What is a cenote?
A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone rocks that exposes an underwater cave system. This underwater system is part of the two longest underground water systems in the world ( Sac Actun 353 km and Ox Bel Ha 270 km ). This was the reason why 13,000 years ago people settled in the Quintana Roo region. In history, these ancient Mayas used the cenotes for sacrificial offerings. But nowadays, visiting cenotes in Mexico is a fun experience where you can swim, snorkel, relax, jump into the water and even go scuba diving in some of the cenotes!
Different types of cenotes
There are more than 30.000 cenotes in Mexico in total from what 6000 are located in Yucatan. Some of the most famous cenotes in Mexico can be found in this region. All cenotes have their own unique form and vegetation. Officially there are four different types of cenotes.
- Open cenotes. These cenotes are, as the name implies, completely exposed and are like natural pools. They are great for diving and are mostly connected to an underground river. Some of the examples of open Cenotes are Cenote Casa Tortuga and Cenote Cristalino.
- Semi underground cenotes. These cenotes have parts that are open, for example a small, or big, opening in the roof such as Cenote Suytun and Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman.
- Cave cenotes. These cenotes are hidden in a cave but can be mostly accessed via stairs. Inside the Cenote you will find an underground pool which can have deep and shallow water. On of the examples is Cenote Dos Ojos.
- Underground cenotes. These type of cenotes are hard to reach as you can only enter them as diver. One of the examples of a Cenote like this is the Pet Cemetery Cenote in Tulum.
11 BEST TULUM CENOTES
Grand Cenote – The most famous of all Tulum Cenotes
The Gran Cenote is one of the top Tulum cenotes located just a little bit outside of the centre. This also makes it one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico, partly thanks to Instagram as well. So with this in mind, you can expect the Gran cenote to be busy at any time of the day. Be aware of this and don’t expect to have a serene cenote for yourself so you won’t have the wrong expectations.
After you’ve payed the entrance fee you will spot two entrances to the Gran cenote. Both are connected with a boardwalk and the biggest difference is probably the crowds. The first entrance you’ll see gives access to the big main pool where most people go straight in. But if you walk a little bit further, you’ll see other stairs going down to the second, smaller cenote. This place is a bit smaller but much more photogenic. The water in the Gran Cenote is connected underneath the cave, so you can swim from one side to the other.
It is fun to swim and snorkel around in the beautiful crystal clear waters of the Gran Cenote. You can admire the beautiful rock formations and spot some wildlife such as bats, blue crabs, turtles and fishes.
Getting there: You can easily reach Grand Cenote with a bike or rental car from Tulum, as it is just 5 km away from Tulum center.
Entrance fee: 180 Mexican pesos per person, which is quite expensive to visit a cenote!
Best time for photos: If you want to avoid the crowds you need to come very early The cenote opens at 8 AM and closes at 4.45 PM, with the last entry at 4.15 PM. At this cenote you don’t have to come at a specific time for light rays shining through. The best time to come is immediately after opening time, or the last hour before closing.
Photo tip: There are two places where you can enter the cenote, the best spot for photos is definitely the second entrance more at the back. There you will have some nice angles where you can frame your shot and be creative with the surroundings.
San Lorenzo Oxman cenote
San Lorenzo Oxman cenote is bit off route from Tulum, but definitely worth a visit if you have the time! It was our favorite cenote in terms of fun and adventure! The San Lorenzo Oxman cenote is part of a Hacienda, a Mexican word for large estate or plantation. The cenote is an open well with tree roots and vines hanging down into the water giving it a true Jungle Book feel. Inside the cenote is a platform from where you can jump into the water with a rope swing. This is so much fun and will really give you a ‘Tarzan and Jane’ feeling! But if you don’t want to jump into the water, you can also safely get in and out of the water via the stairs. There are lifejackets on site if you’re not the best swimmer and there is always a guy helping with the rope swing.
After all the fun at San Lorenzo Oxman cenote, you can get a drink or some food at the restaurant of the Hacienda if you like to. They even have a pool to relax as well! With different entrance fees this you can choose the ‘package’ you want!
Read here our complete guide about San Lorenz Oxman cenote
Getting there: Located only 4 km south of Valladolid, you can combine this cenote easily with a visit to Valladolid on the way to Tulum.
Entrance fee: If you only want to visit Oxman cenote it is 80 Pesos entrance fee. 100 Pesos gives you access to the cenote and a 50 pesos discount in the restaurant. 150 Pesos gives you entrance to Cenote Oxman and access to the pool area of Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman as well. The parking area is free.
Best time for photos: You don’t really need to take the sunlight into account when photographing this cenote because it’s so far underground. Anytime is possible for photos!
Photo tip: If you want to capture people swinging from the rope you have to set your shutter speed very high. You don’t want any motion blur in this shot. But because it’s pretty dark inside the cenote, you have to numb your ISO up a lot, which can result in a bit grainy pictures. There is also a very cool angle from above where you can capture people swimming or floating in the cenote.
Suytun cenote is definitely one of the best cenotes in Yucatan peninsula. This unique cave cenote has a special surprise if you’re lucky with the right weather conditions. Cenote Suytun was our favorite because of several reasons. The magical lightray shining through a hole from the roof at a specific time is magical! You can create some very unique pictures here. Also, the impressive stalagmites and stalactites are amazing to see and interesting for photography. We were lucky to be the only ones there which gave an extra magical feeling to the experience. Especially when I caught the light ray and Atiba was down at the cenote on the platform. It almost looked like a natural catwalk. A beautiful cenote near Tulum and must visit!
Getting there: Just a short drive outside of Valladolid, this cenote can be combined easily with the others around Valladolid. Drive all the way down the dirt road until you see a parking lot where you have to buy a ticket at the restaurant to enter the cenote.
Entrance fee: 70 pesos per person.
Best time for photos: If you want to catch the light ray in your shot you have to come in between 11 AM and 1 PM when the sun is at its highest point and will shine straight down through the roof. But you have to be lucky with the weather conditions. Because even when it’s a little bit cloudy, there will be no strong visible light ray.
Photo tip: The best angle is from the stairs with the big stalactites framed in your picture. Set your aperture completely open, and put your ISO a bit higher.
Samula & X’Keken
Visit two cenotes for the price of one! These cenotes are at the same spot, they are worth a visit, but could not exceed our experience from Suytun cenote. Both cenotes do have a hole in the roof, which gives you the chance to capture the lightray if there is sunshine.
Getting there: These cenotes are a 15-minute drive outside of Valladolid in a small town called Dzitnup, on highway 180.
Entrance fee: 125 pesos to visit both cenotes or 80 pesos for only one.
Best time for photos: If you want to catch the light rays you’ll need to have the sun on it’s highest point. Somewhere during midday is the best time to go.
Photo tip: Maybe your first reaction when you start photographing in these cenotes, is putting the ISO higher or the aperture completely open. Which is understandable. But, if you want to catch the light rays and not blur out the water, you have to shoot a bit darker. Of course it will be a bit of a challenge to edit the picture in Lightroom, but who doesn’t want to challenge himself sometimes..?
Cenote Dos Ojos
This cenote is a perfect visit on your trip from Playa del Carmen to Tulum or the other way around. Dos Ojos cenote is located inside the Dos Ojos Cenote park where you can also find other cool cenotes. The incredible rock formations, crystal clear blue water and many opportunities for scuba diving or snorkeling makes it one of the best Tulum cenotes. Dos Ojos means two eyes in Spanish because it’s actually two cenotes who are connected by a 400-meter long underwater cave system.
Getting there: You can get to Dos Ojos with a colectivo (shared taxi in Spanish) if you don’t have your own transport. Tell the driver your destination when you get on and pay when you get off, it’s usually around 40 pesos. Careful though, from the entrance it takes about 30 minutes walking on a 2km dirt path without transportation possibilities. So make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
Entrance fee: The entrance is quite expensive, 350 pesos per person.
Best time for photos: The best timing to get to Dos Ojos and have some time alone is right after it opens at 8 AM. Also one of the two Ojos gets direct light in the morning which contributes to even more crystal clear water!
Photo tip: Don’t make the pictures inside the cenote too bright, as you might lose the color details. You can better shoot too dark and adjust the shadows in Lightroom than loosing too much color details because you overexpose the picture. There are a few cool spots to make your pictures, floating in the water or close to the stairs.
This Cenote is a fun place to hang out for some hours. It is not such a hyped place as Gran Cenote, so if you’re lucky you can have the place all to yourself! You can entertain yourself here by jumping into the Cenote, relaxing on the swing, swimming or just hanging out at the picnic table. Cenote Calavera is 7 days a week open from 9 AM until 5 PM.
Getting there: Cenote Calavera is only 3 kilometres outside from Tulum town centre. You can see the signs along the highway to Coba.
Entrance fee: It is 100 pesos per person to enter Cenote Calavera.
Best time for photos: As the area of Cenote Calavera is mostly covered by trees, you won’t have too much direct sunlight here. But as we always say, the best time for taking pictures is in the morning or later afternoon when the light is soft!
Photo tip: There are some great creative angles which you can shoot here! The swing in the cenote and ladder are fun accessories to use for a photoshoot. You can also jump into the Cenote for the dare devils, that will result in a fun action shot for sure!
Laguna Kaan Luum
This is probably the lesser known Tulum Cenote and is mostly visited by locals. But Kaan Luum Lagoon is absolutely worth a quick stop if you’re driving by. We stopped here to fly the drone and it looks absolutely beautiful from an aerial view! The color of the lake is so crystal clear! This huge open Cenote looks more like a lagoon and in the middle of the Cenote is it about 80 meters deep! If you want to be more active you can rent a kayak or paddle board here.
Getting there: Laguna Kaan Luum is located south of Tulum only on a 15 min drive away.
Entrance fee: 100 pesos per person.
Best time for photos: If you want to fly the drone then around midday is a great time to do this so the water is super blue.
Photo tip: On the wooden pier is a great vantage point to take pictures, but if you have a drone you can see even more of the surroundings!
The Car wash cenote is a beautiful picturesque Tulum Cenote that offers both swimming and diving. This open Cenote is more a pond filled with brightly colored lily pads. You can also see turtles here and the very odd and shy cayman. The story behind the name of this Tulum Cenote is funny because taxi drivers used to bring their cars here to wash them because Carwash Cenote is close to the road. But it was inconceivable how it was possible that the soap they used disappeared from the cenote. So this was actually the reason of the first cenote cave exploration in this area.
Getting there: Cenote Carwash is a 9 kilometre drive from Tulum on the Highway to Coba (Calle Carretera Federal 109). Turn left and you’ll see the Cenote.
Entrance fee: 100 pesos per person for general entry and 200 pesos per person for diving.
Best time for photos: Because this Cenote is open you will get a lot of direct sunlight during the day. Therefore I would suggest like any other time to take photos in the morning or afternoon when the light is soft.
Cenote Casa Tortuga
The Cenotes Casa Tortuga are a fun day of Tulum cenote tours with three different cenotes in one park to explore. It is a very educational tour as a guide leads you along the cenotes and tells you about the the animals living in the cave cenotes. In one of the cave cenotes you can see bats and blind cave fish. In the other Tortuga Casa Cenote you can learn about the rock formations and interesting cave geology facts. The last Cenote is an open type which is perfect for swimming to cool off. You can jump in off the edge and if you’re lucky you can spot a turtle swimming by.
Getting there: Cenote Casa Tortuga is 17 kilometres north of Tulum down Carretera 307. Take a left turn and you’ll arrive at Casa Tortuga.
Entrance fee: 450 pesos per person which is quite expensive, but your private guide and snorkel gear is included in this fee.
Cenote Zacil Ha
The Zacil Ha cenote is very close located to the Carwash Cenote. It’s another open cenote but smaller than Carwash Cenote. But because not many people go here, it’s perfect for a few hours of relaxing and fun. There is a zipline which you can use to drop yourself in the water, there are several points where you can jump into the water and ropes in the water where you can sit on. After all the water fun you can relax on the lounge chairs and buy some food at the local stalls. A perfect cenote for a family relax day!
Getting there: It’s literally just 2 minutes away from the Carwash Cenote and along the road of Gran Cenote. About 15 minutes away from Tulum centre.
Entrance fee: 80 pesos per person
Cenote Azul is a bit further away from Tulum located towards Playa del Carmen. The name can be translated to Blue Cenote which is not weird as the water is super blue and clear. At Cenote Azul you can do many different activities such as swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and even cliff jumping! The cenote is completely open and there are different areas and depths. It’s a big open cenote with different areas and depths. There are some places where you can stand in the water and others where you can jump in the water. Therefore it’s a very family friendly cenote to visit as all ages can entertain themselves here. There are also a lot of fish swimming around in the waters of Cenote Azul. So you can even get a Fish Spa for free 😉 If you like to explore some other cenotes in the area you can combine Cenote Azul with Cenote Cristalino and the Jardín Del Eden Cenote.
Getting there: Cenote Azul is about 30 minutes driving from Tulum, closely located to Playa del Carmen.
Entrance fee: 120 pesos per person.
General tips before visiting the Tulum cenotes
There are a few things you should know before visiting the Tulum cenotes. If you plan on visiting a few cenotes in Tulum and you do want to snorkel in them as well, you might want to consider to bring your own snorkel and mask or buy one in Mexico. You will be off much cheaper (and more hygenic) than renting a whole set every time at the different cenotes snorkel and mask in Mexico.
If you want to experience the Tulum cenotes during the most quiet time, you should go as early as possible. The cenotes in Tulum are a popular attraction for locals and tourists. So if you arrive later in the morning or during midday, you can assume it will be very busy. Some of the cenotes also have a time frame where a light beam might come through the hole in the roof. If you want to capture that, then you most likely need to get there around midday, because at that time the sun is at its highest peak. Also you have to keep in mind that only when the sun is straight above the cenote and shining in full power, it will create a light beam. Some of the examples of cenotes where you can capture this, is at Cenote Suytun and Cenote Samula.
Other things you need to take with you to the cenotes in Tulum:
- Biodegradable sunscreen. With this you help the fragile eco system of the cenotes stay healthy. But in some cenotes it is even forbidden to use any kind of sunscreen and mandatory to shower before you get into the water to wash off the oils and chemicals you have on your skin. Did you know there are lots of chemicals and other bad ingredients in some sunscreens? These chemicals do not only damage your skin, but also reefs, cenotes and more eco systems when they are often exposed to them. So be a conscious traveler and if you use sunscreen, make sure its biodegradable!
- Swimsuit. Make sure to bring this because you want to dip in that pool!
- A camera and a GoPro
- Snorkel and mask
We hope you enjoyed reading our guide about the best Tulum cenotes. For our complete Tulum travel guide, check out our blog post about the best things to do around Tulum
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