The number of cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula is unbelievable. And so is the number of dive shops. I counted approximately 60 dive shops on Google Maps around Tulum and Playa del Carmen. This map from the dive shop Dive Cenote Mexico shows 15 cenote dive sites in the Riviera Maya. It can quickly become overwhelming to decide where to dive.
We have been through that. So here is a list of questions that will help you shorten your list.
1. What does your dive certification allow you?
If like us, you do not have the cave certification and do not intend to get it, then you will be limited to dive in caverns. It means you will always be within 60m from an open-air area.
Honestly, I think that’s enough for a vast majority of recreational divers. We still went to very obscure areas where we were surrounded by rocks. As I could not see any open-air area, I had sensations similar to cave diving but with fewer risks – which I was very happy about!
Some cenotes, like The Pit, are deep (>18 metres). Hence, you must be an advanced diver to access it.
Also, be prepared to need an excellent buoyancy (as you’ll have rocks all around), kick like a frog and dive with Nitrox. We didn’t need a certification for using Nitrox, just a quick introductory talk. I wish I knew we were diving with Nitrox before as I would have been interested in reading the documentation to better learn about it.
2. What kind of cenotes would you like to dive?
Cenotes are very different from one to another. That’s why it’s hard to choose “the best cenote for diving”, as you will see very different things. Do you prefer rock formations? Vegetation? Marine life?
Have you heard of halocline? It is the phenomenon when salt and fresh water meet and do not mix. I had never seen one before, so I made sure we could experience this. Some cenotes are better than others for seeing haloclines, and Tajma Ha was excellent for that.
Have you ever dived in a sulphur cloud? If you like the idea, The Pit (advanced divers only) and Angelita have one.
It’s tempting to say “all of the above”, I know. Unless you have several days for diving in the area, you’ll need to pick your favourite.
The guides at the dive shops will be able to help you select the cenotes matching your envies. However, they also tend to push you to choose the ones that are easier to access for them. So it is a good idea to think about it prior going to the dive shop.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It’s all about your preference. We didn’t want to focus on the marine life as we also planned to snorkel in cenotes where we would see fish. I found the particularity of diving a cenote was to go through a cavern with enormous stalactites. I also love the idea of having the jungle all around. This, combined with the halocline, was the primary influence to make our choice.
3. Do you prefer and dark & gloomy experience? Or more light?
That’s completely a personal point of view, again.
I loved the darkness of the cavern with the light suddenly breaking through. It’s unique and stunning. That’s the typical image I had of diving a cenote.
Dark and gloomy can be fun too, but it sounded less spectacular to me. Was I wrong? Some local divers said these are the ones they prefer. Again, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. If you have time to experience both, let me know what you think in the comments below!
4. Will you have a chance to snorkel another cenote later?
Some cenotes are ideal for snorkelling. If you have time for snorkelling there, you may want to avoid diving at the same place. Or you may choose to do both. Although the visibility is perfect, you don’t see the same things as diving will take you a lot further in the caverns than snorkelling.
5. What’s your budget for diving the cenotes?
I never recommend placing budget restrictions high on the criteria list when we are only talking about two digits. I don’t know if I will ever come back to that region of Mexico, so I wanted to choose with my heart. Compared to the entire cost of the trip, it wasn’t making a big difference. But your wallet may not think the same.
The price varied a lot according to the dive bundles we were offered. Some were up to 40% more expensive! For example, Garden of Eden + Tajma Ha was the cheapest package at $140 whereas The Pit + Dos Ojos was $165 and Carwash + Angelita $200. These prices included lunch, and the equipment was $25 extra.
The cenotes we chose for diving
We only had one day planned for diving cenotes, which limited us to two dives. We dived with Bluelife, following the recommendations of dive masters we met in Xcalac.
We didn’t plan the cenotes we wanted to dive in advance. It was hard to make a choice, which is what inspired me this article. Did we make the best decisions? I don’t know as they’re the only cenotes we dived. But we didn’t regret our choices: both were excellent dives!
We eliminated a few dive sites straight away:
- We are not certified for cave diving
- We had time to snorkel other cenotes and wanted to explore different sites
Here are some of my notes for the cenotes we initially selected:
- Garden of Eden (Ponderosa): lot of light, full of life (we finally did snorkelling there)
- Tajma Ha: halocline, very decorated
- Carwash: dark
- Angelita: dark, sulphur
- The Pit: deep dive, sulphur
- Dos Ojos: very decorated
Click here to view a list of the cenote diving sites with a description.
Why we chose to dive Dos Ojos cenote
Dos Ojos has become the most popular cenote dive for good reasons. This cenote is reputed for being very decorated. That’s the one they chose to film the IMAX movie Journey Into Amazing Caves and Planet Earth. It is a good hint about the beauty and the accessibility of this dive site.
A large cenote was a good introduction for a first cavern dive. I felt very comfortable watching the incredible rock formation. I also loved the opportunity to see two openings with light coming through (isn’t it better than only one?!).
Why we chose to dive Tajma Ha cenote
When you read the description of Tajma Ha, it’s hard to resist. It seems to offer everything you can expect from a cenote dive: halocline, incredible beams of light and a surface break to see bats in the heart of the jungle. We were seduced, and we loved it!
Have you dived a cenote? How did you make your choice? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where can you dive cenotes?
The cenotes we dived are along the Riviera Maya, on the northeast coast of Mexico, south of Cancun, between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It’s in the Yucatan Peninsula, a fantastic region with a lot of things to explore. See our 14-day itinerary here.