Although the Riviera Maya region just south of Cancun is perhaps best known for having the best beaches in the world, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is also home to thousands of beautiful freshwater cenotes (pronounced say-note-tays) that offer fantastic places to swim, snorkel or - for more adventurous travelers - experience cave diving in the world’s most stunning underwater caverns. Considered to be sacred by the ancient Mayans, these natural sinkholes are still an important water source for the Yucatan Peninsula and also represent one of the Riviera Maya’s most exciting tourism offerings.
Here are four of our favorite cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, offering incredible photo ops and a fun way to support both the local Mayan culture and indigenous businesses!
Tulum’s “Car Wash” Cenote
This swimming hole once served as - you guessed it - a sort of natural car wash for local taxi drivers, but today the taxistas have been replaced by tourists who come for the incredible swimming and snorkeling. At 53 feet deep and 150-feet wide, this cenote is home to an array of colorful fish, turtles and water lilies. Insider Tip: We like to fuel up on traditional Mexican food like tacos al pastor, empanadas and aguas frescas at the laid-back Rincon Chiapaneco in downtown (centro) after taking a dip at the “Car Wash” cenote in Tulum.
Cenote Sagrado at Chichén Itzá
Situated near the 98-foot-high El Castillo pyramid at the magnificent ruins of Chichén Itzá, this cenote is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is still considered sacred to local Mayans. Because of this status, swimming is not permitted at Cenote Sagrado, but photography is so be sure to bring a camera! Insider Tip: Be sure to make a stop in the historic colonial town of Valladolid when you visit Chichén Itzá! Whether you stay overnight or just enjoy a quick meal at one of the cafes that surround the public square, this charming spot is sure to please!
You can swim where the Empress of Mexico once took a dip when you visit this 18th century plantation that grows henequen (a plant similar to agave). There are actually two cenotes connected by a canal at Hacienda Mucuyché, which is also open for guided tours. You can even float down the canal from one cenote to the other at this unique destination, which offers a perfect day trip from Merida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state. Insider Tip: Spend all day exploring the historic hacienda, then enjoy dinner at the on-site restaurant, where you can try mouthwatering regional cuisine like conchinita pibil, a traditional Yucatecan braised pork.
7 Cenotes of San Gerónimo
According to local legend, 15th-century warrior Nachi Cocom led the Cocomes Mayan people in battle against the invading Spanish, taking refuge from conquistadores in the Seven Cenotes of San Gerónimo. Although he was eventually captured and forced to surrender, his bravery lives on in stories that are told on tours of these fabled cenotes. Situated less than one hour from Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula’s northern coast, this site deserves a daylong guided tour. Insider Tip: You can bike, snorkel and learn about Mayan history here, but be sure to take a break for lunch and sample the traditional poc chuc, a Yucatecan delicacy made with an intoxicating blend of grilled meat and citrus.
Do you have questions what to do on a Mexico vacation? Share them in the comments!
See more of the best things to do in Mexico! Check out 5 Unforgettable Riviera Maya Activities, from Cancun to Tulum and start to make your next trip to the Mexican Caribbean unforgettable!