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Cenotes in the Riviera Maya, Are They Worth Visiting?

Cenotes in the Riviera Maya - Dressel Divers

Cenotes in the Riviera Maya are Chaak’s home. The god of life-giving rain. You visit one of the cenotes of the Mayan Riviera, and if you pay attention, you see him. You see the god when a ray of sunlight enters the mouth of the cenote and dances like fire on the delicate shapes of the surrounding stalactites. You witness his power as the entire cenote seems to light up, and below the surface, the waters turn a transparent turquoise blue. You see Chaak as he welcomes divers to the underworld with the halocline. So, when they go through a layer of water, suddenly everything blurs.

Chaak has the voice of the clear water of an underground Mayan River. However, the sound of the bubbles, the children’s voices that snorkel, some distant laughter, and the accents of other shores that mix in subtle harmony, silence the god that lives in the cenotes of the Mayan Riviera. In this way, he welcomes new visitors to show them the splendor of his abode.

These were the beliefs of the ancient Mayans, and we can understand them because the cenotes of the Riviera Maya show such incredible natural power that even today, we feel that they are enchanted, magical, and even prodigious places.

Let me tell their story. Take a look at the index that I have prepared to reveal the secrets of the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya.

Cenotes in the riviera maya - diver inside

1. What Are the Cenotes in The Riviera Maya?

For many years I had the pleasure to work as an instructor in the Riviera Maya, and most importantly, I was lucky enough to become a cavern guide. The Cenotes in the Riviera Maya are sinkholes that open into a really extensive subterranean river system in the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), and form a large underwater cave and cavern system. You can dive in these amazing caves with the full cave diver certification. You can also dive in the cavern area under the supervision of a qualified instructor/cave diver.

The Yucatan Peninsula has the largest concentration of cenotes in the world. The number considered in the state of Yucatan ranges from 7,000 to 8,000 cenotes.

The word cenote comes from “dz’onot, tzonot or Ts’ono’ot”.  It is a masculine noun in the Mayan language that means cave with water. The word shortened to “dzon”, and we can still seen it in the names of the Mayan populations Dzoncauich, Chikindzonot, Kancabdzon, etc.

2. How were the cenotes of the Riviera Maya formed?

To understand a little bit more about what the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya are, here you have a brief story on their formation. During the different ice ages – a time when the ocean levels were much lower than they are today – a gigantic coral reef area became exposed to the atmosphere and eventually became the Yucatan Peninsula.

Several large cave and cavern systems were formed when the water penetrated gradually the coral limestone, dissolving this very porous rock.

Inside these tunnels, geological structures such as stalactites and stalagmites were formed during that time as well, drop by drop. Many parts of the ceiling of these Riviera Maya cenotes eventually collapsed forming different Cenotes or the entrances to the underground system. For that reason, the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya are also called sinkholes because of the ceilings caving in. With time, the sea levels increased flooding these tunnels and forming, along with fresh water from the rain, the underwater river system.

Cenotes in the riviera maya - closed cenote

3. Types of Cenotes in the Riviera Maya

The Riviera Maya cenotes typology is established based on the stage of the opening process that connects the underground aquifer with the jungle and the sunlight on the surface. In other words, there are young cenotes and old cenotes.

The oldest Mayan cenotes are more than caves. They are open-air lagoons in the middle of the jungle, the youngest of them surrounded by stone walls.

These cenotes have long since lost their roof and have a limited, restricted, or slower flow with the aquifer. For this reason, these Mayan cenotes present strong sedimentation and dissolution of organic matter particles. So, the water can look dark or cloudy.

Young cenotes are directly connected to the aquifer through cave tunnels. The flow of water is fast and constant. It never stagnates. They have little sedimented and/or suspended organic matter, and their water is totally crystalline.

The logics (another name for this kind of young Mayan cenotes) have small opening mouths. Some of them are still closed caves where no sunlight enters. But these last ones are not cenotes of the Riviera Maya yet, since cenotes, by definition, are caverns. That is, they have to be open to sunlight.

4. Are the Cenotes of The Riviera Maya Worth Visiting?

The most common question people asked me while I was a guide in the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya was: What is there to see? Is it not just a sinkhole in the middle of the jungle? Hundreds of answers just came to my mind…

To be able to see the amazing formations (the ancient stalactites, stalagmites & the gigantic columns), experience the weird visual effect caused by the halocline (blurry effect), the amazing colors we see when the sunlight penetrates the water, the fossils that are millions of years old… everything seems really magical. That was the keyword that always came into my mind: the Cenotes are a MAGICAL place. It is an actual “natural museum”, and they were a sacred place to the ancient Mayan civilization. The Mayans believed these “holes” were the passage to the underworld, where different gods lived.

Besides what you can see in the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya, for me it was always more about the feeling of diving there. It was always simply amazing! You are immersed in a magical environment, a different world. The water is so incredibly clear (more than 100m/300ft visibility) that you feel like you are flying as if there is no water around you and you are floating in the air, admiring the beauty of this mysterious place… You simply have to live that feeling.

Cenotes in the riviera maya - lights

5. What Are the Best Cenotes in Riviera Maya?

We divide the Riviera Maya into 3 quadrants because of the long distances between towns. For example, from Cancun to Tulum, there are 130 Km/ 80mi. From Cancun to Valladolid, inland 160 km/ 99mi.

The Cenote Azul is an old Riviera Maya cenote, totally open and very famous among swimmers and snorkelers. It is 3.5 hours by car from Cancun.

For this reason, we list some of the best cenotes in the Riviera Maya, which are close to the coast and large towns, so that you can spend more time discovering these Mayan caverns and less on the road.


5.1. Best Cenotes in Tulum

Dos Ojos Cenote Mexico

Just 18 minutes by car from Tulum is the enormous Riviera Maya cenote Dos Ojos. It is part of a system of flooded caves that make up the largest cave in the world.

You can practice snorkeling and diving in it. Scuba divers can choose between two different and marvelous routes.

This Mayan cenote is inside the Dos Ojos Park along with 4 other Mayan Riviera cenotes: Jaguar, Nicte-Ha, el Pit and los Monos.

Cenote Chikin Ha

This cenote allows snorkelers to enter the earth through its cracks. Inside there is also a cave up to 15 meters deep. The rocky landscape and crystal-clear waters make it spectacular for the visitor.

Great Cenote

The Gran cenote is 3.5 km/ 2mi from Tulum and is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:45 pm.

This cenote of the Riviera Maya is half open with a wide mouth and has a part with a cave. So, it is suitable for both diving and snorkeling. There are some facilities toilets, showers, and parking.

Cenotes in the riviera maya - dos ojos

5.2 Playa Del Carmen Cenotes

Garden of Eden Cenote / La Ponderosa

Its name is also Jardín del Edén because it is an ancient Riviera Maya cenote completely open and surrounded by the jungle. It is ideal for swimming or just snorkeling. You will find it 24 km/ 14 mi south of Playa del Carmen.


Chac Mool Cenote

It is 28 km / 17 mi south of Playa del Carmen, and Its charm is inside. In other words, it is ideal for divers. Snorkeling is not allowed in this Riviera Maya cenote.

It has 3 different entrances, incredible games of lights, halocline, stalagmites, stalactites, and a beautiful dome.


Tajma Ha Cenote

Its name is Tajma Ha, but divers call it “Taj Mahal” because of the impressiveness of the diving inside. This cenote is located 30 km / 18 mi from Playa del Carmen. It doesn’t have much to offer to snorkelers, but it’s a blast for divers of all levels. It has a cavern full of bats, the halocline layer is in the middle of a tunnel, which is stunning, and the natural lasers (this is what divers call the play of light inside).


5.3 Best Cenotes Near Cancun

La Noria Cenote

It is within the so-called Cenote’s road, and it is the largest of the Mayan Riviera cenotes that you will find in it, 18m/59ft deep and 47m/154ft wide. It offers a circuit of zip lines that traverse over the cenote. It is a young Riviera Maya cenote with two entrances. The first one is very narrow, and the second access with a wooden staircase goes down to a blue space with impressive geological formations.


Boca del Puma Cenote

It is also on the Cenotes’ route. Actually, it is a natural park that has open and underground parts, where you can see impressive formations of stalactites, stalagmites, and fossils.

There are a lot of activities to do: snorkeling, zip-lining, rappelling, cycling, a gum village (natural rubber), wall climbing, and of course, scuba.

Cenotes in the riviera maya - divers

6. Riviera Maya Cenotes Tour

At Dressel Divers, we offer two tours to the cenotes of the Riviera Maya, one designed for snorkel lovers and a second to discover them from the inside by diving.

In both tours of the Riviera Maya, we enter and immerse ourselves, each one to its depth. There we stand in ecstasy in its caverns. We become the new high priests in search of gods’ message in a sacred space that is amid both: land and water.


What Do You Think About the Mayan Riviera Cenotes?

If you have ever been there, I would love to hear some of your opinions on the Cenotes in the Riviera Maya. All of them are really different and special. I would love to hear about your experiences in this magical underground world! Share them with us on Facebook.


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