A strange geographical phenomenon makes the reputation of Yucatán. Cenotes are water-filled cavities that can be fresh water, or sometimes a surface layer of fresh water and a lower layer of sea water if they communicate with the ocean. They are natural wells or pools that can reach several dozen or even hundreds of meters deep. They are not just caves filled with water; they are underground water systems that gradually join the ocean.
Many cenotes can be found in the surroundings of Merida. Detailed below are some of our favorites. But when you’re out and about, don’t hesitate to ask locals in the village if their village has a cenote. If it does, they may just point you in the direction of one of the most amazing natural phenomena you’ve ever set your eyes on. (We’re not exaggerating.)
The word “cenote” comes from the Maya dz'onot meaning “sacred well”. Cenotes were considered by the ancient Mayans as a means of communication with the “underworld” and they threw offerings to the gods of Xibalba, gods of death and diseases.
That said, the cenotes are incredible ecosystems and home to a wide variety of plants, trees and fish. Take care when visiting to not swim with sunscreen.
Dzombakal and X-batun Cenotes
The cenotes of San Antonio de Mulix are close and easily accessible. Covered with water lilies, the cenotes of X-batun, is open air. It is a cenote which seems to be in the middle of the jungle between vines and palm trees, where locals come to shoot videos of weddings. The water is shallow, so you can swim without wondering what lies below. Here, there is a small shop at the entrance to buy some snacks.
At 0.5 mile away, is Dzombakal. Even though it’s small in a cave, it has magnificently crystal clear water with small fish. Few people visit this cenote. It costs 50 pesos per person to get to both two cenotes and it is only a one-hour drive to the south of Merida. It's easy to get there, you can drive right to the cenotes.
Nah Yah and Noh Mazon Cenotes
These two cenotes are near the village of Pixya, a fifty-minute drive from Merida. If you want to access the first one, once you arrive, it is a 15-minute walk. Nah Yah cenote Is perfect for the divers with its clear water. IT’s about 10 meters deep. You should bring your own diving equipment and your diving certification. Plus, if you want to swim, don’t use sunscreen or creams, as it can harm the fragile ecosystem of the cave. It costs 30 pesos to get in and it’s open from 8am to 5pm.
For the second cenote, you need to drive forty minutes further, but it’s worth the drive with its hanging vines. It is surely one of the least known cenotes of the Yucatan. It is ideal if you like quiet activities with few people around. To get there, you drive to the end of the village and turn left at the crossroads, next to the old hacienda. Then, follow the small road, then turn right, take the dirt and pebble path to the end, for 3 miles. You will also have several fences to open along the way, remember to close them behind you. It is open from 9am to 5pm and it costs 35 pesos. If you don’t know which road to take, ask the locals, they will help you.
It is accessible by a dirt road and is located about an hour drive south of Merida. At the end of the road, you'll run into local people who are there to collect the entrance fees, there is always someone to keep an eye on the cenote. Then to access the cenote, you must go down a wooden staircase and you’ll discover the clear water and a stalactite ceiling. There is a small diving platform. If you wish, you can swim in the lightly cool turquoise water that is 3 to 55 meters deep. Motmots or the tick-tock birds' nests can be found here. The access costs 30 pesos, there are shower and toilet facilities.
This cenote is particular. It is in the middle of the city of Valladolid, a two-hour drive from Mérida. Between restaurants, hotels and supermarkets, this corner of nature contrasts with the more urban atmosphere of the city. The water is deep and darker than the other cenotes shown above, but fish can be seen. On the covered side of the cenote, there is access to a cave that you can visit. There is an opening in the middle of the path to make jumps over 5 meters high. It is located at the corner of calle 36 and calle 37 and it costs 30 pesos, but it is free if you are a client of the restaurant.
Just like the one described above, this cenote is in the middle of the city, but this time in Merida. It is a cavern-type cenote and unlike the others, you can't swim there. The cenote vault is dimly lit but enough to see the beauty of the water. It is located at Calle 42, Industrial in Merida and is open from 9am to 5pm.
There are many, many other cenotes around Merida, we have only listed here our favorites. These cenotes, unique in the world, are a true source of natural richness for the Yucatan as well as Mexico. They are not only tourist attractions, or swimming holes, they are ancient places of worship, sacred and precious.
Tell us which ones you liked the most, we would be delighted to hear your opinions.