Quite possibly the best way to experience cenotes in the Cancún area
Some travelers go to Cancún, Mexico and spend all day, every day at the beach. And while there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you really want to do, I can’t do that everyday on vacation. After all, there are great beaches in lots of places. One thing that you can’t do (almost) anywhere else, however, is explore cenotes, natural sinkholes filled with fresh, cool water, many of which, though not all, are subterranean. They are so deep, in fact, that many of them connect with each other. Hundreds of years ago, the Mayans used cenotes for different practical purposes, but also for the offering of sacrifices.
There are thousands of cenotes in the Yucatán peninsula, and lots of them are open to the public for a small fee. Every cenote offers a somewhat different experience, and all of them are natural wonders that make you feel a little like you’re on the set of an Indiana Jones movie. In December, we had the opportunity to experience the Xenotes Enigmatic Waters Tour by Xcaret, a tour company on the Mayan Riviera that operates multiple hotels and ecological theme parks like Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and others. I’ve never had a bad experience at their parks, and hopefully I’ll get to talk about them more in later posts, but today I want to focus on their Xenotes Tour. I should mention at the outset that we didn’t have to pay for this tour, not because they gave us special privileges in exchange for this post, but because my sister-in-law, who lives in Cancún and works for an airline, received passes from someone with whom she did business.
The tour began on a small but comfortable tour bus in Cancún, which picks up passengers at a couple of different spots. There were about 15 people in all on our bus, including our group of 6, which included my wife, two kids (ages 10 and 15), sister-in-law, father-in-law (age 79), and myself. The other people on our bus were from different places, including Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia. All very very friendly and used masks onboard. Although all of us spoke Spanish, the guides all speak fluent English, as well. In addition to our driver, our main guide was Steve, who was with us at all times, and Miguel, who was our photographer; more about him later. One thing that I appreciated about this tour is that the four cenotes we visited were only accessible to people on this tour, and our group was spaced out well between groups visiting in other buses. In other words, we had a semi-private experience, never feeling rushed.
Once all passengers were on board, we headed south to the town of Puerto Morelos, which is a short distance from Cancún. Near this town is the Ruta de los Cenotes, a stretch of more than 20 miles that has a great number of cenotes in a this relatively small area. On board the bus, we were offered swim shirts, swim shoes, and ecological sunblock. We bought the shirts and shoes, which we kind of liked, and they weren’t extremely expensive. We chose not to purchase the sunblock because we figured that cenotes are, generally speaking, quite shady places. You could get by without a swim shirt, as long as you have a bathing suit, but it’s not a bad idea to have one, since it can get wet but it also leaves you a bit more covered. Bringing one from home, of course, will save you money. I would say that having your own swim shoes, however, is a “must,” since you’ll be stepping on rocks and other slippery services. Falling down and getting cut would not be fun. They do provide towels for you, as well as food. It is best to leave your phone, camera, wallet, and everything else on board the bus, which is secured while you’re visiting the cenotes. “What about pictures,” you ask? That’s where your photographer comes in. You could have your own phone in a waterproof case, I suppose, but for me it wouldn’t be super practical, as I wouldn’t want to have to worry about it. Although there’s an extra charge (which will vary depending on the number of people in your group) to purchase the photographer’s digital photographs, the pictures they take are much better than what I could take, and I could just focus on enjoying the surroundings and having fun with my family. All of the pictures on this post come from our group photographer, who showed us along the way the shots he was taking.
In all, we made four different stops, each of which are examples of the four different types of cenotes that exist. At each stop we made, there were clean bathrooms and showers, as well as places to put on our (mandatory) life vests. At our first stop, we walked a short path through a beautiful jungle with until we got to a place where we could kayak through an open air cenote, which high walls and beautiful vegetation all around. Although we didn’t see it, some people in our group saw a monkey. It was really tranquil. There was a second cenote at this first stop, this one was mostly in a cavern, where we could put on masks (provided for us) and swim around. After our swim, they had a nice snack waiting for us that, as I recall, included fruit and drinks, including hot chocolate, which you wouldn’t expect to drink in a tropical climate, but it was actually really good.
Our second stop on the tour was maybe the most fun, because we were able to zip line over the cenote. These zip lines were not the kind that required you to put on a harness or helmet, but it was more like a swing that you could sit in until you eventually landed in the water. Steve gave us some different options for using the zip line, including hanging from a bar, going face down like Super Man, or hanging upside down like Spider Man. We had time to try this several different times, which was awesome. There was also a high ledge from which you could jump in. I didn’t expect to do it, but I did, as did both of my kids. It was pretty high and definitely scary, but it was worth it.
The third cenote we stopped at was probably my favorite in terms of its beauty. It’s quite long with high walls on both sides, and it includes a few different waterfalls. After going down a short but winding waterslide, we took another zip line, which was really long. I didn’t know if I would be able to do this one, since I’m quite heavy, and this one required us to hold on to a bar. It is surprisingly easy, though. Once you let go and fall in the water, you have to swim to the other side, which is slow going with a life vest on, but it’s so gorgeous that you won’t want to get to the other side. Once you’re there and you get out, there’s another opportunity to step off a ledge into the water. This one wasn’t as high as the one at the previous cenote, and my kids and I were able to jump off together. Again, it was awesome. There’s no other way to describe it. After getting out of the water, there was a nice buffet ready for us. There were really great options available, including desserts and drinks. Even alcohol was included, if anyone wanted it. I should say that while we were visiting this cenote, we saw an American man who was with a different group. From what I gathered, he didn’t let go of the zip line early enough, so when he got to the end, his face hit the bar, giving him a very bloody nose. Despite his pain, he was in good spirits, but I mention this because it really is important to listen to what the guides tell you.
The fourth and final cenote stop we made was the favorite of many people in our group. It was almost entirely subterranean, with just a small opening above. It was through this small opening that we entered the cenote. They gave us a helmet and harness, took us on a high platform, and lowered us slowly through the hole, into the water below, by sturdy ropes. Once there, we could swim, and there were also natural formations from which we could jump into the water multiple times. I could see some fish in the water here, as well as a bat or two up above, but they left us alone. This might be a good place to mention that while most (if not all) people in your group, regardless of age, should be able to participate in the vast majority of the activities, many of the experiences, like zip lining or jumping from ledges, are totally optional. Nobody makes you do anything.
I honestly have nothing negative to say about this whole experience. Of course, if you’re not fortunate to have free passes fall in your lap, like we were, it’s not an inexpensive trip. At the time I’m writing this, the tour website shows prices of about $117 per adult and $59 per child (6 to 11 years of age). However, if you are doing other activities through the Xcaret group, they will probably offer you package deals for other experiences as well. I get the feeling that different visitors pay different prices depending on the other activities they participate in. Again, your tour can cost more after it starts if you purchase a swim shirt, swim shoes, or the picture package. The pictures are definitely worth the extra expense, since it’s an environment in which it would be difficult if not impossible for you to take quality pictures and do the activities at the same time without losing your phone or camera in the process. The experience will take most of an entire day, but again, it’s a day that your family will never forget, like a simple day on the beach sipping margaritas might be.
Have you ever visited a cenote? Let us know about your experience in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite social media. ¡Gracias!