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What is a Cenote?

A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing groundwater below. Found in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes are popular for swimming, diving, and snorkeling due to their clear waters. They also hold cultural significance for the Mayan civilization.

The Yucatán Peninsula is essentially a huge limestone plateau with underground rivers and basins, which was also shaped by the impact of the meteorite at Chicxulub 66 million years ago. The meteorite not only ended the era of the dinosaurs, but also cracked the rock on the Yucatan Peninsula, allowing rainwater to seep through the cracks into the caves. The meteorite also triggered a chain reaction in the earth, creating many underground cavities and caves. This is how the so-called cenotes were formed.

Some interesting figures about cenotes:

Cenote at Yucatan Peninsula

Around the area of the crater impact there is the highest density of cenotes. The impact created a special ring of cenotes that surrounds Merida. Homun, for example, lies directly on this ring and therefore has the many cenotes.


In Mérida itself there are also cenotes, but they are few and not very spectacular. In fact, you can even find a small cenote in the park area of a walmart in the north of the city. Nowhere else in the world are more so-called cenotes than on the Yucatán Peninsula. According to rough estimates there are up to 10,000.

Cenotes were often used for water supply, but were also revered by the ancient Maya and occasionally used for sacrifices. The cenotes are connected by underground rivers.


Open cenotes gain a special charm from the fact that trees often stand at the edge of a cenote and their roots reach over the edge sometimes 20-30 metres down into the water. The water in a cenote is usually very clear because it is filtered through the limestone. And there are often small fish or catfish that inhabit the cenotes.

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Best Cenotes Tours

Did I mention that a visit to a cenote is an absolute must when you are on the Yucatan Peninsula? There are so many incredible places that you should definitely not miss it.

We have picked out
the best guided tours to the best cenotes for you from our partner, the market leader Viator. You save time and nerves, get everything you need to know and insider tips from an expert guide and can join up with others if you like. And it's also safer to travel in a group.

Disclosure: This article contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we get a small provision at no additional cost to you (#Disclosure Policy)

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Cultural Significance

The ancient Maya believed that the cenotes were portals to the underworld. When a king died, he entered the underworld through the waters of the cenote and defeated the evil lords of the underworld. Then he traveled up to the upper world (heaven). So the cenotes also represent reincarnation and the journey to paradise.


The Maya held fire ceremonies and cave rituals at the cenotes to summon their gods and also made human sacrifices. In Chichén Itzá, for example, hundreds of people were ritually executed and their bodies were thrown into the water of the sacred cenote. This is evidenced by the discovery of a large number of skeletons at the bottom of the cenote.

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Tips for visiting Cenotes

A general travel tip for visiting cenotes is water shoes. Most cenotes have slippery rocks and wet wooden stairs. Also, a waterproof cell phone holder is no bad idea if you plan to take photos and also want to take your smartphone into the water. A waterproof camera would of course be the icing on the cake. A "real" camera has the advantage that you may have a flash, which is very helpful especially in the underground cenotes. Even if the cenotes are mostly illuminated to some extent.


Also a waterproof shoulder bag or fanny pack has several advantages in a cenote or similar environment. You have your valuables protected with you and may not need a locker. If you want, you can also take snorkeling equipment. Often there are also small fish to see in the water. A basic tip at such locations is always to take cash with you in any case. Please also note that there is not always a cell phone signal at the locations outside the cities. It is also important to know that it is often not possible to pay by card, so be sure to take enough cash with you. And an obvious tip is to bring a quick dry towel.


Toilets and showers are usually available at the more developed cenotes. If you wish to swim in a cenote, you must shower off beforehand. You should also avoid using sunscreen or mosquito spray or similar (or use biodegradable products), in order not to pollute the water in the cenotes. Life jackets are compulsory in many cenotes and are often provided.

Tips for visiting Cenotes
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Selected Cenotes

Here is an overview of cenotes described on this website. Of course, this is only a very small selection (there are many thousands cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula), but these are particularly well known - or less well known, but still recommended. 

Cenotes near Mérida:

  • Cenote San Ignacio is in Chocholoá. You'll find a garden, hammocks, pool, water landscape and also a restaurant.

Cenotes on archeologial sites;

  • The Archaeological site of Chichén Itzá is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World with the large cenote Sagrado.

  • Dzibilchaltún is less known, but the oldest and largest Mayan archaelogical site with the above-ground cenote Xlakah.

Cenotes on haciendas:

  • Hacienda Mucuyché has largely original unrestored buildings and there are cenote Carlota and cenote Azul Maya.

  • Hacienda Sotuta de Peón takes you back 100 years to the golden age of henequen. There is cenote Dzul Ha.

  • The two small cenotes X'batun and Dzonbacal belong to the Hacienda San Antonio de Mulix.

Larger accumulations of cenotes:

  • Homún and Cuzamá are two small villages southeast of Mérida. There are over 20 cenotes that can be visited.

  • Between the towns of Cuzamá and Homún, the Santa Bárbara cenotes include four amazing cenotes.

  • Playa del Carmen, a popular beach resort on the east coast of Mexico, has some nice cenotes.

Cenotes in or near Valladolid:

  • There are cenotes in Valladolid, a "Pueblo Magicó", and the third largest city in the state of Yucatán.

  • The spectacular Cenote Suytun is close to Valladolid and the place is well-known for very "instagramable" photos.

  • Cenote Zazil Tunich is a large cenote that is completely underground and a breathtakingly beautiful experience.

Cenotes in water parks:

  • Xcaret is a water park with underground rivers and cenotes, at the Riviera Maya between Cancun and Tulum.

  • Xel-Há Park is also a huge natural water park near Tulum at Riviera Maya with some cenotes.

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