If you are planning to go to the Riviera Maya, you have probably read or heard of cenotes (the word has its roots in the Mayan word dzonoot). But, what is exactly a cenote? A cenote is not just a cave filled with water; a cenote appears when limestone bedrock collapses forming a sinkhole and is filled with water. The Yucatan Peninsula has an unbelievable number of underground rivers and surface water bodies, so is suddenly a pit opens; it is not a surprising that it has water inside. Usually, cenotes are connected to underground rivers and underground cave systems that flow into the sea.
There are four types of cenotes. I’ll explain the difference between them and I’ll tell you which are the best ones to visit!
Ground level cenote.
These can be often confused with lagoons. Usually, there is a lot of fauna around and you can find them in mangroves. These cenotes are the oldest ones. My favorite one is Cenote X Batun. It is not in the Riviera Maya, though. It is located about 30 miles outside Mérida.
Deep open cenote.
These are the most famous cenotes because of their size and mystery. Deep open cenotes have a cylindrical form and have a considerable distance between ground level and the water. The Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itza is neither in the Riviera Maya, but it is worth visiting if you visit Chichén Itza archeological site. This cenote the contact point of the Mayan people with their deities and where they made human sacrifices.
Semi open cenote.
These cenotes have a recognizable pitcher form. They have a hole in the “celling” where the sunlight goes in. You can experience a superb spectacle when the sunlight hits the water directly. Definitely, Cenotes Dos Ojos, which is located close to Tulum, is the best one. This cenote is part of an underground rivers system.
Sac Actun is the best closed cenote and it is after Cenote Dos Ojos in the same road, bit more inside the jungle. The special characteristic of closed cenotes is that is resembles a flooded cave. There can be some holes in the “celling”, but usually there are none. They have a lot of stalactites and stalagmites that create a different environment than the other ones that are usually much more illuminated. But, watch out!, closed cenotes are not apt for claustrophobic people!