With searing, subtropical temperatures, choosing a beach holiday to Mexico is ideal: you’ve got the sea on your doorstep and when the sun gets a little too much, you can dive into azure waters for a refreshing dip. However, if you’re not near the beach or swimming in the sea just isn’t your thing and the hotel swimming pool is a bit too crowded, there are other options for those in the know: Cancun is home to some of the very best cenotes Mexico has to offer. If you’ve never heard the word before, then visiting one of the 7,000 cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula is an absolute must, even if it’s just to cool off!
Cenotes are formed by the roofs of subterranean limestone caves collapsing, revealing underground lakes with crystal-clear waters and small shoals of shimmering fish. The cenotes in Mexico were originally discovered by the Mayans, who saw them as sacred sites through which they could communicate with the gods of the underworld. Unfortunately, for the chosen few, this meant human sacrifice and some of the more important cenotes are still revealing evidence of their grisly past in the form of ancient rings, jewellery, and human bones. For the most part, however, cenotes were used as a water source and for fishing, rather than finishing off a couple of locals!
Which Cenotes should I see?
Even though they’re all inhabited by colourful fish and situated below ground, you’ll find that each of the cenotes in Mexico have their own unique character. Some are perfect for snorkelling, the deeper ones are ideal for scuba divers who want to explore hidden chambers, and some are geared up for children, families, and thrill-seekers, with zip-wires and small cliffs that you can take the plunge from.
If you’re just looking for a peaceful swim, Cenotes Azul is one of the less challenging cenotes Mexico visitors can enjoy. It’s not too deep and, if you feel like swimming outside of your comfort zone, there’s a short, underground passage that you can swim through. Aside from the fish, the only other wildlife you’re likely to see is the occasional Iguana. Cenotes Azul is about 20 minutes’ drive from Playa del Carmen, while Cenotes Eden and Cristalino are just a walk away.
Diving, Bats and Toucans
For the more adventurous, Dos Ojos is probably the biggest and the best. With a cave system that runs over 60km in length, this is one for scuba-divers who want to enjoy a fascinating dive. Again, this is a short drive from Playa del Carmen.
Gran Cenote is great for families, with a colony of bats living in the roof and toucans which visit in January and February, while Verde Lucero, close to Puerto Morelos, has ropes to swing on, a zipwire, and floats for splashing around on.
Tips for Visitors
It’s worth knowing that photography in the cenotes’ caves is generally not permitted and, if you’re going for a swim, snorkel or a dive, wearing sun-tan oil, creams and other skin products is not allowed, for fear of poisoning the fish.