Merida is the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, and as such, it’s a great base for visiting the region’s famous cenotes.
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The Yucatan is home to thousands of cenotes, each one seeming to be more beautiful than the previous. Some of the most popular spots are under an hour’s drive from the city, so you’ll have no problems getting around.
Boasting turquoise-colored waters, underground caverns, and unique formations, these geological features have so much to offer. Merida, Yucatan has plenty to choose from for visitors intent on visiting these beautiful cenotes.
Deciding which ones to visit can be tricky as there are so many, so this guide will take you through the best Merida cenotes and why they should be on your list!
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What is a Cenote?
A cenote is a unique geographical feature and a term you’ll hear throughout Mexico and South America.
Either described as a sinkhole or a pit in the ground, a cenote is formed with the collapse of the bedrock above. The groundwater is then exposed, creating the cenote that’s fed by rainfall or an underwater river.
The cenotes in Mexico are not only beautiful but play an important role in Mexican culture. They are considered sacred sites and believed to be protected by an ancient spirit.
Are all Cenotes the Same?
No, every cenote in Mexico is unique. They come in different shapes, water levels, and natural lighting.
However, they all fall under specific categories. Below, we will outline these categories so you’ve got a good idea of what to expect.
Types of Cenotes
These cenotes have completely collapsed, and they’re fully open to the elements. As a result, they’re easily accessible and tend to be the most visited.
The beautiful turquoise waters are heated by the strong Mexican sun and usually offer pleasant temperatures throughout the year.
Semi-open cenotes tend to be a mix between open and cave cenotes. Although mostly located underground, these cenotes have holes in the bedrock, allowing daylight to creep in.
Semi-open cenotes tend to be younger compared to open cenotes, and the water temperature in these types of cenotes tends to be much cooler.
Cave cenotes tend to be the least visited cenotes as they’re the most difficult to access. These types of hidden cenotes typically have only a small entrance leading to a fully enclosed cave.
Cave cenotes can also be tidal, meaning the water levels inside change throughout the day based on tidal movements. It’s important to check a tidal chart before visiting a cave cenote, as increasing water levels can be extremely dangerous in these types of cenotes.
Why Visit Cenotes?
Aside from their significant beauty, cenotes attract millions of visitors annually for several reasons. Firstly, some of these unique formations are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they’re important to the Mayan people.
The cenotes near Merida, Yucatan, are also the perfect place for cooling off, as you can swim in crystal-clear waters. In fact, many of the Merida cenotes offer snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities.
Are Cenotes Safe?
Although the Yucatan Peninsula is home to thousands of cenotes, not all of them are safe to visit. Many of them are considered to be unstable and should be avoided at all costs.
If you try to visit a cenote that’s not open to the public, you’ll put yourself at risk and may harm the fragile ecosystem here in the process.
The Best Cenotes in Merida, Yucatan
1. Cenote Ik Kil (Chichen Itza Cenote)
First up, there’s Cenote Ik Kil which is a 2-hour drive from the city of Merida. Although 121 km (75 miles) is quite a distance, this swimming pool cenote is situated right by the iconic Chichén Itzá.
Ik Kil is situated in a hotel resort, so you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to get in. You’ll have access to changing rooms and lockers and be given a life vest in accordance with safety laws.
To reach the cenote, you’ll have to walk down a carved stairway as the water is situated around 26 meters below the ground. You’ll be greeted with turquoise waters, green hanging vines, and a swimming platform as you go down.
This is one of the most popular Yucatan cenotes, so be prepared for a crowd during the high season. Chichen Itza can receive thousands of visitors in one day, and this famous cenote is the perfect spot to cool off after seeing the Mayan ruins.
Ik Kil Cenote is also completely open to the sky, so the views are impressive!
2. Cenote X’batun
This cenote is located 52 km (32 miles) from Merida, and it will take an hour by car to get there. In fact, there are two cenotes here that you can swim in, but your time may be limited in both.
Cenote X’batun isn’t located in any kind of hotel, but you will need to pay an entrance fee. There’s a small changing area here which is convenient, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere you can store your valuables, so keep that in mind.
It’s the perfect place to relax with warm water temperatures, beautiful water lilies, and an open sky.
Just be aware that Cenote X’batun is relatively small compared to other cenotes and can fill up quickly. For this reason, we recommend you head there relatively early or on a weekday.
3. Cenote Santa Bárbara
Cenote Santa Bárbara is just under an hour’s drive from Merida, about 46 km (29 miles) from the city. Home to three separate cenotes, it’s one of the most popular spots in the Yucatan and is a must-visit!
Cenote Cascabel, Chacsinkin, and Xooch are located here, and your entrance fee will grant you access to all of them. Each one is unique in its own way, and they’re all worth a visit. Two different entrance packages are available. The fees include entrance to all three cenotes, transportation, and a traditional Yucatecan meal.
On-site, you’ll find plenty of facilities, including a restaurant, a changing room, lockers to store any valuables, and life vests. However, the highlight of Cenote Santa Barbara has to be the sheer beauty of the place.
Here, you’ll encounter a cave cenote lit only by artificial light, a semi-open cenote, and a completely open deep water cenote.
4. Cenote Sambulá
Located just outside the city of Motul, Cenote Sambulá is a 44 km (27 miles) journey from Merida.
Although small, Cenote Sambulá doesn’t tend to be crowded and offers the perfect relaxing experience. It’s also one of the more affordable cenotes in the Yucatan. The on-site restaurant is an additional bonus.
Located within a dark cave lit with artificial lights, cenote Sambula is the perfect place to relax in the warm waters. Keep an eye for bats inside the cave and keep in mind your time here is controlled, which is typical of cenotes within Mexico.
Where you will get to swim in the cenote will all depend on the water levels, as there’s a corridor that will take you to another section. The rains play a big role in this!
5. Cenote San Ignacio
Cenote San Ignacio is a 35-minute drive out of Merida and is known for its gracious hosts and beautiful setting. This cenote is located in an ecotourism park with a nature sanctuary and an artificial lazy river to float on.
It’s a beautiful cave cenote that’s lit by artificial lights and is relatively large, so you won’t feel too crowded here. However, try to come in the morning as it gets busier during the afternoon.
Cenote San Ignacio also offers an on-site restaurant where you can dine after relaxing in the warm waters. There are even hammocks where you can chill out and catch some rays.
Unlike other cenotes in the Yucatan, this cenote is a great place to spend an entire day. You aren’t limited on time here, and with a delicious Mexican restaurant on site, you’ll have everything you need to linger for a while.
It’s also one of the only cenotes in the region which you can access at night which is pretty special!
6. Cenote San Antonio
If you’re planning to visit any Homun cenotes, then make sure San Antonio is at the top of your list. It’s a 56 km (35 miles) drive from Merida and is in a great location for visiting other cenotes in the area, including Santa Bárbara and San Isidro.
San Antonio is a cave cenote and is home to unique geological formations and crystal-clear waters. The walk down to the cenote is quite steep, but artificial lighting illuminates the way.
Compared to other cenotes in Mexico, this cenote is extremely affordable, and it’s one of the few Merica cenotes where you can camp on-site. There’s also a restaurant on the premises that serves traditional Mayan dishes – the perfect setup for a full-day adventure.
7. Cenote Suytun
There are plenty of Valladolid cenotes, but cenote Suytun is by far the most popular! The cenote doesn’t offer the most authentic experience but is home to one of Mexico’s best photo spots.
Located on a 2.5-hour drive from Merida, this natural sinkhole takes a while to get to but it is one of the most unique places to visit in the Yucatan.
The cenote features a stone platform leading to the cenote’s center—the light rays from above shine down on the cenote, providing a unique and beautiful setting.
Swimming in the cenote is allowed, but life jackets are mandatory.
Unfortunately, due to its popularity, Cenote Suytun is expensive and fills up extremely quickly! If you come to this cenote for that Insta-perfect shot, be prepared to line up with many others.
8. Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman
Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman is located within an 18th-century hacienda, which is also home to a restaurant and picturesque gardens. Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman is a 165 km (102 miles) journey from Merida and is just a short drive from Valladolid.
This is one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan with its green hanging vines, deep blue waters, and the fact that it’s open to the sky.
Even better, there’s an awesome swing at Cenote San Lorenzo Oxman, so you can literally jump into the water! If you arrive early, you’re in for a fantastic experience, but it does tend to get busy later on.
Offering bathroom and changing room facilities, lockers to store valuables and affordable pricing, this cenote is one of the best places to visit outside of Merida.
9. Cenote Kankirixche
Located just an hour’s drive from Merida, Cenote Kankirixche is one of the best cenotes to visit in the Yucatan, thanks to its wild and rugged appearance.
Home to crystal-clear waters, unique geological formations (including stalagmites), and a relaxing atmosphere, this place is a must-visit.
There are a few platforms where you can dive into the cenote. Just be mindful of where you step, as the stairs can be pretty slippery.
Cenote Kankirixche isn’t touristy at all and doesn’t attract the crowds like other cenotes in this guide. In fact, if you visit during the late afternoon, you might even be the only person at this hidden gem.
It’s also extremely affordable and there are facilities here, too, including bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms. The only negative here is that there is nowhere to store valuables.
10. Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché
Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyché is located on the remains of a 1700s plantation and is a 50-minute drive from Merida. It’s one of the more unique cenotes in the Merida area.
Within the Hacienda, you’ll find two cenotes and a charming canal where you can also take a dip. Cenote Carlota is semi-open and connected to Cenote Azul Maya, which is an underground cenote. To access them, you’ll need to take a guided tour with timed entry into the cenotes.
Although this may sound frustrating, it’s actually a great way to do it. This way, the cenotes are protected and the number of people visiting is limited. You’ll also get to learn all about the site’s history.
There’s a restaurant on-site, too if you want to grab something to eat.
11. Cenote Xkeken
Cenote Xkeken is located 165 km (102 miles) away from Merida, just outside the city of Valladolid. It’s a semi-open cenote as the water is located within a cave, but a hole in the bedrock allows natural light in.
Boasting clear waters, fewer crowds, and plenty of space, it’s a great option if you’re looking to visit some of Yucatan’s cenotes. This is especially the case if you plan to visit during the week as it can be really quiet.
Fish swim in the waters, and you’ll get to see bats fly overhead too. Not only that, but your entrance fee includes access to Xkeken and Cenote Samula, also known as Cenote Dzitnup.
Just to note, there are tourist guides at the entrance who will try to convince you that you can only visit with them. However, that’s a trap, as many people visit this cenote alone.
12. Cenote Yaal Utzil
Last but certainly not least, there’s Cenote Yaal Utzil. It’s under an hour’s drive from Merida and is one of the most secluded cenotes you’ll come across.
Although small, Cenote Yaal Utzil has much to offer with its blue waters, overhanging vegetation, and quiet location. It’s easily accessible; you just need to take steps to the water. Life jackets are mandatory here and are included in the entrance fee.
When the light hits this place just right, the crystal-clear waters shimmer offering a beautiful sight. Snorkeling and cenote diving are permitted here, and you can also jump into the cenote from the platforms that are found here.
There’s even a restaurant nearby where you can grab something to eat but there are no changing facilities at the actual location.
Other popular Merida cenotes you may want to visit include:
- Cenote Yaxbacaltun – Clear waters, fewer crowds, and an awesome rope swing make this place a great spot! It’s about 45 minutes from Merida, and admission is very inexpensive. It’s a bit more of a challenge to get to, and the easiest way might be to take a bus to Cuzama and from there, take a tuk-tuk ride to the cenote. This is a great opportunity to talk to a local and get their advice on what hidden gems are worth exploring.
- Cenote Dzonbacal – Beautiful, quiet, and has plenty of facilities, including a restaurant, toilets, showers, and a changing room. This cenote is managed by the Tumben Zazil Kin Zonot Cooperative, which is an ecotourism complex run by the local community.
- Cenote Nah Yah – This semi-open peaceful cenote is known as being one of the best for snorkeling and diving. Cenote Su-hem and Cenote Capul are also nearby if you have time to explore a bit more.
- Cenote Azul – An open cenote that offers plenty of swimming space and is affordable, plus it’s only about 20 minutes away from Playa del Carmen. There is a convenience store onsite, and snorkeling equipment is available for rent.
- Cenote Pool Uinic – Although only small, this cenote offers pleasant warm water that’s crystal-clear. It’s conveniently located in the town of Homun and next to another cenote that is connected by a cave.
- Cenote Zaci – One of the best cenotes near Valladolid as it’s spacious and the surrounding area is beautiful. Zaci is a short walk from the center of Valladolid, convenient for visitors taking a bus from Merida.
- La Ruta de los Cenotes – This is a route in Puerto Morelos that leads to six different cenotes in the jungle. A guided adventure tour might be the best way to explore these cenotes, so you won’t have to worry about logistics.
Less frequented Merida cenotes
Although these Merida cenotes are less popular than other iconic sites in this guide, they are still worth a visit!
- Cenote Bolonchoojol
- Cenote San Isidro
- Cenote Dzitnup (also known as Cenote Samula) – has shared facilities with Xkeken Cenote
- Cenote X’Tohil
- Cenote Xoch
- Cenote El Pocito
Cenotes to avoid in Merida for now!
- Cenote Xlacah – After the pandemic, this place has gone to ruins and currently seems to be closed.
- Cenote Ka’Kutzal – Cool to see as it’s located in a Costco car park but you can’t swim here, so it’s best to prioritize other cenotes.
Top Tips for Visiting Cenotes in Merida, Yucatan
To ensure you have the best experience while visiting Merida cenotes, you should know a couple of things. Here are some tips to make your time here more magical.
- Many of the cenotes don’t allow you to wear sunscreen as it damages the fragile ecosystem and the fish found here. Just double-check before you enter, and make sure you take a shower.
- Take advantage of the tour options in Merida, as you’ll benefit from organized transport and a local guide. Some tours will allow you to visit multiple cenotes within one day. It’s difficult to find a comprehensive Yucatan cenotes map, and local guides are the best source of information.
- For those heading to lesser-known cenotes, do extensive research first. You don’t want to swim in polluted waters or put yourself in danger due to the location’s instability.
- Some of the cenotes are much quieter in the morning, so that’s the best time to visit. You won’t experience the crowds, but remember that the light rays from above may not fall within the caves at this time.
Cenote Tours in Merida
This 8-hour tour starts in the city and will take you to three different cenotes; Cascabel, Chaksikin, and Pool Cocom. All the logistics are sorted for you, so you won’t need to organize transport, and all entrance fees are included.
Your guides will tell you about the history of the cenotes, their formation, and the Maya people’s deep connection to the natural structures.
After having some free time to swim in each of the cenotes, you’ll stop off for lunch at a local restaurant. Afterward, you’ll head back to Merida.
This private tour lasts 7 hours and will take you to two popular spots mentioned in this guide; Cenotes Hacienda Mucuyche and Santa Barbara Cenotes.
Not only will you get to swim in these cenotes, but you’ll learn all the local myths and legends from your guide. This includes one of them being linked to the Mayan underworld!
Included with this tour are transportation, admission fees, and insurance.
Where to stay in Merida
This beautiful hotel works to promote local cultures through community development and sustainable experiences. It’s located right in the center of Merida and offers a garden area with an outdoor pool.
There are plenty of beautiful-designed rooms to choose from, and some feature a balcony.
Located in the city center, Kuka y Naranjo is the perfect base from which to explore Merida. The main square is less than 1 km away and is across from the Merida Cathedral, famous for being the oldest cathedral in Latin America.
This colorful boutique hotel is responsible for eco-friendly practices, as some of its energy is produced by solar panels. They also have solar heaters for the water!
With homemade breakfast included, extensive facilities including an outdoor pool, and a bar, this place has a lot to offer.
Conveniently located in the historic city center, this hotel is just a few minutes walk from several parks, cafes, and Merida’s picturesque main square. Also nearby is Paseo de Montejo, a wide avenue lined with historic mansions, restaurants, and cafes.
As you can see, plenty of fantastic cenotes are in this part of Yucatan. Where you visit will all depend on what you’re after, whether that be fewer crowds, a unique location, or an authentic experience.
Do you have any other favorite cenotes in Merida? If you have, please let us know in the comments below!
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