Get Off the Beach and Head to These Magical Cancun Swimming Holes Gallery
May 22, 2018
Think outside the beach
Get Off the Beach and Head to These Magical Cancun Swimming Holes
A Caribbean vacation calls for some great time under the sun and in the sand, which is why Cancun is one of the world’s top destinations. There’s more to Cancun than its beaches, however, even if — or especially if — you’re looking for a good swim.
When packing your bags for a wonderful trip to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, we strongly suggest you make sure you have some snorkeling or diving gear. The area around Cancun (including the Riviera Maya) is full of amazingly beautiful cenotes, or natural freshwater wells that contain fantastic caves or caverns ripe for exploration. Cenotes are formed when surface limestone collapses to expose groundwater underneath; the word comes from the Mayan word ts’onot, which refers to any place with accessible groundwater, and the ancient Mayans used many of these cenotes as places for sacred rituals. Here you can swim, dive, cliff jump, snorkel, or even learn to scuba dive. Just make sure you don’t forget your sunscreen — the biodegradable kind, as regular sunscreen is banned due to the risk of damage to the local ecosystem. Some of the most stunning hidden gems of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, these magical Cancun swimming holes are worth a trip away from the beach.
Located near Tulum, Cenote Aktun Ha is also known as “Car Wash” due to the fact that it was once used to wash taxis. Today it’s a cenote perfect for snorkelers who come to witness the amazing marine life — fish, plants, turtles, and tiny crocodiles — within its beautiful green waters. Because of the amount of light that comes in from the wide cavern entrance as well as the great amounts of algae that bloom in the summer, it’s a popular spot for photos, and you’ll also find many cavern and cave diving classes being taught here too.
Also near the Riviera Maya town of Tulum, Cenote Calavera gets its name — which means “skull” in Spanish — from the fact that it is made up of three holes in the ground that come together to look like a skull from overhead, also giving it the nickname “Temple of Doom.” It’s a great spot for cliff jumping (the main platform is just 8 to 10 feet above the water, making it a safe and fun jump), diving, or snorkeling, and the light and super-clear water makes for a gorgeous sight.
This Tulum cenote has gorgeously green water opened up to the sky and is a great spot to try scuba diving for the first time. Due to its proximity to the ocean, there are quite a number of sea creatures coming in and out of Casa Cenote, giving you the chance to swim alongside turtles, small crocodiles, and many types of fish. Thanks to this abundance of marine life and the astonishingly clear water, you’d be remiss to not do some snorkeling at this spot too.
Not far from Cancun in Playa del Carmen, you’ll find Cenote Chaak Tun, a gorgeous cenote that has three caverns and a large pool of water. Two of the caverns are perfect for snorkelers on account of their clear water. You’ll need a hard hat and a life jacket (included with the entrance fee), as well as snorkeling equipment and a wet suit. Enjoy the beautiful sight of stunningly huge stalactites hanging above you as you explore the cenote, which is even home to a few bats.
Yelp / Cara M.
Another cenote in Playa del Carmen, Cenote Chikin Ha has an open-air cavern with beautifully clear water in which you can see coral, fish, stingrays, and turtles swimming alongside you. Go snorkeling or scuba diving to explore the surrounding caverns or try ziplining into the freshwater basin. You can even witness a traditional Mayan ceremony here or picnic out in the wild.
“Dos ojos” means “two eyes” in Spanish, and Cenote Dos Ojos is so named because it is made up of two cenotes connected by a large cavern zone. Located north of Tulum and south of Playa del Carmen, the beautifully clear water in the underwater caves is around 77 degrees Fahrenheit year round, with a maximum depth of 33 feet. You’ll find a few species of fish, as well as a couple kinds of freshwater shrimp, in the water as you go for a cavern or cave dive or for some snorkeling.
One of the most famous cenotes in Mexico and likely the most visited in Yucatán, Gran Cenote is actually made up of multiple cenotes connected by wooden walkways. Located in Tulum, it’s a top spot for diving as well as snorkeling — although the water is so amazingly clear that you don’t even need to snorkel to witness the fish swimming by you. Beautiful foliage surrounding the cenote and the presence of white sand make this a surprisingly tropical getaway hidden in an underground cave.
Take a trip to Ik Kil Archeological Park near the famous ruins of Chichen Itza in the northern center of the peninsula, and you’ll come across the stunning cenote of Ik Kil. One of the more popular cenotes in the region, Ik Kil’s water level is about 85 feet below ground level, with a carved limestone staircase leading you down to the swimming hole. Vines and waterfalls reach the water from high above the opening of the cenote, which is 130 feet deep and has a diameter of 200 feet. Swim alongside black catfish or even try some extreme diving; this hole was actually a diving spot during the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2010, 2011, and 2014.
Close to Aktun Ha, Zacil-Ha is a small cenote that stands out due to its zipline, which you can use to jump into the cenote. The cenote also has a ladder to get in, as well as shaded areas surrounding it for you to relax between dips as beautifully colored birds flutter around. You’ll find a restaurant here, as well as an attached hotel and a regular swimming pool. About 10 feet deep, Cenote Zacil-Ha itself also seems sort of like a pool but it’s very much a natural cenote much like the secret swimming holes you’ll find in the U.S.
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