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 cenotes, how they were formed, the types of cenotes that exist, how to care for cenotes and how important they are in 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. We also recommend the best cenotes to explore in 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.

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

Different types of karst landscapes

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 you NEVER touch 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.

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 millions of years of the planet's 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 as 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
Document source Modified from González-González et al., (2008) and Blanchon & Shaw (1995).

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, which gives 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, of the different formations of cenotes and caverns, water level relationships, underground connections, etc. Document source Document source Modified from González-González et al., (2008) and Blanchon & Shaw (1995).
what are the cenotes
Partially flooded cave
In case you want deepen the formation of cenotes I link you the blog of Emiliano Monroy-Ríos a karst hydrogeologist who teaches us about it on his website, by far the best. Thanks for your corrections Emiliano 🙂


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

The word cenote is born from pronouncing the Mayan word Yucatecan ts'ono'ot or dzonot (well with water). When we speak of cenotes we refer to the holes that allow us access to the body of water, the water table. These holes in the ground are produced naturally by the collapse of the roof. When the sea level is low, the caves are filled with air. This is when most of the crashes due to lack of support occur.

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 the cenotes according to the types of opening, the cenotes classify them into types:

  1. open (vertical walls),
  2. semi-open (pitcher shape)
  3. in grotto or closed (cavern-shaped).
  4. we can also talk about the coastal springs (known as water eyes)
  5. and we can include those called ancient cenotes or watery. Many of these are already dry, collecting water only in the rainy season.
what are the cenotes
Types of cenotes Mexico.
what are the cenotes
Open (vertical walls)
types of cenotes
closed cenote
Closed (crock type)
What are cenotes, how do they form? We recommend the best cenotes to explore in Mexico✔ 1
Coastal spring (water hole)


In the Yucatan Peninsula more than 5000 cenotes have been counted. The SEDUMA census of the state of Yucatan (SDS-Sustainable Development Secretariat) tells us of almost 3000 cenotes in Yucatan. To these we must add those of Quintana Roo and Campeche (in this state there are many fewer). There is no exact figure, there are estimates. Underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda, a person with authority in the world of cenotes, talks about 8000 cenotes.

I assure you that with this extensive menu you will find pure delicatessen to choose from on your trip. Today many of these cenotes have been enabled for tourist use, being recreational natural spaces open to the general public. They are called tourist cenotes.

mexico cenotes


Cenotes are concentrated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, in Campeche there are few. The most visited are those on the Caribbean coast, Quintana Roo state, due to its proximity to the Riviera Maya and Cancun.

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

Discover 5 extraordinary things on the planet that you can only live in the Yucatan peninsula


There are simple, high-impact actions to take care of cenotes. Now that you know what are the cenotes, we are going to add more steps. Always remember to ask the aluxes for permission before entering. If you are one of those who like to explore cenotes, remember to ask the aluxes for permission and also the owner of the land you pass through. Respect and good practices help to better coexistence and well-being.

cenote mexico


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 cenotes and the Mayan world that we expand on in this article.

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 tourist companies with more resources to attract tourism.

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

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,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and 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.
I am at your disposal for whatever you need. Let's talk.

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