The Cenotes of Tulum

Cenotes of Tulum

Cenotes are a natural phenomenon that are unique to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. They are natural sinkholes which result from the erosion of the limestone ground collapsing and forming a large hole in the ground, exposing the water underneath. There are different types of cenotes and they are all unique.

Many of the Yucatan’s cenotes are part of extensive cave systems, which connect the cenotes together.

There are thousands of cenotes (pronounced se-no-tayz) in the Yucatan. They were used by the ancient Maya populations for sacrificial offerings and as a source of freshwater for their communities. Cenotes were also regarded as symbolic entryways to the Mayan underworld.

The word “cenote” is derived from the Yucatec Maya word “dzonot” which means “well” or “cave with water.”

GRAN CENOTE:

Location:

Gran Cenote is located on Highway 109 otherwise known as the Coba Highway (as it continues north to Coba from the town of Tulum) between Tulum and Coba. It is approximately 4 km down this highway from the intersection of the main Tulum Highway through town (Highway 307) and the Coba Highway.

This cenote is absolutely gorgeous!

Shallow swimming area

Getting There:

You can easily rent a bike from one of the many bike rental places in town (I rented from Kelly’s Bike Rental shop, as guests staying at Mama’s Home hostel receive a 20 peso discount per day, costing you 60 pesos instead of the regular 80. It is located on the main Tulum Highway in town, on the right hand side just past the Scotiabank at the intersection of Tulum Highway and Avenue Satelite heading east towards the ocean). You can bike along the highway to the cenote. There is no bike path. There is good signage and there are trees in the parking area where you could lock your bike against.

You can also take a taxi (which is what I did, because it was way too hot to be biking that day!). Taxis cost 70 pesos but if you share the cost with some friends, it will be much cheaper.

The low hanging cavern

Costs:

150 pesos entrance, 30 pesos to rent a locker.

Open swimming area

My Experience:

Gran Cenote was the first cenote I visited in Mexico on my solo trip. I went with new friends that I met the night before at the hostel I was staying at.

We went in the afternoon around 2 pm, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was not as crowded as I was expecting (considering how popular and well known it is). The cenote is a caved-in hole in the ground with a large opening at the top, exposing much of the water to the sunlight above.

You walk down a set of sturdy stairs to an area where there are wooden boardwalks built over top of a portion of the open water. You can sunbathe or just relax here after swimming.

There are trees growing out of the rock walls up the cenote and lillies, turtles and little fish in the shallow water around the boardwalks. It’s crazy how trees and plants can survive with their roots in a rock! I dangled my legs in the water while sitting on the boardwalks and taking a break from swimming and the turtles seemed very interested in my feet! They would swim around my feet and came very close… I was a little nervous that they might think my toes look like an appetizing meal! Thankfully, nothing happened.

I really enjoyed swimming inside the cavern section of the cenote! There were bats flying over my head and stalactites everywhere. There were a few really narrow passageways from one section of the cavern to another, which was pretty cool to explore.

Gran Cenote is part of the Sistema Sac Actun, which is an underwater cave system with water channels connected to other cenotes. The system measures 230.8 kilometres and is the second longest cave system in the world (second to Sistema Ox Bel Ha which is also in the Yucatan). You can swim through some of these channels at Gran Cenote. There is a rope that connects from the boardwalk to rocks within the cave system, so if you get tired of swimming, you can hold on to it or stand on it for a break.

The stairway to get down to the cenote

The stairway to get down to the cenote

The cenote from the ground above

CASA CENOTE:

Location:

Casa Cenote is located off of Highway 307, between Tulum and Playa del Carmen.

Getting There:

The easiest way to get to Casa Cenote from Tulum is to take a colectivo, which is a shared shuttle van that can take up to 12 passengers. They are comfortable, cheap, air conditioned and fast. You can catch a colectivo from anywhere along the main avenue in Tulum. Just stand on the boulevard on the main avenue and wait for one to stop and pick you up. They drive by frequently but do not operate on a fixed schedule. It costs 20 pesos one-way. If you are coming from Playa del Carmen, you can also catch a colectivo from the parking lot at Calle 2 between Avenida 15 and 20.

When you board the colectivo, tell the driver where you want to go and grab a free seat. Once you arrive at your destination, you pay the driver. The colectivo drops you off on the side of the highway, at a gravel road that leads to Casa Cenote. To get to the cenote, you have to walk down this long, narrow and deserted dirt road with jungle on both sides. It is wide open to the heat of the sun and there are no options to get any shade, so bring water with you. It is a fairly long walk. Once you get to the end of the road, turn left and keep walking down another gravel road. This road is a bit more scenic as there are gorgeous beachfront vacation rental homes on the right hand side of the road.

You will soon see the cenote on the left side of the road. There is a restaurant across the road from it and there are signs, so you can’t miss it. The total walk from the highway to the cenote took us about 15-20 minutes one-way. But the cenote made the walk well worth it!

To get back to your destination, simply stand on the side of the highway that you want to go and wave down a passing colectivo. They will stop and pick you up. You can also flag down a taxi which will cost 70 pesos back to Tulum.

The long dirt road that leads to the cenote

Costs:

Entrance is 50 pesos and locker rentals are 50 pesos.

My Experience:

I visited Casa Cenote along with two Australian friends that I had met the night before at the hostel I was staying at in Tulum. I had an amazing time!

Gorgeous!

Casa Cenote is part of the Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich, which is an extensive water channel and cave system which includes 36 cenotes and a recorded length of 67 kilometres!

The walk down the gravel road was kind of long and tiring, but it was well worth it once we got to the cenote!

How incredibly beautiful!

The water of the cenote is a beautiful turquoise colour and is so clear. The cenote is an open-water cenote at the ground level and is surrounded by trees and thick mangroves. There was a very strong current in the water which made it difficult to swim further up the water channel, but it was still fun.

I loved this cenote because it was further off the beaten path than many of the other cenotes in the area.

Turquoise waters surrounded by lush mangroves

It was not too crowded at all when I visited (around 10 AM) and there were less than ten other people there. This made for a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere!

Here is some more information about cenotes:

http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/home/sacred-sinkholes

http://www.divecenotesmexico.com/cenotes

I hope you enjoyed reading about these cenotes in the Tulum!

Which cenotes have you had the opportunity to visit in the Tulum area? Any recommendations for cenotes to visit next time I travel to Tulum?

Let me know in the comments.

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