Tulum is a Mexican town on the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula. We spent 4 days in this gorgeous area known for its beaches, well-preserved ancient Mayan ruins, and CENOTES!
There are over 3,000 unique cenotes throughout the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. A cenote is a freshwater filled Mexican sinkhole. The word Cenote is of Mayan decent originally called dzonot or ts’onot, meaning well.
The cenotes played a crucial role in the development of the Mayan civilization as the main freshwater source inland. The cenotes are mostly found in the crater area that formed from the meteorite impact (the same meteorite responsible for the dinosaur extinction in this area).
The cenotes are great for swimming, diving, snorkeling and spotting wildlife! The extensive underground river systems, make this area of Mexico the best place to experience cave diving, snorkeling or other water activities!
Important Know Before You Go
Keep in mind that most cenotes are swim at your own risk. If you are not a strong swimmer, it is recommended that you rent a life vest if available.
Mexican dive laws don’t necessarily align with other countries laws. Some cenote dives can be dangerous for inexperienced divers- dive your experience level, and if you feel you can’t dive, opt for snorkeling or swimming instead, like I did!
Do not wear sunscreen or insect repellant in the cenotes; the chemicals are damaging to aquatic life.
Bring cash to cover the entrance fees
Most cenotes are remotely located and can be difficult to get to. When you arrive, some may have limited or no concessions for food/drink so plan accordingly
Instagram Worthy Caleta Tankah
Caleta Tankah or the “secret cenote” was magical. The colors of the cenote are absolutely breathtaking. Maybe I’m a bit biased this being my first cenote encounter and all… but Caleta Tankah was my favorite cenote we visited.
Of the 6 travelers in our group four of them were certified while myself and one other were not. While the divers explored the cenotes below the 500 meters below the surface, I snorkeled around the surface! There wasn’t a ton of fish to see, but the rock formations above and below the surface were incredible.
Kayak at Casa Cenote
As with most cenotes, Casa Cenote offered scuba diving and snorkeling. But what the others didn’t have, this cenote did! This time as the diving crew submerged below the water, I kayaked! It was great, because the water is crystal clear and following them was easy.
Scuba Dive in Cenotes!
Family Friendly Grand Cenote
Located a short drive from Tulum this popular cenote will amaze you. Contrary to it’s name, the Gran cenote is actually several cenotes connected by wooden walkways. The water is crystal clear and colorful! To keep it that way, they require everyone to rinse off in an outdoor shower before entering the cenote. This is a great family spot, as there are lots of green space and picnic areas.
Zip Line at Xunaan-Ha Cenote
For $100 pesos you can zipline yourself into this adventurous cenote until your hearts content. Xunaan-Ha cenote is located down a long bumpy dirt road in the small town of Chemuyil, just a short drive from Tulum or Playa Del Carmen. This cenote is not as crowded as the more popular surrounding cenotes such as the Gran.
High Dive at Car wash
The last and final dive the travel crew did was in the car wash cenote. We asked where the name came from… and it is exactly as it sounds. Due to its close proximity to the roadway- this cenote used to be used to wash the locals cars!
What cenotes did you explore on your Yucatan adventure?!
Quintana Roo is a Mexican state within the Yucatán Peninsula. My friends and I visited the beautiful area in September. We spent the week exploring local towns such as Play Del Carmen, Tulum, & Cancun. Discovered crystal clear cenotes, 13th-century Mayan archaeological sites, and National Parks.
My recommendation for if you’re traveling during the off season is to wait until you’re at the airport to book your rental car. The rental companies at the airport will have more competitive pricing opportunities then you will find online and will negotiate with you. Have them explain the two different insurance options to you before you agree to rent with them.
What To Do: Head to the north side of the hotel zone and spend the day beach hopping down to the Caribbean side. There are 11 public beaches within the hotel zone, each beach is unique and offers visitors warm turquoise colored water along white sand.
Where To Eat: Quieres un, café? Brunch at one of the delicious local restaurants. We started our day with coffee and food after an early arrival before heading into the hotel zone. We ate at an adorable coffee shop (no longer open; updated 2020) which had a huge menu of pasteles, and traditional Mexican dishes ranging from sweet crepes to savory huevos rancheros. We had a tough time choosing, so we ordered both (plus a chilaquiles verdes con pollo).
Where To Stay: Our last night in Mexico we had breathtaking Caribbean sea view. We stayed right in the center of the Hotel Zone to be close to the beach but not too far from the airport for our early flight the next day.
Climate Change in Mexico
Notice the “red tide” or mounds of decaying algae in my Cancun beach photos…Scientists have warned that the algae are a grave new threat to the Caribbean, not just Cancun. In the open ocean the algae support birds and other sea life. But when washed ashore, as they start to decay they become an environmental nightmare. The decaying algae, emit hydrogen sulfide fumes that kills fish, coral and sea grass.
It also causes headaches and nausea in people- especially those that must clean it each morning before the tourists arrive. When not cleared, the algae becomes piled high blocking endangered sea turtles from reaching the shore to lay their eggs.
Day Trip to Akumal
Akumal is a small Caribbean community known for its sea turtles! Spend a day swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal. The town is just a short drive from Playa del Carmen or Tulum making for an easy day trip. You can see the sea turtles on your own or take a guided tour. We decided to try our luck and explore on our own. Vendors will try and tell you that you MUST join a tour/wear a life vest to see the turtles- this is not true. There are roped off buoyed areas protecting major turtle feeding areas; if you stay inside the designated swim areas you can explore on your own as we did.
My recommendation would be to arrive at the beach early, the visibility in the water goes down as people swim throughout the day and stir up the sand. I would recommend not going through a guided tour and arrive to the beaches early for your best chances to see some turtles.
Make sure each person has their own mask/snorkel if you choose to search for turtles on your own. Our group had two snorkels/masks for 6 people to share, and only a few of us were able to spot some turtles. There are plenty of vendors along the town center that sell masks and snorkels for your convenience.
Along the Caribbean coast, the town of Tulum offers seaside Mayan ruins to explore, sandy beaches for relaxing and undersea caves for diving. September is the birth month of my favorite travel partner Logan. He earned his PADI Diving Certification a couple months before his birthday so that he could dive the cenotes in Mexico.
Just a few weeks before our trip to Mexico, Logan had completed his PADI dive certification! Dos Ojos was unanimously the favorite dive of the group. Noted as “The World’s BestCavern Dives” the name Dos Ojos translates to “two eyes”. Which refers to two nearby cenotes connected by a massive underwater cave system shared between the two.
The two caverns start and end in the same area. Each dive routes are unique, giving divers different areas of the cave to explore. The first dive is 500 meters (1,600 feet) alongThe Barbie Line and leads divers along the opening of the second eye with plenty of daylight to see the stalactites. The dive along The Batcave Line is a much darker route. With little to no daylight entering the cave system. Divers will ascend up the cave to an open air pocket filled with bats flying everywhere!
Best Ocean View:Mezzanine; Authentic Thai and casual beach menu includes a legendary Happy Hour if you’re looking for a boozey brunch on the beach, $$$$
Best Tacos: Las Antorcha Food Truck; location varies, $
Instagram Worthy: Kin Toh; Mayan-Mexican cuisine in a tree house venue offering guests an experience they’re sure to remember. Enter the restaurant and you will be surrounded with sounds, smells, and decor. Engaging each of your senses. Make reservations in advance, $$$$$