The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with thousands of cenotes (sink holes or, in this case, swimming holes). They were the only source of fresh water for the ancient Maya. Therefore, it makes sense that they were revered and consecrated as sites for rituals and sacrifice. Although today it is rare for people to throw their precious items into these waters and few still use them as drinking wells, they are still cherished by locals, tourists, divers, and people just wanting respite from the Peninsula’s heat.
These refreshing pools come in all shapes, sizes, and temperatures. The latter mostly depends on the cenote type – of which there are four. The first is completely enclosed. It is an underground cave usually only visited by advanced divers, and its temperature is colder than the other types. The second is a partially underground cenote, and the third is a pit cenote. These las two are more common in the Yucatan than in Quintana Roo. The fourth is open to the sky, is warmer than the others, and is the one most common to visitors of Quintana Roo. However, most of these open cenotes also have caves and caverns at the bottom.
The first worthwhile cenote on the road south from Playa del Carmen – just past Puerto Aventuras and before Akumal – is aptly named Cristalino. This is a small, blue-green and crystal-clear cenote that’s popular with locals on Sundays. Next door is another sweet cenote – Cenote Azul. The owners of Rancho Azul, which is located just up the road, adminster this one also. On the Rancho they have another cenote and impromptu, non-lethal rooster fights in the afternoons that are open to visitors.
About 12 miles past Cenote Azul is the entrance to two cenotes: Dos Palmas and Dos Ojos. The first is a small cenote that has a temazcal and a new nature trail. The second is a partially-covered, sprawling cenote that is popular for dive-tours because of its underwater cave system.
The next essential destination, if doing a cenote tour, is Tulum. Tulum has six cenotes within a fifteen-mile radius and two more just beyond. The most popular one is Gran Cenote, and it is justly so. It has a variety of sections: shallow areas, caves, and parts that are open to the sky. To get here, go south to Tulum, turn right at the stoplight (with the 7-Eleven on the left) and head towards the Coba ruins. A few kilometers west there will be a sign (on the right) for this cenote. There are three other cenotes on this road. The farthest one is about fifteen kilometers west from Gran Cenote, and is named Zacil-Ha. The last recommended cenote, Cenote Cristal, is about fifteen kilometers south of Tulum, on the Cancun-Chetumal highway. There are actually two cenotes here. The second one is Cenote Escondido, which is across the highway. You can pay one price and visit both Cristal and Escondido.
Entrance fees range from free to 200 pesos. Most are open everyday until about 5 p.m. Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote are the two most expensive mentioned here and they are about 130 pesos. The price is higher for scuba diving.
Photo Courtesy of Manuel Rocha