There are many great things to do along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, from visiting the white sand beaches to historic Mayan Ruins, but the jungles have a secret hidden under their thick canopies. There are no rivers that cross the peninsula, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fresh water; its hidden deep underground in a network of connected caves and caverns. A Cenote appears in the jungle when the limestone ceiling of one of these larger caverns collapses, which reveals the freshwater below.
Cenotes were sacred to the Mayan Civilization who once lived throughout the Yucatan peninsula, as it was a source of fresh water and a gateway to the underworld. There are over 6000 cenotes in Mexico, and many of these are located along the Riviera Maya. Today, cenotes are a popular tourist destination, as these exposed freshwater pools are the perfect to place to for a swim and a way to cool off during your visit to Mexico.
The name cenote (ts’onot) comes from the Mayan language for sacred well, and these locations with access to freshwater were vitally important to their civilization. The cenote is one of the unique geological features of the Yucatan peninsula and just another reason why a trip to the Riviera Maya can be so much fun.
We have explored many of these natural swimming pools over the last several years and 3 of them – located about 20 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen – have become our personal favourites.
Cenote’s Azul, Cristalino and Jardin de Eden are an easy place to visit on a day trip from Playa del Carmen. They are located in a cluster (walking distance from each other) about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, along the main highway to Tulum. The water at these cenotes are crystal clear, with incredible visibility which makes them the perfect place to go snorkeling. There are many colourful fish and sometimes turtles that can be found in the water, swimming in the open water or along the mangroves.
For the more adventurous, it is even possible to scuba dive deeper into the cave networks, with proper training and an experienced guide, of course. One of the things we love about these three cenotes, is that there are many cliffs of varying heights that you can jump off into the deep pools of water below.
Whether you just go for a snorkel with the fish or just to dip your feet in the water, this is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Mexico. Surrounded by the thick jungle, these cenotes are one of the most unique things you can do during your visit to Mexico.