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Trying Out the Cenotes of Tulum — A Starter Pack

A taster of what to expect from visiting the famous cenotes of Tulum

By Sh*t Happens - Lost Girl TravelPublished about a year ago 4 min read
Gran Cenote (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)


Back when we were researching Mexico one of the biggest draws was pictures of cenotes. I had never even heard of a cenote before this trip, but I suddenly became obsessed.

It’s difficult to explain exactly what a cenote is, so I will have to refer to Wikipedia’s explanation

“ Natural sinkholes from the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing fresh groundwater.”

So far, we had seen open cenotes in Bacalar which just look like incredibly fresh, deep, dark pools of water suspended in the middle of small lakes and the lagoon.

But now was what we had been waiting for, the semi-closed cenotes of Tulum. Secret lakes within caves, some with openings like skylights cascading a spotlight into the dark ocean blue within. We visited a few different types and I thought I’d give you the lowdown on what to expect.

The Popular One

Gran Cenote (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

The first cenote we visited in Tulum is the most famous and popular (and of course most expensive), the Gran Cenote.

This is a place where I feel like I have seen a thousand variations of the same image of it on Instagram. A serene, empty place with an impossibly beautiful woman in a bright bikini standing all alone in the middle of it. God knows what unholy time of the morning these models arrive to achieve this because the reality is quite different. It’s as packed as the zoo in the school holidays and we are all forced into bright orange life jackets and waddle down in an awkward queue to enter the water.

Gran Cenote (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

But, of course, it’s popular for a reason. It is so, so beautiful. We squeezed past a huge gaggle of American sorority girls to enter the covered part cave part of the cenote, following the rope into the darkness, feeling the water drop in temperature as the sky disappears above. We were lucky because nobody else seemed to want to go any deeper into the cave or stay for too long so we mostly had it to ourselves despite the hustle and bustle outside.

There’s something both unnerving and incredibly cool about swimming while bats swoop overhead. The more I looked up and the longer I let my eyes adjust, the more bats I saw. What at first looked like holes in the ceiling were actually clusters of bats. Now and then one would flutter right past your ear.

I also loved looking at the rock formations all around, particularly popping on the snorkel and looking at the underworld, under the water. On one occasion we spotted an adorable little turtle submerged, sailing along below before popping up his tiny head to take a breath.

Snorkelling with turtles- Gran Cenote (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

This one is exactly how you picture a cenote, it’s picturesque and has the added bonus of swimming with turtles and bats, but just know that it is busy and not as much a place to go to relax all day.

Turtle relaxing in the sun - Gran Cenote (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

The local one

My partner Joe enjoying the swimming pool like Cenote Zacil-Ha (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

We visited Cenote Zacil-Ha which is the polar opposite of Gran Cenote. Gran Cenote was full of tourists like us but Zacil-Ha was mostly locals out with their families.

It was teeny tiny but had a wholesome feel to it, complete with gaudy Christmas decorations alongside tropical palm trees that looked pretty funny. It also has a restaurant, which may explain why it's an easy and popular visit.

A small zip line runs over the top of the cenote allowing you to drop straight in the middle of it. It was funny, when someone was about to zip line, the lifeguard just shouted at everyone to swim to the side. Health and safety at its finest!

If you fancy a zip line, some lunch, and getting more of a local vibe, this place is fun.

The chilled-out one

The lazy lake like swimming spot of Car Wash Cenote (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

We relaxed at some more open cenotes, which don't have the cavelike covering but are still lovely swimming spots with gorgeous colourful water and plenty to see snorkelling. These were Cenote Azul, and Car Wash Cenote (a funny name I know!).

I particularly enjoyed Car Wash Cenote as it had a very chilled-out atmosphere. I loved being able to relax and sunbathe and read before cooling off with a swim.

It was a beautiful swimming spot with a jumping platform everyone made use of, cheering each other on.

It was also a great little spot for snorkelling, there was the biggest crowd of small fish, and stepping in you were surrounded by them it was wonderful. It's also a popular spot for divers going into caverns, it's bizarre to look down and see them disappear one by one beneath the walls of the cenote.

If you want somewhere to just chill out for the day or the afternoon after visiting one of the smaller or more popular cenotes in the morning, then these two are perfect.

Final thoughts

When visiting Tulum, visiting a cenote is an absolute must! They are such unique natural formations and are simply stunning.

But remember, don't think you're going to get the place to yourself unless you arrive at the crack of dawn, those pictures you see can be a little misleading.

There are tons to choose from in the area. We visited four and honestly, that's just the start. This is by no means an extensive guide and I'm sure you will have recommendations coming out of your ears. If you have the time, don't limit yourself to one, and try to check out as many as you can as they all have a little something different to offer.

Also, if you have time, make sure you take a day trip to visit the cenotes of nearby Valladolid, they are I think even more spectacular in a completely different way, as they have ones there that are completely covered and feel like walking down into another world beneath the earth's surface.

Enjoy Tulum!

Thank you for reading! Hearts and tips are always welcome and your support is very much appreciated.

This story was originally published on Medium

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About the Creator

Sh*t Happens - Lost Girl Travel

Hi! I’m Georgie and I share travel stories of when sh*t happens. I think that sometimes the worst things that happen to you traveling, are often the funniest

Follow me on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/sh.t_happens_lost_girl_travel/

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (4)

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  • Robby Talabout a year ago

    Sounds like you had a blast! I look forward to reading more of your work.

  • This sounds like so much fun! Excellent article.

  • Loryne Andaweyabout a year ago

    I need to learn how to swim in order to enjoy this. Marking denotes down on my bucket list!

  • Thanks for this, I visited maybe twenty years agon (unless I am getting mixed up and saw something on TV) very informative and well written

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