Diving Cenotes in Mexico (Tulum/Playa del Carmen): Choose the Best One in 5 Questions

Map_of_Cenotes_Caverns_Riviera_Maya_Mexico_E
Map from Dive Cenote Mexico

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.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.

 

cenote mexico dive tulum playa del carmenThe cenotes we chose for diving

We only had one day planned for diving cenotes, which limited us to two dive sites. 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:

  1. We are not certified for cave diving
  2. 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

 

You can book your dive online today! We chose to book directly at the dive shop after discussing the options with the staff. But if you prefer to have a more organised trip and book online, Viator* offers many options and combos from Playa del Carmen, Tulum and even Cancun.

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!

 

Planning a trip to Tulum? There is a myriad of accommodations to choose from near the beach. More about hotels in Tulum*

 

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.

 

Responsible tip: If you want to stay at an all-inclusive resort, make some research about their sustainable policy. Do they support the local economy? Have they implemented measures to protect the environment? Be careful not to be fooled by greenwashing (those businesses that pretend to be green to gain more business). I avoid all-inclusive and prefer to book somewhere I may have an opportunity to interact with locals and try different local food every day! Read tips for being a more responsible traveller.

 

mexico the best cenotes dive tulum playa del carmen

 

*These are affiliate links: I will receive a commission if you make a booking using this link but this does not affect the price you pay. This will help me maintain this website. 

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I am a part-time traveler: I combine a full-time job with a passion for traveling. I love to share my trips and tips to inspire others to explore what's around them. Before moving to Australia, I lived in France, England and Turkey. I've finally found my balance in Brisbane.

20 thoughts on “Diving Cenotes in Mexico (Tulum/Playa del Carmen): Choose the Best One in 5 Questions

  1. I love the Yucatan soooooo much! I swam in a cave with a head lamp but didn’t dive and i prefer the light. I can’t wait to go back and do more. I’m claustrophobic so a little nervy about diving but recently got into snorkelling so all my trips going forward are going to be to good snorkelling spots :-)

  2. Hi, if I have zero experience with diving, do I have to take a discover scuba package? Is it a must? Also, is it possible for me to visit two cenotes in a day? For example, I might wish to dive at cenote dos ojos, and then I might visit Gran Cenote later for snorkeling. Do you think that’s enough time? Thank you!!

    1. Hi, Cream. So you’re planning a visit to the Yucatan soon? That’s exciting!

      First, I recommend that you ask the dive professionals in the region directly as, with their expertise, they will know better than me what you can and cannot do. The dive shop we chose (BlueLife.com) replied to all our email enquiries quickly.

      Now, here are my thoughts. But please note I am not a scuba diver professional.
      The Discover Scuba is the program from PADI for those diving for the first time without a certification. I don’t know what the shops who aren’t PADI offer. But keep in mind that diving is a dangerous activity. Going down there without learning the basics sound like a very bad idea from my point of view.
      I would not consider diving a cenote with zero experience if you expect to go inside the cenote (which is what’s great at Dos Ojos). It’s a challenging dive for beginners. Some cenotes can be a lot more open (like Casa Cenote for example) and I imagine beginners can stay in the open area – where the snorkellers go. But I would feel like diving in a river: you’d miss the cavern sensation – which is what I think is particular about diving in cenotes.

      There are other dive sites in that region in Mexico that are amazing to explore and a lot easier. Cozumel is one of my favourite sites in the world and Cancun underwater museum is fun! You may want to consider starting your scuba diving experience there.

      Finally, I think you should have time to visit two cenotes in one day. We dived at two different cenotes and finished around 4 pm. I remember Gran Cenote closes early so you may want to let your dive shop know you have plans and try to arrange an early start for your dive.

  3. crazytravelista

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    I tried diving once in the Red Sea in Egypt..it was amazing yet scary as I felt my chest had a huge weight on it and I couldnt breathe that much. After the dive, I felt sick/nauseous/fatigued for like 24-36 hours. It scared me out of wanting to dive again, but im seriously trying to overcome this fear. There are so many beautiful places under the water to explore!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry you had a hard time during your first dive. I was very anxious for my first dive, but I overcame my fear, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I love diving now, and the more experienced I get, the less scary it becomes. I suggest trying again in a pool with qualified instructors. I’ve seen them doing miracles to help people fight their fears!

  4. trilingualtraveleram

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    I didn’t realize there were so many options to choose from when thinking about diving! This is a great resource for anyone looking in to doing diving on their vacation!

  5. Wow! Theres so many more types of caves than I could have thought. What a well written article! I have never seen a cenote but I want to, and now I can snorke/dive it if I want!

    1. Thank you, Gabby. Yes, they all offer a different experience. Snorkelling and diving provide a very different point of view; it’s a must if you’re in the region!

    1. Thanks, Angela. I hope you’ll find the time someday. Diving opens up a whole new world to explore, it’s amazing! Mexico’s East Coast had amazing diving spots, I highly recommend it!

  6. Once you start to handle the initial stress, it is such a great experience! It can even be a fantastic zen experience in harmony with some natural wonders.

  7. For under $200 with lunch included, I would definitely try this for the experience. The deepest I’ve gone into the lake is snorkelling and that’s not saying much. I will bookmark this for future reference If I can get the courage to give this a try. I know I will be heading back to Mexico. I loved everything there but didn’t experience it fully.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Yuen. I love diving so I can only recommend trying it :) However, if you are not certified and have not dived before, you will have to take a Discover Scuba package (or the Open Water Certification if you want to dive again later!), which would be more expensive than $200. If you’re in that region and want to experience the underwater world, Cozumel has amazing coral formations (I’ve been planning to write an article about it for months…), which would be very different from the cenotes. I only visited the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and I loved it. Like you, I’d love to go back for more! :D

What do you think?