What are cenotes, how do they form, how important are they, which ones do we recommend? Let's discover these natural wonders, of the great attractions of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Cenotes are one of the reasons that will captivate you on your trip to the Peninsula. In this writing we will see what are the cenotes, how were they formed, the types of cenotes that exist and what importance do they have in the Mayan culture.

Understanding how cenotes are formed is a very exciting journey that will allow you to enjoy much more of what you know and understand. further We recommend the best cenotes to explore in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan. Luxury traveler.

Yucatan cenote


To understand what cenotes are we must know the characteristics of the soil type of the Yucatan Peninsula: the Mayans call the soil of this land saskab (White land). It is what we know as limestone. This type of calcareous geological stone hardly retains rainwater on the surface, so it pours through the rock.

For millions of years, galleries have been formed in the subsoil of the Peninsula. A world decorated with fantastic formations of caves, caves, galleries, stalactites, stalagmites created thanks to the generosity of time and the dripping of water through your veins.

To give you an idea of ​​the most precise generosity of time we give you a fact: it is estimated that a stalactite to grow 2,5 cm needs between 4.000 and 5.000 years. Stalactites can reach lengths of 6 meters. and the diameter varies between 2 and 9 cm. The wall thickness of the stalactites are between 0,1 and 0,5 mm, very brittle.

We take this opportunity to tell you that NEVER touch in the caves or grottos that you visit the stalactites or stalagmites, we kill them if we touch their tips. No one should have such a paltry thought of wanting to kill something once they know it. Let's take care of our natural environment.

This type of geological soil is the optimal one to form this great variety of karst landscapes: caves, pojés (such as the Bacalar lagoon), canyon (such as the Sumidero canyon in Chiapas) or sinkholes. The sinkholes are what we call cenotes here. Do not worry about this detail of the name now, you will see how we understand what cenotes are.

Different types of karst landscapes
what are the cenotes
Partially flooded cave
what are the cenotes
Entrance to a dry cave


To go one step further to understand what cenotes are, we must talk about changes in sea level in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Almost the entire surface of the Yucatan Peninsula was covered by the sea 125,000 years ago. For thousands of years the soil of the Peninsula has been a sea floor. In fact, the Yucatan Peninsula has submerged and emerged several times throughout the planet's millions of years of history, in its different ice ages.

In the ice ages it does not mean that the entire surface of the planet freezes. What happens is that the terrestrial poles concentrate much of the water in the oceans in the form of ice. The more ice the poles accumulate, the lower the sea water level will be.

At the end of the Pleistocene (stage in which we, homo sapiens, began our walk on the planet), the sea level was almost 120 meters lower than the current one. From that time until now the sea level has been rising steadily.

Caribbean sea level

When the sea level rises again, these incredible galleries that have been sculpted are flooded with water. Imagine that the most wonderful world lives under our feet on the Peninsula. It's exciting.

what are the cenotes
Photo courtesy of Juanma Cano

The water level of the Yucatan Peninsula varies, giving rise to different formations in the form of dry caves, caverns or cenotes. In this wonderful Peninsula we have a festival of cavities, the underground world will catch you.

Graph from the western side of the Peninsula to the Caribbean coast, from the different cenotes and caverns formations, water level relationships, underground connections, etc. Source
In case you want deepen the formation of cenotes I link you the blog of Emiliano Monroy-Ríos a karst specialist who teaches us about it on his website, the best by far. Thanks for your corrections Emiliano 🙂


After this brief explanation of the characteristics of the soil and the drops and rises in sea level, we will understand at once what cenotes are.

The word cenote is born from pronouncing the Mayan word Yucatecan ts'ono'ot or dzonot (well with water). When we talk about cenotes we are referring to the holes that allow us access until we reach the body of water. These holes in the floor are naturally produced by the collapse of the ceiling. When the sea level is low, the caves are full of air. It is then that most of the collapses occur due to lack of support.

These collapses are one of the karst landscapes that exist in limestone areas of the Planet and that we know as sinkhole. In this part of the world we know them as cenotes, which remained as we have seen from the word dzonot of the Yucatec Maya. Are sinkholes flooded with water, wells with water.

what are the cenotes


We can distinguish cenotes according to their opening to the ground. The opening types of the cenotes classify them into three types:

  1. de open sky (vertical walls),
  2. half-open (pitcher shape)
  3. y in grotto or closed (cavern shape).
  4. there is a fourth type that includes those called ancient cenotes or watery. Many of these are already dry, collecting water only in the rainy season.
what are the cenotes
what are the cenotes
Open sky (vertical walls)
types of cenotes
closed cenote
Closed (crock type)


In the Yucatan Peninsula more than 5000 cenotes have been counted. I assure you that with this extensive menu you will find pure delicatessen to choose from on your trip. Various of the cenotes are enabled so that the visitor can bathe and enjoy in these crystalline waters, are the so-called tourist cenotes.

What are cenotes, how do they form? We recommend the best cenotes to explore in Mexico✔ 1


The cenotes are concentrated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán. The most visited are those of the Caribbean coast, state of Quintana Roo, for its proximity to Riviera Maya and Cancun.

We grouped the cenotes by areas To make it easier for you to meet them and have a good location map.


Cenotes were and are a fundamental part of the daily and spiritual life of the Maya, the inhabitants of these lands. They were the main supply of fresh water on a Peninsula, where we have seen that most rainwater does not accumulate on the surface. They went down to fetch water from the cenotes, just as they do today where many houses are supplied with water from the cenotes.

In addition, cenotes are an essential part of their rituals and cosmogony. There is a very close relationship between the cenotes and the Mayan world that we expand on in this article.

What are cenotes, how do they form? We recommend the best cenotes to explore in Mexico✔ 2

Today many of these cenotes have been enabled for tourist use, being recreational natural spaces open to the general public. For some Mayan communities they are their natural resource as a source of income. In our trips and recommendations we always try to favor community cenotes, They are as beautiful as those managed by some tourist companies with more resources to attract tourism.

Whatever your choice, don't miss out on these sweet treasures of fresh water on your trip through the Yucatan Peninsula. Since we came to these lands to live in 2007, I became fond of them, so I speak to you as an absolute lover.

If you practice diving it will be a unique experience in your life: The best thing I've ever done in my life has been diving in cenotes. Just as diving in open water is something brutal and impressive, diving in cenotes is entering another world: a private space, with beautiful dreamlike landscapes, that connects you with yourself during diving. Cenote dives are a real trip.

Enjoy these wonders of nature.

What are cenotes, how do they form? We recommend the best cenotes to explore in Mexico✔ 3

What are cenotes? Cenotes?

WHAT TO BRING? Light and light clothing, hat, insect repellent, sunscreen (use it after bathing), closed and comfortable shoes to protect you from insect bites, some water always goes well The swimsuit and a towel or pareo to dry after the bath . It is a good option to wear a diving mask to better appreciate the place.
THE LAW OF THE GOOD CENOTERO:To avoid contaminating the delicate water of the cenotes, do not use body creams, or protectors, or repellents before entering them. Do not hang from the roots of the trees or touch the stalactites or do any other idiocy that damages the place.
SCHEDULES OF THE CENOTES: the times are usually from 8-9 to 17-18 hours.

Good way,

What are cenotes, how do they form? We recommend the best cenotes to explore in Mexico✔ 4
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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. I help promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of this blog, recently co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
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