Swimming in cenotes near Tulum was an experience I had to have when I visited Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
When I learnt about Cenote Mariposa and Cenote Chen-ha, two of the best cenotes near Tulum, I knew I had to book a tour to take me to them.
Not many Tulum tours pick guests up from the Riviera Maya, so I was lucky to have found one that did. Most leave from Cancun and go straight to Tulum.
My half-day Tulum cenote tour included visiting the famous Tulum ruins and the Canamayte cenotes & eco-park, and it was a fabulous experience.
What is a Cenote?
People often wonder what a cenote is. Well, cenotes are naturally formed underground swimming holes/caves formed by the collapse of the limestone ground above.
They get filled with crystal clear waters from underground freshwater systems which run throughout the area. This creates a natural swimming pool.
What to Expect at Canamayte Cenotes Tulum
After leaving the main road, we approached the cenotes by coach down an unmade jungle road. We soon came to a small turnoff and the entrance to Canamayte Eco Park. At this point, I was glad I had booked a tour and not had to find the cenotes myself!
Our tour leader led us to be blessed by the village shaman. This involved chanting and smoke cleansing. It was all over in 10 minutes and was quite nice to experience, but of course, it’s all done for tips. It is up to you whether you tip, and on my trip, I didn’t see anyone give anything, so don’t feel obliged to do so.
Following this, we were led to lockers and showers. We were told how important it is to wash off sun tan lotions, body creams, perfume, etc., before entering the freshwater cenotes.
The cenotes remain a water supply to many villages, and contamination from human cosmetics is unhealthy for the cenotes and those who rely on them.
After showering and changing into swimwear, we locked our belongings away and headed to the swimming holes.
Safety in the Cenotes
When visiting a Tulum cenote (pronounced Seh-NO-Tay), it is compulsory to wear a life jacket even if you are a good swimmer.
There are no lifeguards on duty in the cenotes; therefore, you must be responsible for your safety in the water. We picked ours up from the entrance to each of the cenotes.
Best Cenotes in Tulum
Mariposa and Chen-Ha are two of the best cenotes of Tulum, located near each other on the same plot of land. You can walk between them in 5 minutes.
We were given 90 minutes at the eco-park, about the right amount of time to enjoy the swim holes without feeling rushed.
Chen-Ha Cave Cenote
Chen-Ha is an underground cave cenote, approached via a few steps and entered via the cave mouth.
Once inside, a small wooden platform leads to steps to help you enter the cool water. You can leave your flip-flops on the rocks beside the pool.
Don’t worry that the Chen-Ha cenote will be dark; it has a large hole where the roof has caved in, allowing sunlight to stream in.
On my visit, part of the cenote was roped off; however, there was still plenty of space to swim.
If you have brought snorkelling gear or swim goggles, you can look beneath the crystal water and observe the rock formations and stalagmites.
If you have an excellent waterproof housing shell for your phone, you can take some cool, if somewhat eerie, underwater videos!
Mariposa Open-Air Cenote
Unlike Chen-Ha, Mariposa is an open air cenote with an aquamarine pool and swings suspended from a bar.
The entrance is via wooden steps, so watch your footing as they were quite slippery on my visit.
Once by the water, a couple of steps lead into the cenote. Again be careful because the steps are covered in slimy algae. Hold to the bar beside the steps to lower yourself into the water. Better still, wear swim shoes with a grip.
Once in the beautiful clear blue water, you can swim to the swings and attempt to get onto them. It’s not as easy as it looks!
A few tiny fishes were swimming in each cenote, but nothing substantial, so you won’t have anything to worry about if you aren’t keen on aquatic wildlife.
You may have heard that there is a chance of swimming with a crocodile in a cenote, well, not in either of these two; however, there is a resident croc in Casa Cenote down the road!
Rumour has it that he has been there since he was a baby; his name is Pancho, and he has adapted to being around humans without attacking them. He is a local celebrity, and people visit specifically to swim with a cenote crocodile!
Is there an entrance fee for Mariposa and Chen-Ha cenotes?
You can enter Canamayte and observe the two cenotes as part of a cenote tour or independently. If you want to swim in them, a $15 fee per person goes towards conserving the two cenotes and surrounding land.
Facilities at Canamayte Eco Park and Cenotes
Showers, toilets and lockers are available. Hammocks and seating areas offer a chance to relax or dry off after a swim. A large cafe with seating sells refreshments and light snacks. A souvenir hut sells normal touristy bits like bracelets and t-shirts.
Are the cenotes busy?
We had one cenote to ourselves, and the other we shared with about five people on our tour.
The beauty of visiting these two swimming holes is that they are not as well-known as the larger Gran Cenote and Casa Cenote, so they aren’t crowded. It was such a beautiful experience to have a cenote to ourselves.
Is it only swimming you can experience in the Tulum Cenotes?
Swimming, snorkeling, and even scuba diving in the Tulum cenotes are popular among locals and tourists. However, the two cenotes I visited are only for swimming and snorkelling.
The extensive underwater cave system and river go on for miles, and cenotes lead from one to another. If the space between the two is wide enough, divers can explore them fully.
Why are Tulum’s cenotes so special to Mayans?
Mayan culture has regarded cenotes as a symbol of life and death. Cenotes were the only water source in the jungle and were needed to provide for the Mayan cities.
It is thought there are around 6,000 cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula. Many are over 10,000 years old.
Are Tulum’s Cenotes Worth Visiting?
Undoubtedly, the cenotes in Tulum are worth visiting. Swimming in a cenote is fun, and it is interesting to understand how these natural pools were created.
The half-day cenote tour I booked was a great way to visit Tulum’s ruins and two cenotes in one day. I didn’t have to try and arrange a taxi to take me, wait for me and then bring me back to my hotel (at exorbitant prices) or try and navigate a language barrier.
Thumbs up for the Tulum cenotes tour!
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