In the depths of the jungle, the jaguar dwells, but a light is still burning. It comes from within the earth, from a cave where the priest of the sun has danced before seeing the zenith and a young boy who is not even 12 years old waits for his heart to be ripped out before falling into the void. The copal that floods everything, the moon peeping overhead and a sacrifice to the god Chaak, whose sigh will tickle the sky, causing the rain that will bring the good corn harvests.
The rituals of the Maya in the cenotes (ts’ono’ot: “hole with water“) involved a cult of water and life, fertility and death, spirituality and the control of time, especially the past that obsessed them so much. 10,000 years later, the dregs of this microuniverse still continue to yield new mysteries and better dips.
Born from the erosion of limestone rock during the Pleistocene period, the more than 6,000 cenotes that sigh in the Yucatan peninsula form a system of subway channels – fresh and salt water – that we discover today in the form of fascinating sinkholes where you can swim according to their structure (open-air, semi-open, subway or in a grotto).
With so many options, it is normal that the same questions arise -or at least, the ones this author asked himself-: Which are the most beautiful cenotes? How can I easily visit different cenotes from the city where I am staying? We solve all the doubts through the best cenotes in Mexico (and the three places from which to make the perfect dive).
The largest city in the Yucatan Peninsula evokes the Caribbean we dream of: the fans stopped at 3 o’clock in the afternoon because of the heat, the pastel-colored houses eroded by the wind and the joy of cumbia resounding in squares overlooking some of the main monuments built during the colonial period. Visiting Merida has two great advantages: it is not the most touristic area of the peninsula -unlike the Riviera Maya- and, therefore, it allows access to hundreds of cenotes that are hardly crowded, especially if you get up early and choose among the following options:
Hacienda Mucuyche Cenotes (39 km).
Some cenotes are tourist cenotes, others are wild and a few belong to private properties such as haciendas, lavish colonial constructions where you can enjoy a swim, among other experiences. Hacienda Mucuyche is the best exponent thanks to a tour that allows you to discover the three cenotes of the complex (open cave, mini internal river and underwater hole) to finish tasting the best cochinita pibil in its restaurant.
Cenotes of Cuzamá (51 km)
Another advantage of visiting these natural pools from Mérida lies in the presence of many cenotes around towns like Cuzamá, famous for its cab tour of three cenotes in a single day: Chelentún (one of the most spectacular, inside a cavern); Chak-Zinik-Che (a feast of lianas and stalactites in whose center shines the blue eye) and Bolom-Chojol (famous for the scarce filtrations of the sun through the vault).
Cenotes of Homun (54 km)
Only 3 km from Cuzamá is Homún, mecca of the well-known “ring of cenotes” among which Tza Ujun Kat stands out, known as “the town’s cenote”, of great extension and semi-open condition. Other options are Bal-Mil, hidden, caressed by the roots of a tree and with a staircase that seems to plunge into the great blue, or the Chelpak cenote, a literal hole worth visiting at noon to contemplate the golden transition of its pristine waters.
If the Yucatan peninsula has a heart, it is Valladolid. Founded in 1543, the city once known as the Sultan of the East is made up of colorful houses whose matriarchs chop mangoes at their doors; the church of San Servacio, the only one that does not face Rome due to demolition; or paradises of Mayan handicrafts such as the house of the Deer. However, the main reason why Valladolid dazzles is because of its strategic location to visit the main charms of the peninsula, among them the yellow city of Izamal, the coastal town of Río Lagartos or, especially, the complex of Chichén Itzá, only 42 kilometers away. From this visit, the immersion in some of the best (and also most touristic) cenotes in Mexico also begins.
Oxman Cenote (6 km)
This cenote is located inside the well-known Hacienda San Lorenzo and is one of the most spectacular. A few kilometers from the city of Valladolid, Oxmán is a semi-open cenote with abundant vegetation where you can take a bath -or dare to do so through its vertiginous zip line-. It is one of the cheapest cenotes in this area (70 pesos -3.65 euros-) and has a kiosk where you can have a delicious Mexican rice horchata after your soak.
Suytun Cenote (8 km)
Suytun is the most Instagrammable cenote of all. The reason is none other than the spectacular entrance of the sun through a tiny sinkhole in the middle of the day, a reason that drags a queue of onlookers to take the photo of rigor on a platform that seems enabled by the ancient Mayans for the influencers of the future. So spectacular that the least important thing is to bathe.
Cenote Ik-Kil (40 km)
This cenote is possibly one of the most photographed, and no wonder: with a height of 25 meters, Ik-Kil evokes the fantasy of merging with an exuberant nature and its feast of vines caressing the water. Another reason for its success is the cenote’s location just 3 kilometers from Chichén Itzá, making it a refreshing option after a sweltering visit to the ruins. To avoid overcrowding, you can go on your own by cab and get ahead of the tour buses that arrive en masse from 12 noon onwards.
¡Ay, Tulum, Tulum! The best end to an intense route through the Yucatan Peninsula finds in this hippie chic redoubt of the Riviera Maya the best shortcut to relax in the Caribbean, visit the spectacular Mayan ruins of Tulum -the only ones of coastal character- or choose from a wide range of coquettish restaurants. The area is divided into Tulum beach and town (cheaper, but 5 kilometers from the sea), two areas that can be combined during your stay, especially if you rent a scooter or bicycle. Tulum is also the gateway to some of the most beautiful cenotes in Mexico and, best of all, they are all very close, so they can even be visited in the same morning.
Cenote Calavera (2 km)
This is one of the most peculiar cenotes because it has three sinkholes in the rock -hence the name calavera-, in addition to the possibility of several alternative dips. Located inside an enabled space, this cenote has its own beach bar, a ladder that promises a safe descent for the most fearful, and a swing where you can take the typical photo. Beyond the posturing, getting away from the visitors in search of the birds and bats that doze inside the cave is well worth the visit.
Gran Cenote (5 km)
A short distance from the Calavera, the Gran Cenote has different wooden platforms to access a huge sinkhole where the turquoise blue color stands out with the greenness of the palm trees. In addition to its beauty, the Gran Cenote stands out for the presence of sea turtles -let’s not forget that many of these sinkholes are connected to the Caribbean-, and a cave where you can lose the perception of time and space.
Dos Ojos Cenote (22 km)
Diving lovers will find in this cenote one of their best paradises. The reason for its name comes from the union of two sinkholes connected by a 400-meter underwater passageway where we find light effects, stalactites and bats. In turn, the cenote is part of the Dos Ojos park, which also has cenotes such as Jaguar, El Pit, Los Monos and Nicte Ha, the wildest of them all. The best excuse to leave the present and let yourself be enchanted by the Mayan secrets that lead to the past. Perhaps, by the time you return to 2023, nothing will be the same.
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