What are Cenotes?
Cenotes are amazing natural wonders found in great concentration in the Mexican Yucatan. The word cenote (pronounced see-know-tays in English) comes from the Mayan dzonot, which means cave with water. A dictionary definition is:
Cenote: a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.
This lifeless, scientific definition fails utterly to capture the wonder that are cenotes. They come in many forms each different from the other that lead to some incredible experiences. For divers, cave diving through cenotes are some of the best (and potentially dangerous) places to dive in the entire world. For those of us who do not dive, they are still sources of astounding memories.
Ancient or open cenotes are ones that have had their roofs completely collapsed and are all or mostly open to the sky. These are basically great, natural swimming holes that may sometimes have submerged passages running away from them. Examples of this is Cenote Azul or Ponderosa (Eden) Cenote.
Semi-open cenotes are ones that have some openings to the sky but are still mostly covered. These sometimes take the form of an underground lake with a skylight in the ceiling (like Samuela and X’Keken) or sometimes are open part of the way and covered the rest (like Dos Ojos).
The final form cenotes take are Cavern Cenotes, which are essentially caves with rivers flowing through them with limited access from above. These are my favorite form and two excellent examples are Rio Secreto (Secret River) and Sac Actun.
Any trip to the Mexican Riviera Maya (The west coast of the
Yucatan including Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum) has easy access to all of these types of Cenotes in large numbers. The whole of the Yucatan has thousands of them with dozens that are well equipped for visiting. Try a few out – you’ll be glad you did!
Here is a list of all the cenotes I have visited ranked in the order I loved them best. Click the picture of each cenote to get a nice description of our visit to each as well as advice on seeing them and pictures to whet your appetite!