We booked our trip to Tulum, Mexico before I really learned what cenotes were, but they’re the number one reason why I’d go back in a heartbeat. There are over 6,000 cenotes sprinkled throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, which are natural sinkholes giving way to the aqua blue groundwater beneath. Some cenotes just look like little lakes that you can access from ground level, some are partially collapsed with a rock overhang, while others require a trek deep underground where you’ll find yourself in a cave of crystalline water surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. We visited as many as we could to find the best cenotes near Tulum, Mexico.
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Cenotes near Tulum like Gran Cenote and Dos Ojos are as picturesque as they are popular. We think hordes of people, usually running around in bright orange life vests, tend to distract a bit from the natural beauty and mystique of the place, so we set out to find a few cenotes a bit off the beaten path. A few of these still get busy, so we opted to visit first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon when they were almost completely empty.
We rented a car, so it was easy and convenient to get around. Look for more information about transportation around Tulum and the Riviera Maya including buses and taxis at the end of this post. Whatever you do, don’t miss these beautiful cenotes near Tulum when exploring Mexico’s Riveria Maya!
➳ Read next: 7 Stunning Cenotes near Valladolid, Mexico
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Tips for visiting Cenotes
Get there early…or late
The cenotes in this post aren’t the busiest ones, but Tulum still seems like it’s on an upward trajectory of popularity, so I’m sure they’ll just get busier. Our advice is to get there first thing, or plan to go for a later afternoon. As you would expect with a swimming spot, peak popularity for most of these cenotes is around 11 am to 3 pm.
Bring mineral, biodegradable sunscreen
In order to protect the fragile environments in the cenotes from damage, only use a mineral, biodegradable sunscreen. Last year when we got PADI certified, we realized how much harm chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate have on the underwater ecosystems. These chemicals along with others are major culprits for coral bleaching and are harmful to both you and the environment. The best rule of thumb is to only use sunscreens that use non-nano zinc oxide as a physical (or mineral) blocker, and do not have any chemicals.
We’ve realized how important it is to use a mineral sunscreen that is reef-safe, so we’ve written a whole post on it! It includes a list of the safest, most effective mineral sunscreens we’ve used.
➳ Read next: The Best Reef-Safe Mineral Sunscreens
Pack a Towel
Hopefully, you’re planning on actually jumping in and not just looking at the water, so pack a towel. We often pack this microfiber towel on a lot of our travels since it is super compact and dries quickly.
Wear water shoes or sandals
Best Cenotes near Tulum
1 Cenote Calavera
This little cenote right outside of Tulum is named for the three circular openings that look a bit like a skull from above. The water sits about four meters below the ground, so the best way to get in is to jump! The openings that are supposed to be the eyes are pretty narrow, so we got to practice our pencil dives! There’s a ladder down into the main hole, so you can climb in if you don’t feel like jumping.
We arrived a bit after 9 am and enjoyed this cenote with a few others. While we were three divers also came through who had entered from another cenote, swam underground and then resurfaced here. So many of the cenotes in the area are connected so you can go diving between cenotes.
Price: 100 pesos
How to get there: Cenote Calavera is about 15 minutes from the northern end of Tulum’s hotel strip. Just take the 15 up which turns into the 109 and park in the little lot on the east side of the road. It’s just a few minutes before you get to Gran Cenote, one of the most popular cenotes in Tulum.
2-3 Cenote Cristal and Escondido
Cenote Cristal looks like a small pristine lake surrounded by palm trees. We brought our snorkel and saw a few fish and little turtles, and then spent the rest of the time jumping off the high wooden platform. The surrounding area is well kept with a path around the cenote and the occasional picnic table or wooden bench, but it didn’t feel commercialized. It was the perfect place to spend a quiet morning swimming and sitting in the sun. Cenote Cristal is right next to Escondido, so you can easily visit two cenotes in one trip.
Price: 80 pesos for Cenote Cristal, 120 for both Cristal and Escondido
How to get there: Cenote Cristal is about 15 minutes away from the start of Tulum’s hotel strip along the ocean. Take the 15 away from the ocean, then make a left onto the 307. Cenote Cristal is on the right-hand side of the road.
4 Cenote near Nativus Glamping Tulum
This little cenote in Tulum felt like such a hidden gem; it’s basically right on the hotel strip, but not many people seem to know about it because the only access points are through hotels. We spent part of our time in Tulum glamping at a little property with seven tents called Nativus, with the extra bonus of a cenote right on the property. Nativus is located at the end of Tulum’s hotel strip, with the Caribbean ocean on one side and the beautiful cenote surrounded by mangroves on the other. You feel like you’re out in the middle of the jungle, but everything is just a few minutes’ walk or bike ride away. Nativus has a two-story deck on the edge of the cenote for sunbathing and diving, plus kayaks and SUP boards. The cenote is fairly large, so you can get in some good exercise paddling around. There are a few other hotels that have access to the cenote, which means it was always pretty quiet on the water. If you’re interested in booking a stay and swimming in this cenote, check out Nativus Glamping Tulum here. Reserve early, there are only seven tents and they book up fast!
Price: Free with a stay at Nativus Glamping Tulum
5-6 Cenote Bonita and Celestial
These two cenotes were some of the most beautiful we swam and snorkeled through on our trip. They’re on private property, so in order to access them, you need to book a tour with Edventure Tours Tulum. If you want an action-packed day full of fun, then book this tour! You can read more about the tour here, which also included zip lining through the jungle and snorkeling with sea turtles in Akumal.
Cenote Bonita is partially covered by a rock overhang, so it feels like a cave with the benefit of warm air and sunshine.
Cenote Celestial is an appropriate name for this underground cenote. The water is perfectly clear, and when you shine a light underwater it looks like you can see into another dimension. There are rock formations all over, and the water has unique properties that make your skin super soft. Weird, but totally true.
Price: Included with the Xtreme Tour by Edventure Tours Tulum.
7 Yal-ku Lagoon
If you’re looking for one of the best places to snorkel in the Riviera Maya, then you can’t miss the Yal-ku Lagoon. It’s not technically a cenote; it’s a little inlet where the ocean water mixes with the fresh water from a nearby cenote, creating a unique and incredibly diverse ecosystem. You can actually see the waters mixing because it almost looks like oily has been dropped into the water. And if you plunge a few feet under the water, you can feel the warmer salt water down below. We heard it initially described as a natural aquarium and it’s totally true; there are probably thousands of colorful tropical fish!
We visited this spot as part of our tour with Edventure Tours Tulum, but it’s open to the public, so you can visit on your own without booking a tour.
Price: The entrance fee is 280 pesos (around 14 USD), and they do have snorkels and fins for rent (masks and fins were 100 pesos each). They also have bathrooms and showers. If you plan on snorkeling in Akumal Bay with the sea turtles, this is a great stop to add on since it’s just a few minutes away.
How to get there: Yal-ku is about a 35-minute drive up the coast from Tulum and just a few minutes from Akumal Bay.
8 Cenote Jardin del Eden
About halfway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen are three beautiful cenotes right next to each other: Cenote Azul, Cenote Jardin del Eden, and Cenote Cristalino. We opted for Cenote Jardin del Eden, which is sometimes called Cenote Ponderosa. This large, open-air swimming hole is aptly named for its crystal clear water and lush surroundings. You can dive from the tall edge of the cenote, which rises up about 12 feet out of the water. There’s little fish that nibble on your feet, and even a small, separate body of water that turns into a narrow tunnel with tall rock sides. It’s absolutely picturesque and the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
There are a few amenities, including bathrooms, a place to rent snorkels or life vests (not required), and a small snack shack. We visited in the middle of the day and while there were plenty of people there, it didn’t feel crowded.
Price: 100 pesos
How to get there: This set of cenotes, including Jarden del Eden, are between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. It’s about a 30-minute drive up the coast from Tulum, and about 20 minutes south of Playa.
Planning a trip to Tulum, Mexico
Hotels and Airbnbs in Tulum – There are two main areas to stay in Tulum — the main tourist strip along the beach, or in the town. You’ll get more bang for your buck in town, and may even be able to get your own pool, but you’ll be about 15 minutes from the beach. We split up our time in Tulum; during the first half of our stay, we glamped on the edge of a cenote at Nativus Glamping Tulum. For the second half, we stayed at a moderately priced hotel on the beach called Neuva Vida de Ramiro. We highly recommend both! For more places to stay in Tulum, check Airbnb or booking.com. If you’re new to Airbnb, use our referral link here for $30 off your first stay or Airbnb Experience.
Car Rental – The most convenient place to rent a car is at the Cancun Airport. Check RentalCars.com to compare prices of the world’s biggest car rental services, including Hertz, Avis, and Budget.
More things to do in Tulum – for more ideas for you trip, check out our post with 10 Must-Do Adventures in Tulum.
Transportation around Tulum and the Riviera Maya
While you can use public transit to get around the Riveria Maya, we found it most convenient to rent a car, especially since we wanted to visit some cenotes near Tulum that were a bit out of the way. We picked up a car from Enterprise at the Cancun Airport. Our weekly rate was ridiculously low at $4.50. This is typical of rental cars in Mexico because you are required to get both third-party liability insurance ($75 for 5 days) and personal accident insurance ($20 for 5 days) if you are not already insured in Mexico. We typically decline any insurance we can from the rental agency and rely on our credit card’s insurance, but it is a requirement in Mexico to purchase these two types of insurance. After the airport fee and sales tax, our rental for 5 days cost $136. We found driving around the Yucatán Peninsula to be safe, easy and convenient. Parking was usually free and the roads are well maintained. If you want maximum flexibility, I highly recommend renting a car.
You can get around the Riviera Maya using a combination of ADO buses, Colectivos, and taxis. ADO buses run from the Cancun Aiport to Tulum. The trip takes about 2 1/2 hours, and you can check the schedule here.
Colectivos are shuttle buses that locals and tourists use to get between towns. They typically run multiple times a day but wait to depart until the van is full. To get from Cancun to Tulum, you will need to take two colectivos; one from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, and then one from Playa to Tulum. Here’s a post with more information on colectivos.
Taxis are a popular way to get around Tulum. For example, if you’re staying along the popular ocean-front hotel strip in Tulum and want to go into town to grab a bite to eat, visit a nearby cenote, or see the Tulum Ruins and haven’t rented a car, a taxi is a convenient option. Taxis within Tulum are typically around 100 pesos.