Making the most out of the best cenotes in Mexico
Let me start with a confession – I am no cenote expert. I’d need to live in Mexico for a year to master just a sliver of their 6,000+ cenotes, however, I can offer some sound advice on how to get the photos with no one else around, which ones to spend your time at and which ones to skip.
We were only in Tulum, Quintaroo region for two nights (see more about the trip here) yet we hit all the cenotes we wanted and had plenty of time for good food and relaxation.
Tip #1: Hire a car
The best way to maximize your time and see the insane, out-of-this-world cenotes in Mexico, is via car.
While tours come decently priced, you won’t have to share the magical blue waters with a busload of tourists.
Side note: be weary when you’re booking and check the final bill before signing the contract at the car rental counter. Our $8/day rental car (with Hertz) somehow became USD$150 due to insane insurance prices and additional taxes.
Tip #2: Go before opening times
We started our day shooting sunrise on the beach and drove 90 minutes into the center of the Yucatan to reach both Suytun and Oxman cenotes. One opened an hour before the other making it work with our plan perfectly. We were the first ones to pull into Suytun and the staff let us in just before opening time.
We followed the dirt path through the boney forest to find a steep stone staircase leading into the unknown. Our eyes slowly adjusted into the dark cave’s dimness and we gasped in unison.
A dome of wonder with hanging stalactites stretching across the ceiling sitting above a stone patio surrounded by a pool of clear water. One hole in the ceiling allowed for a little stream of light to pour in. What a scene. Others arrived so I sprinted down the stone stairs to stand in the middle of this wonder and I imagined the stories this place has seen.
Another tip for this place, bring a tripod. Shooting longer exposure helps capture the detail of this very dark space. If you want the magic sunbeam shining straight down on you, visit midday, but be wary of the busloads of tourists who will be hanging out with you in this cenote daydream.
Tip #3: Plan your cenotes visits according to distance and opening time
As stated above we used this to our advantage. After a mind-blowing hangout in Suytun, we drove to Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman, just 20 minutes away. The staff let us in 10 minutes before opening time for just 80 pesos a person (the cheapest cenote we toured).
We quickly showered (please abide by these rules to protect the pristine waters) and we ran down the stone spiral staircases excited as two kids on Christmas morning and boy, was it better than any Barbie dreamhouse or Ghostbuster jumpsuit. I’ll attempt to describe it.
This large, circular sinkhole sits deep into the earth and is filled with azul water where fish, birds, and insects thrive. Vines. Green, braided vines hanging from every which way. Roots of trees growing deep into the earth with branches stretching out to the sun. And it was all to ourselves.
Located in the middle of this mystical creation was a rope swing waiting for its first brave souls. We must have jumped off the platform over 20 times. Laughing and shouting with smiles that never left our faces. It was exhilarating and invigorating. We felt renewed and energized as the power of traveling does to you often.
I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND visiting this cenote.
Tip #4: Choose the less photographic cenotes for the afternoon
All cenotes in Mexico have magical attributes, however, there are some cenotes more fun to play in rather than to photograph.
For example, Cenote Calavera. We knew this one would be busy located near the center of Tulum, which is why we chose to spend the last 90 minutes of its opening time to relax, swim and enjoy ourselves.
Although there were plenty of people and we managed to get in a few shots, we hardly cared. We jumped in tiny, dark holes landing safely in the water below. We floated, swung and cooled down in the marvelous cenote.
The next part is a little frustrating so I’ll share our experience quickly.
Tip #5: Beware of Gran Cenote’s rules
After Calavera, we popped down the road to Gran Cenote, the region’s most famous and popular cenote. We knew it’d be teeming with people, but we wanted to swim in its pristine waters and hopefully say hello to some turtles. We arrived with an hour left of opening time and we were turned away. Apparently they start clearing people out at 4:15pm and we’d only have a measly 10 minutes. We quickly agreed it was not worth the US$10 entry fee and we drove back to Tulum for the night.
The next day, we headed back to Gran Cenote for the opening time. We stood in line as tourist vans started flooding the carpark. A few buses unloaded and started entering the cenote before the general public was allowed in. As we waited around for the clock to hit 9:00am, we made a big mistake. We pulled out Ryan’s camera to flick through photos and as we went to pay our entry fee, the attendee shouted “not allowed,” pointing to our camera then at a sign saying “GoPros only.” Whaaaaaaaat. People all around us had camera backpacks and similar gear, we just made the mistake of pulling ours out. We said screw it and we chose to hop back in the car and make our way back to Cancun. As we drove away, a massive thunderstorm appeared and we could only laugh, grateful for our decision to skip it.
Tip #6: Take a minute to take it in
Don’t worry so much about the perfect photo. Share the experience with the people around you and take in the beauty. Enjoy the moment, swim, float like a kid, and marvel in the 6,000-some cenotes in Mexico – it’ll be a trip you’ll never forget.
Thanks for checking out my guide and feel free to share. If you have any questions, shoot me a message or leave a comment below.