Mexico’s cenotes are prevalent throughout the Riviera Maya, and Tulum is fortunately situated within an easy half-day trip of some of the most notable in the region. Scattered throughout the jungle, cenotes are underground pools of fresh water that reveal entrances to the Riviera Maya’s underground river systems. The limestone walls of these caves filter the water, making for unparalleled visibility and a completely unique snorkeling or diving experience.
After a few days spent lounging oceanside, exploring the ruins, and strolling down Tulum’s idyllic beaches, there is no better way to spend a day in the shade than donning your snorkel gear and taking a dip in one of the surreal cenotes surrounding Tulum.
Cenote Calavera is known for its diving, although it makes a great spot for a picnic and a swim as well. Unlike most, this isn’t the kind of cave you can wade into— it’s the kind of cave you have to jump into. After a short walk through the jungle you’ll come across a few picnic tables, a sign, and a large hole in the ground— this is where you jump. It’s about three meters down to the water, and there is a ladder for those who would rather ease into it. Once you’re in the water, look up to the mouth of the cave to see the silhouette of a skull against the sky.
Because the entrance to this cenote is underground, there isn’t much ambient lighting for snorkelers. But for a refreshing swim or dive—expect stalactites, stalagmites, three haloclines, and plenty of fossils—it’s the perfect spot. There aren’t any amenities on-site, so come prepared with at least $50 pesos per person (or $120 for divers), snacks, water, towels, and gear.
Just past Cenote Calavera, Gran Cenote costs twice as much for snorkelers ($120 pesos, and $150 for divers) but offers a more expansive swimming or diving experience in a part of the world’s second largest underground cave system. Being one of the most popular cenotes in Tulum means that this site is well developed and well trafficked, with cultivated gardens, ropes to guide snorkelers along a network of caves, and plenty of amenities.
Whether you’re snorkeling or diving, you can plan on spotting fish, turtles, a wealth of plant life, and massive stalactites and stalagmites. Gran Cenote is equipped with changing rooms, restrooms, and rental options for life jackets ($50 pesos), lockers ($30 pesos), and snorkel gear ($80 pesos), so you’ll have everything you need to enjoy a full afternoon here.
Dos Ojos Cenote
Rivaling Gran Cenote in popularity, Dos Ojos is just as developed and just as busy—but don’t worry about feeling crowded. This site has multiple caverns and caves to visit, including the famous “Bat Cave,” where divers and snorkelers alike can appreciate stalactites, stalagmites, and a ceiling full of sleeping vampire bats. For those who would rather stay in the sun, there is plenty of space for swimmers in the other caves at Dos Ojos. Both “eyes” of this cenote offer plenty of ambient light, making for an otherworldly effect under the surface, where rays of sunlight give way to shadows amid a maze of hidden passages.
While Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera are close enough to Tulum pueblo to be accessible by bike, Dos Ojos is a bit further out. Taking a quick collective ride from town ($25 pesos each way) will take you to the cenote’s entrance. The entrance is about a mile away from the actual cenote, and you can rent a bike ($80 pesos) or plan on taking a taxi if you want to avoid trekking the mile on foot. The site is equipped with changing rooms and restrooms, and the $200 peso entrance fee includes a life jacket rental. Plan on bringing food and water, and ask the manager to watch your things while you swim if you aren’t comfortable leaving them out.