Throughout Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, tens of thousands of natural swimming holes, called cenotes, beckon travelers and locals, especially on warmer days. These natural limestone sinkholes are filled with cool waters that make them ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and even scuba diving.
If you’re visiting the popular Yucatan city of Tulum, exploring nearby cenotes is a must. Some are more crowded than others, some more challenging to get to, and some require tour guides. To help you narrow down your options, we’ve curated a list of 14 of the best cenotes near Tulum.
Related: What Every Traveler Should Know About the Maya in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
About 20 minutes northeast of Tulum is a pair of spectacular cenotes called Dos Ojos, or two eyes, which are highly regarded for their crystal-clear water. As such, they’re a very popular scuba and snorkel spot — divers can even explore 1,300 feet of underwater passageways that connect the two cenotes. One is known as the “blue eye,” as sunlight illuminates its blue waters, while the other is a cave known as the “black eye,” and it requires flashlights or headlamps to explore.
Jardin del Eden
Located in Xpu Ha, 30 minutes outside of Tulum, this gigantic open-air cenote surrounded by jungle is popular with swimmers, sunbathers, and snorkelers. It can get busy, but its size prevents visitors from feeling too constrained. There are also convenient amenities here, including snorkel and life vest rentals, bathrooms, and food vendors.
This unique cenote just 20 minutes from Tulum is unique in that it feels a lot like a river — it’s not just an open pit, but more of a snaking path through mangroves. It has a gentle current, a mix of freshwater and saltwater (as it’s connected to the sea), and a fair amount of wildlife, including birds, fish, and crabs. It’s also the home of a local legend: Panchito the crocodile. He’s small and relatively harmless, as long as you don’t bother him.
Half cenote, half lagoon, Yal-Ku is a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers looking to spot sea life — you can see sea turtles, rays, parrotfish, and barracudas here, just to name a few of the local residents. These creatures are drawn by the cenote’s reef, which provides shelter from larger predators. As such, Yal-Ku is something of a natural aquarium, so arrive ready for wildlife encounters.
If swimming in a cave sounds good to you, head to cenote Chaak Tun in Playa del Carmen, about one hour from Tulum. You must book a guided tour to come here, and getting to the cenote requires a combination of walking and snorkeling. With the price of your tour, you’ll also receive all the gear you need, including a wetsuit and snorkel equipment.
El Gran Cenote
There’s a good reason this cenote is called “grand” — it has immaculately clear waters, several chambers for exploration, and even some resident turtles. Located just outside of Tulum, this very popular cenote is great for the whole family. Be sure to bring goggles or snorkels to peer at underwater stalagmites, and don’t forget to look up, where bats often dangle from stalactites.
This swimming hole is 10 to 15 minutes from the center of Tulum, yet it’s still one of the less-crowded cenotes in the area. The small, open-air pool is highly regarded for its amenities — there’s a restaurant here, as well as bathrooms and changing rooms. For a little more action, ride the short zip line over the cenote, which has you land in the water with a splash.
Yax-Muul isn’t a single cenote, but rather a nature park with four cenotes. As it’s rather tucked away down a dirt road, it’s often pretty quiet here, allowing you to float or snorkel through the cenotes peacefully. Its calmness makes it great for families. Note that weekends are of course busier, so if you must go on a Saturday or Sunday, arrive early. Yax-Muul is about 15 minutes outside of Tulum.
This is another option for cave lovers. Sac Actun is the world’s longest underwater cave system, measuring about 228 miles in length, though new passages are still being discovered. It’s filled with hundreds of cenotes, so you could spend a whole day cenote hopping here. This is an ancient system of caves was found only recently — Mayan artifacts and fossilized animals are among treasures spotted in the waters.
As you might’ve guessed from the name, this cenote is a giant pit, measuring 130 feet deep and ideal of scuba divers. For those diving far below the surface, beams of sunlight penetrate the water in a mesmerizing display. El Pit is technically part of the Sac Actun network, but its significance as a dive site makes it worthy of an individual mention.
Although it’s a 40-minute drive from Tulum, this large cenote is a cliff jumper’s paradise — and that makes it worth the trek. Many guests leap into the cool waters from a small cliff at the cenote’s edge, but there’s also a dock for easier access. We recommend bringing snorkel gear to see all the fish that live here.
Not far from the center of Tulum is this picturesque cenote. Surrounded by the jungle, Atik is only accessible by a large ladder that descends into its blue waters, where you’ll likely spot turtles. Surrounding the cenote are art installations, including a wall of skulls that nods to the Mayan belief that cenotes are entrances to the underworld.
This cenote is certainly not misnamed — it has crystal-clear waters popular with swimmers of all ages. One of the best things about this cenote is that its entrance fee is rather affordable at around $10 (though this is always subject to change). Because of that, it can get crowded, so visit on a weekday morning for a more serene experience.
Tortuga is a nature park with a lovely cluster of four cenotes, all located about 15 minutes from Tulum. Three of the cenotes are cavernous, so you’ll see rock formations like stalagmites and stalactites, plus fossils. The fourth cenote is a large, open-air pool good for cliff jumping. There’s an onsite restaurant, and even a hotel if you’d like to stay for more than a day.