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Cenotes and Caves - Explore the Magical Mayan Underworld

Cenotes (pronounced “say-no-tays”) are surface connections to subterranean water bodies. The Yucatán Peninsula is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers, instead it has a complex system of underground rivers and caves formed over 6,500 years ago. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collected in the underground river system – cenotes are areas where sections of cave roof have collapsed allowing us to access the underlying river and cave system.

The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is crystal clear with a slight turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of about 77-78° F (25-26º C). Cenotes are beautiful, enigmatic and unique in the world, the stalactites and stalagmites that form inside the cenotes are true natural works of art. In many, holes in the ceiling allow the sunlight to filter into the cenotes, giving the scene a magical feeling unlike anything you have ever experienced before.

Cenotes were considered sacred places of the Mayans not only because they were the only source of fresh water, but also because they represented the entrance to Xibalba, the underworld where their gods lived. Some cenotes played important roles in Mayan rituals, believing that these pools were gateways to the afterlife and the home of their gods the Mayans sometimes threw valuable items into them. It is also believed that cenotes were involved in rituals of human sacrifice, both valuable sacrificial objects and human skeletons having been discovered in several cenotes.

Because of the proximity to the ocean, salt water also seeps into the cenotes, though the freshwater of the cenotes floats on top of the higher density saline water intruding from the coastal margins. Where the saline and fresh water meet is called a halocline, which means a sharp change in salt concentration over a small change in depth. The mixing of fresh and saline water results in a blurry swirling effect due to refraction between the different densities of fresh and saline waters. The depth of the halocline is a function of several factors: climate and specifically how much meteoric water recharges the aquifer, hydraulic conductivity of the host rock, distribution and connectivity of existing cave systems and how effective these are at draining water to the coast, and the distance from the coast. In general, the halocline is deeper further from the coast, and in the Yucatan Peninsula this depth is 10 to 20 m (33 to 66 ft) below the water table at the coast, and 50 to 100 m (160 to 330 ft) below the water table in the middle of the peninsula, with saline water underlying the whole of the peninsula.

Over the past 20 years experienced cave divers (including our guide Klaus) have explored these caves and underground river systems, discovering to date more than 300 miles of inter-connected caves and passageways. Some of the cenotes are more than 300ft deep and part of underground cave systems that are several miles in length, though special training and equipment is needed to explore beyond the limits of visible light or go deeper than 70ft.  All of the dives described below (except Angelita) are suitable for certified Open Water divers.  To read more about special considerations and safety guidelines for diving in Cenotes click here.


Cenote Dive Sites
Click on the dive flag for site name and scroll down underneath map for site description

Underwater Video
From some of the Cenotes and Caverns we dive


Photo Gallery
Photos from the Cenotes around Playa


diving cenotes playa del carmen


Chac – Mool Cavern

The entrance to this cenote is just south of Puerto Aventuras.  There are two water entries to this cenote both leading into the same rooms.  The first room is relatively big with a lot of light entering from the opening.   In the second room , a portion of the ceiling has collapsed under an air dome, in which divers can surface.  This allows the diver to dive next to two levels of beautiful stalactites.  Along the opening of the main entrance, there are some trunks and branches reaching into the water.  Here you can experience a stunning laser light show on sunny days.  Chac – Mool is one of the caverns where you will find halocline.  This is where salt and fresh water come together creating fascinating visual effects.  With its large rooms and maximum depth of 45ft (12m), Chac Mool is perfect for everyone new in cavern diving.  It also offers long penetrations for cave divers and is home to the largest stalactite in the world.



Ponderosa Cavern

Situated 2 miles (3km) south of Puerto Aventuras and 25 km south of Playa del Carmen you will find Ponderosa, a large and beautiful cenote, also known as “El Eden”. Big Rocks covered by masses and plants on the bottom of the cenote are home to a variety of fish, freshwater eels and aquatic plant life.  This makes Ponderosa a perfect place for snorkelers and swimmers as well as for diving courses on days the ocean is too rough to dives.  For inexperienced cavern divers this cenote is ideal as the rooms are very large and the main part of the dive takes the diver along the edge of nearby cenote Coral Garden.  Here the breathtaking light shows are waiting for the divers.  The whole cenote has a halocline at 33ft (10m).  For cave divers there are many different ways to go, often connected to nearby cenotes.



Tajmahal Cavern

This cenote, which has a lot to offer for cavern and cave divers alike, is situated 26km south of Playa del Carmen and 3 miles (5km) south of Puerto Aventuras.  The cavern tour leads from the entrance straight under an air filled bat cave.  This is where the light falls through a hole in the ceiling and penetrates into the water like a laser beam during the summer time of the year.  Continuing the dive you will enter into the sugar bowl, a second small cenote where you can see an amazing light show on sunny stalagmites in various corners.  Plenty of hidden fossils can be spotted if you keep your eyes open.  Haloclines in the deeper area make interesting mirror like effects, as divers penetrate into the layer of saltwater below the fresh.  For cave divers there are upstream and downstream possibilities.  Ask your cave guide where to find the Chinese Garden.



Dos Ojos Cavern

The entrance to this popular and famous cenote is situated one kilometre south of Xel Ha and about 48km south of Playa del Carmen.  From the highway, a dirt road leads 4km to the actual cavern and cave areas.  The name ”Dos Ojos”, meaning “two eyes” originated because there are two circular cenotes which are located very close to one another.  Dos Ojos is known for its multiple shallow dives, giving divers plenty of bottom time to enjoy this beautifully decimated system.

Two very different caverns both start and end in the same place.  This dive leads the diver mainly along the opening of the second eye, containing plenty of daylight.  It also gives divers a lot of space to swim around the huge columns and stalactites.  Be ready for some exciting surprises on this dive.



Dos Ojos Bat Cavern

This dive is the darker of the two due to the fact that it leads around an air filled bat cave with little daylight entering.  It is worthwhile ascending here to see the stunning decorations and the bats.  Cave divers can plan many different dives and head miles in either direction into this massive cave system.  With about 60km of explored length and over 20 cenotes connected to it, Dos Ojos is one of the longest systems on the Peninsula of Yucatan up to date.  For non divers, the two eyes are the perfect locations for snorkelling and swimming close to these fantastic formations.  IMAX movies chose this location to shoot points of the newly released IMAX film “Journey into Amazing Caves”.


Calavera Cavern

Cenote Calvera which means “Skull Cave” in English is also known as “Temple of Doom”.  Situated just outside of Tulum on the turnoff to Coba, Calvera is not just an interesting “hole in the ground”, but a cavern dive of a different type.  To enter the water some courage is needed as the diver needs to jump 3m/10ft down or climb a steep ladder.  The cavern area is a big room with a hill in the middle around which divers wind their way slowly up to the surface.  Formations in this cenote are darker than in others. And the halocline is stronger.  There is a lot of light in the cavern and many fossils can be spotted.  For cave divers Calavera offers upstream and downstream dives, talk to your cave guide about the “fang”, a huge stalactite. 



Casa Cenote 

Casa Cenote connects one of the longest underwater Cave Systems in the world, Nohoch-Na-Chich, with the ocean. It is one of the few surface rivers on the Yucatan Peninsula. Located 10km north of Tulum and 70km south of Playa el Carmen, Casa Cenote gives the diver the feeling of diving underneath the jungle. The dive follows the course of the river at a depth of no more then 8 meters. Due to the connection with the ocean, both fresh and saltwater fish live there. The dive follows alongside the jungle and at times through algea covered Mangrove roots reaching into the water. Huge rocks overgrown with mosses and green algea decorate the bottom. Surfacing quietly at the end of the river, you might spot differnet bird species. Along the sides of the Cenote there are small caves running into the jungle once used by Manatees inhabiting coastal rivers and lagoons.


Gran Cenote

It’s name says it all… Gran Cenote is considered one of the best for snorkelling, cave and cavern diving in the Riviera Maya.  This cenote is part of the system of Sac Aktun which means white cave in Mayan.  It is located on the highway to Coba just 2 miles (3km) outside of the city of Tulum.  The cavern dive is circular around the edge of the cenote with a maximum depth of 35ft (10m).  With plenty of light falling in, buoyancy is required because the cavern as well as the caves are highly decorated.  For cave divers an impressive cave is waiting to be explored.  Snorkelers can view the formations of the cavern area without ever diving under the water.  Being situated so far from Playa del Carmen, Gran Cenote is usually combined with Angelita or Car Wash cenote.


Car Wash Cavern

No longer used for washing taxis, Carwash is situated 8km outside of Tulum on the road to Coba.  With the water level being just a few inches below ground level, divers find an easy entrance into the water.  You will enter the water through the roots and fallen trees which like any good fairy tale takes you to a strange and different world.  For the cavern divers there are upstream and downstream dives possible, though the upstream section with its large chestnut colored columns is the most popular section for cavern diving.  The light falling through the roots creates an amazing light show and the large room behind is beautifully decorated.  Cave divers can find many rooms along their way, ask your guide for the Room of Tears, Adriana’s Room and many more.



Angelita, in English “little angel”, is not only an atypical cenote dive, but a once in a lifetime dive in all respects.  Situated 17km south of Tulum, it is the furthest site visited from Playa del Carmen.  Walking about 5 minutes through the jungle you reach this picturesque circular shaped cenote which does nothing more than go straight down 200ft (60m).  Descending through clear fresh water you will sink right into a mystical hydrogen sulphate layer at 100ft (30m) that looks like a big cloud with trunks and branches reaching through it.  Passing the cloud, the diver will reach the salt water.  It is dark here, giving the diver the feeling of being in the forest at night.  Angelita is a dive for the experienced diver because of its depth.  Most commonly it is dived to a depth of 130ft (40m).  This cenote is visited as well by technical divers for decompression dives.



Click to read our Cavern & Cenote Diving Guide