Visit Mexico’s spectacular Yucatán peninsular and you’ll have your pick of white sandy beaches, crystal waters and exceptional coastal cuisine. What many who stay on the beach miss, however, is Mexico’s most beautiful and unusual secret - the cenote. Shrouded in mystery, these often deep pools of water can be found underground, beneath the jungle floor, in caves and even out in the open if you know where to look. We’ve picked some of the most spectacular and lesser known cenotes for you to explore and discover the secret beauty of Mexico. Remember that in all cenotes sunscreen or lotions are prohibited to protect the fragile ecosystem and keep the waters sparkling and crystal-clear. It’s always better to wash off before jumping in.
Located only a 15 minute cycle from Tulum pueblo, Calavera is hiding in plain sight. Away from the glamour of the luxurious beach-front hotel, this unassuming cenote is down a dirt track off the main road north towards Coba, so getting there is a breeze. The smallest of all our recommendations, Calavera is no less stunning - formed of several small holes in the ground, the biggest of which spans around six metres wide with a three metre drop. Test your metal by jumping through one of the skinny holes down into the deep below and swim with the fishes while bats swoop overhead. The dappled light ripples throughout the small space, while an old rope swing is still in place for unbeatable photo opportunities.
In the heart of the beautiful, colonial city of Valladolid hides a world-class cenote. Easily walkable from all areas of town, head down to Zaci after lunch to spend the heat of the day in the refreshing cool of one of the region’s largest and most beautiful cenotes. After walking down a long flight of stairs build into the cave’s rock face, you’ll reach one of several platforms - perfect for jumping off from (or watching others while working up the courage). Platforms range from a few metres to eight metres up, but there are also stairs directly into the water for a more serene entry. A series of ropes guide you from one side of the expanse to the other as there is no bank to speak of. Watch giant lizards scale the rocks around you and the black fish swim through your legs as a natural waterfall cascades down into the centre of the pool.
San Lorenzo Oxman, Valladolid
Another beauty in close proximity to Valladolid, Oxman is still very much under the tourist radar. The waters here are rumoured to be as deep as 70 metres, so adventure junkies can jump from heights of 20 metres safely. Stay all day dipping in and out of the tranquil blue water or rent some diving gear to really get to grips with the underground labyrinth. Many cenotes were previously used by the Mayans for human sacrifice, so prepare yourself for skulls and bones lurking in the depths if you do decide to go exploring.
Los Tres Cenotes, Cuzama
If getting to a cenote by foot doesn’t sound exciting enough for you, Los Tres Cenotes should be your next stop. Within easy reach of the colonial city of Merida, Cuzama boasts three of the most unusual cenotes you’ll find in Mexico. Connected by an old rail road, climb into a ramshackle mining cart for a thrilling ride through the jungle fauna to reach each pool. The second requires you to climb down a narrow hole using a bamboo ladder, straight into the water, while third has a beautiful diving platform. Don’t forget your snorkel, the deep blue waters here hide all manners of creatures.
Tajma Ha, Playa del Carmen
Located in one of the busiest areas of the Yucatan, Tajma Ha provides a welcome respite from the crowds. A paradise for divers, during the summer, light streams down into the cavern creating beams that pierce the water for a perfect view through the deep waters. It’s possible to follow an underground tunnel leading to a sugarbowl, where the rare, turquoise Motmot bird can be seen (and heard) coursing through the caves. Look out for fossils fused to the walls as you experience this underground haven as the Mayan people once did.