How to Explore the Yucatan’s Magical Cenotes: subterranean caves and swimming holes
If floating like a Mayan mermaid in a Yucatan secret swimming hole sounds like your kind of adventure, put Cuzama on your list. These four cenotes require four different modes of transportation to access them, but it will be worth every step to feel the energy swimming amongst the crystal clear freshwater.
Here's the how-to:
From Mérida, 5-6 Hours round trip $250 MXP/pp
Make your way to the El Collectivo pick up point opposite the Noreste bus station at the street intersection of 67 and 50. Find the bus heading to Cuzama. ($27mxp/pp, 1 hour)
- Exit the bus at Cuzama, there will be auto-rickshaws waiting in a parking lot to take you to the start of the cenotes loop. Can seat four people and is about 2km. ($30mxp/pp, 10 minutes)
- You will be dropped at the entrance to the cenotes. Someone will approach you about organising a mining cart pulled by a horse. You can fit about 6-7 people on a cart but keep in mind they are pulled by tiny horses; be kind. For a tour guide and entrance fees to all 4 cenotes, you should pay about $300mpx per cart (3 or fewer people) or $100mpx/pp 3+ ($100mxp/pp, 3 hours round trip)
And you’re off! Your tour guide and caballo (horse) will take you on a rickety ride through the Yucatan jungle to three special cenotes.
Cenote #1: Cave
Suppressing the similarities to the caving horror film ‘The Descent’, this cenote is very special and very creepy. You will approach an incredible tree that may or may not come alive at night. There will be a steep ladder you will not want to climb down backwards, but you will.
Make your way through the stalactites and stalagmites to a narrow body of black water at the end of the stairs. You will not want to get into the drink, but you will. It’s ‘fresh’ not cold, apparently. Also very deep, but do not think about that as flashbacks from The Descent will absolutely kick in. You will swim for about 20 meters and climb back out of the blackness, unscathed. Make your way back to your belongings and smile as the next cenotes are much less creepy!
Cenote #2: The Magical Blue
You will nearly wee yourself from excitement when you look into this beauty. It’s incredible to believe places like this exist in the world and how privileged you are to experience this place as a fun adventure and not to have lived a thousand years ago to be thrown in one in an attempt to appease the gods. ANYWAY.
A wide entrance catches the sunlight and illuminates swimmers in the blue below. You will need to descend another sketchy ladder before jumping into the crystal clear pool. Tree roots reach for the water and even little bats roost nearby. This is the best cenote for your travel photos.
Cenote #3: Dark Blue
Prepare for the mother of intimidating ladder descents. Wooden legs shoot straight down into a dark hole for a very long way. Careful footing will land you safely on a platform, revealing a vast blue pool as your eyes adjust. Ditch your bags to the side and jump from the top platform into the clear water pool. You can swim out amongst the pockets of light feeling like a mermaid.
Cenote #4: Bonus - this is often missed as you're not taken directly there.
At the conclusion of your cart ride, behind the bathrooms, you will see a trail that takes you to a tiny cenote. Often missed by tourists as it’s not very obvious, you have the chance of having this all to yourself.
- BYOS - Bring your own snacks!
- Collectivos will leave when they are full. For this destination, in particular, they will leave about every 30 minutes.
- Bring a waterproof camera or GoPro - you’ll want the pictures!
- Wear your swimsuit for the duration of the journey.
- At the Cuzama cenotes entrance, other travellers have said they negotiated the price to include a meal at the end of the tour.
- An alternative to the traditional village auto rickshaw is to walk, however, in the midday Mexican sun on a hot tarmac for 2 miles isn’t worth it.
Have you been? Let us know in the comments below. Any specific questions, shout out. This was an absolute highlight of the stay in Mérida and highly recommended for other travellers.