Have you ever heard of the Cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula? A cenote is a natural swimming hole created when a cave ceiling collapsed. If blue holes can be found in other regions of the world, the abundance in the Yucatan Peninsula and their importance in the region development make these cenotes near Tulum unique. If you’ve only done snorkeling in the sea, I guarantee you’ll be in awe, especially if you visit the ones I’ve listed below as they are the best cenotes in Tulum for snorkeling!
Not only are cenotes geographically and culturally special, but they are also beautiful places that nature lovers will love to explore.
The first cenote I ever visited was in Coba. It was breathtaking. Such a beautiful place. But there was no interest in snorkeling there. The water was so clear that we could see the bottom at any time from outside the water.
There are many cenotes in Tulum and they’re amazing, but not always adapted to the activity you want to do. All cenotes aren’t good for snorkeling and that’s why you should carefully select the ones you want to visit.
First, think about why you want to visit a cenote. Do you want to relax in a beautiful place? Or would you prefer to scuba dive? If you’re not certified, are you looking for good snorkeling spots? Are you interested in cliff jumping? Do you have kids that will enjoy a shallow cenote? Do you want to see fish or turtles? Are you more after a cavern experience to see rock formations?
There’s a cenote (or more!) that’s perfect for each activity! The range of options goes from big amusements park in Xcaret* or Xel-Ha* to the remote cenotes in the jungle accessible only after a hike. And you have anything in between.
We visited seven cenotes during our stay in Tulum:
- Two for diving (Dos Ojos and Taj Ma Ha – read my post about diving here) – Dos Ojos can be snorkeled too (see below)
- Two during our trip to Coba – both were stunning but not adapted to snorkeling
- Three for snorkeling (Casa Cenote, Garden of Eden and Gran Cenote) – and you’ll find all about it below.
This post is about our experience snorkeling in the cenotes near Tulum: why we chose these ones, and how it was. I hope it will help you make the best choices during your trip. If you’ve snorkeled other cenotes and think they deserve a spot in the “best cenotes in Tulum for snorkeling” list, leave a comment below!
How did we pick the cenotes in Tulum for snorkeling?
What criteria were we looking for?
1. Easy access from Tulum: we had a car but visiting the cenote was not the only thing we’d do during the day so we did not have much time to waste in driving
2. Amusement parks are not for me: I prefer simplicity and untouched nature with the least people possible.
3. We wanted to see underwater life, as we saw rock formations mainly during diving.
The cenotes we chose were also very different from each other.
And that’s why we decided they were the best cenotes for snorkeling.
- Casa Cenote is like a river with mangrove and offers a chance to see a halocline
- Although Garden of Eden is surrounded by lush nature, it is very easy to access. It also provides an opportunity for cliff jumping and natural fish spa.
- Gran Cenote has turtles and caverns.
- Dos Ojos is all about rock formations and a cavern experience
If you don’t want to hire a car, you can try to get to the cenotes using an ADO, but the easiest way is joining a tour that will take you to the best cenotes. Viator* offers a selection of different tours that you can book online.
Why are cenotes special?
The Yucatan Peninsula history and culture would have been very different without the cenotes. In this very flat region, they are the only source of water in the jungle. For the Mayans, they were sacred and represented the entrance to where their gods live, and to where their spirits go after death.
From a snorkeler’s point of view, they provide incredibly clear water. Maybe the clearest water you’ll ever snorkel in.
Snorkeling in Casa Cenote
11km from Tulum
Casa Cenote looks like a river more than a cave, and its openness makes it a fabulous spot for snorkeling as it brings a lot of light. The mangrove all along is beautiful, both above and underwater. We could see many small fish hidden in it: the mangrove acts like a nursery for baby fish. But the best thing we spotted was a cormorant fishing! I had never seen a bird underwater before, and that’s a sight I will never forget. If you’re lucky, you may spot a small alligator. Don’t worry, it’s too lazy to be interested in you.
The current at Casa Cenote can be strong, and it made the swim difficult for us in some areas. It is due to the underground connection between the cenote and the ocean. Indeed, the ocean is just on the other side of the road from the cenote. It creates a halocline: where fresh and salt waters meet and don’t mix. Being in the blurry water of a halocline is amusing, and quite rare. It is clear at the top, it is clear below, but where the waters meet it looks like oil! It is fun to check it out on the ocean side too, at the entrance of the cave!
And if you don’t feel like more swimming when you’re on the ocean side, there’s a small restaurant with a lovely view where you can refill your energy.
How to go to Casa Cenote from Tulum
Drive along the Federal Route 307 for approximately 8 km, until you see a sign on the right to Pavo Real and Tankah Inn. Drive for about five minutes on the dirt road and you’ll find a car park on the left.
If you don’t have a car and want to use public transport, the collectivo will take you up on the Federal Route 307, but you’ll have to walk on the dirt road. You may be lucky to find a cab there, or someone to give you a lift. Otherwise, it’s not the most pleasant walk, especially if it’s hot, but it’s feasible in about 20 minutes.
The easiest way is to join a tour to Casa Cenote (click for more information*).
Admission: 150 pesos; there are lockers available to leave your belongings for 50 pesos.
Snorkeling in the Cenote Garden of Eden
40km from Tulum
Different people we met during our trip mentioned Garden of Eden as the best cenote to visit near Tulum and Playa del Carmen. If you want a complimentary fish spa, it surely is! And if you like cliff jumping, that’s a good place for it! But back to snorkeling, that’s what this article is about.
I liked how natural this cenote looks despite its popularity. The platforms are small and don’t damage the view and make it easy to enter the cenote. A lush jungle surrounds the cenote. As usual in the cenotes, the water visibility is incredible. Like Casa Cenote, Garden of Eden is an opened cenote. This means you have a lot of light for snorkeling. I honestly prefer a lot Casa Cenote, but for those who aren’t good swimmers or don’t want to make great efforts, Garden of Eden is more suitable: there is no current and you can easily rest. It was also a better option for snorkelling than many other cenotes in the area because of its size. Although it was a bit busy when we got there, the cenote is quite big so it did not feel crowded at all.
Visiting Garden of Eden also give you the opportunity to check out three cenotes in one trip: if you have time, you can add Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino to your list. They are just a few hundred metres away!
How to go to Cenote Garden of Eden from Tulum
Garden of Eden Cenote is very close to the Federal Route 307 motorway, just turn left when you see the sign. It is very easy to access. If you don’t have a car and go there with the ADO, you’ll have to walk approximately 10 minutes on the dirt road to reach the cenote.
Admission: 100 pesos. There was no lockers but we could easily see our belongings while in the water.
Snorkeling in Gran Cenote
5km from Tulum
Gran Cenote is one of the most famous cenotes near Tulum. Also one of the most expensive. I usually tend to get away from the most popular places. I know they are popular for a reason, but seeing natural spots threatened by a crowd usually reduce my pleasure. However, we didn’t have time to reach a farther cenote at the end of a busy day spent in Sian Ka’an Reserve (the best natural spot in Tulum!) and the description was too exciting not to check it out. I’m glad we went, I believe it’s not to be missed.
We went there at the end of the day, one hour before it closed. It was a lot quieter than we expected – we ended up being the only ones in the water at some point. One hour was short, but I loved our experience at Gran Cenote.
With the arch, it is an incredible opportunity for snorkelers to experience the rock formations and the beautiful lights that cavern exploration can provide. When you follow the walls to the darker areas, the view back to where the light hits is sensational. Plus, we saw many fresh-water turtles and that was an incredible added bonus! Once again, the water clarity was unbelievable.
We could easily rest as many parts were shallow, so it’s ideal for those traveling with kids or people not at ease with swimming.
How to go to Gran Cenote from Tulum
Gran Cenote is only five kilometres away from Tulum, on the road to Coba. If you don’t have a car, it is very easy to reach with the ADO bus from Tulum. Many visitors head back to Tulum after their visit, so it’s likely you can find a ride back if you have a lovely smile. If you feel like doing a biathlon, you could also rent a bike from Tulum for a 10km ride return.
Admission: 180 pesos. Lockers are available for your belongings for 30 pesos.
Snorkeling in Cenote Dos Ojos
17km from Tulum
I dived Dos Ojos and it was awesome – if you are certified, you’ll have a better time diving there than snorkeling.
Although you’ll have less to explore while snorkeling, you’ll still get to enjoy the amazing rock stalactites and stalagmites in the crystal clear water. But be ready to always give space to the divers: they rule the place.
We didn’t see many fish there, but there’s an opportunity to spot wildlife if you find your way to the bat cave.
How to go to Cenote Dos Ojos from Tulum
The Cenote Dos Ojos is very close to the Federal Route 307 motorway, near Xel-Ha. It is very easy to access. If you don’t have a car and go there with the colectivo, you’ll have to walk approximately 3km on the dirt road to reach the cenote.
Admission: 120 pesos.
I wished we stayed longer to explore more cenotes in Tulum.
The cenotes we saw were stunning, but I am still curious about the ones we did not have time to explore. We would have needed one month of holidays there to do all we wanted to do in the Yucatan Peninsula! If you’re a diver, check out this other article focused on our dives in the cenotes!
Have you snorkeled in the cenotes near Tulum? Which one did you prefer? Leave your comment below!
Map of the Cenotes between Tulum and Playa del Carmen
Cenotes are usually not far from the motorway that directly links Cancun to Tulum, via Playa del Carmen. Collectivos and ADO buses can take you not far from the cenotes on the motorway. However, the most convenient way to reach them is via a private transfer that you arrange with your hotel, by renting a car (the most economical option) or by joining a tour*.
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