8 Spectacular Yucatan cenotes between Valladolid and Merida

looking down into a Yucatan cenote

When we planned our trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, swimming in cenotes was at the top of my list. I didn’t know how accessible they would be, or if it would be hard to find them.

Answer: very, and not at all.

Yucatan cenotes are formed when limestone bedrock collapses, revealing the groundwater beneath. Rain and underground rivers then feed the cenote, resulting in a mystical swimming hole.

Depending on who you’re talking to, the Yucatan is thought to have anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 cenotes. And a tip: it’s pronounced suh-NO-tay, not, as I kept saying, SEE-note.

This is in no way an exhaustive guide to Yucatan cenotes; we only visited eight. We didn’t go to some of the most famous, like Ik Kil cenote near Chichen Itza or Cenote Suytun, an Instagram favorite thanks to its man-made platform in the center. We tried to visit Cenote Zací, right in the center of Valladolid, but failed to check the opening time—it opened at 9 and we got there at 8.

What makes a good Yucatan cenote?

Rope swing: tick.

For me, there were three elements that made a spectacular cenote: it was uncrowded, clean, and had a rope swing. Even if you only had the first two factors, you’re pretty much guaranteed a scenic swimming spot, but a rope swing really ups the ante.

Some cenotes are almost completely enclosed, with only a small hole above to let in the light. Others are open-topped, dripping with vines. I preferred the open cenotes, because I’m not a huge fan of swimming in caves.

Before you go cenote-hopping

Finding cenotes wasn’t a problem, especially with a rental car; it was deciding which ones to stop at. We didn’t do much research—cenotes are marked on Google Maps, and there are plenty of signs along the highway advertising their locations.

Every cenote we visited charged a nominal entry fee, ranging from $70 to $125 pesos per person (roughly $3.50 to $6.50 USD). Some cenotes offer packages, bundling your entry fee with options like bike rental, food, rappelling, or even horseback riding.

Cenote Yokdzonot
Sunlight can transform a cenote.

For spectacular photos that capture the alluring blue water, wait for the sun to break through the clouds. It makes a big difference!

In our experience, most swimmable Yucatan cenotes had a rope or two strung across the middle. These rope guides were handy rest stops, something to stand on or hold when you’re out in the middle of the water.

And finally, be conscious of the sunscreen you wear. At many cenotes you’ll be asked to wear biodegradable sunscreen to reduce environmental damage from harmful chemicals.

8 Yucatan cenotes, ranked from worst to best

Again, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on the Yucatan or cenotes. This is a rather random collection of cenotes, based on where we happened to be. If you’re just starting your Yucatan trip planning, I hope this helps!

Prices were accurate as of November 2019.

8 & 7. Cenote Xtoloc and the Sacred Cenote
Entry fee: included with entry to Chichen Itza ($481MX for non-Mexican citizens)

Chichen Itza cenote
The Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza – gotta say, not my favorite.

Not to be confused with cenote Ik Kil, which is near Chichen Itza, these cenotes are within its boundaries. Don’t worry about packing your swimsuit—the mossy green waters are just for looks.

If that’s not enough to deter you, these cenotes were allegedly used by the Mayans as human sacrifice pits, so there’s that.

Cenote Xtoloc is to the south, mostly obscured by overgrown brush (I didn’t even take a photo of it!). The sacred cenote is at the end of a long row of vendors, but clearly visible and pretty in its own way.

6. Cenote Xlakah
Entry fee: included with entry to Dzibilchaltun (~$200MX for non-Mexican citizens)

Cenote Xlacah
Maybe we hit this one on the wrong day.

Dzibilchaltun is an archeological site 10 miles north of Mérida. The first thing I noticed were hordes of mosquitoes, which instantly put swimming at the bottom of my to-do list.

The cenote is completely open, more like a pond among the ruins. Lily pads cluster in the middle, and at some edges the water is stagnant; it didn’t exactly scream ‘DIVE IN!’. However, I’ve since looked it up online and discovered that for some visitors, it was one of their top Yucatan cenotes. They claim to have encountered incredibly clear water and stunning fish, neither of which were evident when I was there.

5 & 4. Cenote X’kekén and Cenote Samula
Known collectively as Cenote Dzitnup
Entry fee: $125MX for entry to both cenotes

Cenote Xkeken cave Mexico
Cenote Xkeken: swimming in the darker corners definitely spooked me.

These two cenotes are in a very commercialized complex, thick with tour guides and products for sale. As a result, the facilities are good—you won’t have any trouble finding restrooms or a parking spot. Both are within walking distance of each other, and only a few miles southwest of Valladolid.

Cave cenote Samula
Cenote Samula: Looks awesome, feels spooky. We didn’t swim in this one.

These were the first cave-like cenotes we visited. While I didn’t love being enclosed, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see something different. Neither cenote was busy, and both had a hushed, library-like vibe going on.

The path to the water gets slippery, so watch your step.

3. Cenote Yokdzonot
Entry fee: $80MX, includes required life jackets

floating in cenote Yokdzonot
Surprisingly, no one got crapped on by birds while we were there.

Yokdzonot is about an hour west of Valladolid, on the 180 (not the toll road). It’s a pleasant open cenote, but what made it memorable were the swallows that kept flying in circles over our heads. They’d occasionally retreat into divots in the rock wall, then emerge as one to continue their laps.

I was initially annoyed at having to wear a life jacket, but it did make it easy to float in peace.

2. Cenote X’Canche
Entry fee: ~$70MX for entry, $150MX for entry + bike rental, plus $413MX for entry to Ek Balam

Rope swings cenote
The perfect rope retrieval stick.

Ek Balam is an ancient Mayan ruin, only 30 minutes’ drive from Valladolid. Often eclipsed by the nearby Chichen Itza, the ‘Jaguar City’ is more compact but still impressive. From the top of the main pyramid, you can actually see Chichen Itza!

Cenote X’Canche is inside Ek-Balam, but has its own additional entry fee. The distance from the entry hut to the cenote is about 2km; we opted for a bike + entry package and it was the right decision. You can also pay a bit more for a pedicab.

swimming in cenote xcanchen
Note the difference in the water color when the sunlight isn’t shining through!

This was one of the busier Yucatan cenotes we visited, but it still wasn’t packed. There was a zip line, rappelling, two jumping platforms, and a rope swing.

1. Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman
Entry fee: $80MX

floating in cenote oxman
That magical sunlight.

My favorite cenote!! I’m not sure if it was the cenote or just the mood I was in that day, but I loved spending the morning at San Lorenzo Oxman.

First, and most important: two roads lead to this cenote from Valladolid. According to Google Maps, the most direct route is along Calle 54, a back road that eventually turns into a dirt path rife with mud puddles and sharp rocks. We got 3/4 of the way there before turning around, not willing to push the limits of our rented Chevy Beat.

Fortunately, the main entrance is accessible from the ring road around Valladolid. If you look at Google Maps, it doesn’t appear to connect, but it definitely does.

And I’m so glad, or else we would have missed out.

Hacienda San Lorenzo
The hacienda.

San Lorenzo Oxman is actually a hacienda with a swimming pool and restaurant, so I imagine they get crowds. But when we were there, at 10am on a weekday November morning, we were one of only six visitors. I met an American girl on a day trip from Tulum with her boyfriend, and she gushed about the rope swing.

“It seems scary at first but now I’ve done it like 20 times,” she said, climbing out of the water to do it again.

After they left, I immediately got what she was talking about. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun, gripping a wooden bar, leaping from the 12-foot-high platform, and swinging back and forth over the water before letting go.

swinging on a rope
I wish I was doing this right now.

Use your core to hold yourself up once you jump, or you run the risk of losing your grip and performing an epic back flop into the water. And there’s a trick to getting the rope back to the platform—be gentle when you tug on the retrieval rope!

Heading to the Yucatan? Pin it for later:

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  1. I randomly just saw a video of this place when at the gym. Googled it and found your article 🙂 Gonna try and go here sometime when this pandemic is over. If ever.

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