take a dip on the wild side
Mexico has no shortage of beautiful beaches and pinch-yourself infinity pools, but sometimes you want something a bit more adventurous. To escape the sun loungers and step back in time, take a dip in one of Mexico's many hidden cenotes.
These mysterious caves and magical jungle pools are unlike anywhere else on earth. Even the best hotels in Mexico can’t match the cenotes for dramatic scenery, wildlife and history. The Mayans revered the cenotes – in fact, the name cenote even means ‘sacred well’ – and these pools were a valuable source of fresh water, as well as the centre for some rituals. And, as you leap (or gingerly dip a toe) into the waters, it does feel like an almost spiritual experience.
So if you’re seeking something truly awe inspiring – or just want to cool down on a hot day – make a beeline for our favourite cenotes:
1. Cenote Samulá – near Valladolid and Chichén Itzá
Just 15 minutes from the spectacular ruins of Chichén Itzá is the spectacular Cenote Samulá. As you wander down the rocky path, you’re transported into an eerie world of stalactites and stalagmites.
At the bottom, you can gaze up at the small opening where tree roots cascade down into the waters below. Take in the setting. Then wade into the waters and enjoy a natural pedicure, courtesy of the pool’s resident catfish.
Cenote Samulá can get busy so, to get the pool all to yourself, time your visit carefully – early mornings and late afternoons are usually quietest. Alternatively, drive on to the low key, but equally impressive, Cenote Yokdzonot.
2. Cenote Yokdzonot – also near Valladolid and Chichén Itzá
A short drive from its more famous cousin, Cenote Yokdzonot is off the tourist bus trail and still feels like a secret you’ve just discovered. Swim out into the fresh waters to watch small fish flit beneath you and hummingbirds buzz overhead. Then, after your dip, recharge with a cool beer in the cenote’s very own rustic restaurant.
3. Cenote Dos Ojos – near Tulúm
This cenote is made up of two pools – one blue and clear, the other dark and sinister – hence the name ‘two eyes’. For many, the dark pool is the highlight and rightly so. Hire a flashlight at the entrance and illuminate the depths as you snorkel.
Or qualified divers can embark on a guided exploration of the huge cavern that connects the two ‘eyes’.
4. Cenote Ponderosa – near Playa del Carmen
Also known as ‘Jardin del Eden’ (the Garden of Eden), Cenote Ponderosa is the antithesis of ‘Dos Ojos’. With its large, freshwater pool, open to the rainforest, it’s ideal for sunbathing and just relaxing. You could while away an afternoon paddling around the beautiful green and blue waters or – if you’re feeling brave – launching yourself off the 6m cliffs.
It’s thought that the Mayans once launched offerings of jade and gold into the cenote to honour their gods, so keep an eye open for lost treasure as you snorkel.
5. Chaak Tun Cenote – near Playa del Carmen
If you’re looking for something a bit different, head for Cenote Chaak Tun. Made up of three caves, this underground cavern is filled with stalactites and stalagmites. It’s darker, more claustrophobic and significantly quieter than many of the better-known cenotes. Don a helmet, grab a snorkel and enter a subterranean world. With the squeaking of bats overhead as your soundtrack, it’s the ultimate Indiana Jones-style swim.