Cenotes are major attractions in the Yucatan Penninsula. They are large underground wells that have long been protected by the Mayans.
I've had the chance to explore two cenotes during my trip to Yucatan. One at Tulum and one near Chichen Itza.
What is it?
A cenote is an underground cave with freshwater pools.
It was believed that an asteroid hit Yucatan and shifted the bedrocks in the area, the result is a collapse of limestone bedrock and then exposes groundwater underneath. According to ancient Mayan legends, cenote is the entrance to the underworld. The Mayans drink the water from the cenote, claiming its purity of the water. As a result, tourists nowadays are not allowed to put on sun screen in order to prevent water contamination.
It is also believed that Mayans used cenotes as a place of worship. After seeing the turquoise blue colour, it is very believable to understand why cenote is considered a sacred place.
Types of Cenote
There are several types of cenotes. These are the 1) Open Water Cenote, 2) Cavern Cenote, and 3) Cave Cenote
These naming conventions are used to identify the level of difficulty for scuba-diving. Aside from worshiping the cenotes, an activity to do with cenotes is to scuba-dive. Depending on the type of cenote, you may require certification for a tour guide to bring you in.
For example, Cenote Dos Ojos scuba-dive would be considered cavern diving. For all cavern dives, you need to be at least Open Water Certified to dive. Any cave diving would require a cave dive certification.
The reason why you need certification is because of its difficulty. For both cavern and cave diving, you need to be able to control your body buoyancy. It is an extremely important concept because your airtank and your body cannot hit the top and bottom of the cenote. For cave diving, it is even more difficult because there is no natural light and you need head lights to gain visibility. If you are claustrophobic, good luck, I suggest you to pick another activity.
Even though you are not certified in anyway with scuba-diving, you can always enjoy it with just a simple swim or snorkel. For example, Tamcach-ha cenote is cool and perfectly enjoyable with just a swim. The famous Ik Kil Cenote even have several lifeguards watching over your life as you dive into the water.
There are several famous cenotes in the area.
1) Cenote Dos Ojos
As mentioned before, this cenote is most famous for scuba-diving. Dos Ojos (two eyes) is named after a pair of cenotes that connect to a giant underground cavern is discovered. The full extent of the cenote system is yet to be discovered. This place is so beautiful that it has been featured in the Discovery Channel series Planet Earth.
2) Ik Kil Cenote
This cenote is probably the most popular cenote in Yucatan because of its close proximity to Chichen Itza. It is very suitable for family visits and children because the cenote is relatively harmless. As mentioned previously, there are lifeguards on duty in the cenote because of its popularity.
How to get there: A 3min drive from Chichen Itza. Just be careful with the crowd and avoid going there during mid-day.
3) Tamcach-ha Cenote
This cenote has multiple diving platforms. The water is very clear and more than deep enough for a jump. However, be careful as there is no life guard.
How to get there: About 6km south of Coba, you can easily take a taxi there. Be sure to take a shower before you hop into the cenote.
4) Dzitnup Cenote
This cenote is most famous for its visual appeal, often being featured in travel magazines and journals. You have to climb down some very narrow stairs to arrive the underground cave. The roof is about 50 metres above you with a small hole in the centre.
How to get there: You can get a cheap taxi ride from Valladolid. Entrance fee is about $50 pesos and it is open from 8:00am to 4:30pm.
5) Gran Cenote
Gran Cenote is a cenote that has it all - open water pools, caverns and caves. Given by its name, you can guess that Gran Cenote is big and it is mostly open space. The water underneath is quite clear that you can see the nature beneath.
How to get there: You can get there with a 10-min tax ride from Tulum. The entrance is about $100 pesos and it is open from 9:00am to 5pm.