Pristine white sand beaches, Mayan ruins atop a cliff overlooking jade-green water, cenotes with clear, cool water, balmy breezes, luxurious spas with ancient rituals, rustic cabanas, and Mezcal bars with twinkling disco balls that signify the start of a night filled with dancing.
Is it any wonder travelers have become so obsessed with Tulum?
Just a few years ago, Tulum wasn’t even on many travelers’ radars. South of Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Tulum is far enough away from the Cancun craziness to be a haven for relaxation. Not only is Tulum more laid back, but there are also fewer crowds and a lot of hotels and restaurants are locally run.
After spending a week in this beach meets jungle locale, I totally get why people are obsessed with this place. I’ve written about my trip (10 reasons to visit Tulum), and in this post, I’m going to go into more detail about two cenotes I visited because swimming in them was one of my favorite parts of being in Tulum.
What is a Cenote?
Cenotes are sinkholes filled with water, usually caused by the collapse of cave ceilings. These natural wonders, where Mayans once communicated with gods, are all over the Yucatan.
The Yucatan is known to have the world’s most widespread array of cenotes- some are open, like a lake and others are closed with only a small opening. Cenotes are usually filled with colorful fish, and some have cliffs or platforms you can jump or dive off of.
One important thing to note: You will be asked to rinse off any creams or lotions before swimming so you don’t harm the marine life. If you have biodegradable sunscreen, it’s okay to wear that, but cenotes are pretty strict about this rule.
Where are Cenotes in Tulum?
Early one afternoon after visiting the Tulum Ruins, we took a short taxi ride to Gran Cenote (roughly an ~$8 USD from the ruins). Make sure you have cash if you plan to visit any of the cenotes- Gran Cenote is 150 pesos per person.
Grand Cenote is a half open and half closed cave, allowing bright sunlight to stream through and reflect off the clear water. There’s a sandy bottom and center garden with palm trees and water lilies. The afternoon we visited was hot and sunny, so swimming in the cenote was a perfect way to cool off.
Gran Cenote is broken into a few different sections- the first section you’ll see is deeper, but there’s a second set of stairs that leads you into another part of the cenote, where the water is more shallow. You can swim under a cave, filled with bats, from one side of the cenote to the other.
Before going, I’d read complaints that Gran Cenote becomes too crowded to truly enjoy it, but we didn’t experience that. At any given time, there were around ~10 other people in the cenote with us. And since it’s sectioned into a few different areas, being there with other travelers didn’t feel crowded.
Once we were ready to leave, we simply walked out to the parking lot and got in one of the waiting taxis- usually, there are 1-2 waiting throughout the afternoon for people who are ready to head back to town or the jungle road.
On our trip to Coba to visit the ruins, we stopped at another centote, Tamcach-ha. Unlike Gran Cenote, Tamcach-ha is enclosed deep inside the ground- it’s like swimming in an underwater cave.
Two platforms have been built for those who would like to jump into the cave from 30 ft or 15 ft. If you’re like me and have an irrational fear of heights, there’s a platform at water level you can use to enter the cenote.
After spending the morning biking and hiking the Coba ruins, this was the perfect way to relax. Like Gran Cenote, the water is crystal clear, and because it’s enclosed, you can swim while admiring the rock formations overhead.
If you came to Coba with a driver instead of a tour, ask them to take you to the cenote. If you drove yourself, anyone you stop and ask for directions will be able to help you find the entrance to the cenote.
One more cenote to mention- Ik Kil is probably the most photographed cenote in the Yucatan. We didn’t make it here on our trip because it’s closer to Cancun, but you can check out the cenote for yourself if you take a tour to Chichen Itza or are driving yourself around the Yucatan.
If you’re driving yourself, try to make it here when it opens if you’re after a photo from the top of the swimming hole with vines hanging down the side.
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