One reason I love to return to the Yucatan Peninsula often is to explore the interesting natural features of the region.
The Yucatan Peninsula is located in the southeast portion of Mexico and separates the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The peninsula is home to such destinations as the Mayan ruins of Coba and Tulum, Cancun, Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen and other gorgeous towns that attract tourists for the beaches, food and nightlife.
Some of the adventures and outdoor activities you can enjoy in the Yucatan are horseback riding, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, ziplining, climbing ropes courses, diving and kayaking. I'm most fascinated by the region's cenotes, though.
Cenotes are large sinkholes that develop after the porous limestone that serves as the bedrock of the region collapses. This provides fascinating access to underground waterways and crystal-clear turquoise waters. The Yucatan Peninsula is home to thousands of cenotes, and adventurous visitors can rappel down to submerge themselves into these fascinating natural formations and take a swim in a surreal underworld.
Cenotes possess a mystical quality, and they are regarded with incredibly high spiritual significance to the native people. Many residents in the Yucatan trace their ancestry to ancient Maya people, who were one of the most advanced indigenous civilizations in the Americas beginning more than two centuries ago.
The cenotes are regarded as sacred wells that connect people to the world below. Ancient Maya people would throw live men into the sinkholes, as well as valuables like precious stones, as a way to please important gods who resided in the Maya underworld. These offerings were especially important in times of drought as a way to bring on vital rains.
We visited a cenote on our way to the ruins at Coba and were honored to be blessed by a shaman in a ceremony prior to our rappelling and swimming adventure (see video at end of post). It's an amazing experience and one that any visitor to the Yucatan Peninsula should consider. If you want to get around the Yucatan Peninsula to see cenotes and other points of interest, Car Rental Cancun is a good option to let you set your own schedule during your time in Mexico. It's also a lot more affordable and helps to avoid the crowds compared with group tours to these spots.
To help you plan your visit, we've broken down the 10 best cenotes in Mexico.
Sacred Cenote -- This is the original "Well of Sacrifice," where many Maya people were sent for a final plunge into what now serves as a pleasant swimming hole (up to 130 feet deep) at the famous Chichen Itza archaeological site.
Ik Kil -- This awesome attraction is highly popular because it falls on the route to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza (one of the New 7 Wonders of the World). Ik Kil is a spectacular swimming hole -- 200 feet in diameter and 120 feet deep. The facility is well developed, with a buffet restaurant and accommodations to stay overnight.
Gran Cenote -- This is one of the most accessible, popular and stunningly scenic cenotes in Mexico. Gran Cenote is on the main route to the Coba ruins and is a great spot for snorkeling. You can spot fish, turtles and lush tropical plants.
Dos Ojos -- Located near Tulum, Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) hooks up to one of the longest underwater cave systems in the world. The site has two pools, a really dark one and one that is a shimmering blue, and you can snorkel, dive and hike there, while spotting stalactites and bats.
Sac-Actun -- This distinctive cenote features impressive stalactites formations dangling from the rooftop and lovely turquoise water. Sac-Actun is more than 300 feet deep and known as one of the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico.
Ucil -- This is among the deepest cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula at about 370 feet. Ucil is nice because it features a semi-enclosed pool grotto with blue water. Cenote Ucil is located in the town of . . . wait for it . . . Cenotillo, which is known for having several cenotes as well as interesting archaeolical sites.
Uch-Ben-Ha -- This spot is good for snorkeling because it is more in the open and receives sunshine. This means the water is warmer and offers good visibility to spot fish. Uch-Ben-Ha is located within the Katun-Chi ecopark, which has several cenotes, grottoes, caverns and plants, flowers and animals to discover.
Zacil-Ha -- Another fully developed facility, Zacil-Ha looks like an in-ground swimming pool with emerald waters. Deck chairs and loungers surround the circular swimming hole, and a small restaurant offers food, drinks and snacks. This cenote also features a short zipline that you grab onto, enjoy a little ride and then drop in for a plunge.
Azul Bacalar -- This open-water cenote evokes comparisons to Belize's famed Blue Hole. Likewise, it is a mecca for divers. Azul Bacalar is located just off a coastal road in the town of Bacalar and is separated from a nearby lake by a strip of land. Swimmers generally will stick closer to shore, and divers delight in being able to explore the massive sinkhole that reaches depths of almost 300 feet.
Calavera -- This secluded spot near Tulum is known as the "Temple of Doom" cenote. Calavera is a small swimming hole but has evolved features that make it ideal to jump into. The cenote's roof has broken away, leaving an open hole about 10 feet above the water that allows you to take a fun leap in. There is also a wooden ladder for less-adventurous visitors.
Have you had the joy of swimming in a cenote? Been to any of these or other cool swimming holes in Mexico? Tell us all about it.
Thanks for reading,