Photos by: @josiahwg
After living in Tulum for a month I was able to visit a small portion of the hundreds of cenotes in the area. It’s some of the clearest water and best diving I’ve experienced so I’m excited to share some of my notes with you.
In Mayan culture, cenotes are the openings to the underground river system that were the sacred meeting place of the heavens and earth.
They are natural sinkholes that are full of freshwater and, because the water is filtered through rock, it tends to be very clear. The water can be fresh or brackish (mixed with salt water as you get closer to the ocean) and tends to be around 77° F/ 25° C.
Even though I was there in one of the hottest parts of the year I still wished I brought a wetsuit for snorkeling. All the scuba dive tours will give you a full suit. To just jump in and out it’s refreshing but I’m writing this for those who are more interested in freediving or shooting photos.
ENVIRONMENTAL NOTE: When you visit the cenotes, you should avoid having any sunscreens, lotions, or mosquito repellent on. They ask you to have a cold shower in the open before entering. This is to make sure you get rid of any chemicals that might contaminate the cenote.
Guide Recommendations: For free diving I went with a guide and world record holder Matthieu DuVault (@mattfreediver) his freediving school is @cenotefreediving. Matt is also an underwater photographer if you want to hire him just for photos.
For scuba I went with Angel from @tulum.breathtaking. Both of them were great and I would reach out to dive with them again when I go back to Tulum.
Here’s my list of the cenotes I visited and notes for freediving & shooting:
Entry Cost: 300 pesos or $15 USD
No cameras or housings allowed at all.
You can bring a phone or GoPro but we opted to go find somewhere more relaxed.
Entry Cost: 250 pesos or $12.5 USD
GoPro: 100 pesos or $5 USD
Camera: 500 pesos or $25 USD
Great for freediving and you can bring your own fins.
This is where I saw Pancho, the small resident crocodile. There are some swim throughs under the mangroves, but technically you won’t be able to do them unless you have a guide. You can pay for one by the hour if you want.
They’re sort of hard to find if you’ve never swam there. The water here can be a bit more “green” or brackish looking because it is closer to the ocean and thus has a higher level of salt water. I dove there a few times and the clarity could be hit or miss.
Taak bi han
Entry Cost: 300 pesos or $15USD
Parque Dos Ojos
No extra charge for a camera.
There are only artificial lights so it’s quite dark for cameras – you’ll want low aperture and try to snag a flashlight from the place where you pay.
Can’t bring freedive fins
Very strict about life jackets and cameras.
This was by far one of the busiest cenotes we visited and apparently they’ve recently banned swimming without the lifejacket. On the day we were there they happened to be enforcing it, but I have heard other friends have gone and swam without trouble.
Separate charge for cameras and underwater cameras so be prepared. This is a rather pricey one. The water is crystal clear and super beautiful though!
Nic te ha
Entry Cost: 200 pesos or $10 USD
Camera: 300 pesos or $15 USD & drone is even more.
This cenote just recently reopened. It’s smaller and we found it challenging to shoot, but it was a cool experience. The underwater plants look awesome from the surface.
Supposed to use life jackets and no fins. They didn’t seem to check too much though. This rule makes more sense to me here as the plants are very fragile and if you aren’t a good swimmer or understand buoyancy you will end up destroying a bunch of them. (dont be that person). Relatively shallow. Deeper cavern goes back pretty far for scuba.
Good for light rays 10:30/11am
Just opened to freediving recently.
Not good for shooting above water but great underwater. There is a huge light beam. Extremely clear. Great for scuba with hydrogen sulfide cloud and dead trees at the bottom around 90-100 ft down.
Entry Cost: 300 pesos or $15USD
Camera: 500 pesos or $25 USD
Super beautiful highly recommend.
Freediving and scuba are both allowed.
We were the only one group there when we went! Hit up my friend @tulum.breathtaking if you want to go, it’s really awesome.
Entry Cost: 250 pesos or $12.5USD
Camera: 200 or $10 USD
Really fun. This is the one I’m sure you’ve seen where you can jump through the hole in the ground or there’s a great spot to do backflips off of too. It has been featured a lot recently so it can be busy. They’ve made the area near the cenote more built up with lots of chairs and hammocks.
Good for light rays between 10:30/11 until 2.
There will be bats occasionally flying around inside the cenote.
See my video of it here
Entry Cost: 120 pesos or $6
Fun jump spot. Overall the water isn’t very deep so we didn’t stay too long as they were asking us to pay more for the cameras.
Entry Cost: 200 pesos or $10
One of the less busy options that isn’t too far from town. This open air cenote was super fun for us to spend a few hours at because we could swim and then get warm in the sun. There’s a diving platform. The tricky thing about this cenote is there is a layer of surface murk meaning the water is cloudy for the first 5 ft or so and then get drastically clearer at about 8-10 ft down. It’s like a whole other world. However if you can’t swim down it might not be that interesting to you. On the far side there are some of the same underwater plants we saw at Nic te Ha, they ask that you don’t swim through them. There’s a small rope demarcating where it is and isn’t ok to swim but in general be very aware of your movements.
Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman
This cenote isn’t technically in Tulum but I featured it in my posts so I figured I would include it here as well. This one is about 2 hours north but it’s also near the popular Sac Actun cenote so you can stop at both in one day. This cenote used to be an old hacienda so there are still the structures there when you walk in. It’s a bit confusing because they also have a lunch spot and a man made pool so we initially thought we were in the wrong place. We did the combination of entry fee plus a voucher for the restaurant which ended up being a good deal.
The water level here will change depending on how much it rains and the clarity for underwater photos is ok but much much less clear than most of the cenotes on this list. Super fun ropeswing and dive platform. There was no one there when we went which made it one of the most special experiences we had. I would ask that in the spirit of sharing something that which I wasn’t sure I should include, if you do visit please be extra respectful of giving everyone their turn and their space.
As ALWAYS I’m trusting you all to practice LEAVE NO TRACE ethics above and beyond what is required by owners. Have fun and be safe!