Riviera Maya cenotes are dreamlike underground cathedrals

In ADVENTURE by Janice and George9 Comments

Riviera Maya cenotes

We felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. Except we were climbing down a ladder instead. And this hole was a cenote in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

But what we gaped at inside was every bit as trippy as what Alice encountered.

Cenotes are sinkholes in the limestone ground, where the roof has caved in. Most are fed by underground rivers and so they’re filled with freshwater.

Riviera Maya cenotes - Entrance to underground cenote at Kantun-Chi

Climbing down this ladder leads us into one of Kantun-Chi’s cenotes

Riviera Maya cenotes - Sac-Actun

At Sac-Actun, we rappel down into a cenote – do we look a little nervous?

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is pock-marked with more than 8,000 cenotes. The Riviera Maya alone has about 300 of these natural pools.

Many Riviera Maya cenotes are adorned with fantastically-shaped stalactites and stalagmites.

riviera maya cenotes

Don’t know your stalactites from your stalagmites?

Eduardo Galeano in Mirrors poetically explains:

“Stalactites hang from the ceiling. Stalagmites grow from the floor.
All are fragile crystals, born from the sweat of rocks in the depths of caves etched into the mountains by water and time.
Stalactites and stalagmites spend thousands of years reaching down or reaching up, drop by drop, searching for each other in the darkness.
It takes some of them a million years to touch.
They are in no hurry.”

With their crystal spires, and water that shines an unearthly brilliant blue, the Riviera Maya cenotes look like wondrous underground cathedrals.

In several cenotes, you can swim and snorkel – sometimes exploring dreamlike subterranean passageways that connect to other cenotes.

We even spotted catfish and bats in some.

The cenotes are truly magical places – and an absolute highlight of a visit to the Riviera Maya!

Have a look at these photos and see if you don’t agree:

Riviera Maya cenotes - Sac-Actun

Riviera Maya cenotes - Sac-Actun

Riviera Maya cenotes - Kantun-Chi

Riviera Maya cenotes

Riivera Maya cenotes - Sac-Actun

Riviera Maya cenotes - catfish

Riviera Maya cenotes - Kantun-Chi

Riviera Maya cenotes - Sac-Actun

Riviera Maya cenotes and underground river systems to try

On a recent trip to the Riviera Maya, we explored these cave systems:


Wade through watery passages, dripping with stalactites, in an underground grotto at Kantun-Chi ecopark. Helmets, lifejackets and booties are supplied. You’ll likely be the only people following your guide – an intimate look at a wondrous world!

Jungle Maya (Sac-Actun):

Snorkel through pitch black caves of the Sac-Actun subterranean cave and tunnel system at Jungle Maya ecopark, operated by Alltournative Ecological Adventures. You follow a guide, and with flashlights, you can see amazing, icicle-like creations.

Diving in a cenote

You can also go scuba diving in cenotes – that’s jumping on our to-do list when we next visit the Riviera Maya!

Photo credits for pics that aren’t ours go to Alltournative Ecological Adventures.

Have you explored a cenote? Did you feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland?


  1. I’m not sure I’d have the courage to head down a cenote and swim underwater to emerge in a cave – despite their beauty! Your photos are fantastic, which camera do you use?

  2. Wow, rappelling down into a cenote is not exactly my cup of tea, Janice, but it seems it’s yours. I remember snorkeling in one of the cenotes on the Riviera Maya some years ago (more exactly 20). We stopped going to Mexico since the violent war among drug cartels erupted, but your post and beautiful pictures reminded me of how beautiful this area is.

  3. We are in Playa del Carmen for four months. So many cenotes to explore! Some are hard to get to. Some are costly to explore. Some are free. All of them are magical. Thanks for the gorgeous photos. So much to see here in Riviera Maya!

  4. That 3rd photo looks like you’re going down a well which I don’t think I’d like much…but your photos of the water and the colours of the rock are beautiful. We’ll be doing something here in South Africa in a few weeks when visiting the famous Cango Caves, look forward to that.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Author

      Just Googled the Cango Caves – that looks like fun! Except with the adventure tour there, you climb up ladders and walk through tunnels, all in dry tunnels and caves (no getting wet). It looks pretty adventurous though – did you see you go through the “coffin”?

    1. Author

      The bats were very small – and they huddled together in a clump on the cave ceiling. And you know they’re really good creatures because they eat lots of bad bugs :-).

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