Many articles list the best cenotes in Tulum; the top 3, 5, 20 even. I was ecstatic to hop around and visit as many as possible. I imagined my boyfriend and I riding our bikes, oh-so-picturesquely, through Tulum while stumbling upon a cenote here, a cenote there. There are 226 in total, so I was confident that we’d have a pretty easy time finding them.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Although everyone on Instagram seems to ride bikes to wherever they need to be in Tulum, the bikes are only somewhat practical for visiting the cenotes because of the following:
Only a few cenotes exist within biking distance from the center of Tulum.
The cenotes are open at particular times, on particular days, and require semi-to-super hefty entrance fees; if you want to see a lot, you should consider cutting back on transportation time.
The grandest, most remote, and nature-centered cenotes exist an hour or two away by car in Yucatan and Coba.
Regardless of the obstacles, we adjusted and sent forth! We switched transportation methods and rented a car. We planned to start close to Tulum Center, and then make our way outside the city. We’d been suffering from food poisoning-like symptoms for the last few days and didn’t want to venture too far from our home base.
Cenote Calavera is located only three kilometers outside the center so we started there. Maybe you’ve seen the Insta-worthy shots; it’s known for its picturesque swing (which was submerged when we went) and wooden ladder. A swing hangs from the limestone rocks above the pool beneath, and a wooden ladder emerges from the depths of the water to the top ledge of the rocks.
It’s basically a huge hole in the ground—a hole in limestone ground, to be exact. Smaller holes surround the larger. You can jump through any of them and land in crystal clear, blue water.
The Instagram pictures make it look like your own, private, underground experience; countless photos feature a girl, alone, on a swing, swaying amidst the depths of the swimming hole. That definitely wasn’t our experience. Because it’s so close to Tulum Center, Calavera is very commercialized. It was loaded with tourists; people were posing for Insta-pics left and right. Before jumping in, we had to make sure we weren’t ruining any shots.
Although Calavera wasn’t the nature escape we were hoping for, we still had fun. I mean, who doesn’t love jumping through a mystery hole and landing in a pool of cool, blue water? The water was pretty chilly, so we enjoyed relaxing in the hammocks and listening to music under the sun after swimming.
My boyfriend and I are more of the ‘funny picture’ takers than ‘insta picture’ takers so we made some fun videos while jumping into the smaller holes. After an hour and $17 each, we were ready to see the next cenote.
Cenote Dos Ojos
We were well prepared for crowds at Dos Ojos, one of the most famous cenotes in Tulum. It was listed on almost every “top cenote” list, so we had to give it a try. Dos Ojos is located about 21 km outside of Tulum Centro.
We arrived and started with a snack of nachos and guacamole at the restaurant; we heard there’d be lots of swimming. Fueled and ready, we made our way down a dirt path towards the cenote—although it was very commercialized with signs, bathrooms, hammocks, and restaurants, we were still blown away by the natural landscape.
We began at Ojo Uno, which was our favorite. A dark pool ran like a circular moat, sheltered by limestone and stalagmites. We snorkeled and saw schools of little black fish; if you stayed still for long enough, they’d nibble on your toes. It tickled.
The bottom was an eclectic mix of sand and boulders; in the crevices, you could catch a glimpse into the depths. The water was so dark, pitch black, that we couldn’t see the bottom or even fathom how deep it was. Flashlights from scuba divers illuminated small parts of the depths; we followed their lights and watched the divers swim through caves and descend deeper.
Although it looked slightly terrifying to dive in such dark caves, we would’ve loved to try diving. There were at least twenty divers, so we assumed it must be safe. Regardless, we were content snorkeling; we completed the swim around the cave-like moat in about thirty minutes.
Ojo Dos was beautiful but smaller. At the entrance, we chose to walk down a dirt path towards the back, away from the people. We found a small pool with no one there! We had the area all to ourselves. Bats flew in; bats flew out. After being there for a while, we realized that bat poop covered the rocks. Maybe that’s why no one else was there.
The next day, we went cenote hopping again—but this time, with a different strategy. We wanted to try the “drive-around-aimlessly and find cenotes” approach. We set forth without a plan, on a Sunday afternoon, at about 3 pm; we took one of the main roads leaving the city.
I’d read that cenotes are usually well-marked from the side of the road. Before we knew it, we started spotting signs! The first was the Doggie Cenote. To a dog lover like myself, that sounded promising. We rolled up to the sign, arrow, and dirt path, only to see a huge metal gate blocking the entrance. Shoot.
Baba Yaga Cenote
We then saw a sign for the “Baba Yaga Cenote”. My boyfriend was immediately weary; he knew the term from a Jon Wick movie—it translated to Boogie Man. When I looked it up on Wikipedia, it translated to “a mythical, witch-like character; one of the most popular demons of Slavic belief”.
Anyways, the sign pointed us to a small, dirt parking lot and there was no one in sight. No other travelers, no one to take our money. I was sure that something great must lay at the end of this cenote path; it felt so secret. Maybe we’d find our own, private cenote!
At the same time, I was also nervous to leave our rental car and valuables in a place without much foot traffic. We took a quick hike—about 10 minutes—down the trail. We saw cracks in the limestone that potentially held water, but we weren’t sure. The walking path winded on and on; we couldn’t stop worrying about our rental car and the Boogie Man/Slavic demons, so we bolted back and never found the cenote.
Los Sanctuarios de Cenotes
We thought the third time would be the charm, so we pulled over at “Los Sanctuarios de Cenotes”. It was a dead-end without a trail in sight. Needless to say, the “drive-around-aimlessly and find cenotes” approach didn’t really work out for us. Because we weren’t familiar with the area, we thought it’d be smarter to stick to the beaten path; despite the hefty fines.
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