One of the most unique travel experiences you will ever take part in, is entering into a deep cave through a narrow opening into a freshwater pool of the most crystal clear water you’ve ever seen.
While cenotes are a unique geological feature to the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mayan Riviera cenotes are stunning and arguably the best in Mexico.
No matter where you’re staying in the Mayan Riviera, there are tons of cenotes you can visit, as there are over 6000 of them in this region alone!
This travel guide will take you through the best cenotes near Playa del Carmen, Tulum and nearby ruins so that you can find your favorites and add them to your itinerary.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only share information about places and things I know, love and trust.
Don’t Miss This: 26 Practical Travel Tips for Mexico You Are Guaranteed to Use
What is a Cenote and What to Expect
Cenotes are freshwater pools found underneath the limestone ground throughout Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They are basically massive Mayan sinkholes formed by water seeping through the limestone rock.
For thousands of years they were believed to be the gateway to the underworld for the Mayan people, as every cenote is connected via the subterranean river system.
These freshwater pools are not only visually stunning, they’re still used as a source of drinking water today.
Each cenote is different. Some have a large, wide opening at the top. In others, you enter through a small narrow hole down a ladder. And many are among underground caves with stalactites.
You can swim in the cenotes, but since they are a delicate part of the ecosystem, you should make sure you’re wearing reef safe sunscreen.
What’s interesting about cenotes in Mexico is that you never know where you will find them (because they’re underground). And the only way they are discovered is by a special type of tree that grows from the cenotes.
So when you see an Alamo tree growing, you know there is a cenote below!
These are the trees that produce long vines that hang down into the cenote, making it feel like you’re Tarzan!
And yes, there are fish that live and swim in cenotes, but they are small and harmless. They’re called Lu fish and most are only about 6 inches long.
The fish don’t bother people swimming in the cenotes, but if you do stay still for long enough, they will nibble at your heels. It doesn’t hurt at all, in fact it just tickles and actually feels nice! It’s like a free fish pedicure at the spa!
Since Mexico cenotes are found underground, the water temperature is usually a little chilly, but it’s totally swimmable and nice and refreshing.
And if you visit some cave-like cenotes, you might find that the air is extra humid.
And the best part is that the water is crystal clear, which will put any anxious swimmer at ease since you can see the bottom.
What to Bring With You to A Cenote
As far as what you should bring to a cenote, it’s pretty much the same as the beach. Try to wear your swimsuit underneath your clothes in case there aren’t washrooms or changerooms.
And bring a towel if you can. Try this travel towel that packs up super small and dries very fast.
And water shoes are never a bad idea, since some of the entrances to the cenotes can be a little slippery from all the water on the smooth rocks or worn down wooden platforms.
If you’re worried about stability, try these new and improved water shoes.
Also, please make sure you only wear biodegradable sunscreen, as these ecosystems are so fragile. It’s important to minimize introducing anything harmful into these environments.
I highly advise that you buy sunscreen before your trip because it will be much more expensive once you’re in Mexico.
It’s also a good idea to bring a waterproof bag to store your wet swimsuit afterwards, especially if you have a long drive back to the resort.
Let’s get to the list of the best Mayan Riviera cenotes near Playa del Carmen and Tulum!
Cenotes Near Playa del Carmen
If you happen to be staying at the Barceló Maya Caribe, then this cenote is right across the highway for you! Plus it’s close to the next cenote on this list and a great beach to check out afterwards.
This would make for a great DIY day trip!
Cenote Azul is a natural oasis in the jungle perfect for some low-key swim and lounge time.
If you’re not interested in visiting cenotes that are highly commercialized and touristy, this one will be just what you’re looking for.
While it’s smaller than most, there are 3 different pools to check out which makes it a little more interesting than other cenotes in the mayan riviera.
For whatever reason, few people visit this one, so if you go, you will have a high chance of a quiet and serene afternoon.
There’s a variety of areas to swim for everyone. Including shallow areas for the little ones and cliffs and large rocks to jump off for the bigger kids.
TRAVEL TIP: If you can, plan to visit Xpu Ha beach afterwards. It’s one of the best beaches along the mayan riviera coast that has super clear and calm water perfect for snorkeling.
Miraculously, this beach has escaped being washed up with seaweed. So if you want to find a beach near Playa del Carmen without seaweed, definitely visit Xpu Ha beach.
You Might Also Like: 6 Waterfalls and Hot Springs Near Puerto Vallarta
This cenote is very intriguing because it’s not like most of the other cave-like cenotes.
The water here is such a vibrant turquoise, and because this water is among the mangroves, there’s lots of exotic fish who thrive, so it’s one of the best cenotes in the Mayan Riviera to go snorkeling.
TRAVEL TIP: Bring your own snorkel gear, because it will cost you about $15 to rent on site. These ones from amazon are a game changer, and the same price as if you were to rent.
You might as well bring your own and then you can use them on the rest of your trip, too. Casa cenote is also one of the most popular spots to learn how to beginner dive.
So if you’re interested, go on this diving tour which will take you through some places restricted to the other swimmers.
Also, there’s a nice white sandy beach across the street, making this area a great spot to hang out for the afternoon. A little more expensive, 120 pesos to get in, but it’s a large area to explore.
Stay at the Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort to be close by this cenote.
Cenote Chac Mool
This cenote is perfect for those wanting to get a taste of cave diving without having to be fully certified. The freshwater sits on top of the saltwater making for some interesting colors.
The unique rock formation patterns also makes for some stunning light rays that shine through.
Cenote Ponderosa is always included on any list when you’re searching for the best cenotes near Playa del Carmen. There is lots of open space and rocky areas which makes it super interesting for snorkeling.
This cenote is part of the Jardin de Eden and also has large cave formations that are popular for scuba diving.
One of the most fascinating parts about this cenote is that the water is so clear that you can clearly see the divers, even when they are 50 feet below you.
The geological features here are so impressive, making it one of the most unique Mayan riviera cenotes to visit.
Cenotes Near Tulum
Cenote Santa Cruz
The best thing about the Mayan Riviera cenotes is that each one is totally different from the next. And this one is no exception.
It’s relatively small compared to others, but instead of just a swimming hole shape, it’s in the shape of a donut.
The translucent turquoise water circles around an ‘island’ area in the middle. Plus, the best part about this cenote is that it’s close to Tulum but doesn’t receive a large amount of visitors.
Most people who visit are regional tourists from Mexico. Since there won’t be many people here when you visit, this is also one of the best cenotes in the Mayan riviera for snorkeling.
TRAVEL TIP: Bring your own snorkel gear with you as they may or may not have some for you to rent depending on the day. Plus, you will likely have to negotiate rentals since they typically raise the prices for the ‘gringo’ tourists.
If you don’t want to go through this hassle, grab this one-piece set from Amazon that is way more comfortable than the traditional gear you might be used to.
While this one is considered highly commercialized and quite touristy, the facilities are laid out well. It’s shallow and has many platforms for kids to jump off making this cenote a great one for families to visit.
All those things aside, this cenote offers some of the clearest water you will ever experience. It’s also ‘open air’ which is a good choice for those who might be a little too claustrophobic for the cave cenotes.
And if you want to visit 2 cenotes in one trip, the Cenote Carwash is walking distance away.
Stay at Hotel Scarlette to be right nearby these cenotes and to be away from the busy areas of Tulum if you’re looking for a quiet oasis.
A short taxi ride from Tulum’s center (or a long walk if you’re up for it) will bring you to a nice and sunny cenote. Since the opening here is a little wider than most, the water is warmer compared to others.
This is place is perfect for snorkeling – not only are there plenty of fish, many turtles call this cenote home too!
Plus the rock formations under the water are unique to other cenotes, making this one visually fascinating.
Since this is one of the closest to Tulum, it’s a little more expensive ($10) and busier. But the facilities are nice and there’s a lovely grassy area to sunbathe or have a nap!
Cenotes Near Mayan Ruins
Your Mayan Riviera vacation will likely include a visit to some ancient ruins. And if this isn’t on your list, it definitely should be.
While the Tulum ruins are fascinating, some of the most noteworthy ruins are reachable within a couple of hours of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Many ancient cities were built within close proximity to many cenotes as this was their source for drinking water. And now lucky for us, these Yucatan Peninsula attractions are available for us to visit and enjoy.
There are many tours that will take you to see some ruins and a swim in a cenote.
Ik Kil Cenote Near Chichen Itza
While this cenote isn’t technically in the Mayan Riviera, it deserves an honorable mention here as it is located right near Chichen Itza.
And chances are, you might be planning to visit these ancient ruins on your trip, so it’s worth adding to your itinerary.
Ik Kil is one of the most breathtaking cenotes in Mexico. With the blue water and the vines hanging down, it’s a magnificent sight.
It’s popular and will be busy, but it honestly doesn’t take away from the picturesque beauty. This is a bucket list cenote to visit!
TRAVEL TIP: Book a full day tour to see Chichen Itza, a stop at the magical colonial town of Valladolid and then a swim in a cenote. With hassle-free pick up and drop off from your hotel, you get to see pyramids, a scenic town and a cenote.
Coba Cenote (Cenote Cenote Multum Ha)
If you’re looking for a cave cenote you definitely want to visit the Coba cenote, also known by its proper name which is Cenote Multum Ha.
This sinkhole is almost 60 feet underground, so you will be entering via a spiral staircase through a narrow opening.
The water is chilly but refreshing and honestly, very welcoming after visiting the Coba ruins on a hot afternoon.
Want a fun day organized for you? Try this tour which brings you to the Tulum and Coba ruins, have lunch in a local community (complete with a blessing from a Mayan shaman) and then cool off in a cenote.
Ek Balam Cenote (Cenote X’Canche)
Two hours directly west of Cancun is the small and charming colonial city of Valladolid.
Just 20 minutes north is where you will find the Ek Balam ruins, which you can still climb. Plus, the main pyramid is actually taller than the one at Chichen Itza.
After exploring these worthwhile Mayan ruins, you should visit the Ek Balam Cenote. It’s located about one mile away, but you can either walk, ride a bicycle or take a bicycle taxi.
There’s a nice local restaurant on site, plus a hammock area and a small market, so plan to spend a couple hours here.
This cenote is totally totally open from above, but it’s massive. There are various platforms of different heights to jump off of, or you can just lounge in the water.
The Ek Balam cenote was our favorite one in Mexico.
Read More on This: Off the Beaten Path in Mexico – Valladolid to Ek Balam Travel Guide
Checking out cenotes is one of the top activities in the Riviera Maya, so I hope you’re able to visit a few on this list.
I highly recommend visiting at least 3 on your trip. Since each cenote is different, it will be a new experience every time. Either hop on a tour or hire a driver for the day to bring you around.
To make things easy, this tour brings you to 4 totally different cenotes to give you a variety of flavor!
No matter how you find these freshwater sinkholes, it will definitely be fun! Happy exploring!
Liked this post? Feel free to share it on Facebook or save a pin to your travel boards on Pinterest!