The Ultimate Guide to Visit a Cenote in Yucatán

Cenotes are one of the most unique marvels you’ll find in the Mexican state of Yucatán. The Maya called them Dzonot, which the Spaniards transformed into the word “cenote”. Geraldo Díaz Alpuche (c. 1579) was a Spanish military commander who was greatly impressed with these underground caverns and pools, and he tried to explain the meaning of the word cenote in the Spanish language as meaning “deep thing”. The Motul dictionary, a dictionary of Maya hieroglyphics, defines Dzonot as “abysmal and deep”.

Before the Spanish Conquest, cenotes weren’t used as recreational spaces. For the pre-Hispanic Maya, cenotes were sacred places, not only because they were the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle, but also because they represented the entrance to the underworld.

Nowadays, things have somewhat changed. What we can say for sure is that, if you visit a cenote, the experience will be etched in your mind forever: they’re magical, mysterious, and unique.



How are cenotes formed?

There is a reason why the Yucatán Península doesn’t have any (visible) rivers: the soil is highly permeable, which means that the water is quickly absorbed. As the water permeates, it dissolves the limestone it encounters, creating underground freshwater deposits. When the vault ceilings of these deposits collapse (or are perforated), that’s when we gain access to a marvelous underground landscape of crystal-clear, turquoise-hued water, which keep a pleasant temperature no higher than 24° C (75° F) year-round.


Every cenote is a natural work of art due to the stalactites, stalagmites, and columns that have taken millions of years to form.


Cenote Dos Aguas in Yalcobá, a closed-type cenote.



How many cenotes are there in Yucatán?

The actual number of cenotes is unknown. There are estimated to be over 10,000, but only 2,400 have been recorded. As such, it’s very difficult to provide you with a full catalog of the cenotes you can visit during your stay in Yucatán; the good news is that, no matter which you choose, each one is a unique, unforgettable experience.


Dzul Ha, a closed cenote with stalagmites, Hacienda Sotuta de Peón in Yucatán.


How are cenotes classified?

The most common classification considers the cenotes’ shape; by this standard, there are three possible types: 

  • Open cenotes, resembling small lakes
  • Semi-open cenotes, partially covered 
  • Closed or cave cenotes, fully covered

Other possible classifications include their accessibility, swimmability, suitability for spelunking, and rusticity.

Xcanche, an open cenote in Ek Balam, Yucatán.

semi open Cenote Carlota in Mucuyché

Zazil Tunich, a closed-type cenote.


The value of cenotes

For many visitors (and there is no denying it, many locals too), cenotes are natural swimming pools: fun places to swim and take photos. Some fools have even proposed them as places to do motorized water sports (!). Those who have studied the different functions cenotes and caves have served over thousands of years see things from a different perspective: as shelters, as water (and other resources) sources, and as sacred places. If all visitors to the cenotes understood their value (historical, geological, environmental, and cultural, to name a few), we would all be much more aware and respectful of their fragility and care, and we would understand that they are, in truth, a living museum where you have the option to go for a swim.


This is not to discourage you from exploring and diving into the thousands of cenotes found in Yucatán, on the contrary! We want you to know, enjoy, and appreciate them as much as we do. Here’s a quick guide for a responsible, sustainable cenote visit.


 Cenote Maní Chan in Homún


How to have an authentic cenote experience

Am I visiting an authentically natural cenote?

When it comes to infrastructure in cenotes, less is more. Some cenote operators choose to destroy natural formations to build an artificial space that evokes nature. Don’t fall for that scam.


Am I benefiting the community where this cenote is located?

The cenotes are the natural heritage of the people who live near them; when you visit, are you sharing it with them, or are you depriving them of it?  


Am I aware that I am enjoying a sacred place?

Always ask yourself if your visit is being respectful of the environment and its history. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but we encourage you to do so responsibly.


Am I contributing to the conservation of this cenote?

Our daily-use chemicals (deodorant, sunscreen, insect repellent, hair products, etc.) are very harmful to the aquifer; always rinse well before entering the water. 


You’re all set! It doesn’t matter if you’re diving, swimming, floating, or just dipping your feet: dive in, cool off, and enjoy the natural treasures that are Yucatán’s cenotes.



What to bring when you visit a cenote?

By law, the use of life jackets is mandatory in every cenote in Yucatán. That means that most cenotes have life jackets (usually in different sizes) available to borrow or rent. However, if you or your family have your own that you’re comfortable with, it will always be better to bring them. Snorkeling gear or just goggles will make your visit all the richer, as you’ll be able to look at the bases of some of the stalagmites around you. An underwater lamp might also be useful, whether to explore or to give you an idea of how deep the cenote is. 


If you’re not used to walking barefoot, or (understandably) worried about walking on slippery stones, water shoes are also a good idea.


What you’ll definitely need is, of course, your bathing suit and, if you’d like, a change of clothes. I always recommend bringing along quick-dry towels or, even better, the chamois ones swimmers use.


Are you planning to visit a cenote, but concerned about your children’s experience? Our article Cenotes with Children: Adventure and Safety will help you prepare for a fun, safe visit for the entire family.

Children with safety vests and visors at Cenote Mucuyché, Yucatán.


How to choose what cenote to visit in Yucatán

As mentioned above, with literally thousands of options to choose from, each traveler is bound to have a unique preference according to their own taste, interests, and experience. Our suggestion will always be to visit more than one and try to determine which features matter to you the most: do you prefer open, semi-open, or cave cenotes? Rustic or more Manicured? Touristy or off-the-beaten-path? Do you want to make it a stop along a longer route or will you make the trip just to visit a specific cenote? As you can see, the possible combinations are endless.


Green hallway at Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché

Some cenotes you can visit in Yucatán

Cenotes en Cenotillo

This village gets its name from the large number of cenotes located within the town and the outskirts. According to locals there are more than 150 cenotes, some of which are located in open fields. The main cenotes are Kaipech, Xayin, Xoch, Yook Chac (magnificent, privately owned cenote with caves, its own Maya ruins, and a greater chance to observe wildlife), and Ucil (town cenote). 

Guide: Juan Verde

Tel. 9911 107 236 / 9911 063 637

Calle 13 #156 x 18 y 20, Cenotillo.

If you’re in Cenotillo, ask anyone where to find him.


People on the mobile platform of Cenote Xooch in Cenotillo, Yucatán
Woman in Cenote Xooch, semi open vault, in Cenotillo.
Staircase access to Cenote Xooch in Cenotillo, Yucatán.


Cenote Chihuán

80 km. from Mérida on the “Libre” road to Cancún, this underground cenote is clean, safe, well lit, and has easy access. Change rooms, parking, regional food, green area, camping and horseback riding. The cenote’s maximum depth is 14 m (50 ft) and there’s always direct access to the surface. You’ll see stalactites, stalagmites, and columns at 3, 6, 9, 11, and 13 meters deep. Divers can get an impressive tour between formations. It’s conveniently located in Holcá, just a 30-minute drive from Chichén Itzá or about an hour from Valladolid.

Cel. 988 957 0008

FB: Cenote Chihuan


Cenote Chihuan, an underground cenote in Holcá, a locality located in the municipality of Kantunil, Yucatán.

A woman swimming in Cenote Chichuan in Holcá, Yucatán.

Access to Cenote Chihuan in Holcá


Cenotes in Cuzamá

There are three cooperative groups managing the cenotes here. Cenotes Chelentún, Santa Cruz, and Dzapakal are managed by Grupo Organizado Chelentún, at Hacienda Chunkanán, 3 km south of Cuzamá. Cooperativa “X’Tohil” manages four cenotes: San Felipe, Ayuso, Saak-Pakal and X’tohil. Cenotes Chansinic’ché and Bolonchoojol are managed by a different group. All three groups take you on a “truck” (wooden cart pulled by small horses) tour between cenotes.

Horse drawn cart at Cuzamá cenotes
 Cenote Bolojonchol in Cuzamá, Yucatán
Cenote Chac Sinic Che in Cuzamá

Cenote Dzul-ha

This beautiful cenote is located within Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, and it’s one of the stops you make along its tour of the Henequén hacienda. Sotuta de Peón is located 32 km (20 mi) south of Mérida; visits are available every day, by reservation. 

Tel. 941 6441


Cenote Dzul Ha en Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, Yucatán
Cenote Dzul Ha en Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, Yucatán
Cenote Dzul Ha en Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, Yucatán

Cenotes in Homún

Nowadays, Homún is one of the most visited destinations for cenotes in Yucatán, and it’s easy to see why: there are approximately 300 cenotes in this tiny village, of which “only” about 30 are open to the public. 

In Homún there are plenty of multi-cenote tours offered, even on unique vehicles: buggies, ATVs, or Mototaxis, the local version of a tuktuk. By far, the most common option is the Mototaxi. First of all, because they’re much cheaper ($300 pesos per person, up to 4 people), but also very convenient, since you don’t need a reservation: as soon as you’re near the area, at least one Mototaxi driver will offer you a tour. If you choose to go by buggy or ATV, the price goes up ($1,600 pesos per vehicle), but they both offer better cushioning and speed. 

Tours usually include three cenotes; which ones, your guide will usually decide for you, unless you ask for a specific one by name. 

Are you looking to plan a visit to Homún? Check out our Complete Guide for a Visit to the Homún Cenotes.

ATV/Buggy tours

Buggoz en Finca Oz

Tel. 999 802 3081

FB: Finca Oz


Cenote Pool Cocom in Cenotes Santa Bárbara, Homún
Cenote Xooch in Cenotes Santa Bárbara, Homún
Cenote Chel Paak in Homún

Cenote Ik-Kil

Because of its proximity to Chichén Itzá and Pisté, Ik-Kil is one of the most visited cenotes in Yucatán. It is a perfectly round open-well cenote with exuberant vegetation and waterfalls. It gained even further notoriety after hosting the 2014 Red Bull World Series of Diving. If you’re not sure about jumping in from a 27 m (90 ft) height, there’s also a grand stairway that leads into the water.
Open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM. There is also a buffet-style restaurant and bungalows for overnight stay. 

Tel. 985 851 0002


Cenote Ik Kil in Chichén Itzá

Cenote Kankirixche

At cenote Kankirixché you will find a large, spectacular sub-aquatic cavern with crystal clear water that allows fantastic visibility for snorkeling or scuba. In this grand cenote you will also find stalactites and alamo tree roots that form an impressive formation from the ceiling to the water. Kankirixche is a semi-open cenote 33 feet high, 90 feet long and about 75 feet wide. Visits only available with a tour.



A woman swimming in Cenote Mariposa, Los Siete Cenotes.

Los 7 Cenotes

A private reserve of more than 250 hectares. The immense richness of this place offers an exclusive and safe encounter with nature and the mystic Maya world. It is located in the Municipio de Sotuta, 80 km from Mérida.



Mujer nadando en Cenote Mariposa, Los Siete Cenotes

Cenote San Ignacio

Cenote San Ignacio is just 40 minutes from Mérida, on the highway to the neighboring state of Campeche in the village of Chocholá. This cenote is a very safe place, perfect for swimming. Found inside a cavern, there is artificial lighting and even music. The vaulted roof is about 24 feet, from which hang incredible stalactites. For your enjoyment and comfort, you will find palapas, bathrooms, showers, dressing rooms, a children’s play area, wading pools, stables, restaurant, and spa. Open 365 days a year.



Couple at Cenote San Ignacio in Chocholá, Yucatán
Diving at Cenote San Ignacio in Chocholá, Yucatán
Pool at Cenote San Ignacio in Chocholá, Yucatán

Cenotes X’Kekén and Samulá

Located in Dzitnup, 7 km southeast of Valladolid, these cave cenotes feature a hole in the ceiling that make them unique. There is lighting and a guide rope to make it easier to enter.

Cenote Xlacah

With the participation of local residents, the beautiful Yaxunah Cenote has recently received new stairs and access to a picnic area. It is located between Chichén Itzá and Yaxcabá, and there is also a Cultural Center and the Yaxunah archaeological site nearby. 

FB Centro Cultural Comunitario De Yaxunah


Cenote Xlacha in the archaeological site of Dzibilchaltún

Cenote Yokdzonot

Located just 10 minutes from Chichén Itzá, a swim in cenote Yokdzonot is a magical experience. Small fish dart all around you, birds are swooping overhead and singing, and dragonflies flutter above the water’s surface.


Open cenote Yokdzonot in Yokdzonot, Yucatán
 Cenote Yokdzonot in Yokdzonot. Yucatán

Cenote Zací

Ubicado en el corazón de la ciudad de Valladolid, es de los más populares para bañarse por sus aguas cristalinas y refrescante color turquesa, en las que se encuentra una rara especie de peces negros y sin ojos denominados «lub». Puedes ver formaciones de estalactitas y estalagmitas que cubren la tercera parte del cenote.



Open cenote Zací in downtown Valladolid, Yucatán
Cenote Zací, Maya  in Valladolid Yucatán