In this article, I’m going to walk you through the best Merida cenotes that’s easily accessible from the city.
Known for having friendly people, incredible mexican food, and a laid-back vibe, it is no wonder that Merida in Mexico is a popular destination for expats and travelers looking for a new adventure.
The city’s central location allows easy access to stunning beaches, ancient ruins, and the uniquely Mexican natural phenomenon, Cenotes.
Before I walk you through these awesome bodies of water, let me give you a bit of background on the city of Merida itself. It is located in the northwest of the state of Yucatán, to the east is the state of Quintana Roo, to the west is the state of Campeche, and to the north is the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also around 3-4 hours away from tourist hotspots like Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
This colonial city has all the urban amenities you’d expect from the Yucatan capital city, yet still retains the quaint small-town charm and colonial buildings lacking in other Mexican cities. The best part? The low cost of living in Merida, Mexico makes it an ideal stomping grounds for travelers and digital nomads alike.
Merida’s proximity allows for fantastic day trips, which, combined with its mouth-watering cuisine, colorful festivals, and lively nightlife, ensures there’s no shortage of muy bueno fun to be had in Merida.
So, without further ado, here’s my guide on the best cenotes near Merida.
- What Is A Cenote (pronounced seh-NO-tay)?
- Best Merida Cenote Tours
- Types of Cenotes
- 5 Popular Merida Cenotes (Plus one Bonus) | Updated 2023
- 1. Ik Kil Cenotes (Near Chichen Itza)
- 2. Xkeken Cenote
- 3. Cenote Pool Uinic
- 4. El Corchito Cenotes
- 5. Santa Barbara Cenotes
- 6. El Gran Cenote (BONUS!)
- Other Cenotes Near Merida Worth Visiting:
- How to Visit the Cenotes Near Merida
What Is A Cenote (pronounced seh-NO-tay)?
First things first, you might be wondering. What’s a cenote?
A water-filled cave or sinkhole, a cenote is a body of water formed by the gradual dissolving highly porous limestone causing a collapse of the underground rock. When the collapse is deep enough to hit an aquifer, freshwater ends up in the sinkhole where it collects, forming pools and streams that can sometimes even connect to underground rivers.
Yucatan cenotes were the primary source of fresh water in the jungle. Ancient Mayans even considered cenotes scared mystical gateways. Experts believe a giant meteor, up to 15km in diameter, formed cenotes when the massive rock struck the earth and formed the Chicxulub Crater roughly 60 million years ago.
Scientists theorize the crater impact was an extinction-level event that killed off the dinosaurs of that era.
Although Mexican cenotes get all the adventure tourism acclaim, between its estimated 6000+ cenotes (most centered on the Yucatan peninsula) to explore, the reputation it has gathered is justified. However, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe, and Australia also have notable cenote formations.
Best Merida Cenote Tours
You might have guessed this, but by far the best way to visit all the best Merida cenotes is by a tour!
Most of the cenotes near Merida are found in rural parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, if you rent a car you can drive to each yourself, or I recommend the below yours:
- Enjoy the Cenotes Santa Barbara – Explore the stunning cenotes of Santa Barbara in this awesome local tour!
- Chichen Itza, the Pink lagoon and Pink flamingos – Enjoy the Yucatan’s top sights in one day on this small-group tour from Merida. You will also get chance to swim in Cenote Samula.
- Chichen Itza, Cenote and magic town of Izamal – Another popular tour is this full day tour where to you take a trip to Chichén Itzá (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to explore the ancient Mayan ruins. You will finish the tour with a dip a local cenote.
Types of Cenotes
Though each cenote is different from the next, you can classify them by the following characteristics: open, semi-open, cavern, or ancient. Remember in the previous paragraph where I mentioned a meteor formed these holes millions of years ago?
The classification also helps denote the cenote’s age; the older a cenote gets, the more open it usually is. Some cenotes are old enough to contain fossils.
Ancient- The cavern walls of these older cenotes have entirely collapsed, forming what can easily be mistaken as a small jungle lake. Without steep walls to descend, ancient cenotes are the most accessible and family-friendly version of cenotes to explore.
Open– Still more like visiting a giant natural swimming hole than adventure caving. Open cenotes are characterized by the cylinder shape of their high walls. Open cenotes typically get lots of natural light and open-air and are perfect for idyllic swimming or casual snorkeling.
Semi-Open- These cenotes occur when a semi-collapsed cave’s water source runs underground, forming a partially open cavern. A semi-collapsed cenote is more challenging to access than open cenotes; a semi-open cenote rewards adventurers with opportunities to rappel down the cavern walls or even practice their cliff jumping into the cenote’s water.
Cavern- Here is where adventures begin. Cavern cenotes usually require some tight squeezes, spelunking, or rappelling to access the spring waters and underwater rivers. With only small openings to the surface, any artificial light or sun dances in the dark caverns making for dramatic lighting for Instagram pics. With deep waters, cenote scuba diving is a popular activity.
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5 Popular Merida Cenotes (Plus one Bonus) | Updated 2023
As mentioned, these geological anomalies are found all over the Yucatan peninsula. If you’re planning on visiting Merida, you are in close proximity to the beautiful underground world of thousands of cenotes.
The best part about it is that nature creates every cenote with different characteristics and traits, making each one pretty unique.
Visiting cenotes filled with crystal clear blue water is a genuinely iconic Merida experience. Are you a scuba diver? You are in for a rare treat.
A few of the underwater cave systems provide you with a chance to experience the otherworldly magic of cenote diving. To get the complete experience possible, check out all five of these fantastic cenotes near Merida.
It is an experience you won’t forget.
1. Ik Kil Cenotes (Near Chichen Itza)
The first on the list is about 1.5 hours away from Merida is Ik Kil.
Ik Kil is a beautiful example of a semi-open cenote with high walls and a sinkhole roughly 200 feet/60 meters across. The water level is over 80 feet below the walls.
Jungle vines hang above you as they snake their way into the water. You will find a set of carved steps to use to access the swimming platform. Take your time and enjoy snorkeling among several species of fish.
With Chichen Itza nearby, Mayans considered Ik Kil as scared. Archeologists believe religious zealots may have even carried out ritualistic human sacrifice there. It’s about $2.50 to enter and another $1.50 if you want to use a locker for storage.
If you are planning to go here, you can also visit Cenote Suytun close to Valladolid which is another crowd favorite!
2. Xkeken Cenote
To make things a little confusing, Xkeken is also known as Cenote Dznitup, as it is located near the town of Dzitnup. Additionally, Xkeken is one of two cenotes, with Samula Cenote sharing the exact location.
Smaller than Ik Kil at less than 100 feet across, Cenote Xkeken is a cavern cenote set in a closed limestone cave. To get to Xkeken, you will take a steep walk down a set of slippery stone stairs to enter the underground cenote. The turquoise waters contrast spectacularly with the cave stalactites dangling precariously from the cavern’s ceiling.
After hanging around admiring the view, you’ll quickly feel your shirt sticking to your back from the enclosed humidity. Now it’s time for a plunge. The crisp waters are a refresher from the hot and sticky air of the cavern. You will not find any jumping platforms here, but you get a chance to swim with curious toe-nibbling fish.
A single ticket for Cenote Xkeken is $4. Going for a 2 for 1 ticket with Samula is $6. Add an extra $1 for a life jacket.
3. Cenote Pool Uinic
The new kid on the block, Pool Uinic, was only recently opened as a public cenote in 2016. This secret cenote is also located in Homun, less than a kilometer away from the Santa Barbara cenotes.
Off the beaten path, located in an old corn farm, with a hidden entrance in the courtyard of a family’s house, Pool Uinic is significantly less crowded than other more established Homun cenotes.
Smaller, cozy, and more private, Pool Uinic rewards wandering visitors with clean crystal blue waters in a beautiful semi-open cenote.
The entrance to the cenote is $2.50.
4. El Corchito Cenotes
If you are looking for a break from the Progreso beach life or looking to escape the Merida city vibe, the El Corchito Cenotes are less than 50 minutes from Merida. El Chochito is part of a wild Ecological Reserve completely inaccessible except by boat.
Nature lovers will enjoy the varied plant life and birds perching around the mangroves. You won’t fight any crowds here; the coatis and raccoons likely outnumber the visitors in the Reserve.
El Corchito is an ideal starter cenote for folks not ready for the steep climb or rappelling needed to get to a deep cenote. There are three open class cenotes here. The smallest has shallow water perfect for non-swimmers to wade in.
Even at its maximum depth, an adult can stand up to touch the bottom. The namesake El Corchito is a deep cenote with crystal clear waters, while Cenote Pajaro, ringed with mangroves, water lilies, and wildlife, feels like you are swimming in a lake.
Visiting El Corchito requires paying for a lancha (small boat) to take you to the Reserve. The boat costs $4.50 if you are a tourist. Locals get a 50% discount.
Read More: Stunning Airbnbs & Vrbos in Merida, Mexico
5. Santa Barbara Cenotes
With three swimming holes (Cenotes Chaksikin, Cenotes Cascabel, and Cenotes Xoch) in one location and only an hour outside of downtown Merida, the Santa Barbara Cenotes in Homun might be Merida’s most popular cenote.
Santa Barbara is a perfect starter cenote. You get the infrastructure of a fully developed hacienda with a restaurant, lockers, bathroom, and gift shop.
Skip the horsedrawn railroad ‘truck’ that takes you to the swim holes if using pack animals is not your vibe. Your entrance fee can include a bike rental so that you can generate your own “horsepower.”
For roughly $11, you can get access to all three cenotes, a life vest, and a bike rental or a horse cart ride to the cenotes.
Read More: Incredible Airbnbs & Vrbos in Tulum, Mexico
6. El Gran Cenote (BONUS!)
Admittedly, El Gran is closer to Tulum than Merida, but it needs to be covered as the Yucatan’s most famous cenote. At roughly three hours from Merida, visiting El Gran is best as a beach getaway weekend to Tulum, rather than a long day trip.
Related: Best Tulum Cenotes
El Gran is a quintessential example of underwater Mexican cenotes. Bring a mask or rent one here to enter another world. As an underwater cave cenote, El Gran is one of the best cenotes for snorkeling or diving. Cave diving underneath the cool waters is like falling through Alice’s rabbit hole.
With no artificial light, the sun rays peeking through the cave’s tiny openings allow just enough light to see fish and turtles swimming between the underwater stalagmites. Exploring El Gran feels like you are swimming through underground tunnels.
El Gran is every visitor’s favorite cenote, which means crowds. But don’t let the people deter you. El Gran is an amazing cenote and famous for a reason. Try to come early to avoid the crowds. The experience is worth the time and the hassle.
The entrance fee is $9. Add $4 for the must-have snorkel and mask. A locker and life jacket are $2 to $3 extra.
Want information on the best diving in Mexico? Check out our full guide!
Other Cenotes Near Merida Worth Visiting:
- Cenote Chacsinicche
- Cenote Bolonchoojol
- Cenote Ucil
- Cenote Yax Bacaltun
- Cenote Canunchen
- Cenote Yaal Utsil
- Cenote Kankirixche
- Cenote San Ignacio
- Cenote Dzonbakal
- Cenote X’Batun
How to Visit the Cenotes Near Merida
After a few years living in Mexico, you’ll mock the ‘just landed’ tourists griping about the heat. But don’t get it twisted; Merida gets insanely hot. Even die-hard locals complain about the blistering inferno that is the Mexican sun in Merida.
The heat makes cooling off in the crisp waters of cenotes a popular activity enjoyed by expats, locals, and tourists alike. Popularity means crowds, especially in peak tourist season or Mexican holidays.
Deciding how to explore cenotes from Merida is a personal balancing act between accessibility and crowds. The easier a cenote is to find and get to, the more likely groups and tour busses will be there. However, crowds bring a level of convenience (restaurants, lockers, and nearby haciendas) and safety (on-duty lifeguards and life jacket rentals).
In contrast, the more remote wild cenotes may not even be on a map. Once you locate a hidden cenote, it will not likely have a well-maintained infrastructure of stairs, rails, and ladders to enter the slippery caves and caverns. If you insist on avoiding crowds at all costs, remember that getting lost or getting hurt alone and miles away from Merida is a risk.
When it comes to visiting remote cenotes near Merida, renting a car is an option. However, getting exact driving directions for the more isolated wild cenotes is a level 10 video game quest.
Without a car, you can travel by bus or colectivo taxi to a nearby highway and then hitchhike or hire a chicken bus. But “off the beaten path” in Mexico can really mean waaaay off any paved or marked road and far from town with any semblance of traffic.
The easier option is to get a tour from one of the many local guides in Merida. Package tours are personal preference. Sometimes I enjoy the adventure of getting lost and finding an isolated desert spring that no one else knows about.
Skinny dipping in the moonlight with no one else around but howling coyotes is a mystical experience. Other times it’s nice to get on a bus tour and know that you will see a cenote, stop at a hacienda, and explore an ancient Mayan ruin. You may even get an included lunch.
A tour means you don’t have to stress about directions, transfers, tickets, and hassles. You simply board the bus in Merida, bring your swimming gear, pack biodegradable sunscreen (normal sunscreen kills fish and harms the water ecosystem), put on your water shoes, and the guide takes care of the rest. Easy-peasy.
So there you have it!
Hopefully, this article helps you plan your trips around the best Merida Cenotes. Although Merida is an incredible city, it does get pretty hot which is why cooling down and visiting a cenote or two is one of my top recommendations on things to do in this awesome city!
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