The Yucatán Peninsula is dotted with hundreds of cenotes—pools of shimmering blue water fed by a vast underground freshwater river system. Some look like large ponds, others are deep sinkholes, and still others occupy gaping caverns or have dramatic rock formations. Many cenotes are open to the public (typically for a small entrance fee), and their cool clear water is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Facilities range from simple restrooms and snorkel rental to full-service “cenote parks” with guided tours.

Some favorites in the region include:

The Riviera Maya

  • Ruta de los Cenotes: Sure, some spots along the “Cenote Route” are tourist traps, but others are sublime, like Siete Bocas, a huge eerie cavern filled with shimmering water, and Verde Lucero, a gorgeous open-air pool filled with freshwater turtles and fish.
  • Jarred del Edén: The best and biggest of a cluster of cenotes near Playa Xpu-Há, with a large cavern that forms a dramatic overhang.
  • Cenote Cristalino: Next to Jardín del Edén, Cristalino also has an overhanging cliff but a smaller swimming area.
  • Cenote Azul: A set of three cenotes near Playa Xpu-Há with impossibly clear waters and a small cliff for jumping into one of them.
  • Cenote Manatí: Near Tankah Tres, this is actually a series of connected cenotes and lagoons that wind inland through a tangled scrub forest.
green trees reflected on the water at Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul is a popular spot for swimming. Photo © Fernando Vallejos/iStock.

Tulum and the Costa Maya

  • Dos Ojos: A cenote park with rentals, guides, and spectacular caverns.
  • Gran Cenote: Lovely cavern with natural arches and stalactite formations; east of Tulum on the road to Cobá.
  • Car Wash: Just past Gran Cenote, this innocuous-looking cenote has stunning rock formations below the surface.
  • Cenote Choo-Ha: One of four dramatic cenotes near Cobá, with a high domed ceiling and iridescent blue water.
vines hang over crystal clear water with a green hue under a rock formation in Tulum

Find Gran Cenote on the road to Cobá east of Tulum. Photo © Oksana Byelikova/iStock.

Chichén Itzá

  • Cenote Sagrado Azul: Just three kilometers (1.9 miles) from Chichén Itzá, this huge deep cenote in Ik Kil ecopark can be crowded but is impressive all the same.
  • Cenote Yokdzonot: This little-known gem near Chichén Itzá is all the more rewarding for being operated by a cooperative of enterprising local women.
  • Cenotes de Dzitnup: Twin cenotes just outside Valladolid, both with huge domed ceilings and large swimmable pools beneath.
  • Cenote X’Canché: A pretty 12-meter-deep (39-foot) cenote, a kilometer (0.6 mile) down a forest path from the Ek’ Balam ruins.
  • Cenote Sak’ Awa: Like a sunken donut, this remote cenote has a flat rocky center encircled by teal-blue water and high overhanging cliffs.
vines and vegetation hang into a pool of aqua water

this huge deep cenote Cenote Sagrado Azul in Ik Kil ecopark can get crowded but is impressive all the same. Photo © LRC Imagery/iStock.

Mérida, the Puuc Route, and Campeche

  • Cenotes de Cuzamá: Getting to these three cenotes via horse-drawn carts is half the fun. Two have slippery ladders leading down to their cool azure waters.
  • Cenote Kankirixché: North of Uxmal, this is considered one of the peninsula’s prettiest cenotes. It’s easy to see why, with its cool turquoise water, dangling tree roots, and a roof bristling with stalactites.
  • Grutas de X’tacumbilxuna’an: This massive cavern was used for centuries by local Maya for collecting water, and is the subject of a famous drawing by 19th-century explorer-artist Frederick Catherwood.

If you're headed to the Yucatan Peninsula during your Mexico vacation, don't miss your opportunity to visit these gorgeous cenotes where you can swim, scuba dive, or snorkel in natural pools fed by a vast underground freshwater river system.

Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Yucatan Peninsula.