When the heat turns up between May and September in Mexico, a dip in a cenote is an absolute MUST on your vacation itinerary.
For those who have heard the term but are a little confused.com when it comes to what they actually are, cenotes are mystical freshwater pools that are formed when limestone collapses to create a natural sinkhole. Over 6000 of them dot the Yucatan peninsula; some have become tourist traps while others remain almost entirely secret, except for the family members who own it and their selected chosen-ones they’ve invited into their inner cenote circle. Intriguing, right?!
Mayan cities were constructed around cenotes, as they provided a freshwater source for the community; they’re also considered a passage to the Mayan underworld. We can definitely vouch for the fact there is something etherial and sacred about these secluded turquoise sinkholes.
So…yeah. They’re more than just a little plunge pool in the middle of the jungle. And what’s more…an incredible spot for a photoshoot. You can’t beat the cenote for a magical backdrop. Without further ado, here are our top 5 cenotes near Playa del Carmen…just take a look.
1. Cenote Minotauro
📍10 minutes drive from Puerto Aventuras
💰 $300 pesos (~$15 USD)
The Cenote Minotauro is 1 of 6 cenotes that are found in the Minotauro system (Estrella, Escalera, Piedra, Winz and Taj Mahal). To cover this entire system it takes about 184 hours, and it has about 75 scuba-diving points. So…probably not all in a day’s work on this occasion. Just the one will do nicely!
It is a dark, freshwater cave. But it has a halocline. A halo what now? Yup. We googled it too. It’s where the higher fresh water, that has fallen as rain, meets the lower salt water, that comes in from the sea. Basically where where freshwater meets saltwater and there’s a change in temperature. Simples.
The result is pretty dazzling; light bends through the cenote and it looks like there’s a whole other surface to the water. Concentrated horizontal beams of white light and the rocks behind distort as if in a hall of mirrors. This distorted light produces an effect comparable to a mirage in the desert…a little challenging when diving in a cave! Spellbinding nonetheless.
If you’re a diver with a passion for haloclines…this one’s for you!
Alternatively, if you just fancy a dip in a crystal clear cenote, that’s also totally fine. Just look at the clarity of the water below…
2. Cenote Zapote Ecopark
📍20 minutes drive from Puerto Morelos
💰 $700 pesos to swim (~$35 USD) OR $99 USD for an all-inclusive tour
This is Cenote Zapote, an Ecopark located in Puerto Morelos, along the famous ‘Ruta de los Cenotes.’ Looks like something out of Jurassic Park, right?! If you’re up for an action packed day out, we would recommend purchasing an admissions ticket for the all-inclusive experience…
With this ticket, you’ll soar through the jungle on a 1500ft zip line circuit, mountain bike till your heart’s content and chillax on dreamy hammocks. Admittedly, it is a little on the pricier side in comparison to the other cenotes we mention here; but, for a family day out, its a no brainer AND its 3 cenotes for the price of 1. Your kids will love you. Oh and enjoy a complimentary lunch of authentic Yucatan food with handmade tortillas, sitting under a beautiful Mexican palapa.
For those brave enough, you can even plunge into the turquoise waters of Cenote Las Palmas from an aquatic zip line!
Ever wondered how we get THE shot underwater. Take a look at one of our epic photographers, Josefina, in action. That’s a preeety big piece of kit. What you see is a housing that covers the camera and the lens; it’s a very specific tool, each housing fitting a specific model of a specific camera brand.
“Underwater, we use a wide angle lens because we need to stay close to the couple and focus on the stunning background at the same time.”
Housings can range from cheap to extortionate: your cheapest option is a plastic bag where you only can stay at the surface, similar to those cellphone plastic cases you can buy everywhere. But then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got the expensive housings which allow you to go deep under the water, to control every button of the camera independently as you do above the surface, hence why each housing is specific to each model.
DON’T FORGET: bring your biodegradable sunscreen! Never apply regular sunscreen before entering a cenote. It’s expressly forbidden in most of them as its damaging towards the water and it's creatures. In some cenotes, you’ll have to go without sunscreen! Just the way the cookie crumbles, sadly. A rash vest will be your bestie at times like this.
3. Cenote Cristalino
📍 20 minute drive from Playa del Camen
💰 $200 pesos (~$10 USD)
Cave diving, cliff jumping, snorkelling, swimming through stalactite caves…this one’s got it all.
This is by far one of our favourite cenotes to shoot in because of the quality of the water. It’s a slightly deeper cenote (not scuba-diving deep though!) so far less sediment is dredged up from the bottom meaning the water is hardly ever cloudy. This is where it gets its name…’cristalino’ AKA totally crystal clear. It’s like a swimming pool! Just look at the shots below!
Now, you might be thinking…wait, is that gal in her wedding dress? Yup. That’s right. Ever heard of trash the dress? We have a confession. We’re kind of obsessed with it.
This post-nuptial wedding phenomenon is a style of photography that is becoming more and more popular with our brides here in Mexico. Basically, the bride and groom get a little crazy, rolling around in the sand, frolicking around in the sea or, our favourite, plunging underwater in a cenote. The result is editorial, dramatic and celestial. Something that wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of Vogue, you know?
Getting married soon in Mexico? Why not incorporate this as part of the festivities…a super quirky and original idea that we can guarantee none of your guests will have done.
‘Trash the dress’, ‘fearless bridal’, ‘rock the frock’…however you want to say it. Book your session now with one of our epic photographers! Also, check out more on destination weddings in Mexico and how to include a trip to a cenote as part of your nuptials.
Back to Cenote Cristalino. This cenote is both covered and open sky, shrouded in lush vegetation. If you’re a bit of a #crazy thrill seeker, you can launch yourself off the 12ft ledge jutting out on the far side. Don’t worry! Totally safe as its got that extra depth. There’s also a tunnel-like cave with stalactites dripping from the ceiling that’s perfect to snorkel through, plus a couple of deeper caves to explore at either end of the cenote.
FANCY SOME CENOTE HOPPING?! At the same location, you’ll find two other popular cenotes – Cenote Eden and Cenote Azul. Super easy to do all three in a day.
Make sure you venture beyond the main pool…you’ll find a gorgeous hidden cenote at the back, Cenote Escondido, that definitely shouldn’t be missed. This is where we shot our photos. They turned out pretty magical, don’t you think?
TOP TIP: This cenote is super popular with locals at the weekends but generally a pretty secluded, quiet spot before noon. Still, best time to arrive is opening so you’re guaranteed to avoid any crowds.
4. Chikin Ha
📍 20 minute drive from Playa del Camen
💰 $200 pesos (~$10 USD)
Chikin Ha hits the bullseye for affordable, family-friendly fun. It’s actually more a nature park complex, where you have the option to go on a guided tour and visit three different cenotes – Chikin Ha, Ta’ak Bil-Ha, and X-tabay. In other words, you’re always on the move and get to see multiple different cenotes… perfect for a family day out or for little ones with shorter attention spans!
This is what we would call your ‘all inclusive cenote experience’, with offers to zipline above the jungle canopy, mountain bike on secluded trails and even partake in a traditional Mayan ceremony with a Shaman guiding you through sacred rituals.
INSIDER TIP: try to avoid weekends and be there in the early morning when they open if you want to avoid crowds.
But what’s even more magical is what goes on under the surface. Just look at the colours above and how the light cuts through the water…
This is a cenote that is totally immersed in nature. If you listen, you’ll probably be able to hear the calls of the Mot Mot bird. Cave divers love to explore these flooded caves, and for good reason. The marine life is thriving. You’ll spot catfish and turtles underwater while above, amongst the dripping stalactites, you’ll spy glow worms in the cracks and crevices.
Now for some photography tips…obviously!
- If you do come with a professional camera, we’d recommend you taking your tripod. Chikin-ha and the Taak-Bil-ha are shaded all the time and you will need a longer exposure time to get THE shot.
- For SURE bring a GoPro if you have one because the underwater world is super photogenic, to say the least.
- Sadly, you’ll have to leave your drone at home for this one…they’re #cancelled. But to be honest, it would be difficult to pilot through the thick branches and foliage anyway. Definitely for the best.
DID YOU KNOW? Chikin Ha means, “water from the east” in the Mayan Language.
5. Cenote Corazón del Paraíso
📍 4 miles from downtown Tulum
💰 $150 pesos (~$8 USD)
Last but not least, we present to you Cenote Corazón del Paraíso. Yep. You’ve guessed it. It gets its name from its unusual shape that resembles a large heart.
You might be thinking…come on. Was I born yesterday?? As if this is 100% natural. Well then, you’d be totally right. If you take a closer look, you can see that it’s created with the help of a platform, built in at the specific point where the curves join in the heart. Sorry to spoil the magic ya’ll…
Man made or not, nothing detracts from its beauty and originality. This is the cenote we’d love to shoot in one day. Bring a book and lounge on one of the sun drenched decks surrounding the cenote, jump in and have a snorkel (they have gear to rent for $60 pesos if you don’t have your own!) take those all important instagram shots or just…
Relax. Switch off entirely. Whatever floats your boat!
So, there you have it. 5 of our favourite cenotes just a stone’s throw away from Playa del Carmen, all with sliiiightly different personalities: some family friendly, others a romantic, secluded spot for couple’s to retreat to away from the crowds. Some are more open, a snorkler’s paradise; others more cavernous with stalactites dripping from the cave ceilings. Take your pick!
If you’ve seen the photos above and are green with envy…don’t worry! Let us make your underwater photoshoot dreams become a reality. Such a quirky day out and one you definitely won’t forget.
Want to book an underwater session with us and live the magic of a cenote?
Contact email@example.com for more information.