Cenotes of the Yucatan | Exploring The Underground Caves of México

by Stephanie Walsh · 30 comments

in Mexico, North America, Travels

Dzitnup Cenote, Yucatan Mexico

I remember watching the ‘Caves’ episode of Planet Earth in early 2012, where they explore Mexico’s famous cenotes of the Yucatan and never imagining I would get the chance to do it myself one day! Turns out a few months later, there we were chilling in one of the most unique natural attractions in Mexico.

Dzitnup Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Andres in Dzitnup Cenote, Yucatan, Mexico

What is a cenote?

A cenote is an underground cave or sinkhole in the earth that has been formed by the above limestone rock collapsing to reveal freshwater pools and caverns. Mexico has the largest network of these underwater cave systems in the world, with over 6000 cenotes in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan!!

Cenotes of the Yucatan were used by the ancient Mayan civilization as a source of freshwater and often for sacrificing a few lads! It is said that the Mayans believed some cenotes, especially Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza, were portals to the afterlife, as many human remains and gold offerings were found at the bottom of the waters during exploration.

Cenotes of the Yucatan Gran Cenote

No wonder the Mayans used cenotes as places for worship!

Cenote water is exceptionally clean, a beautiful turquoise blue colour and also very very cold! Makes for a nice relief from the extreme heat of the Yucatan Peninsula though!

Cenotes of the Yucatan: Dzitnup Cenote (or X’kekén Cenote)

Lets just call it by its nickname, cenote Dzitnup, as I have no idea how to pronounce X’kekén and I don’t want to keep copying and pasting it here as I write.

Anyway cenote Dzitnup was one of the first cenotes of the Yucatan that we visited and it leaves a pretty good first impression.

Dzitnup Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Dzitnup Cenote

After climbing down some very narrow stairs cut into the rock, you arrive into a large underground cave. As your eyes gradually adjust from the brightness outside to the darkness of the cave, you can hear the echoes of people’s voices and the sound of the water.

The roof of the cave is about 50 meters above you with a small hole in the center, allowing a beautiful stream of light to shine in from above in classic God style!

Dzitnup Cenote, Mexico - Cenotes of the Yucatan

The small whole in the cave roof above the water

The area is well lit with tacky coloured lights that insist on changing colour every few seconds and there is an area to sit and put your stuff.

Dzitnup Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Coloured lights and stalactites

Dzitnup Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Careful tourist! Those stonf's won't stop slepering!

In the water, little black fish surround you while bats fly waaay too close to your head from above. The cave roof is covered with amazing stalactites of all sizes and huge ancient looking thick tree roots dangle from the interior of the rock above, to the surface of the water below. It’s really quite beautiful!

Dzitnup Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Andres snorkeling with the black fish in Dzitnup

There is an area to the right where the stalactites hang down very low in a huge cluster, some of which looks bubbly and weird. Swimming underneath them is amazing, as you feel the 3D-ness of them…if that makes sense?

Dzitnup Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Creepy stalactites

Logistical Malarkey

Cenote Dzitnup is a short and cheap taxi ride from Valladolid (we shared our taxi with a local indigenous woman and her box full of baby chickens….a sight not so uncommon in Mexico!).

Cenote Dzitnup is $50 pesos to enter. There is another cenote, Samula, across from Dzitnup but we didn’t enter it, as it cost another $50 pesos, which felt like a rip-off seeing as they both were in the same area. Both cenotes are open from 8:00am to around 16:30 but be sure to give yourselves at least 2 hours, especially if you want to visit both cenotes.

Cenotes of the Yucatan: Gran Cenote

Gran Cenote was my favourite of the two we visited because it had so much to offer. Gran Cenote has open water pools, underwater caves and caverns and rock corridors connecting different sections of water.

Gran Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Beautiful caves and green water

Unlike Dzitnup cenote, which is completely underground, Gran Cenote is a circular shaped hole in the ground, mostly out in the open air. The center has a boardwalk, and even a mini swamp, where we saw two little turtles chilling out in the sun as people snorkeled past them.

Gran Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Sunbathing turtles in Gran Cenote!

Gran Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

The boardwalk, lily-pads and caves

We entered the freezing water and headed straight for the entrance to the pitch-black cave ahead. Bats were like boomerangs around our head, shooting in and out of the cave at lightning speed. That did not settle my nerves. I hate bats.

The further in we waded, holding onto the guiding rope in the water, the more visible the inside of the cave appeared to our eyes. Once again, aggressive looking stalactites loomed and passed slowly over our heads and our movements in the water echoed all around the large cave. More hanging bats perched themselves upside down above us in huge numbers…I could see they’re little beady eyes!

Gran Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

Gran Cenote

Gran Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

I couldn't get pictures of the really deep, beautiful, batty cave, so I waded into this shallower one with my camera...quite risky I know!

We unfortunately didn’t have snorkel gear with us and we were too stubborn to pay the rip-off prices at the booth in the park, so we just used our ‘human-eyes’ to see everything beneath us, which is a pretty cheap and effective goggle replacement…

…if you can stop the water moving by staying completely still…

…and putting your eyes right above the water, parallel to the surface…

…we’re so cool!

Anyway…Gran Cenote was amazing and we spent the whole day there instead of going to the Coba ruins (a good decision when you’ve already seen 3 Mayan ruins and are going to Palenque next!). We also went exploring to find the other cenotes that we heard were in the area. The first one was almost unnoticeable as we walked along the path. A creepy and rickety wooden ladder was placed at the entrance and led into a deep black hole in the earth…naturally we climbed down.

Gran Cenote - Cenotes of the Yucatan

I name this 'Creepy Cenote'...it's not as bad as some of the other names...there is actually one called 'Car Wash Cenote'...no lie!

Andres went first and I followed hesitantly. As I was on the shitty ladder he told me to stay still coz he just heard something. Crap.

It turned out to be nothing…not the crocodile I had imagined anyway.

When we got down we could only see using the natural light streaming in from above and the flash on my camera, which reminded me too much of a Spanish horror film we’d seen, where the girl uses the camera flash to find ghosts in a haunted house. We quickly left.

Logistical Goodness

Gran Cenote is about 10 minutes outside of Tulum by taxi. Most taxi companies have set prices and it cost us $60 pesos to be taken to Gran Cenote. Be sure to tell them if you want a lift back to the town later as we left pretty late and were waiting for a while for a taxi to come along.

The entrance to Gran Cenote is $100 pesos, making it one of the more expensive ones but we really loved it so we see it as money well spent. The site is open from 9 to 5…what a way to make a living…

Have you got other cenotes of the Yucatan to recommend?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below!



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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christy October 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Experiencing this in Riviera Maya is one of the most unique travel experiences I have ever had. I really want to explore more of this area. Great photos!
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2 Stephanie Walsh October 25, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Thanks Christy! Yeah they really are something special! I have seen your photos from Rio Secreto, looks amazing too! 🙂


3 amrr October 26, 2012 at 2:21 am

lvoely…..awesome, amazikzng /1 beautiful mesmerazinggggg…


4 Stephanie Walsh October 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thaaaaaaanks!! 🙂


5 Kyle Goes Global October 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

Looks amazing! Trying to decide what I should do for day one, two and the upcoming week – and I’m stoked I came across your blog.

How was Isla Holbox? Pricey? Well worth it? Good for the first day of my trip? Did you stick around Cancun at all?
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6 Stephanie Walsh October 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Kyle, happy to help! 🙂
We still have so much more posts to write on the Yucatan…might not have them all up in time for your trip so I’ll summarize some of my recommendations here…
Holbox was nice…it is probably the most relaxed and least touristy place you will find in the Yucatan and not that expensive. Tribu hostel there is great and it is right opposite the beach…make sure to go for a midnight swim in the beach…and watch as your body lights up with the plankton! 🙂 I talk about it a bit in the end of this post and you can see some pics: http://discoveringice.com/travels/north-america-mexico/swim-with-whale-sharks-in-isla-holbox-mexico.html I’m not sure it is worth the trek though now that the whale shark season is over…as that is really why everyone goes there!
Cancun was not really our kind of thing…although its worth spending a day just to go to the beautiful beaches…stay in the downtown area as the Hotel Zone is just monstrous hotel chains. It really depends what you are after! Try Isla Mujeres, really beautiful but expensive enough and can be seen in a day, in time for the ferry back that evening.
Definitely go to Tulum, Akumal (if the sea turtles are still around…not sure), Valladolid, Chichen Itza (if its in your budget…but its worth it we think), Palenque (plus day trip to Misol-Ha and Agua Azul), San Cristobal de las Casas (well this is Chiapas we’re in now!)….there are so many options…that is basically what we did but you just have to know what you want…
Hope that helps!


7 Walter October 28, 2012 at 5:33 am

The cenotes are quite something, indeed! I enjoyed a Yucatan hacienda tour ten years back (photos available on Flickr.com) and diving cenotes was one of the numerous highlights! The water is crystal clear and the dive experience is unique…
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8 Stephanie Walsh October 30, 2012 at 12:22 am

Absolutely! They are amazing…I really want to go back some day to explore more…although I don’t think I’d ever be able to go cave diving! Very scary!


9 Nico November 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm

The photos of the cave are really amazing with all those beautiful shades of blue.
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10 Stephanie Walsh November 15, 2012 at 8:38 am

Thanks Nico, it´s such a beautiful place, even more so in person! I would definitely recommend you try visit some day!


11 Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home November 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Very beautiful places. I really didn’t know about the cave systems in Mexico. I’m glad that I read your blog post to find this out. Beautiful pictures!


12 Stephanie Walsh November 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Cheers Izy! I had no idea about them either until this year! Apparently they are one of the biggest attractions in the country.


13 Mexico--International LIving December 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

There are three wonderful cenotes in a little town called Cuzama, about 45 minutes’ drive SE of Merida. You access the cenotes by taking a little horse-drawn rail car (costs about $200 pesos) that holds 4 people. The first cenote is pretty close to the surface, but by the third one you have to take a ladder about 20 feet down a dark hole… then the cenote opens up with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and turquoise waters. this trip is one of my favorites in the Yucatan.
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14 Stephanie Walsh December 7, 2012 at 10:25 am

Wow, sounds amazing! We hadn’t heard of that one. Thanks for letting us know! If we ever go back to the Yucatan, we’ll have to try visit it.


15 Chanel @ LaViajeraMorena December 7, 2012 at 2:51 am

The photos are absolutely breathtaking! Love them!
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16 Stephanie Walsh December 7, 2012 at 10:19 am

Thank you, glad you liked them!


17 Andrew Seabrook February 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Hi Guys, sounds like you are having a grand time, I have taken a bit of a liberty with your article and curated it, for which I am asking your approval. I am also interested in curating future articles of yours, as with this by way of snippets leading to full posts on your own domain. Please consider it and let me know what you think http://adventurebods.com/blog/the-cenotes-of-yucatan/

Some other examples of curated articles http://adventurebods.com/blog/tasting-vietnam-a-post-from-mui-ne/ and http://adventurebods.com/blog/flashpacking-in-rajasthan-agra/

The point is I am serious about full attribution and linkbacks to your site, which of course is only valuable if you approve of curation as an emerging methodology on the web and a welcome resource for your site.

Please let me know what you think,

All the best,
Andy Seabrook.


18 rebecca February 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm

gorgeous what a stunning place to swim
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19 Stephanie Walsh February 14, 2013 at 11:40 am

Thanks Rebecca! It was so refreshing (read: cold!) 😛


20 Katie June 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Hi Stephanie! I don’t remember how I stumbled across you website but I really enjoyed reading about your adventures! Very inspiring and great photos! I myself have been traveling as well and look forward to making my way back to Central and South America soon! Anyway, as far as other cenotes, I recommend going to Ek’Balam if you’re still in the Yucatan Peninsula. There is a rope so you can do a “Tarzan-woman” swing into the sinkhole! It’s beautiful there! Also, there are temples for more photo ops. FYI, they have bikes available to rent for free (once you enter after paying for your admission) or tricycle carts to get from one landmark to another, since they are spaced pretty far apart.

Happy globe toting!


21 Stephanie Walsh July 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Hi Katie! Wow, thanks so much for the great advice. I’m sure anyone reading this will be thankful! We never went to Ek’Balam but it sounds cool!
Anyway thanks for stopping by the blog and sorry it took so long to reply to you! Happy travels!


22 Mig July 8, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Cenotes are fun to swim in. Tekom cenote near Villadolid is a nice one to visit. You have to ask the policeman to unlock a gate to let you in, then you have to tell him how long you’ll be there for so he can come back and get you. I love the misspelled signs! lol
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23 Stephanie Walsh July 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Wow, I didn’t know about that one in Valladolid and we were there. Sounds cool…I don’t think that one would have too many tourists! 🙂 Thanks for commenting Mig!


24 Zai October 17, 2013 at 10:33 pm

I love cenotes!!! really they are awesome


25 Stephanie Walsh November 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Thanks Zai, they are very cool indeed! 😀


26 Hitch-Hikers' Handbook November 22, 2013 at 3:00 am

Lovely photos, Steph!
If you like photography, we’d like to invite you to participate in the next edition of our popular Travel Photography Competition. Here are the details:
Happy travels!
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27 freewheelings.com December 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Thanks for the heads up. We’ve been exploring Mexico by motorcycle for the last few weeks and just hit the Yucatan yesterday. We’ll be sure to add some of these to the itinerary. Keep up the good work.
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28 Zana@GreenTravelReviews March 13, 2014 at 12:33 am

Beautiful what mother nature created! And so serene and calming to be in.
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29 Raphael Alexander Zoren April 30, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I haven’t visit the Great Cenote yet…I would definitely be scared by the swamp turtles since that means that a crocodile is not so far behind! 😮
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30 Maja | Mexatia September 28, 2016 at 9:34 am

I’ve been killing myself to find some information about the transport so I can’t thank you enough for sharing that info as well!