Cavern Diving: SCUBA Diving Cenotes in Tulum, Mexico

Cenotes near Tulum

Cenotes near Tulum

Tucked away along the Yucatán Peninsula of south-eastern Mexico is an absolute gem for scuba-divers –  thousands of caves and caverns filled with fresh-water, known locally as cenotes. The cenotes are created from sinkholes and depressions in the limestone bedrock, creating a labyrinth of caves and caverns ready to explore for anybody up for a grand old adventure! Whilst visiting Mexico I was lucky enough to have a quick poke around a  few cenotes – an amazing new experience for this diver who has only ever done salt water diving.


So what’s the big deal about diving the cenotes?

  • The cool fresh-water of the cenotes is crystal clear with amazing visibility which creates the impression you are flying! – or gliding through a very peaceful, if slightly surreal, landscape.

  • The entrance to the cenotes is often just a small gap in the limestone rock only a few metres wide. This means kitting up in  the car park,  walking a couple of hundred metres in full scuba gear through the forest to the cenote entrance and often doing a striding entry from 2-3 metres above the waterline.

  • Experiencing new wonders such as the halocline (layer of water where the fresh and salt water mix, creating fuzzy visual effects for divers) or the hydrogen sulfide layer (a cloud of gas sitting well below the water created by the decomposition of organic matter). There is plenty of diversity amongst the cenotes.

  • Getting a small taste of cave diving – using guide lines to navigate and explore this whole new world!


Cenote Angelita

There are thousands of cenotes located across the Yucatán Peninsula. Many of which have only been identified through satellite imagery, currently inaccessible through the jungle and yet to be explored. But here is a quick description of the four cenotes I was able to visit, and a quick description to show how they differ!

Dos Ojos (Two Eyes)

The entrance to this cenote cuts into the side of a limestone hill. Below the surface the water it is eerily quiet and fully of equally eerily dark corners (it can get pretty dark in some parts of Dos Ojos, including the bat cave – which would be pitch black without torches). But a great place for taking a torch and shining your lights into the hidden depths. Dos Ojos can get busy as it is a popular cenote for divers, snorkelers and swimmers -not a problem if you are too busy taking in the whole scenery.

Cenote Angelita

A unique cenote to dive and my favourite of the ones I visited. Angelita drops 60m straight down from the forest floor and the water does not look particularly clear (or for that matter inviting) from the surface. At first glance my mind was slightly confused at the notion that this was something to be dived in – but good thing we did, I loved it! In Angelita a layer of hydrogen sulfide sits at 30m – which completely obscures your vision as you slowly descending through and you will definitely need a torch on the other side.


Cenote Angelita from the surface and a 60m drop to the bottom.

Cenote Calavera (Skull Cave)

The entrance to this cenote is fantastic – it is probably 3m wide and involves a 2.5m drop from the limestone edge down into the water. Popular with some divers as it incorporates many of the popular features of cenote diving – including a halocline, guide lines for navigation and  very large cavern space to swim within. Take a look at some of the entrances to the cave diving routes (hard to miss as they marked by big yellow signs with the skulls on them telling you that if pass them without the proper cave training you risk death).


Entrance to Cenote Calavera from above.


Entrance to Cenote Calavera from below.

Gran Cenote

This cenote is visually stunning. Full of large white stalagmites and stalactites in all directions and small gaps to swim through. Good place to use some cave diving kicking techniques – Frog kick or modified flutter kick or some such.

Do you need special training?

To do proper cave diving, yes – but if you don’t have that level of certification you can go cavern diving. Cavern diving means you will always be diving in locations where you can see the exit (even if it behind you or seems way off in the distance). Cavern diving can be done on OW or AOW (most cavern diving here is done in quite shallow water, as many cenotes are not deep).  Cave diving signals in this region are reportedly different to elsewhere.

Not that keen on diving?

No problem, the cenotes can be explored in at least a dozen different ways.  Swimming, snorkeling, hiking,  zip lining, abseiling and rafting — or through one  agency you can even drive through the cenotes in a modified quad bike. I can vouch for snorkelling in the cenotes, a great experience!  – maybe take a torch with you so you can shine your light into the dark hidden corners and get neat visuals (just don’t start swinging the light around frantically when there are divers around, this is a distress call for them!)

Quick Info – Cenote Diving


Price: US$120 for two dives, US$165 for 3 dives (should include all gear plus lunch)

Duration: There won’t be much time left in the day after 3 dives – and you’ll be completely buggered.

Details: If your keen to check out the cenotes out at other times, the main bus terminal in Tulum offers trips to Gran Cenote. All cenotes are owned by Mayan families which will charge an entrance fee (Gran Cenote=100pesos).


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  1. March 26, 2014

    […] SCUBA Diving The Tulum Cenotes […]

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