For anyone visiting the gorgeous Caribbean coastal town of Tulum, Mexico, a visit to the cenotes is a must do. Tulum cenotes are some of the largest in the world and a true delight to swim, and snorkel around.
Cenotes are a network of caves and tunnels formed from limestone. The limestone sinks beneath the ground’s surface exposing the water below and creating a gorgeous underwater world to explore. There are more than 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan region and Tulum has around half a dozen that are worth exploring. Each cenote offers a slightly unique experience from the one before; colourful fish, turtles, diving, swimming, snorkelling or simply photographing the true wonder of the sight in amazement.
Known as Gran Cenote for it’s size and popularity, this Tulum cenote is a must visit. Located just a few kilometres from Tulum makes it easy to get to either by bike or car and it is a wonderful place to explore with snorkel and fins. Grand cenote is one large pool with an island in the centre that has a wooden platform to enter and exit the water. The water is crystal clear and there is plenty of marine life, including turtles, swimming beneath the surface. Narrow tunnels and caves come off the main pool area and there its plenty to explore.
Gran Cenote is beneath a small park which is a great place to have a picnic after swimming. Entrance is from 10am – 5pm every day and tickets are 477 pesos which includes snorkel and fins hired at the Gran Cenote. Lockers are available and there are food vendors in the park near the entrance. Gran Cenote is a must do on all Tulum itinerary’s.
Dos Ojos Cenote
Approximately 15 minutes drive from Tulum, Cenote Dos Ojos was discovered in 1986 and is one of the top 10 largest cenotes in the World. The cave system of this Tulum cenote is thought to be more than 61 km long and 118 m deep. Dos Ojos is divided into two sections. One is more suitable for diving as it is darker and attracts more mysterious fish. The other has exceptionally clear water making it perfect for snorkelling; fish spotting is easy.
This Tulum cenote is perfect for the whole family because there is a variety of depths, a short easy walk down stairs to reach the water, and decking for a picnic. There are no food vendors close by so ensure you bring everything you need for an enjoyable day trip.
To get to Dos Ojos take the main road that travels between Tulum and Cancun North (in the direction of Cancun). Turn left at the intersection which has Dos Ojos cube on the right-hand side of and travel down this road until you reach the cenote. This is an unnamed road.
Entrance fees are 300 peso for snorkelling and 130 pesos for diving. Dos Ojos is open 8am – 5pm every day.
El Pit Cenote
Part of Dos Ojos, however El Pit’s entrance is located further up the road. This is an ideal spot for divers (but not appealing for swimming and snorkelling) and can be an exhilarating experience due to it’s depth and shape. El Pit has a steep and narrow entrance that continues into 40 metres of darkness. At El Pit it is essential to take a flashlight so you can navigate your way and best not to explore alone.
Entrance fees are 140 pesos. El Pit is close to Dos Ojos so either walk or bike from here or if you are travelling form Tulum take the same route to Dos Ojos but instead of stopping at the entrance of this Tulum cenote continue on past and turn at the next left-hand road. El Pit is not far from this intersection.
This cenote is close to Tulum village (8km from the beach), just beyond Gran Cenote, and is a good option if you prefer to avoid the typical Gran Cenote crowds. This swimming hole is perfect for swimming and snorkelling, at just 3 metres deep and 50 metres across it has the appearance of a giant pond.
Carwash Cenote has caves to explore and as it used to be the place where taxis washed their cars up until the mid 80’s also has some interesting artefacts to look at. There are plenty of fish, Lilly pads and marine life to look at but in the Summer months where there is algae build up it can initially look less than spectacular. This does however make it advantageous for underwater photographers as the light is ideal fro capturing some of the plant and marine life beneath the surface. There have also been recent sightings of small crocodiles so it pays to be careful when swimming here.
Entrance fee is 50 pesos. To get to Carwash Cenote simply head to Gran Cenote from Tulum. Shortly after Gran Cenote in the direction of Coba, this Tulum cenote will be visible on the left hand side of the road.
Ik Kil Cenote
Many travellers consider Ik Kil to be one of the best cenotes in Mexico and it is arguably the most photographed. Early in the morning the vines above the large entrance make it a truly impressive sight. However being a popular cenote this is also a place where you will find it difficult to enjoy the natural wonder due to high volumes of other people, noise, and the general busy feel that comes with many cultures together in small spaces.
From the vines and foliage overhanging the cenote entrance are a carefully designed set of wooden stairs descending 26 metres in the water. This makes access easy but also slow due to the crowds. Ik Kil is perfect for swimming, photography and simply taking in the spectacular sight but is not a diving cenote. Arrive early and enjoy a half day here; there is a restaurant and accommodation on site although it is more pleasant to take day trip from accommodation in Tulum.
Entrance is 70 pesos and Ik Oil os open 8am – 5pm. To arrive at Ik Kil from Tulum you will need motorised transport as the distance is 145km from Tulum (approximately 2 hours driving).
Tips For Visiting Tulum Cenotes
Some of the cenote have snorkelling equipment available to rent but there are some that are best enjoyed as a swimming hole and snorkelling gear isn’t needed. grand cenote has snorkelling equipment available.
Lotions are not allowed in the Tulum cenotes because they adversely affect the marine lime. Don’t wear moisturisers or sun screen before entering the cenotes and if you are prone to sun burn try to wait until the cooler parts of the day. Because cenotes are cave networks there are plenty of shady sections.
It’s best to arrange transport form your accommodation, if you are not biking to the cenotes because taxis are not always licensed in Mexico and there are also taxis vying for business at cenote entrances.
It’s important to be respectful of the beautiful marine life and avoid touching the fish and turtles if possible. While the marine life is used to swimming around humans, be mindful you are in their home and not the other way around.
Don’t forget to take your underwater camera; cenotes are precisely where an underwater camera would be well used.
El Pit Photo Credit to Kate and peter Photography. Their photography is incredible; take a look! www.blue-sea.cz