20 Reasons Why I Love Mexico

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The first time I visited Mexico, was in 2011 with my family. It was my first trip abroad (aside from going to the United States) and we stayed at an all-inclusive resort near Playa del Carmen, in the Mayan Riviera. Even though we didn’t stray too far from the resort, it was absolutely amazing!

Since then, I have been to Mexico two more times with family and once backpacking as a solo traveler. With every trip, I have fallen more and more in love with this beautiful country!

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The beautiful beaches of Tulum

Mexico offers so much more than the all-inclusive beach resorts from Cancun to Tulum. The beaches are some of the most gorgeous in the world, but if you visit Mexico and stay on a resort property or the beach the entire time, you are missing out on so many amazing things. Mexico is a diverse country and there is a wide variety of activities to do and experiences to be had. You can swim, snorkel or dive in natural underground sinkholes known as cenotes, explore some of the many ancient Mayan ruins, see gorgeous waterfalls in the jungle, explore authentic Mayan villages, eat traditional Mexican food, engage in adventure activities like zip-lining over the jungle treetops, wander through colourful and colonial towns and cities, and much more. There are many things to do, both touristy and off the beaten path.

The country has an array of landscapes, from jungle to desert to mountains to beaches to colonial cities to traditional villages.

Mexico is definitely a country worth exploring. If you are staying at a resort, I highly recommend venturing into the “real” areas of Mexico in order to experience and interact with the country’s authentic culture, cuisine, language and people.

Backpacking through Mexico on my first trip as a solo female was an unbelievable experience!

Here are some of the reasons why I am in love with Mexico (in no particular order):

The Food:

There is no question about it, Mexican and Mayan food is absolutely delicious. In the Yucatan Peninsula, you can find tacos, panuchos, sopes, salbutes, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, guacamole, paletas, aguas frescas, cochinita pibil, poc chuc, and so much more. As a fruit and veggie lover, I was in heaven with the constant availability of fresh produce. If you want to read all about the various foods you should sample in the Yucatan, then check out this post.

Mexico has everything from street vendors, to family-run eateries, to upscale restaurants serving traditional and authentic Mexican cuisine and regional specialties. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend trying the street food at one of the many food carts everywhere. It is fresh, spicy, delicious and authentic.

My favourite foods would probably be tacos al pastor, panuchos, huevos rancheros and guacamole. I loved the fresh fruit popsicles known as “paletas” for snacks and desserts. And my favourite aguas frescas (a beverage made with water, sugar and fresh fruit) flavours were jamaica (hibiscus flower), horchata (made from rice, vanilla and cinnamon), and sandia (watermelon). Visiting the local markets was one of my favourite things to do and there were so many exotic and delicious fruits and vegetables to try!

I loved eating at the street vendors and small eateries or “loncherias” (lunch restaurants). I was often the only Caucasian female tourist eating at these places, and it was fascinating to just observe the daily life of the locals around me, practice my Spanish with the restaurant staff and immerse myself in the culture.

Huevos Rancheros

Healthy Greek Salad

Panucho, sope and taco

Mexican People:

The majority of the locals that I interacted with in Mexico were super friendly, warm, welcoming and helpful; from the shop-owners, to the restaurant staff, to the bus/colectivo/taxi drivers, and more. They are so cheerful too! When I would go for morning walks and wander through the streets, the local people and shop-owners would say “buenos dias” (good morning) to each other and to tourists as they passed by on the streets and sidewalks. It felt really welcoming and I liked that everyone acknowledged each other, instead of just burying their faces in smartphones and keeping to themselves, as is the case in Western cultures.

I bought fresh coconut water from a local man in Tulum, during my walk through a residential neighbourhood near my hostel. He was so friendly and inviting, and offered for me to have a seat on a chair in his front “yard” (a cement block in front of his house). He spoke great English, as he worked as a scuba diving instructor at the nearby Dos Ojos Cenote, and we chatted about our lives. His mother (who spoke no English) also joined us outside. It was such a cool experience being able to interact and connect with the locals like that!

The Weather:

Compared to Canada, the weather is always warm in Mexico! I love the heat and visiting Mexico in May, which is one of the hottest months, was absolutely amazing for me. It can’t get much better than +35 to +40 degrees Celsius every day! Perfect weather for cooling off for a swim in the cenotes.

The Culture:

I am fascinated about culture, and the Mexican and Mayan culture is very interesting to learn about. I loved sitting in a park or wandering the streets and just observing the culture around me. If you want to read more about my cultural observations, check out this detailed post.

The Safety:

The mainstream media wants you believe that Mexico is a country that is much too dangerous to be visiting. However, they tend to generalize violence and crime in certain states (usually the central and northern border states) to the entire country, which is unfair. The three states that make up the Yucatan Peninsula, have some of the lowest violent crime rates in Mexico and is considered the safest region of Mexico. The crime rates are even lower than rural areas and large cities in the United States!

The Yucatan Peninsula is a very safe area of Mexico to explore, in addition to some other states. As a solo female traveler, I felt super safe there.

The Markets:

Visiting the vibrant local markets in Tulum and Valladolid was one of my favourite things to do in Mexico. The markets are colourful and a hub of activity, and most of the locals do all of their shopping here. They are colourful and busy and a great place to immerse yourself in and learn about the local culture while practicing your Spanish and getting off the beaten path. As I toured the markets, I was often the only Caucasian female tourist wandering around. It was such a cool experience!

Some of the markets are so big and it’s overwhelming at times, because there is just so much to see, smell and taste. The markets don’t just sell fresh fruits and vegetables, they sell everything you can imagine! There are toys, games, personal care products, shoes, clothing, handbags, spices, dry goods, herbs and more.

As a vegetarian (most of the time), walking through the meat section of the market was interesting and slightly nauseating. The aisles were lined with tables, with local men chopping up and portioning very fresh meat, and then bagging it up for customers. I saw almost every animal body part imaginable being sold to people… things that I had no idea people even consumed! There were animal eyeballs, heads, intestines (hanging from strings above the meat table), legs, hooves, and other body parts that almost induced vomiting as I walked by. There were so many flies sitting on everything, that I couldn’t imagine eating the meat… How is everybody not sick all the time? But it was definitely interesting to walk through the area.

My favourite sections of the market were obviously where the fruits and vegetables were! There were local Mayan women dressed in their traditional outfits selling their produce, which was fresh, local and ridiculously cheap. You could even buy freshly cut fruit pieces in a bag for only 10 pesos, which you could enjoy eating immediately! There was produce I was familiar with and then some exotic things that I had never heard of or seen before.

I recommend checking out some of the many markets when you are in Mexico!

Mercado Municipal in Valladolid

Market in Valladolid

Market in Valladolid

The meat section of the local market

The meat section of the local market

The Abundance of Retro VW Beetles:

Mexicans appear to have a fascination with brightly painted retro Volkswagon Beetles. They can be seen everywhere, and make for fantastic photo opportunities! I saw many different patterns and colours, including leopard print and hot pink.

Hot pink VW Beetle in Tulum

Cenotes:

Cenotes are natural sinkholes in the ground filled with clear, fresh water. They are often connected to expansive underground river systems that run throughout the Yucatan. The porous rock has eroded over time and has caved in to form these beautiful natural wonders. You can swim, snorkel or dive in them. Cenotes are unique to the Yucatan and there are thousands of them all over the peninsula.

During my first solo trip to Mexico, I swam in eight different cenotes around Tulum and Valladolid. They are so refreshing (especially after climbing some Mayan ruins!) and the water is so clear. Little black catfish live in many of the cenotes and they will swim around you. There were a few cenotes I visited that had A LOT of catfish, which freaked me out a little bit. I swear I felt one of them brush against my leg (but I can’t be sure), which is a strange fear of mine.

Nevertheless, swimming in these natural wonders is absolutely amazing. I really enjoyed visiting the lesser known and off the beaten path cenotes, like Cenote X’Canche near the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote Oxman near Valladolid (You can read more about the cenotes I visited in Tulum here, and near Valladolid here), because I (along with some friends from my hostels) were often the only people there. Being pretty much alone in such a gorgeous place, was magical and I loved the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, and being surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty.

Getting to and from the cenotes is usually pretty straightforward and easy using local transportation (colectivos, taxis, bikes, etc.).

Swimming in the cenotes should be a must on your list of things to do in the Yucatan! They are all so unique and beautiful in their own ways, so I suggest visiting more than one to see the variety. I highly recommend seeking out some lesser known cenotes, by asking your accommodation staff or any local for their recommendations. Guaranteed, they will know of a place that only the locals know about and visit. Those are the places where you can really get a feel for the culture, interact with locals and have unique and authentic experiences.

Cenote Zaci in Valladolid

Cenote X’Canche near Ek Balam

Cenote Samula near Valladolid

San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote near Valladolid

Valladolid:

Valladolid is one of my favourite cities in the Yucatan. It is a charming colonial city in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula, with a laid-back and slow pace atmosphere. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with pastel coloured low-rise buildings, all with such unique architecture and character.

I fell in love with Valladolid almost immediately after stepping off the bus. Most tourists only end up staying one or two nights in this city, in order to visit Chichen Itza and other nearby ruins and cenotes. But I believe that Valladolid is worth more than a two nights’ stay! There is so many things to do and see (check out my complete guide to Valladolid). There is a cenote in the middle of the city, colonial churches, a massive ex-convent to explore, a beautiful central park, delicious places to eat and much more.

I loved how prominent the Mayan culture was in Valladolid and it is a great place to immerse yourself in and learn more about the culture. Hardly anyone spoke English, and I enjoyed the challenge of practicing my Spanish and learning more of the language. I walked everywhere in Valladolid, and especially enjoyed wandering through quiet residential neighbourhoods where I was the only tourist around. It was fascinating to be able to observe the local life around me. I also loved admiring the beautiful colourful and colonial architecture.

Valladolid is a fantastic city, that is definitely more authentic of Mexico and further off the beaten path than Tulum and Playa del Carmen, which I loved. You will get a real feel for the culture here and have some pretty unique experiences.

Catedral de San Gervasio in Valladolid

Central Park in Valladolid

Colourful doors and wall in Valladolid

Cobblestone streets lined with pastel-coloured buildings

The Beaches:

When you inform people of your upcoming travel plans to Mexico, most people will assume that you are going there for the resorts and beaches. This is what I went to Mexico for during my first three visits.

I have visited the beaches at Playa del Carmen and Tulum and they are absolutely gorgeous, and the water is a beautiful turquoise colour.

I am not a huge fan of beaches (I don’t enjoy the feel of sand or how it gets in everything), so beaches are no longer the primary reason why I visit Mexico. But if you love beaches, this is definitely a great place to find them!

The beach at the Tulum Ruins

Secluded beach below the Tulum Ruins

The Ancient Mayan Ruins:

Mexico is well-known for its many ancient Mayan ruins. There are so many of them in the Yucatan! Learning history behind these ruins and of the ancient Mayan civilization fascinate me, and the ruins are a huge reason why I love and continue to return to Mexico.

My favourite ruins that I visited during my first solo trip was Ek Balam, which is a site located about twenty minutes north of Valladolid. The ruins were lesser known and were surrounded by dense unspoiled jungle. Very little had been done to modernize the site (aside from the entrance area and washrooms) and you were free to explore and climb all of the structures. I loved how “undiscovered” these ruins felt and it was definitely an off the beaten path experience!

I have also visited the ruins of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba, which are all unique and amazing as well.

The main pyramid at Chichen Itza

The main pyramid at Ek Balam

Public Transportation:

Mexico has an amazing public transportation system; definitely better than Canada’s! The ADO first and second class buses are convenient, safe, comfortable and reliable. The local colectivos (shared shuttle vans) are fast and air-conditioned and do not operate on a fixed schedule, so it is easy to catch one whenever you need.

Tulum:

Tulum is a small village located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, along the Mayan Riviera. It has a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, and the locals are welcoming and friendly. There is so much to do in and around Tulum! You can visit the Tulum Ruins, wander the residential streets finding colourful street murals along the way, visit the ruins of Coba, swim at the beach, check out some of the many wonderful produce markets, and eat lots of delicious authentic Mexican food! Here is my detailed guide to Tulum, with everything else you need to know.

Postcard scene from the beach at Tulum

A colourful mural on a quiet street in Tulum

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Produce market in Tulum

The Amazing Hostels:

Mexico has so many amazing hostels! I stayed in hostels for the first time in Mexico during my solo trip. Of the three hostels I stayed at, they were all so unique and I had such positive experiences. I loved the colourful decor at the hostels, the extremely friendly and helpful staff and how easy it was to meet new people and travel friends. My favourite hostels were Mama’s Home in Tulum and Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid.

Mama’s Home had a beautiful outdoor courtyard in the centre of the hostel, with colourful paintings on the walls surrounding it, a large palm tree in the centre and hammocks to relax in along the edges.

Colourfully painted floor and walls in the outdoor courtyard

View of the hostel from the street

View of the hostel from the street

The outdoor courtyard

Hostel La Candelaria was located in a colonial building and featured a rooftop patio, a beautiful treed garden with hammocks behind the building, and even an outdoor kitchen!

Colourfully painted outdoor washrooms and showers

Colourfully painted outdoor washrooms and showers

The front of Hostel La Candelaria from the plaza/square

The front of Hostel La Candelaria from the plaza/square

View of the hostel from the garden behind it

View of the hostel from the garden behind it

The History:

Mexico’s history is fascinating. If you are interested in the Mayan civilization, there is so much history you can learn about the ancient ruins, the cenotes and the towns and cities. I recommend reading about the history of the places you plan to visit before you get there, so you have some background knowledge.

The Local Shops:

Something I loved about Mexico, was the lack of big department chain stores (in small towns and cities, like Tulum and Valladolid) and the abundance of small specialty shops that were locally-owned. Every shop has its own specialty. There is the “papeleria” which sells stationary and paper; the “tortilleria” sells fresh tortillas; the “floreria” sells flowers; the “paleteria y neveria” sells popsicles and ice cream. There are so many more that I could list as well.

I love supporting local businesses and individuals, both at home and when I am traveling, and I loved how easy it was to do that in Mexico.

Local woman in Tulum selling fresh fruit from a bicycle cart

Local convenience store or “abarrotes” in Tulum

One of many paleteria and neverias in Tulum

The produce market in Tulum

Affordability: 

When you hear people talk about traveling to Mexico, you might assume that it is an expensive luxury destination. While there are definitely some pricier areas and types of accommodation in Mexico, like boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts along the Mayan Riviera, traveling in Mexico doesn’t have to be expensive.

If you are traveling on a budget and independently, you can travel for very cheap, especially if you are willing to stay in hostels, eat cheap and authentic local food and use public transportation. The total cost of my 12 day solo trip to Mexico was significantly less than when I stayed at an all-inclusive resort for 7 days. You can read a more detailed report about what exactly I spent in Mexico during my solo trip here. On average, I spent around $50 CAD per day, but I could have spent even less.

It is also worth noting that the slower you travel and the longer you stay in one place, the cheaper your travel is going to be. This is because you won’t be trying to cram a bunch of activities and sightseeing into a short period of time, but will be able to space things out.

Mexico may not be as bargain cheap as South East Asia or Central America, but it is affordable. If you travel in the off-season, you’ll find even better value for your money outside the November-March season. May is a great month to travel to Mexico because it is between high season and rainy season. For budget travelers, you can get by on very little. The food is cheap as well as the local transportation.

The Spanish Language:

I love everything about the Spanish language. It sounds gorgeous and it has a nice flow to it. The grammar rules make more sense to me than those in English and I like that everything is pronounced how it is spelled. Spanish is the primary language spoken in Mexico and aside from the touristy cities and attractions, it becomes increasingly difficult to find English speakers. Even in Tulum, which is pretty touristy, the minute you step off the main highway with all of the souvenir shops, there were not many people who spoke English! Thus, it is essential that you know the basics of the language and a few key phrases, so you are able to express yourself with words instead of relying on body language, charades and other non-verbal forms of communication. I enjoyed the challenge of having to practice my Spanish skills!

The Colours:

Everything is so colourful and vivid in Mexico! The houses, traditional clothing, the food and the colonial buildings.

The Cathedrals:

There are so many cathedrals and churches in Mexico. The large cathedrals are often located on the main squares and parks in the city/town/village. They are all so unique, grand and beautiful with such detailed architecture. It was fascinating to wander around inside some of them and admire everything.

Catedral de San Gervasio in Valladolid

The cathedral across from Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid

The cathedral across from Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid

Catedral de San Gervasio at the main plaza in Valladolid

Catedral de San Gervasio at the main plaza in Valladolid

I hope that through this post, you can appreciate all of the amazing attractions, activities and gorgeous natural beauty that the country of Mexico has to offer!

No matter what kind of traveler you are – off the beaten path, independent, luxury, budget, family, solo female, adventure – there is something for everyone in Mexico.

It is definitely a country worth exploring!

Here are some other blogs that have written about their favourite things in Mexico:

http://globetrottergirls.com/2010/09/33-things-we-love-about-mexico/

http://themexicoreport.com/2011/03/08/things-we-love-about-mexico/

https://www.hotelesboutique.com/en/30-things-i-love-about-mexico/

http://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/2014/9/10/21-things-we-love-about-mexico

http://www.crazysexyfuntraveler.com/26-reasons-love-mexico/

Have you been to Mexico? What do you love about this country?

Let me know in the comments!

The Cenotes of Valladolid

Cenotes of Valladolid

Valladolid is a charming colonial city, located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula. This city is a great base for exploring the many interesting and gorgeous cenotes in the surrounding area.

Here’s some information about the ones I visited during my first solo trip:

HACIENDA SAN LORENZO OXMAN CENOTE:

Location:

This cenote is located approximately 4 km south of Valladolid on Calle 54 at a quiet hacienda hidden down a long gravel road, very close to town.

Getting There:

You can easily take a taxi or ride a bicycle to this cenote. If you are bicycle riding, there are multiple bike rental shops in Valladolid. If you’re staying at Hostel La Candelaria, they rent bicycles for 80 pesos per day or 15 pesos per hour. Bike south on Calle 54 and then make a right when you see the sign for the cenote, down a very bumpy, narrow and uphill gravel road, which leads to the hacienda and cenote.

I took a taxi which costs 70 pesos one way from Valladolid. The cost is cheaper if you share with others or go with some friends from your hostel.

When you are ready to go back to Valladolid, ask one of the staff in Spanish to call a taxi for you to get back to Valladolid, as taxis do not make regular stops here (say “Me puede llamar a un taxi?”).

Cenote Oxman

Costs:

The entrance is 30 pesos which includes access to the cenote and pool/lounge area. There is a small bar here and local beers cost 30 pesos.

Great cenote for swimming!

My Experience:

I visited this cenote with some new friends from the hostel I was staying at in Valladolid. This ended up being my absolute favourite cenote that I visited in Mexico!

Stunning natural beauty!

My friends and I were the only people there which created a peaceful, relaxing and magical atmosphere inside the cenote.

The cenote is located far underground after a long walk down spiral stone steps. Upon arriving at the hacienda, you would never know that a cenote is there because it is so far underground and the entrance consists of just a small doorway at ground level.

The large opening at the top of the cenote

There is a large opening at the top of the cenote where tree roots and vines dip down to the fresh water. It is absolutely breath-takingly beautiful!

Tree roots and vines reaching down to the water below

Inside the cenote, there is also a rope swing which was so much fun to swing across and then jump into the refreshing and cool water. A staff member comes down in the cenote with you and supervises the rope swing.

Unspoiled beauty

There are no lockers here but I felt comfortable and safe leaving my belongings on a rock ledge on the side of the cenote. It was amazing to have the entire cenote to ourselves!

This cenote is definitely lesser known and off the beaten path, which I loved.

Stunning!

When you’re finished swimming in the cenote, the hacienda grounds have an in-ground swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and tables, as well as a bar which serves cheap beer. You can easily spend an entire afternoon here, as I did, and it was beautiful.

Hacienda San Lorenzo

The pool at Hacienda San Lorenzo

Inside the cenote

This cenote is not listed in any guidebooks, but it is the best one, in my opinion. It is a hidden gem in the Yucatan and I hope it stays “undiscovered” and retains its magic.

Cenote Oxman

CENOTES XKEKEN/DZITNUP AND SAMULA:

Location:

Both cenotes are located across the road from one another. They are situated just 7 km south of Valladolid down Highway 180 and then taking a left down the road towards the village of Dzitnup.

Getting There:

Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid provides you with a bicycle route map for how to get there via cycling. I would have cycled but in May, it was way too hot! I took a taxi with a couple of friends who I had met at my hostel, and it cost 70 pesos one way, which we split between the three of us. There are taxis waiting in the parking lot when you’re finished swimming in the cenotes. If there aren’t any taxis waiting, you can ask one of the staff members to call one for you.

Costs:

65 pesos entrance for each cenote. There are no lockers but you can leave your belongings on the side of the cenote on the rocks.

My Experience:

Both cenotes are located completely underground with a small opening at the top of the rock ceiling, allowing the sun’s rays to shine through down to the water below, with tree roots hanging through the opening. They are both gorgeous! There are stalactites hanging from the rock ceiling, and interesting rock formations, bats flying above your head and little black catfish swimming in the water with you. The water was cool and refreshing and if you are sitting on the edge of the cenote with your feet in the water, little fish will swim up and nibble the dead skin off of your feet. It felt weird and tickled a little! Once you start swimming, they leave you alone.

Interesting rock formation inside Cenote Xkeken

Cenote Xkeken

The water in Cenote Samula is shallower and there is a rock island in the middle where you can rest. The cenote is circular and is a large open swimming area. At Cenote Samula, you climb down a set of narrow wooden stairs that take you directly into the water. There is only a small flat area to stand before climbing down the steps, and you can leave your belongings there, since there are no lockers.

Cenote Samula

Cenote Xkeken also consisted of a mostly open swimming area, but there were some areas of the cavern that were narrower and where you could swim around stalactites. Cenote Xkeken has a large area on the side of the cenote where you can leave your belongings.

The sun’s rays shining into Cenote Xkeken

I visited the cenotes in the afternoon and it was more crowded than I was expecting.

What I didn’t like about the area surrounding the cenotes, was how modernized and commercialized it was, complete with brand new washroom facilities, a full restaurant, and more concrete than trees and other natural foliage.

It was somewhat confusing and difficult to locate the entrance to the cenotes themselves. The paths guide you through a circular maze of vendor booths selling touristy souvenirs before you get to the cenote. I finally found a little path leading to the cenote after walking through this market-like area for a little while. There were no signs telling you which path led to the cenotes. You basically have to walk around aimlessly and try walking down different paths until you find it.

The sun shining through at Cenote Samula

But once you get underground and see the beauty of the cenotes, it is worth it. I would definitely recommend visiting these cenotes and in hindsight, I would try visiting in the morning next time to avoid the crowds.

X’CANCHE CENOTE:

The interior of Cenote X’Canche

Location:

Cenote X’Canche is located down a 1.5 mile gravel path starting from the entrance to the Ek Balam Ruins, just 20 minutes north of Valladolid.

Getting There:

I visited Cenote X’Canche with friends from my hostel and we took a taxi colectivo from Valladolid (Calle 44 between 35 and 37 is where they line up and wait) for 50 pesos per person one-way. If you don’t have 4 people, you may have to wait a little while before the taxi driver leaves, as he will wait until he has enough people to fill his car. There are usually taxis waiting in the parking lot to come back to Valladolid, but if not, just ask a staff member to call one for you.

Cenote X’Canche

Once you are at the Ek Balam Ruins entrance, you can rent a bicycle or bicycle taxi for two people to get to the cenote. I opted for the bicycle taxi which was a great option, as they had just laid down some fresh sand on the path which would have been very difficult to bike through! Our driver was exhausted. You drive down the sand path for about one and a half miles to reach the cenote. The bicycle taxi will wait at the cenote until you are finished and the same driver will take you back to the parking lot of the ruins.

The gravel/sand path leading from the ruins to the cenote

Selfie of me on the bicycle taxi with our driver behind me

Costs:

30 pesos entrance, 70 pesos for a bicycle rental or bicycle taxi (two person). The cenote is managed and maintained by local community members, so your admission and bike rental supports them directly which is awesome. I love supporting and contributing to the local economy when I am traveling.

Tree roots reaching down to the water

My Experience:

Cenote X’Canche was absolutely gorgeous and was my second favourite cenote (my first favourite being Cenote Oxman) that I visited in the Yucatan.

How beautiful is this?!

It is set in the middle of the jungle and is surrounded by dense foliage and unspoiled natural beauty. Very little has been done to modernize the area, which made it more rustic, natural and enjoyable. There are washrooms and changing areas (and lockers for rent), but they are very basic wood stalls.

The entrance to Cenote X’Canche, surrounded by dense jungle

The structure of the cenote is similar to that at Cenote Oxman, with it being circular and having a large opening at the top where tree roots and vines dangle from the ground above to the water below.

The stairs and boardwalk around the cenote

To get down to the cenote, you walk down a set of very steep wooden stairs. Once you are down to the water’s level, there is a wooden boardwalk and mini suspension bridge that encircle the interior of the cenote, hugging closely to the rock walls.

Steep wooden stairs used to enter and exit the cenote

The water is a beautiful turquoise colour and is completely clear. There are a lot of small black catfish swimming in the water, but they swim away from you when you get near them. The fish freaked me out a little bit, but don’t worry, they won’t bother you.

The many black catfish that swim around with you

The suspension bridge and wooden boardwalk around the interior of the cenote

Suspension bridge from a different angle

After climbing the ruins at Ek Balam, the water was a cool and refreshing treat. Similar to many other cenotes, there are ropes tied from one end of the cenote to the other, in order to stand or lean on to take a break from treading water.

The opening at the top of the cenote

The gorgeous green waters

My group and I were the only ones there at the time, which added to the peacefulness and magical atmosphere of the cenote.

Absolutely beautiful

I hope this cenote remains a lesser known and less “discovered” cenote, so that it retains its natural beauty and magical atmosphere.

CENOTE ZACI:

Cenote Zaci

Location:

Cenote Zaci is located at Calle 36 between Calles 37 and 39. It is located in the middle of Valladolid, Mexico.

Cenote Zaci

Getting There:

Cenote Zaci is easy to walk to from most central areas of Valladolid. It was located only 5 blocks from my hostel (Hostel La Candelaria). You could also bicycle here (Hostel La Candelaria rents bikes for 80 pesos per day and 15 pesos per hour).

The steps leading underground to the cenote

The cenote from the ground level

Costs:

25 pesos entrance.

My Experience:

I visited this cenote on my own during the afternoon of the first day that I had arrived in Valladolid from Tulum.

Cenote Zaci

There are no washrooms or changing rooms and no lockers, so I suggest changing into your swimsuit before you get there and just wearing your clothes over your swimsuit. I was the only person at the cenote and felt safe leaving my belongings on the side.

Absolutely gorgeous!

I walked down some stone steps and then into the cenote, which is a massive hollowed out cavern that is largely open to the sky. There is lush greenery on the opposite side of the cenote, climbing all the way up a steep hilly incline to the ground level. It was absolutely beautiful and amazing that this cenote was located in the middle of a city!

The lush greenery on one side of the cenote

There were stone steps leading right down to the water’s edge. One side of the cenote is a rock wall with stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the rock ceiling and the other side is a grassy green hill leading up to the ground level.

The water was quite murky and had lots of leaves and tree branches floating in it, but I swam anyways. It was refreshing, and a welcome break from the May heat in the Yucatan!

The murky water at Cenote Zaci

There were ropes strung from one end of the cenote to the other to hang on to if you get tired of swimming.

The only thing that freaked me out a little, was that there were so many little black catfish in the water, but I couldn’t see exactly where they were because the water was so unclear!

The water at Cenote Zaci

I was the only one there at the cenote when I went, which was nice.

The cavern side of the cenote

The cenote itself is large, impressive and absolutely beautiful. I would recommend checking it out when you are in Valladolid.

CENOTE IK’KIL:

Cenote Ik’Kil

Location:

Cenote Ik’Kil is located about a 5-7 minute drive from Chichen Itza just off of the Valladolid-Merida Highway between the towns of Piste/Chichen Itza and Xcalacoop.

Getting There: 

I had visited Chichen Itza in the morning with friends that I had met at the hostel I stayed at in Valladolid.

Following the ruins visit, we took a taxi for 70 pesos (split between all four of us) to the cenote. When we wanted to return to Valladolid, we took a another taxi back for 250 pesos (split between the four of us), as there were no buses or colectivos leaving from the cenote’s parking lot.

I imagine you could also take a second class bus from Valladolid to Piste and then taxi to the cenote, back to Piste or Chichen Itza and then get a colectivo or second class bus back to Valladolid.

Looking down into the cenote from ground level

Costs: Entrance was 70 pesos, lockers were 30 pesos.

My Experience:

The cenote itself is absolutely beautiful and has lots of tree roots and vines hanging from the ground above to the water below. There are black catfish swimming around you.

Lots of tree roots and vines reaching down to the water

The cenote was pretty crowded when I visited and it is very touristy and commercialized, which I felt detracted from the cenote’s natural beauty, peacefulness and magic. A lot has been done to modernize the area surrounding the cenote, with large changing rooms, washrooms, lockers and a full service restaurant. I prefer to visit cenotes that are further off the beaten path and surrounded by the unspoiled natural beauty of the jungle.

Once we made our way through the crowds of people and down to the water’s edge, we had to wait in line in order to actually go for a swim. There was also a higher ledge where you can jump off into the water, but there was a long line-up for that one as well.

Cenote Ik’Kil

Once I got my turn to enter the water, I could barely swim without touching or bumping into someone else. It was packed with people.

Visiting this cenote was definitely not a very relaxing or peaceful experience, and it was probably my least favourite cenote that I visited, based solely on the atmosphere. The cenote itself is absolutely gorgeous! Perhaps the atmosphere would be different in the morning when they open (I went during midday which is probably a busier time).

Gorgeous!

If you plan on visiting this cenote, I would recommend getting there early, instead of waiting until the middle of the day like I did, in order to beat the crowds and be able to admire the beauty of this cenote in a more peaceful setting.

As you can probably notice, I am a little bit obsessed with cenotes. How can you not be?! They exude such gorgeous natural beauty and they have a lot of history and sacred meaning to the ancient Mayas in the Yucatan. They are fascinating to learn about and admire in person!

I am excited to keep exploring the cenotes of the Yucatan; re-visiting my favourite cenotes, while discovering new ones.

Which cenotes have you visited in the Valladolid area? Do you have any suggestions for other ones that I should visit? What do you love most about cenotes?

Please comment below.

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.