What are Cenotes?


What are Cenotes?

When I went back to Mexico for the second time, I ended up going to the state of Quintana Roo. Better known as the state where Cancun is. If you’re not familiar with Cancun, it’s basically the Spring Break destination for Mexico’s East Coast.

I’m a big fan of adventures, especially if they involve being outside. So I took the opportunity to be outside and see places particular to Mexico. I saw beaches, pyramids, and of course cenotes.

Cenotes are a series of natural limestone wells that have been used from as early as 1,000 BC by the Mayan population. These cenotes have been used for various reasons such as gathering water and even sacrificial rituals . They were later rediscovered in the 1900’s after being hidden for many years due to vegetation covering it.

When I went, I remember being turned away because a cenote had too many people there. Because there were so many, I just drove maybe 10 minutes down the road and was able to jump into one.

What are cenotes and where can you find them in Mexico

I took this photo while everyone was waiting to watch people jumping off into this cenote.

These natural sinkholes, created by the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. And they are all over Quintana Roo! You can find some near just about every Mayan Ruin you might be visiting.

Cenotes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some are very deep; others are shallow. They can be very narrow; others wide enough to fit a car inside. Some cenotes had swimming areas where you could jump in right next to the opening. And others had more than one entrance, which is great for adventurous souls like.

Cenote Tours

You can hire a tour guide to take you to the cenotes. You’ll be able to go to places in the Riviera Maya to see places like Cenote Azul, or perhaps also mix in Chichen Itza.

They usually have a van that will fit up to 8 people and they will drive you through the state to various cenotes. These tours are usually more expensive, but sometimes worth it. Many tour companies have some sort of deal where you can buy one tour, and get another for discounted price.

If you can, why not ask to visit an adventure package including cave diving, or a cenote tour in an underground cenote.

Cavern diving is really common with these ancient cenotes. So make sure to ask.

DIY Cenote Guide (What I did)

Once you jump in the water, you get used to the cold in like 10 seconds.

Tours are fun, but sometimes I feel like being MacGyver when I travel.

It’s not the cheapest way to do it. But it is adventurous.

I rented a car in Cancun for the length of my stay. On this trip, I stayed in an AirBnB in Playa del Carmen. After getting settled into Playa del Carmen, my friend and I took the car and drove to visit a pyramid and a cenote in the same day.

Cenote Cristalino was what we explored. It was really cool. The water was clear and I was able to snorkel through the cave area.

If you want to explore a Cenote yourself, I would call ahead of time to see if it’s full. And then find transport like an Uber, taxi, or bus to drop you off. At the Cenotes’ entrance, you just have to pay the entrance fee to get in.

In the Yucatan Peninsula, you will find plenty of underground cenotes respected by ancient mayans. Here is a list of some of the most beautiful cenotes you can expect to find near Playa del Carmen:

  • Sacred Cenote
  • Cenote dos Ojos
  • Gran Cenote
  • Cenote Azul
  • Cenote Calavera
  • Cenote Suytun

The Three Types of Cenotes

There are three types of cenotes:

Closed Cenotes

Closed cenotes are those which need climbing down for entry.

Sometimes by wooden steps and sometimes by ladders.

Once inside, you can swim in crystal clear water from underneath and enjoy the stalactites and stalagmites.

Keep in mind that these wonders take thousands of years to develop. A stalactite forms a 10cm long stalactite within one thousand years.

Closed cenotes are often the best for snorkeling.

Cave Cenotes

They originated from caves that collapsed due to water damage.

You can find a huge variety of cave cenotes.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are certain dangers associated with cenote caves. Cave cenotes are usually very deep. The water can be very dark and cold during certain times of year. It is important to go with an experienced guide to avoid any dangers.

Semi-Open Cenotes

Some cenotes are open but with roofs.

For the most part they are usually underground. Light can still enter these semi cavernous swimming holes. It still makes it a beautiful to see the ceiling of the cenote.

What makes cenotes so unique and special?

Cenotes offer a beautiful destination for swimming.

Surrounded by vegetation on the surface, only to discover something magical below ground. The crystal clear waters are like an oasis in the middle of the jungle.

The water is fresh and cold during certain times of year, but will offer relief from hot temperatures on land. Plus, cenotes offer a unique and refreshing experience with some very special characteristics:

  1. Cenotes contain filtered water.
  2. Cenotes are naturally purified by the sun which means no chlorine added to the water.
  3. Cenotes are clear as glass. The water is so clear that it offers a great view of the bottom all the way to the other side.
  4. Cenotes are surrounded by lush vegetation and offer a great escape from the heat of the jungle.

What is the reason and use of a cenote?

Thousands of years ago, historians speculate that cenotes were used for human sacrifice.

Cenotes are often found next to pyramids throughout the Mayan world. The Mayans used cenotes for many things. Within cenotes, fresh water collected for drinking purposes. Fishing was abundant in Mayan times, since the water allowed for good fishing.

They used cenotes for relaxation and as a place to gather.

Finally, the Mayas believed that spirits lived within the cenotes. In fact, it is believed that the Mayans used to throw gold and other goods into cenotes as a way of apologizing to the gods for bad deeds.

Today, cenotes are a very popular destination in Mexico. There are tours and expeditions offered in order to explore cenotes.

Cenotes are unique and you want to experience them first hand!

How to explore a cenote safely?

Cenotes are open to the public for swimming.

There are several precautions that need to be taken when exploring this natural wonder.

Some of the most important to take:

  • No jewelry should be worn while swimming in cenotes since they can get caught on rocks or stones.
  • Shoes are not allowed in the water since they can damage the cenote. Also, keep in mind that the rocks can get very slippery.
  • Snorkeling equipment is necessary to explore the amazing cenote caves. If you have a mask, snorkel and fins, go for it.
  • Finally, consider going with a guide or a group. One of the best ways to explore a cenote is with a guide or someone who knows where they are going.

What can you do in a Cenote?

Cenotes offer a wide variety of activities. There are cenotes for every age and experience level.

Here are some popular Cenote Activities:

  • Snorkeling is a popular activity in cenotes.
  • Swimming and snorkeling are very rewarding activities in a cenote.
  • Kayaking and canoeing is another fantastic activity, especially if you would like to take your time and explore the surroundings.
  • Additionally, cenotes offer cave exploration for those who want to take the next step and really explore this natural wonder.

Scuba diving in a Cenote

I saw some people diving into this cenote. Can you spot the diver?

Scuba diving in cenotes are becoming increasingly popular not only among divers but with everyone.

The main advantage to diving in cenotes is that you get the opportunity to get the same kind of underwater experience as you would get in a coral reef but without having to rough the ocean waters.

Rappelling into a Cenote

Rappelling into a cenote can be indeed very fun.

With some advance training, this is something that everyone can enjoy.

Remember that many cenotes are deep and the rocks at the bottom can be slippery. Therefore, make sure you are using proper equipment and know how to rappel before you try it out yourself.

Snorkeling in Cenotes

Snorkeling in cenotes offers an incredibly unforgettable experience.

Again, make sure you are using proper safety equipment including a mask, snorkel and fins.

Snorkeling is great way to explore the cenote in peace and get an underwater experience far different than anywhere else.

Finally, you should never explore a cenote alone without any professional guiding you.

Ziplining in a Cenote

There are cenotes that offer ziplining.

This is another way to explore the cenote up above and explore its incredible surroundings.

Be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime!

Is it safe to swim in cenotes?

There can be hazards related to swimming in cenotes.

Some of the most common include:

Some people suffer from cramps when swimming in cenotes. This is because one of the main components of cenote water, hydrogen sulfate, can cause these cramps and often leads to drowning.

Swimming in cenotes is not recommended for children who are under the age of six.

Some people have allergic reactions to the water in cenotes. This can include rashes and severe itching.

Finally, it is very important to know where you are swimming. Not all cenotes are open to the public.

The history of cenotes in Mexico

Cenotes have traditionally been used as a source for water, both by those living in the area and those passing through.

They have been a major part of Mayan culture and were a big part of their economy.

The Mayan’s were the only ones allowed to use cenotes for most of their history.

A cenote in Mayan culture was seen as a portal to the underworld, which is why they were used for sacrificial purposes.

Finally, the Mayan’s saw cenotes as a way for their ancestors to connect with them and send messages on what they needed.

Should I visit alone or with a tour?

There are both advantages and disadvantages of visiting a cenote alone or with a tour.

If you go with a guide, you will get the experience of having someone who knows the area and can show you plenty of other things as well.

If you visit alone, you will be self sufficient and can explore at your own pace.

It’s safer to not visit a cenote alone without a professional guide, as they will keep you safe and help you explore the site in safety.

Are there Cenotes in Playa del Carmen?

Yes, there are cenotes in Playa del Carmen.

Some of them are open for public swimming while others can be explored with a professional guide.

Is a cenote fresh water?

Yes, cenotes are fresh water.

Can you drink cenote water?

As with any water found in nature, it’s difficult to verify what paths may have lead to it. For the sake of unknown contamination, it’s better to not drink cenote water.

How cold is the water in a cenote?

The water in a cenote can vary depending on what time of year it is and where it is located.

When I went, it was pretty cold.

Are there sharks in cenotes?

There are no sharks in cenotes.

As mentioned, cenotes are fresh water which means any kind of sea life cannot survive in them.

Jess Archives

Writer. Traveler. Technologist. Follow my IG @jess.archives

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