makes for a great escape from the heat of the streets, and simply put you won’t find anything else like it! A fun side note is if you order from the Zaci restaurant (serving good eats for a reasonable price) you get free entrance to the cenote.
Walk down Calle 37 between Calles 34 and 36. Can’t miss it!
Price: It costs M$70, but you might as well grab lunch for free entrance.
Now it’s time to let you in on a little secret
The only reason we knew about this secret cenote was with some help from the owner of our hostel in Valladolid (thank you Trevor!)
The Yucatan’s Best Kept Secret!
Cenote Oxman, a little slice of heaven on earth. Words can’t even describe the beauty of this place. Take a look for yourself.
When we arrived there was not a soul in sight! 30 minutes passed before anyone else showed up. How do people not know about this?
I couldn’t contain myself from splashing around in this new found paradise (or from beating my chest before swinging off the Tarzan rope into the water!)
Cenote Oxman is full of life; sunlight pours in from the well opening above as the crystal blue water sparkles and birds fly from perch to perch. The best way to enjoy this cenote is to relax and let your worries wash away. Are those angels singing? Nope, just the songbirds but for a moment I thought I died and went to heaven.
Interestingly enough, Cenote Oxman is located on the property of an old hacienda named San Lorenzo de Oxman. The countryside mansion and gardens have been refurbished and the grounds are well-kept by the staff working there. Seems a little ridiculous that they added a swimming pool right beside the entrance to the cenote, but the pool-side bar might be enough reason to hang around longer.
You have to go and visit Cenote Oxman for yourself. I’ll put myself out there and say it is the most spectacular cenote in all of Mexico. Soon enough the cat will be out of the bag for this secret cenote.
The remote location of the hacienda helps to keep Cenote Oxman fairly low-key. You’ll need a bike to get all the way out there!
Rent a bicycle in the centre of Valladolid and bike out to the boonies. Take Calle 54 out of town until you see a small dirt road off to the right. You should see a sign for Hacienda Oxman. The roads are anything but paved so make sure your bike is in good condition for the journey.
Price: M$50 pesos paid to the bar staff. This may be an unofficial fee since I don’t remember there being a listed price.
So there you have it! There are tons of cenotes worth exploring around Valladolid, Tulum. Valladolid will be your best stop if you are looking for cenotes rarely visited by tourists.
But there is no need to worry. No matter where you go, the magic of cenotes will capture you the moment you lay eyes on one. Then it’s all about the hunt for the next one.
Let us know what you think or share any questions in the comments below. For more photos and stories from our amazing adventures, follow us @brightintheworld on Instagram and Facebook.